Archive for May, 2009

Changing One Mind

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

I need to write about two of the plays I’ve seen in the last month, both of which deserve attention and neither of which I’ve had a chance to speak about. I’ll do it, even though they will have closed, I will write about them both because it’s bullshit not to. I scribble notes during shows, often in the pitch dark (although my handwriting is about the same regardless) and there are ideas and feelings that have stayed with me long after I’ve left the theater, so I really feel like I owe it to myself to record what I thought of them and then share it with the, um, probably like, eleven people who read this blog.

I can’t do it tonight. I have a flu, and in a sort of fever pitch, I’ve had terrible trouble sleeping the last two nights. It’s isn’t anxiety, and it isn’t the disease. It feels like… I could be wrong, but it feels like something really, really amazing is happening right now, under my nose.

If I have seen eight plays in the last five months, then probably five of them would, at any other time, be the best play I had seen all year. I went stretches of living in New York where I’d go to plays for a year or eighteen months at a stretch, and largely see stuff that maybe was interesting in spite of it’s self-indulgence, or usually saved from awful by one or two actors, or a really cool set. But now? How is everything this good?

I’ve considered a couple of possibilities. I’ve been sick, off and on, for about four months. Now, it turns out that one of the aspects of ALL my illnesses is that I become emotionally… *available*, let’s say. For instance, my mom called and offered to bring me a sandwich the other day and I’m not to proud to admit that I cried for half an hour. So, maybe these shows are just treacley disasters and I’ve been just ripe for the picking.

Another possibility, almost everything I see is produced by people my age, of my generation, and maybe we’ve just gotten good at it. It’s true that I’m not really seeing plays written and produced by good-looking 23 year olds. Nothing against ’em, but there’s no way an undergrad degree from NYU is gonna ‘splain the full how-tos of producing the way ten or twelve years of moving your couch up and down the stairs at the Access Theater will.

(True Story: We almost got arrested, driving around in a cab with a borrowed mailbox sticking out of the trunk. I thought the cab driver was gonna kill himself when we got pulled over, especially when the cops got out of the car and they were straight out of central casting. One puffy Irish guy, probably 22, peach fuzz on his fat cheeks, about six foot seven with his belly just barely losing the fight with his blue shirt, and the driver, a five foot three Italian guy, drenched in Drakar Noir, smoking a cigar that was almost the exact same size as my forearm…)

One great theory, posited by my wife Jordana, that maybe the economy has something to do with it. That, in a world where we are losing our own money with no hope of getting it back, and in which we have less time to devote to this endeavor because of how much more work we’re having to do to get by, it brings a kind of clarity and devotion to the work itself.

There are distractions to producing great theater. Most of these fit pretty neatly into “worrying about stuff that isn’t part of The Conversation”, and the first thing is always money. You just hate how much money you’ve lost, and how few people are willing to give you money for what you think is awesome… so you start trying to figure out what the audience *is* willing to give you money for. And you start reverse engineering. And it quickly becomes crap.

And there are also other distractions. Maybe I’m producing a play, and I really think I’d be awesome in one of the roles. Or maybe I want a very good looking girl to like me, and if I can cast her in a role, she’ll really like me. Or maybe you’ve got a really nice, expensive WWI rifle, and you want to fit it into a play.

Whatever, there’s tons of crap that gets in the way. But when there’s less and less reasons to make plays, when there’s no audience, regardless of what you do, when you get to the age when casting a hot girl isn’t gonna get you anywhere, and when you realized that your own acting career is way less important than making a good play… things become clear.

Maybe that’s what’s happening. Maybe the cream has simply risen to the top, or maybe the seeds in us, those kernels of talent and genius have maybe simply bloomed. The strongest roses fair thrive in neglect and perhaps that’s where we are. Mac wrote a play several years ago in which a playwright was asked if his work could change the world, and, I’m paraphrasing here, but the playwright said, “I don’t think the play can change the world, but I do think it can change one person’s mind, and maybe that person could change the world…”

The conversation is happening right now. And I’m totally ready to be pressured into bringing my A game.


