Archive for August, 2009


Monday, August 31st, 2009

Mac Rogers has been called a lot of things, but lately those things have switched from “in need of a shower” and “gains weight like a woman” to “needs to be on Broadway” and (and I’m not making this up) “genius”.

It does bring to mind the whole “if your grandmother is such a genius, why is she sitting in the neighbor’s car” comment from Parenthood, but I’m totally fine with this characterization. People have been very generous with me about this show, and as a producer I definitely get the best of all worlds. I’m not part of the rehearsal process, so I get to watch the show the same way the audience does… but I also get credit for the production. But when people congratulate me, I generally have to point out that Jordana and Mac did the real work, that I’m just on a skateboard, sorta holding on to the back of the car.

Last night, someone grabbed me when I made that joke and said, “Hang on for dear life and DO NOT LET GO.”

I’m sure, had Mac heard that, his fear of commitment would have snapped to attention, and he’d have hid under his seat.

We got a stack of good news last night. We’ve been in talks for the last week or so about extending the show as part of the Fringe Encore series, and last night, they made the official announcement. It was always our assumption that the Encore Series was reserved for shows that have a possible commercial future, so it took some time for them to convince us that our show was indeed just this sort of show.

Independent of that, the adjudicators for the festival were kind enough to award us with the “Outstanding Play” award. I really do appreciate the fact that they don’t do “best” in the festival… it has to be pretty weird for the big award shows to compare totally different performances in completely different genres and figure out who “won”, but the “outstanding” label is just a bit of a mouthful, so everyone shortens it in conversation to “best” anyway.

We’ve been really careful not to do that. It’s hard because you only get a couple of words in marketing material, but we’ve really tried to honor the spirit of the festival. In the past, we’ve referred to “Two Time FringeNYC Award Winner Mac Rogers”, but technically, it was for “Outstanding Musical” and “Outstanding Playwright” for two different productions. In conversation, I just end up saying “Best Musical” and “the Playwrighting Award”…

It’s all very heady stuff, I’m not gonna lie. But my responsibility is to continue to look at other theater, now that this is already in production, and to write about and talk about what it all means to me. I’m in Myrtle Beach for a week vacation, but I have a backlog of thoughts about the dozen or so shows that I’ve seen and have yet to write about.

I don’t claim to be a theater blogger, but I am a theater producer, and as such, it’s my responsibility to talk about other productions. I probably won’t talk about what I hate, unless doing so is constructive to the larger conversation going on in New York Theater. For the record, during this year’s Fringe Festival, I saw what I believe is the worst piece of theater I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m still trying to decide if it would be constructive to write about it.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you probably saw the show. There aren’t that many people interested in Indy Theater, and we sold a lot of tickets. If you saw the show, I just want to thank you, and if not, why not come?

Fringe Encore: Viral

Viral The Play

Fave’s of the Fest, For me

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Now, I have no time to write this, but I’ve had no time, and I need to write *something*, so I’m stealing a few minutes while Barnaby dances to the spin cycle on the laundry machine.

I have really liked everything I’ve seen in the festival so far, and I’ve seen a dozen or so plays (plus three more today) so the fact that I’ve picked two to highlight doesn’t necessarily mean anything. These are two that just lit something up in me, for some reason, and more than feeling like they are great plays, I’m just really happy that they exist, if that makes sense.

The first is American Jakata Tales by Ed Malin. In the program, we’re told that in Buddhist cultures, often the Buddha takes on myriad different lives and shapes, that they simply invent new stories of spiritual significance, without regard for the holy texts. It’s such a lovely and freeing idea, and from the moment the show starts, it’s as if the writer was reaching across the divide and saying “Listen, we’re playing a little fast and loose with structure here, we’re gonna mess around a bit with identity, but trust me, I’m not gonna screw you. Do this with me, and I promise to be kind.”

We get stories set all over the United States, the four actors move back and forth inside each vignette, playing scores of different characters, completely skewing our expectations. By the time Satan himself admits, “Sometimes even the devil has to do good”, you realize that the show is taking us away from the theater, away from New York, even away from the U.S. (in the middle of this deeply American story) and he’s turning the room a full 90 degrees.