Friday, May 22nd, 2009

I love cooking, and I really miss it when I don’t do it. I’ve had this weird awful flu for the last three days, and I just made it downstairs and was totally shocked that our kitchen is actually clean. My wife must have cleaned it and, since I haven’t been able to totally screw it up, it has stayed that way.

What I love about cooking is figuring it out on a molecular level. I like building meals based on a snowball routine, to start with tiny little moves early on and then build things the right way. That initial steps you make can change the whole thing.

Like, if you’re making bread, you basically need some flour, some leavening, some kind of sugar, some water, maybe eggs… but how you put it all together will turn it in to a loaf of bread. If you’re making cake, it’s basically the same things, just totally different amounts and different versions of each. Bread requires high protein flour, the leavening should be yeast, and the sugar could be just a little honey. The water could be switched out with milk, and you can just use one egg. For cake, it’s totally different – low protein flour, baking soda/powder for leavening, up to a whole cup of sugar and at least two eggs.

I just think it’s so beautiful, because you can just do whatever you want. All you need is time, and friends or family who don’t care if you make something that sucks. This is *baking* we’re talking about, the kind of thing I always assumed was in the same category as science contest. When you’re doing the stove-top thing… I mean, you can screw with the ingredients and basically be just fine.

If a recipe calls for half an onion, you could put in two whole onions. If it calls for two garlic cloves, you could put in eight. It might wreck what you’re doing, or you might totally love it.

My mom taught me all of this. Cooking without a recipe, she made everything growing up. She was as comfortable on top of the stove as she was in it. I watch a lot of food network television and I see a lot of people talking about things like knife skills and spice rubs and ovens set to temperatures like 385…

I mean, 385? That seems pretty specific. Like, a little bit too specific. Like, they’ve got these shows where they call each other “chef” the same way we call people who spent 14 years in college “doctor”. When your oven is set at 385, how close to 385 is it? The oven cycles anyway, it’s gonna drop down to 350? Maybe?

I think it’s great that we have recipes out there, and that all of them have measurements in quarter teaspoons, because it’s great that we’ve got guidelines. But it means that when a cook doesn’t have their cookbook, they freak out. I was taught to bake by my mom, who measured everything in the middle of her hand. She would knead the dough until it felt right, because the humidity and temperature in the house is gonna change it all anyway.

It’s just a shame that cooking can’t be a blue collar sport. Iron Chef America is certainly fun to watch, but I’d love to see a food network show starring my mom. Covered in flour, holding her hand up to camera so you can see how much salt fits in her hand, and generally making things “hot” and then letting them “cool off” before “we eat it.”

More Than A Cadillac

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

You are walking down the street here in New York and a car cuts you off in the crosswalk as it turns left. You were there, you had the right of way, the car just very nearly mows you down, and as it drives through the intersection, you catch the driver’s eye. He looks right at you, as if to say, “what are you gonna do about it?”

As you walk away, furious, even just for a moment, you might start thinking about that guy’s perspective on life. How did he get to the point where making that left turn was more important to him than the general welfare of regular people, how did his own personal very-small-thing become more important than our community?

As I was watching the utterly engrossing production of When You Coming Back, Red Ryder by Retro Productions, my mind slid away from the horror show for only a brief moment because I was remembering a report that I’d read some time last year, something about the suicide rate of returning veterans. I just looked it up again and it’s astonishing. In 2005, there were 8 suicides for every 100,000 civilians… but 32 suicides for every 100,000 active veterans between 20 and 24.

I have argued in the past that it’s way more important for us to talk about each other’s shows and the ideas contained than it is for us to just slob up each other’s shows in the hopes that they will do the same for us. This production deserves a ton of slobbing, and I’ll do it in a minute, but walking away from the show, there were a bunch of larger things boiling in my tiny brain.

There is an inherent dismissal in saying that we live in a culture full of niceities, full of informal politenesses that keep things running smoothly. The truth is, most of the common courtesies we have in place are there in order for us to remain *safe*, to remain alive at all. We shake each other’s hands upon meeting to show our friends that we’re not hiding a large rock to hit them with, we stay to one side when we walk because we’re instinctively aware that we’re safer with one flank covered. It progresses from there.