I just loved it, although I’m sure the director and the actors saved the script from some screwy moments. There are bad jokes that land exactly right, like bad jokes. There is almost no set, no real costumes, hardly any props, so the director and the cast has made up for it with well-calibrated theatricality. The theater itself is a death-trap, as soon as the door closes it feels like Apollo Thirteen in there with a dwindling oxygen supply, but I still walked out of the theater feeling completely invigorated.

Now, please understand, I’m not recommending this play. I know for a fact that I brought a lot of myself into this show. I have such a deep affection for the lonely and weird voice, the non-pretentious and honestly under-represented artistic point of view, when it reaches out from the pages of a strange and ugly piece of art, that I know a big part of why I loved this piece is because I could *feel* my own loneliness in my perspective. A United States that is misunderstood, being queerly picked apart by a host of bizarre characters, having been written by a lovely and strange man, and all of it being produced for an audience who didn’t seem to quite be on the same page… I was in an irrational heaven.

On the other hand, I can whole-heartedly recommend Candide Americana. I don’t want to misrepresent the show, because *all* Fringe shows look like home-made college black box shows, it’s what’s so great about the Fringe, but what this show carries with that ethos is an actual enthusiasm throughout that reminds me of the heady days when we were all in school.

When I think of Candide, the first thing that comes to mind, just before Voltaire, is Bernstein, particularly the overture. If you listen to that fantastic bit of Soprano energy, the off-kiltered banshee giggle, you’ll get an idea of what the energy is like in this production. The horrors that befall the characters in the show are constantly off-set by the gaggle of lovely people running on stage to holler out chapter titles and deliver locations and plot. It’s a focused mania, a theatrical literalness that works so perfectly when you can’t support the show with big sets and props.

The cast is without fault, with each of them embracing or distorting the cliche’s expected of their situations. The actors don’t stand out the way it usually happens at the Fringe, the entire ensemble is together creating the entire piece, it’s really a wonderfully crafted show. The direction is meticulous, it’s a complete vision, from each individual moment to the overall arc of the piece.

The writing, though, steals the show. Again, this is one of those things that might just affect me personally. For a stinkin’ commie, I am a complete sucker for an artist who’s fascinated by the character of “America”. The Candide story has been moved to the U.S., but it’s been done with such elegance. From the first moment, when Candide announces that he lives in the best possible country in the world “Bosnia”, you know this is smartly crafted.

The horrors of the Candide story have been replaced by… well, by the average stuff that’s been happening to America over the last eight years. And what is so powerful is that usually, when one says “the last eight years”, we all know it’s a condemnation of the Republican administration, but this play has no time for anything so small. This is a much larger play, dealing with the actual ideas that Voltaire (and a hundred others since) brings up.

I just loved this play. Totally theatrical, but still completely organic. Perfectly performed and costumed for the Fringe, proving a kind of flexibility that so many companies fail to embrace. Also, it helps that the “young, cute, talented men and woman” quotient is through the roof… not to be a pig, but this is just a lovely, lovely group of people. I’m so happy that I got a chance to see this, and even more happy to know it’s out there being done. Please go see it.

Look After You

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Very often, in order to find something expansive, the best approach is to make something very small. I don’t know anything about poetry, but I’m pretty sure this is the idea behind Haiku, that if you can express something within a very small structure, it can end up translating into something very meaningful for a lot of people.

Look After You is exactly that. A man is struggling with his book, a sister is working through her jobs and her dates… and at the center of the whole thing is a young woman, a photographer, who has fallen ill. Her short term memory is shot and, when she looks through the lense of her camera, it’s all fuzzy.

This fuzziness carries through the whole play. The book that he’s writing is not about the people who climb Mount Everest (there’s a mountain of information about these guys) but about the Sherpas who help them ascend. It turns out that 10% of the climbers who attempt the mountain die on their way, but the Sherpas go up and down the mountain a dozen times or more without any risk.

He’s searching for the answers through a lens as fuzzy as the woman’s camera. And always, at the root of the play, is the idea that we can’t be sure. Nothing is guaranteed. The woman’s short-term memory loss has led to her missing a couple of very important things, including the writer’s marriage proposal, and now everyone has to deal with this re-set. More than that, she could die. Just like the climbers, or the sherpas, or any of us. The chances may be higher for her, but that doesn’t actually *mean* anything, all of us still have this risk.

Designed as a full-length with no intermission, the show flies by. Louise Flory is on full exhibition here, both as a wickedly smart playwright and as a very generous actress. She’s the center of the play, the person everyone else is responding to and bouncing off of, and she does all she can to let each person run the play. In one of the opening scenes with her unbeknownst fiance, I was astonished at how much kindness she approached the characters. It’s so easy to be put upon, and he’s just glows in what could be a really introspective and downer role.

Another great standout is Lowell Byers, as the best friend and bartender. This guy is so utterly charming, so self-effacing and lovely, that it makes sense why every character opens up to him. It’s difficult to know how to reveal a story inside a play without having the characters say stuff like, “It’s just like that one time, when my father always loved my sister more than me…” but in this show, the best friend is such a sweetheart that he becomes a perfect person for everyone to reveal themselves to.

I can’t do this lovely play justice in the distracted moments I’ve stolen this morning. It is a wonderful companion piece to our play, at the same venue, in that it really focuses on the liminal state we exist in, between life and death, and the importance of embracing whatever moments we actually *have*. I would recommend this show without hesitation, I just know people who see it will like it as much as I did.

Viral Reviews

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

I will write about my Fringe Festival experiences between tomorrow and Monday.

I’ll tell you this, possibly my two favorite plays, out of a great number of really good shows, have been American Jataka Tales and Candide Americana. The latter of these two I would recommend highly, I think EVERYONE WHO SEES this show will like it. The former, I’ll admit it, it might have just been me. I loved it, but you should make up your own mind.

Now, just so they’re all here, and without any pull quotes, I want to throw out the list of every review we’ve gotten for Viral. It’s my blog, I get to do this. Normally, I would be tempted to leave some of them out, but… I don’t really know how this happened, but we can’t leave any of them out.

They’re all actually… good.

We did a fun big gay musical, people were all “what?”. We did a radio play that was HIGH-LARIOUS, and the press was all, “I’m sorry, who are you?” We did a big rock musical and the press was… well, actually, it wasn’t even the press, everyone kinda hated that show…

So, we do a very small show, a very personal show, where we think it’s gonna be, maybe, twelve people who think it’s good. And that’s when people start saying “you have to see this”.

I swear to God, I’ll never figure it out.

Anyway, un-edited, here’s the list of all the press we’ve gotten from “Viral” by Mac Rogers.




Show Showdown

Time Out New York


Greenwich Village Examiner

The New York Times (I KNOW right?)

Michael Roderick

Peter Dizozza

James Comtois

The Play’s the… you know…

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Mac Rogers, whom I often refer to as “our playwright” or “my co-producer”, but who’s relationship to me would be better defined as “the best man at my wedding” or “the guy in the room who, when crazy shit happens, tries not to look at me”, has written the script for our show opening this Saturday.

Now, Mac has earned a lot of praise on our level of theater, people seem to be very excited to work with him and his talent is finally being recognized. The problem is, it hasn’t been recognized earlier, and it’s still really difficult to recognize it without seeing the script in action.

This has always shocked me. After every production we’ve done of Mac’s work, I watch the audience stagger out – astonished, elated, exhausted, and utterly in love with his writing. So, why can’t we send the script to an agent or a larger production company and get the same reaction?

Let me explain using film. In horror movies, filmmakers use what they call “negative space”. You see a woman, sweating, clutching a baseball bat, and she’s in the center of the screen, it isn’t that scary… but you frame the shot with her filling just the left corner of the screen and the whole rest of the screen is black, you sit there, straining, looking into the dark. It’s terrifying, you know something is there, you can’t stand it, and the longer you wait, the more you feel like jumping out of your seat.

This use of negative space doesn’t have to be just the frame. Harold Pinter does this maybe better than anyone, a seemingly normal conversation that is dripping with implications. The Homecoming is as close to a nihilistic horror movie as I’ve ever seen, I might have been more terrified watching this than I was watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But Pinter can very easily be done badly. As many of my college friend can tell you (in fact some of them put it on display). That’s because Pinter has no interest in participating in post-modern pop culture, so he not only doesn’t make it easy, he makes it difficult. His plays can read like blank scenes, all the import is the responsibility of the audience and the production. And when I say “audience”, I include the reader, if you read it, you can horrify yourself. I won’t read Pinter when the house is dark and quiet.