We have rules even for rule breaking. Americans are furious right now that we are responsible, as a nation, for torture. Shooting an enemy in the face is part of our civil code, but making them go without sleep is just wrong. When someone robs you, you expect them to hold a weapon, take your stuff, and then go about their lives. We reserve our outrage for rape or humiliation or “senseless killing” (as if to delineate them from the sensible ones.)

Red Ryder is deeply absorbed with looking at these situations. It begins as a very standard piece, a diner in the middle of New Mexico, with a handful of employees and patrons, is held up. Stuff of drama, certainly, but this isn’t Bonnie and Clyde. It’s 1969, and when the thieves walk in, all we know about them is this – they aren’t following protocol, they are unwilling to behave. And that alone is the weapon they, or rather *he*, uses to terrorize the group. The antagonist of the play holds everyone hostage with the fact that he is willing to behave worse than they are, and perhaps worse than they can imagine.

As the group of people finds their situation degenerating quickly, as decorum falls, leaf by leaf, until the cultural tree is completely nude, they find themselves becoming not just passive objects, but willing subjects in the crazed mind of this long haired Vietnam Vet. As a nod to the cultural mores of the time, one character says, “I thought you were all about peace and love” and the vet says, pensively, “No… No, sir, that was a different group altogether…”

My favorite exchange, which I took for the title, is when the Vet is mocking the people’s lack of fortitude to resist him. He says that a man needs to have more than a Cadillac to be a man, and says “I’m sorry to have to show you that”. Another character asks, simply, “Are you really sorry?” and the Vet says, again almost to himself, “… No. No, but I wish I was.”

It’s an amazing piece.

I’ll get to some slobbing now, I’d hate to rhapsodize without giving some people some damned credit. The costumes tell a silent story, perfectly matched to the plot. Red Ryder himself is dressed in the perfect James Dean faux rebellion, complete with idiotic tattoo on his arm. That this play was produced in 1973 is a miracle, how the hell did the writer know that within 30 years, tattoos would be as inauthentic a form of rebellion as a white tee shirt and red jacket with the collar turned up?

The rest of the costumes are pitch perfect, moustaches and buns on the east coast elite, bolo ties or tank tops signifying all you need to know about the character’s stations, but there are two things I’d like to point out, as long as I’m writing a novel here. The hippy girl’s breasts figure into the script, but instead of being too overt, she wears a thin shirt and no bra. As a guy who gets uncomfortable with stage nudity, it was perfect. I think I’m gonna save the waitress costume for later…

As full disclosure, I’m friends with the director, Ric Sechrest, but as my friends can tell you, that won’t stop me from saying awful things about them. In this case, I was knocked out by the work Sechrest did. The play hinges on the balance between control and disarray, and the playing space is very small. He created these invisible buffers, these very tight physical spaces that people were either allowed in or not, and then he shattered those spaces when the script called for it. Honestly, the bravest thing he did was to trust us and the space. There were people sitting with their backs to us, and delivering the occasional line upstage, and he knew it would work. There are a lot of people being acted upon in this play, and it would be very easy for the piece to become passive, but everyone has a reason for everything they do, all the time. You can watch the ancillary characters and see an entire play unfolding.

I probably don’t need to say much about the set because it is clearly a standout among theaters of this size. It was incredibly articulate, perfectly functional and honestly, one of the best I’ve seen in an off-off house. I think only GroundUp Productions is comparable. I particularly like that, behind the flats, waaaay upstage, you can see the diner sign, barely illuminated, backwards.

In talking about the actors, I probably also don’t need to say much about Christoper Patrick Mullen. If you know me, I tend to expect the large roles, the difficult to memorize and even harder to physicalize roles, to be played not just well, but brilliantly, and Mullen doesn’t disappoint. He is terrifying, nauseating and trippingly crackling, like a blowtorch in the wrong hands. And a blowtorch is actually the perfect description, because he underplays so much of the show, letting the lines be the lines, letting the AUDIENCE do a lot of the work. Mullen knows that we desperately want the character to go away, and so he controls Teddy, he lets him swerve back into line just to give us a breather. It’s a master class in how to turn a set-chewing character into something at least a little human.