Now, there’s a scene in Pulp Fiction where Maria De Mederos is describing the breakfast she wants while Bruce Willis looks for a watch. It’s different than Pinter because Tarrantino gave us the scene earlier, explaining the watch, and he’s also made it clear that Bruce Willis can’t go back to his apartment. It may seem like a scene about breakfast, but the mounting tension is brilliant, the banality of her breakfast hopes set against almost certain death.

This is what Mac does, as well or better than anyone. There is a scene where two women are cleaning a room for the video shoot, talking about where pictures will sit, talking about the nicest way to frame the shot… and the whole time, while you’re watching, you keep wanting to say, “FOR YOUR *DEATH*… right? You’re setting this place up FOR WHERE YOU WILL DIE…” and then, “unless you don’t.”

All the way through the play, characters sit and fight about Italian food, or talk about distribution deals, and the whole time, you just want to know… is she gonna do it? And if she does… is she gonna tell us *why*? The more time we spend with her, the more we can’t believe they’re gonna make her do it… or even *let* her do it. And more than anything, we want to know why. Why is the ultimate not-okay thing suddenly okay for her?

Now, this is the macro-brilliance (no pun intended) to the writing, the shape of the piece, the arc of the story. It’s an hour forty with no intermission because there’s no place for an intermission. That’s how you have to go with Mac’s writing, you put the intermission where the script calls for it, and if there is none, then there is none. The play has a rhythm, like a five movement symphony, it has a structure that fits precisely as it is.

But it doesn’t mean the script doesn’t have these incredible turns of phrase. It’s one of the first things you learn when you get to act in a script written by Mac, if you paraphrase, you’re just making things harder on yourself. He actually knows what he’s doing, there isn’t a word that hasn’t been weighed and been deemed worthy. Consider just one little insignificant snip, from the middle of a scene –

GEENA: Colin’s just… when he’s in the middle of a project, he gets all intense… things’ll be different when this happens. There’ll be money coming in… we can all take a breath. Things’ll be different.

The specific words like, “project” and “money coming in” (that passiveness, as if money will arrive, not that people will be giving them money for watching someone’s death) “when this happens” (just a little thing, like a dentist visit or appointment television)… It’s all fantastic. You don’t know how badly they are drowning until Geena describes “breath” as “different” than they live now.

I don’t feel right quoting any stretches of dialogue, but there are shocking and beautiful chunks of dialogue and monologue that are heart-scraping. I’ve had the privilege of acting in several of Mac’s plays, and there are pieces of script, little stretches of English, that still sit in my head. And if they’re sitting in my head, they have to be changing who I am, they have to be influencing the way I see my life and the world.

More than that, there are scrapes of Mac’s writing that I only know from being an audience member, and those are still living in my head. In an early play, Mac had a playwright character say, “I don’t believe theater can change the world, but I think it can change one person’s mind, and I believe that person can change the world…” I’m paraphrasing because, honestly, if Mac knew I was writing this, he probably wouldn’t send me the quote. He’s that lousy at self-promotion.

I may end up apologizing at the end of every one of these posts, but this is the first time that I have served solely as producer on one of our plays, so I really am removed from the whole thing. It’s very difficult to take credit for the artistic work done inside the play when you’re sitting outside of it, just watching. But it’s really easy to become a groupie for the very thing you’re trying to sell, when a piece of art becomes as important to us as this has become. Every play is important to the people who make it, and I’m using this blog to try to explain why this one is important to us.

Stage Motion and Shape

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I have been called a jack-of-all-trades, a man of many talents, a renaissance man… but the truth is I’m far more often a dilettante than I am anything positive. I’m the very definition of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, in that I know enough to pretend that I know very much, and unless I tell you that I don’t know that much, you probably won’t discover it until we’re both in a lot of trouble.

BUT, my varied and eclectic theater training, while leaving me shy of having a specific voice as, say, a director or a designer, has made it possible for me to enjoy a lot of different kinds of theater, far more than I might even think of creating on my own.

When I started acting, I was in an intensive program that ruthlessly taught the basics. For instance, when you are upstaging someone, you’re not being obnoxious during their monologue, you are actually physically moving slightly upstage so that you can look at them AND at the audience, forcing them to turn their backs and look upstage. I mention this because much of the *rest* of my theater education ignored a lot of this.

Now, I’m not gonna wander into the deep waters going on over at The Lark (although you *really* should go over and read the whole conversation, it’s illuminating), because they’re discussing something far larger, the idea of experimentation taking the place of basic construction, and in stage craft, it’s really far more fundamental. By the time I hit my fourth college, I was immersed in a crowd of brilliant mumblers, of people who had read their Uta Hagen, but didn’t know how to cheat in a proscenium, of people who were fascinated by Alexander Technique, but hadn’t learned the basic art of talking fast and loud.

In Gideon, we talk sometimes about people who know “how to deliver lines”, and it’s one of those things the separates talent from skill. In the same way, I think understanding the basic uses of the stage can separate talent from skill, and it’s fully on display with our play now heading into its opening on Saturday, “Viral”.

Too often, in an attempt to fight for realism, we fail to use the stage space to create pictures that insinuate into an audience’s lizard brains. When you put bodies in motion, and let them stop at a moment, that moment can describe the volumes of back story that you simply can’t fit into the story.

Take the following image from our tech rehearsal.

What do you see? I’ll tell you what I see.

I see the queen, the slave and the jester. I see the Queen, in repose, who is doing nothing, who is letting the life come to her. At the foot of the couch, the Slave sits, toiling, not even raising her head, not daring to look up, and to the left of the picture is the Jester, whom you can almost see with motley and bells.

I’ll go you one better, I’ll tell you what this scene means to me. It’s the Pieta, the Christ figure being embraced by the couch, and at the foot is Mary, who is almost washing the Christ’s feet. And Peter who is bowing… but not to Christ. Peter is bowing to the camera, who is recording Christ. Not enough time is spent creating these images, these tableaux, we spend so much time working towards truth, verisimilitude, that we don’t know how powerful these moments can be.

What do you see? I see a giant man fishing, and around him I see fish. The fisher stands, a full head higher than the set, and behind him two crushed guppies. More than that, I see a stack of video screens behind a tiny poison camera. Every wall, every piece of furniture, stacked like a pile of discarded televisions. Even the guppy’s shirt looks like a wall of screens.

I’m gonna try to talk about different parts of this production over this next week. In a way, I’ve fallen in love with this show in a way that I never expected to, and I’d like to share it with you the only way I know how. I hope this isn’t seen as self-celebratory, as a producer my job is to assemble teams of people and get the hell out of the way, and I really only checked in at the end of last week to see where we are. And I’m… I’m astonished. I won’t be able to talk about the show without gushing, so I apologize ahead of time.

Pro, or Re, Ductive

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

So, I find myself, the day after tech, with a reasonably clean inbox. And, of course, an extremely not-clean house.

Once tech has been run, once I know that we can do our load-in and load-out and we’ve got all the properties in place, the show essentially moves to the actors. The writer and the director still have a lot of work to do, there are gonna have to be cuts and pacing still needs to be pushed, but essentially, we’re closing in on the actors having the responsibility for carrying the show across the finish line.

I used to both love and hate this time as an actor. You know the show is in your hands, but the whole team is still hanging on you, metaphorically licking their thumbs and wiping dirt off your face. I never felt fully comfortable, fully calm, until we got our half hour call the day of opening. There is a thing that happens between you and an audience that can’t happen in rehearsal, a conversation, and the best of us knew how to deliver on our end. As much as rehearsal prepares you for the performance, your work has only barely begun before the curtain (if there is one) rises.

It’s strange that, as a producer, I have to work hard to conjure up feelings of melancholy for those times. I have a two fold job, I have to deliver the show to the actors (so that they can deliver it to the audience) and I have to deliver the audience to the production (so that they can respond to the cast). A story exists on the page, and a producer has to bring together the team that tells the story, and the team that listens. Half of that job is done, and the other half is almost too ineffable to quantify. It is certainly not something one can do for every production, it has to happen over many stories and many years of producing.

So, I shift back to that, fully, today. After carrying the couch into the rehearsal space, my job with them is done, and tonight I go to meet with a big group of other like-minded producers, to talk about what we’re doing, to talk about what excites us, and to talk about the two jobs.