David Blais as Richard, Dave Koenig as Clark and Richard Waddingham as Lyle all do great work, it’s so difficult to play characters where the whole damn play is happening AT you, where you have almost no chance for catalyst. Blais could easily have played his college educated kept-man with derision and he instead fought for the guy every step of the way. And Waddingham, who is naturally far larger a presence than any of the other actors, managed to create a small man, desperately h
olding on to his own decency. Cassandera Lollar also crafts an active but understated character in Cheryl, the clinging assistant to our antagonist.

I don’t want to single out Ben Schnickel as Stephen (Red Ryder) because he did fine work and it’s an extremely difficult part, but this is one of those Juliet conundrums. The character might be younger than the actor has to be to play it well. I also hate to say I wasn’t moved quite as much by Matilda Szydagis as Clarisse. In both cases, I felt that they were one step outside the play, and I understand it – to be completely in this play in these characters is a kind of hell. I’m loathe to say this, because both of them did some great work, and I’d be excited to see them in any future productions.

Just a word on Heather Cunningham…

I have mocked myself and others like me in the off-off world for camouflaging our solipsism as “do-it-yourself independence”. When I hear of an all male version of “Proof” or something, I immediately assume that the producers are also the stars, and I’m almost never wrong. It isn’t always a bad thing, but it isn’t usually good. When I got to the end of this play and read the program and saw the bios… I realized that sometimes, it’s the best thing.

She is a gut-punch of an actor. Completely without concern for herself when she’s in character, utterly subsumed by the demands of the script. But I know she was also at every step of the process, the sets, the props, everything… including picking the piece.

Now, there are a lot of companies out there trying to figure out a way to sell tickets, and that’s great. You oughta sell some tickets. And a lot of people have figured out a) established writers bring in more audience, b) established plays bring in more audience, c) small cast sizes are easier to produce… they’ve figured out a lot of this stuff.

So, if you’re Retro Productions, and you are making your decision, why not “Children of a Lesser God”? It’s the same writer, it’s far better known, the set is *nothing*, the cast is smaller… why not?

I don’t personally know why not, but I can tell you why I’m glad they didn’t. This play, with the conversation about the devastating effects of war, not just on those fighting it over there, but the effect those soldiers have on us once they get back, the discussion of Rural America vs. Urban America, the look at the violent destruction of the false culture we’d propped up in the 50s… THIS play is relevant to us, to New York Theater, to Americans.

So Cunningham picked a play where her character is humiliated a hundred different ways, and she lot herself in it. Knowing, as I do, the number of things she would have had to do on a daily and nightly basis, before and during rehearsals, before and during the performance each day, made me love her performance even more in retrospect.

And look, I know, I have a thing I do when I see plays. I watch the ancillary characters more than the scene stealing ones, I want to know what an actor can do when given only *some* of what she or he needs. But the fact is, Cunningham’s character Angel becomes the person we identify with. She is who we would be, if we were in the play.

It is a marvelous night of theater. On a personal note, I feel so lucky to be here in the city when so many people are coming in to their own, so many of us that have been here for this awful decade. There was a time when I’d go see stuff just to get out of the house, and I started wondering if I wouldn’t be better off watching TV. RIght now, I wish the week was ten days long, just so I could see more of what the OFF-OFF community is doing.

My Response To Mike Daisy

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Let me begin by saying, in no uncertain terms, that Mike Daisy is the real deal. I happen to love a good rant, and my favorite kind of solo performance is done by The Tutor rather than The Actor, by an advocate rather than a solopsist. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good navel gazing tale, but I am more thrilled with a soloist who shows up with more answers than questions.

I’ve heard him, of course, on my headphones, and I’ve read him and read of him a number of times, but the actual presence is far greater than what I’d been led to believe. He leans forward on the lectern, learing out at us and sonorizing his way through a web of ideas, all of which are important although none, at first glance, seem so. His performance feels like the smartest friend you know suddenly flying off the handle because of a stupid comment some asshole just made. When he talks, it’s as if he’s not yet at the table, he’s walking up with the beers he just bought you, and he can’t wait to drop some knowledge… it’s only a half hour later that you realize he never quite sat down.