It’s a really exciting time to be a producer on our level in New York. If you want to raise a hundred thousand dollars and produce a giant trilogy, you certainly may, but if you want to raise three grand and produce a small, important (to you) story, you can do that too. Fifteen years ago, there was no Fringe Festival… and now there are about ten summer festivals, many of them with very serious marketing and fantastic big-time production values.

It’s sad to go from 75 or 80 emails a day, from other producers, from the venue director, from the festival, from the stage manager and the director, down to having five emails in my inbox (including one from my mom!), but…

I saw the show last night at tech. I was on-book for a stretch, and I found myself trying to breathe so I wouldn’t fall apart. When we make off-off theater, we fall in love with our scripts, we can’t help it, but last night I was just transported. We’ve won some awards and we’ve had some really cool nominations, so is it possible that this might be the best thing we’ve ever produced? I certainly feel like I’m smarter and more mature now than I have ever been before, maybe we will just consistently get better and better as we go. I don’t know, I’m too close to everyone involved.

But, as the guy at the top of the pyramid (at least on this show) I have a deep satisfaction for what the rest of the team has done. Every single person has been a gigantic pain in the ass at some point (myself included), but we’re all getting better at letting that roll off our backs, and focusing on all that has gone so well. There have been times in the past where what we wanted to say was unclear, but this time, people’s opinions of the show will be based on the show, not on our lack of ability to pull off the production.


As I wrote this blog, I got a call from the venue director, which required a flurry of texts between myself and the stage manager. It really is the thing I love most about the theater – as soon as you begin to feel magical and transported, someone will come to you with a plunger and ask you to fix the toilet. It’s a lovely parallel to life…

Love for the Lyrics

Friday, August 7th, 2009

As part of the Fringe Festival, we ACRs have to load in the venue, and Julie, from Look After You rode in with me today with both our sets. We were talking about why we produce, and what we produce, and Julie was very passionate about new works. I found myself saying, “the longer we think we have to compete with television and movies, the more we try to create linear, sofa entertainment, the faster we’re gonna kill theater…”

It’s an interesting juxtaposition for me, after having seen the execrable 500 Days Of Summer. That movie is telling a story about a young man, able to see only his own beauty and perfection who loves a sociopath and, through no fault of his own, is left by her. Lyric Is Waiting is the story of a man, all too aware of his own ugliness and imperfection, who loves a woman that is actually sick, and through his own selfishness and weakness, he enables her to the point where she literally suffocates.

The second story is more honest, more sincere and far more interesting. The fact that some people have found Lyric to be confusing at all speaks volumes about how little we’ve come to expect from our theater experiences, and how hard we are no longer willing to work. A man comes out on stage, breaks the fourth wall, and his first words are about having a dream… and then we spend about 75 minutes going through his dream with him. It’s very simple to follow.

And it’s a thrill ride. Before I get too far into this, I should quickly say that this might be the most perfect cast I’ve ever seen. We have a saying in musicians’ circles, that “talent is a given”, so the fact that all four of the actors in this piece are a phenomenon isn’t what is so startling. It’s the uncanny perfection of their physicalization, the fact that each actor looks *exactly* right for each character that is astonishing. Particularly since they found Joe Masi, a behemoth of a man, to play the embodiment of mental illness as bigfoot. It’s a testament to the director and the script that he found a way to find such singing pathos as a Yeti.

Lori Prince gives a tour-de-force performance. I normally don’t do this, as readers of my blog know, I always leave out the scene chewer because when I was acting, I always found those parts to be far easier than the smaller tiny moments I would have to play when I *wasn’t* biting the set… But Lori is just sensational. It felt like the part was written for her to play. She seems to find a way of neutralizing the unnatural aspects of insanity and simply finds the truth in her character by pushing each logical moment to its illogical conclusion. It’s a marvelous performance.

I have a two year old waking up in six hours, and tech rehearsal tomorrow, so I won’t be able to say enough about this piece. Also, I can’t quote parts that I loved because my memory isn’t good enough, but let me try to describe one beautiful moment.

Lyric is finally trying to throw bigfoot out of her life. She screams and tells him he stinks, and when he begins to explain that it’s earth and animal smells, she says, “No, it’s fear.”

Bigfoot says that fear is what we are, men and monsters. That fear is all we have, it’s our natural state. Lyric wants assurance that fear can be erased, and bigfoot says it can’t. She finally asks if love will erase it, and he answers, “no”.

It is a stunning and powerful moment, especially for the men in the audience who might secretly know that fear is what moves us, fear of death or loneliness, of being misunderstood, or worse – of being known, fully. But it is made even more beautiful by the simplicity of the actors delivering the lines. And the fact that the “no” comes as an answer, directly after the question. It isn’t set up as a grand theatrical gesture, this piece of truth is given to us as information.

It’s times like this when you can be utterly transported as a theater person. The right actors, the right writer, being guided by the right director, performing in the right costumes on the right set, lit perfectly and the whole thing rings a tuning fork in your heart.

Great work has been done for you in this show. It will require you to pay attention to even the smallest moments, and… it’s a play, you don’t get to eat popcorn. But you should go, if you invest anything more than a passing interest, you are going to be richly rewarded. It’s a marvelous piece of theater.

500 Moments of Hell

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

There is a moment in 500 Days of Summer, among many other moments, that I found uniquely frustrating. For some reason, perhaps because the writer and director had run out of cliches and decided to steal the “interview on love” sessions from “When Harry Met Sally”, the movie switches to Black and White and the four male characters we’ve met speak directly to the camera about love.

The boss quotes one of his greeting cards and then says, “And yes, that’s from one of our greeting cards. Just because I didn’t write it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.” And the audience laughed at this jackass.

That’s right. An actor, in a movie, delivered lines written by the writer that seem to imply that when one is quoting from another writer, one is a cloying idiot, falling prey to the lies that our culture tells us about love. There are few things that make me more uncomfortable or irritated than a writer who mocks those that don’t get “writers”, as if there are those who think great thoughts, and those who mis-use or mis-quote those great thoughts for their own purpose. Maybe the only thing worse than saying that as a writer, is saying it while employing every single cliched, overused technique already in fashion. I don’t ever need to see this particular story told again.

Here are some other things I no longer need to see in movies, TV or theater.

1) Marveling at the idea that greeting cards are written by people other than those who purchase and give greeting cards. This idea is so manifest, and such a worthless joke, that to comment on it is to insist that this very pedestrian realization is something you find remarkable… an insistence that proves how easily impressed you are by the simplest ideas.

2) Kittens, when used to express emotion, are cloying. The poster of the hang-in-there kitty has been an ANCIENT JOKE since the late 80s. When Office Space commented on the “case of the mondays” annoyance, there were two levels to the joke, and the *first* level is that the joke need not be commented on.

3) Scenes of emotional significance occurring during a rainstorm, especially when it involves people running in the rain to make up with someone they’ve wronged. Rent every movie from 1981 to 1996. I believe Coppola never made a movie without employing this, and he’s made a lot of movies.

4) Great looking people discovering love at first sight with other shockingly gorgeous people. I’m sorry, did Zooey Deschanel break up with you? Console yourself with this –

5) A man using his movie/TV show/Play to get back at women for not loving him enough. Specifically, making a piece of art that shows a woman behaving repulsively toward a man, even though that man is charming, funny, small, beautiful, free of wrong, easily hurt and above reproach.

6) Characters explaining their opinions of love based on their parents’ divorce. Do you really think you can get away with “I don’t believe in love, my parents split up”? Have you ever met another human being? Almost everyone’s parents are divorced, and the ones that aren’t barely tolerate each other, human reaction to that is as varied and divided as our reactions to the existence of the Grand Canyon.

7) Junk food as a short hand for depression. If someone showed up at my liquor store in a bathrobe and purchased a pile of twinkies and cheap whiskey, I’d pull that person aside and say, “Listen, this is an advertisement for depression, this isn’t actual depression. My guess is, you aren’t having a single real emotion at all. You haven’t ‘given up’ or whatever it is you’re trying to broadcast, when you go somewhere in public in a bathrobe, YOU ARE CELEBRATING yourself.”

8) People talking to themselves in the mirror. Have you done this? Seriously, if anyone reads this, and they can say to me, honestly, that you’ve looked at yourself in the mirror and rehearsed a phone call or psyched yourself up, if you’ve ACTUALLY done this, then I want to hear from you. Because I’m DONE with this. I’m not talking about when you’re high, everyone has watched their eyes dilate in the mirror when they’re high. I’m just so sick of this cop-out, the whole-hearted belief that the audience won’t know what’s going on unless the actor speaks out loud to himself, and he can’t possible do that in a mutter, sitting in a chair, he has to do it conversationally, in a mirror.