I couldn’t help but compare him to Wallace Shawn in The Designated Mourner (its own sort of solo performance). I guess the comparison works because the two men look vaguely amphibian, slits for eyes and wide mouths, almost froglike. And once the show started… I mean, if Mike Daisy was a frog, then I was just a tiny insect, riveted and paying close attention lest I be eaten. The man’s mind seems to be moving a thousand miles an hour, and his language choice throughout does as much to disarm as it does to dissect. He’s a wickedly precise storyteller, and I walked away from the show utterly inspired.

Not that I think he’s right about *everything*. I do think he’s right about a lot of things, and I don’t think there are actually *holes* in what he’s saying… I just think that he’s made some logical leaps that aren’t exactly useful.

There were many things that were just downright awe-inspiring in their insight. His comparison of Ronin to solo-performance was brilliant. Samurai are trained soldiers who, when they no longer are needed by their masters, are supposed to commit suicide. Ronin are samurai who lost their jobs and decided *not* to commit suicide, they just figured they’d find their own way. In the same vein, solo performers are largely the cast-offs from multi-cast theater, who decided they weren’t going to work in that capacity any more, for whatever reason. So they have become “masterless”, they get to create, publicize and perform their own work without any concern for the industry that has no support for them.

A different brilliant idea is the pervasiveness of solo performance. If one thinks about it, every class room is led by a solo performer, ever parent at home alone with their children, every cable TV news host, in fact every blogger! We are all solo performers in one way or the other. He even said that he would, that night, have a late dinner and then go home and watch on TV one solo performer (Jon Stewart) and then another (Stephen Colbert) give their opinion of the day’s news.

The problem is really semantic. If you are going to extend this hero status to the solo performer, because they are nimble and cost effective and exist outside the industry that shuns them, then it’s hard to include someone like Jon Stewart. It’s really pushing it to include teachers. Yes, the same talents are required, but teachers are really the *opposite* of masterless men, as most of them are chained to a curriculum, teaching to the tests, and they have unions fighting for tenure and the like. Teachers are not Ronin, and neither are stand up comics.

I don’t disagree with either point, a) solo performers have reinvented the rules for the theater industry and b) the talents that are required to be a good solo performer are necessary in any situation where one person has to tell stories to many. But once you make the term “solo performer” that broad, it has almost lost meaning.

One of the most moving parts of Daisy’s performance was his section on numbers. We have become a culture that doesn’t understand math, we only understand that one number is higher than the other, and that higher number will make us do things we would find unthinkable at a lower number. I loved this part, especially when he argued that there is a special number that makes an audience. He was adamant that an audience is NOT magical, it doesn’t have an energy or some other weird metaphysical thing, an audience’s effect on a performance is anthropological, it is scientific and it is part of our humanity. We all know this is true, we all know that there is a number, usually a percentage of total seats filled, that can change the tenor of a performance.

My tiny quibble is that this is true of all theater. If you have seven people in a play, or even just *two*, it doesn’t change the fact that a story is being told and that the story will be affected by the power of those being spoken to.

He said only one thing all night that I find dubious. He said that solo performance is the most reviled form of theater, and I just don’t buy that. Chazz Palminteri, John Leguizamo, Jerry Seinfeld, Nia Vardalos, every fat comic who got his own sitcom in the 90s, plus anyone who’s ever hosted a late night TV talk show or ever been on one of those VH1 shows would probably disagree with it as well.

Now, he might be right that among the theater snobbery, a large chunk of snobbery is saved for snobbing on solo performers. But I think there’s a healthy chunk of this snobbery reserved for musicals as well. And when’s the last time a musical broke out from the theater world into the larger world. No, I’m not gonna count jukebox musicals (it’s a bit of a stretch to make a claim that Abba’s success in the 70s, and the subsequent film made from the the musical, is somehow an indication that musicals are celebrated), so it’d have to be Rent, right? I wonder how many people recognize Jessie L. Martin from Rent as opposed to Law And Order…

These are quibbles, the truth is that my one problem with the piece is that it was dizzyingly meta. I have always had a problem with the preacher who was saved by Jesus, and now feels he must preach. Or the physical therapist, who was injured and their life was saved by a physical therapist. I have friends involved with things like The Landmark Forum, where they move up in the ranks until they become full time employees and teachers… or even more specific to the downtown theater crowd – the number of people who start taking improv classes and end up teaching them.