9) The explosion into song after sex. This is one of the only moments done so well in the movie that I wasn’t in actual pain, but can we just stop this? I get it, when you finally have sex with the girl of your dreams, it’s much like musical theater, but do me a favor… Don’t shoot the scene. Spend two years, find a group of like minded people, and create a two act musical that expresses what you’re mocking. See if you can do it. You can’t, and this short hand is repulsive.

10) Telling me that popular culture is all lies. Particularly when you do it in one of the most lucrative forms of popular culture. You don’t get to write a love story, make it into a movie, and insist that it’s not a love story and that movies are all lies.

11) Recycling my own memories back to me, especially by using characters who are too young and too stupid to have my memories. I did fall in love with a girl who loved The Smiths. It was 1985, and we were both 15. And I thought she was the love of my life. The Smiths broke up in 1987, when the actors in this movie were 6 and 7 years old. He sings The Pixies at Karaoke? They broke up in ’92, when these actors were 11 and 12. Now if I were to sing “What A Fool Believes” at Karaoke, it wouldn’t make any sense. That song came out when I was 8.

And, don’t actually PLAY the end of The Graduate. That was its own movie, that made its own points, and meant a lot to a lot of people. I saw a play some years back about a group of guys getting together after several years, and four minutes of the play was them singing an 80s song. Not referring to it, or even singing a single refrain, THEY SANG THE WHOLE SONG. Let’s make a deal, if someone else has already made a movie or written a song that makes your point, then find a new point to make. It’s done.

12) The rube best friend. Exhausting. Why does every man boy spend their time with shitheads who don’t share their sensibility, their sense of humor or their understanding of the world.

13) Assholes hitting on girls at bars. Huge aggressive meatheads, coked up and slightly drunk, behaving like total assholes at a bar. Look, this barely ever happens. The truth is, it isn’t one little rare special man who is scared of love in a sea of brutes and assholes. Theses guys who spend all their time at the gym and have to get drunk to talk to girls? YOU THINK THESE GUYS *AREN’T* THE ONES SCARED OF LOVE? I didn’t like these guys either, in high school, but then we all GREW UP. I spent a lot of time in bars in my youth, me and all my friends. The genuine assholes weren’t the thick yuppies, they were the pretentious screenwriters who thought they were better than everyone in the bar because they *felt* things. The coked up yuppie woman-hater is a trope from the 80s, the last time it made sense was in “The Wedding Singer”.

This is the popular kids’ misunderstanding of loneliness. Lonely guys go to bars and try to talk to pretty girls. And a lot of them are kinda ugly, kinda bloated, and have to put on an air of invulnerability to get up the nerve. When I see a guy with too much hair product, who’s gone to a bar alone and gotten drunk, my heart breaks for the guy. When you try to make him out to be an asshole, it makes me hate the writer.

(pant pant pant…)

Now, I
‘m old, I have a kid and I’ve been married forever. Love is a very blue-collar thing for me, it’s something that occurs with an enormous amount of work, and it has nothing to do with anyone’s big beautiful blue eyes. And I speak from experience, both my wife and my son have big beautiful blue eyes.

We don’t love someone “essence”, we love what they *do*. Yes, we can lust after beauty, but we don’t exist in a vacuum, we aren’t items. If you are loving and kind towards someone, that will effect how they behave towards you. The world is not full of people who behave randomly, we AFFECT one another.

And… okay, let’s say we don’t. Let’s say we have no effect on each other, and that a woman can simply treat a man with utter disregard for how he feels or how he behaves. My conclusion is that this woman is a sociopath. And, frankly, I’m not interested in art that makes an argument that a person’s actions get no reactions. Where the characters simply, after much sturm and drang, have no affect on one another.

It isn’t interesting to me, that people love each other for a mystical reason that has no bearing on who we are or what we do. And more than being boring, I think it’s a lie, a self-congratulatory, immature lie. With the little amount of sleep I’ve had in the last two months, I can’t believe I spent those two hours awake and being lied to, instead of asleep and watching my dreams.