Daisy is a masterful story teller, and as powerful a presence as I’ve ever seen on stage or film. He is a laser pointer of a performer, able to delineate and explain, digest and refine or simply create out of whole-cloth some truly mind-swimming ideas, and I would be thrilled to take any journey with him. I just hope that he continues and moves away from taking us on the journey of how important the journey is.

I loved it, I really did. But with “Why Solo Performance Matters” sitting next to “How Theater Failed America” on the shelf, I just want so badly for him to move on to “The Eight Things You Need To Know About The Human Soul” or something. My God, if Mike Daisy wrote that show, I’d pay a big ass chunk of change to watch it. I guess I’m saying, I’m teetering on the edge of becoming a devotee, and if I can watch him talk about something other than live theater, I will dive into the deep end.

Barno Switches Parties

Friday, May 8th, 2009


He’d spent the morning with his gramma, and he was very happy to come home


The cuteness of the boy’s ballet slippers is not to be missed.

In Security

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

You can’t walk out of a play with a simple “I didn’t like it, it just wasn’t for me.” I mean, you can, but if you do then you’ve wasted an awful lot of time. More often than not, the play isn’t for you, it’s for the people who made it, and it’s up to you to do a little work to figure out what it all means.

I suppose it could be argued that a great piece of art will translate, but I’m pretty sure that it translates *eventually*, that very often some of the most groundbreaking stuff we’ve witnessed had to be seen through the lens of history, it had to be understood by what came after it. You know that the first Jackson Pollock was greeted with at least a handful of people saying “that’s what my two year old’s room would look like if I didn’t clean it.”

I think what you can say is, “It was very good, and it wasn’t for me,” which is how I felt about the play In Security, now playing at the 3LD Art and Technology Center.

As you walk in, you see a woman frantically trying to learn Spanish from a tape as she goes through her personal and professional schedule, time and again, ironing out all the insanity that her friends, coworkers and family keep throwing at her. The utterly surreal tone is set immediately as she goes through her surgical schedule (her medical degree from Harvard “hangs” on the wall behind her as a projection) and repeats the phrase “Would you like to fix the exhaust pipe” in Spanish. The entire space is full of white furniture, outlined in black pen, all of it looking like a child’s sketch.

There is only one actor that appears live in this piece, the woman who’s surgery schedule and impending wedding are about to have a fender-bender. Every other character is portrayed by videotaped actors, and are projected on the walls behind her.

This works really well in a number of ways. The alienation is palpable all the way through, you never get a sense that she belongs anywhere. Also, the inhumanity is startling throughout, we are sharing our time with a woman who is trying to be perfect, to be more machine than person, and the rest of the world comes at her as projections from a machine. This is a wonderful idea, and it folds in neatly with the rest of the script.

The problem I had is a personal preference, really. The show is actually a very linear play, and the projections are, if my memory serves, always characters on the phone with her. These are filmed actors, and they exist in a completely surreal world, but in the end, we aren’t hearing voices in her head, we aren’t getting any manipulations of standard storytelling. There is a clock on the wall that moves either quickly or slowly, but it’s always simply moving forward.

Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to have seen the play. The use of projected images isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but the artists who are doing it in this show have a steady hand and are very, very smart. The look is seamless, from the images into the actual space. Also, Anna Gutto is wickedly good, spitting out huge chunks of dialogue as fast as the human ear can hear them. I try to stay away from praising people that I have a personal fondness for, but Alexis Poledouris’ direction is really elegant and makes excellent use of the indiscriminate parameters of the piece.

I just walked away wanting something stranger. There were some profound moments, but the intelligence and the bravery inherent in these moments implies that the entire piece could have been a lot more bizarre and I would have enjoyed it that much more.

Pretty Theft

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Vampires were definitely my scare of choice as a little kid. They infiltrated my nightmares, and I used to be able to visualize them coming in to my room to munch on my neck. Mind you, these were real vampires – terrifying and silent, living (barely) on to feed on the blood of children.

I complained to Jordana the other day that vampires had been ruined. The Anne Rice novels certainly went a long way, and then even Bram Stoker’s Dracula was made into a movie with Winona Ryder (my porn of choice as a little kid) lusting after her bloody suitor. But Twilight? Come on, what exactly is so bad about being a vampire if you get to be super-fast, super-gorgeous, glittering in the sun, eating only cows and winning the triwizard cup. It’s annoying to have your sense of right and wrong so profoundly messed with.

Pretty Theft starts with this idea and runs with it. There isn’t a character in the play that doesn’t steal something from someone else, and each of them is doing it as an act of romantic compulsion. It’s as if every single person’s mind is a room with doors marked “Do Not Enter” and all of them have the same running thought in their heads, “who are They to tell me not to open this door!”

They make it out to be a lie. There’s nothing romantic about things stolen, about being stolen yourself… it’s actually a series of tiny nightmares. If you say to yourself, “these rules don’t apply to me!” then you are also agreeing, “okay, the protections are no longer mine either.” That’s not to say that if you shoplift, you deserve to be robbed at gunpoint or anything, but it is asking the question – Why is stealing important to you, and how much are you willing to risk to avoid your social responsibility.

It’s a fascinating exercise, as you’re being swept up in this perfectly pitched piece, to watch for every moment of thievery. There is shoplifting, there are sandwiches ordered which cannot be paid for, there is even a stolen car… but those are nothing compared to stolen moments, shared secrets, even kisses and embraces that are snuck in as if sheer audacity is all that’s needed to overcome a shattered social compact.

There isn’t a bad actor in this piece, anywhere. As a former actor, I’m always far more aware of the fact that the scene chewers usually have an *easier* job than those to whom the play happens, and Marnie Schulenberg does a masterful job of *not* chewing the scenery or anyone else in the play. I am always knocked out when an actor decides to fight the urge to fall apart, even when her character probably would. There is incredible strength in this performance, she has fought for honesty in every single second, and it’s a thrill to watch.

And, as much as I like to see someone control the throttle when the character calls for it, it’s equally compelling to see someone lay on the gas when the turns get tight. Todd D’amour is fantastic, like a coiled snake drunk on his own venom. He prowls like an animal, and he manages to chew his lines without spitting. There are two or three sentences that turn on a dime, and he has a knack for letting the most important chunks of the play just be, while manipulating other small bits of dialogue likes he’s feasting. There’s no sense of self-congratulation in his performance, he’s just wickedly precise.

The evening is wonderfully staged and produced, save for one problem. There are split scenes, with parts of the plot spinning like memories, ballerinas litter the place and the surreality runs thick, which is really, really great. The problem is that there is a scene that happens in another state, another literal state… like, say, a diner in Kansas. So you have scenes that happen in a theatrical head-space, and then a spilt scene with something that’s *actually happening*. At a later point in the show, characters from the one state show up at the diner in the other, and that’s your first hint that the diner is a real place, and not another bit of theatrical gymnastics.

However, I have to give huge props for the staging, which is fantastic through-out. I have said before, on these pages, that violence and nudity (which I enjoy ENORMOUSLY on screen) are both hard for me to take on stage. I can’t help it, I just look up there and say, “Hang on, that actor is, like… that’s a friend of mine! I don’t want to see her naked…” and stage combat is either very fake, or very real, and both of those upset me.

It sucks because… of course there’s sex and violence. That’s what makes the world go round. And there’s plenty in this show, BUT, they handle it exactly right for me. There is both sex and violence, but they stage it so you know what’s happening, and you’re never taken out of the play, you never worry for the safety of the people you’re watching, but the drama is razor sharp and the climax is still heart-shattering.

I know, I’m a prude. But primarily, I was an actor for years, and I’ve been a producer for years. If I could put a topless girl in every show, I’d sell a lot more tickets, but I don’t think I could watch it.

It would totally suck if I didn’t mention the other actors, but I run out of superlatives. Also, two of the cast members (Cotton Wright and Zach Robidas0 have worked with my company and I liked them enormously backstage, so my opinion of them (which is super high) is probably as much informed by that.

All in all, I’m just so knocked out by this play. It was worth going to the Access Theater, which I swore off years ago. Flux is continually blowing our minds with incredible work, and I’m so glad they are here and doing it.