Glee Club

Dr. Paula Boire was her name, and if I’m completely honest with myself, I loved every minute of it. I told myself, time and again, that she saw a kernel of good in my singing ability, that she wanted more from me, which is why she was so unspeakably cruel. She knew I had greatness, just waiting to come out, but the only way to get to that greatness was to tell me I was utterly talentless. That’s what I told myself.

Oh, there were plenty of others. Mike Skidgel, who, at the end of one particularly beautiful solo I did in rehearsal, responded with a moment of silence and then, simply, “I’m sorry, were you JOKING?”. John Vaughn, who, when I told him I was too heavy to do coffee grinders on the floor, said, with complete honesty, “well, who’s fault is that? MINE?”

God, I love it. It is maybe the funniest part of my ridiculous life, looking back on these guys. And nobody has really captured it the way I remember it, until now.

Glee Club by Matthew Freeman is transportingly delightful, and absolute joy for someone like me. Now, it seems that nearly everyone who saw it before I did thought the same thing, and this show could not have been hyped to me more. Basically, close friends watched it and probably enjoyed it one degree more because they had me in their heads laughing my ass off.

If you strip back the actual premise, it’s an incredibly dark show about the problems of priorities and instant gratification. Many of us are going through the exact same thing in the off-off world, it seems like so many of our plays have, as a plot element, the idea that if we can just do *this one thing*, then everything will pay off, and I think I know why. It might be that we’re starting to doubt. We always thought that hard work, a little luck and maybe a little bit of devil-dealing, and we’d have the success we desired, but I think we’re starting to wonder if maybe that isn’t true.

In Vampire Cowboys’ Soul Samurai, we follow a desperate path to redemption, only to discover that when we get there, everything is turned on its head. In Nosedive Productions Infectious Opportunity it seems as if there is one biographical invention that will change the landscape of a young artist’s life, but the change turns him into a horror. In our own Mac Rogers play Viral the characters believe that one well-made video can change their lives forever. Again, in Glee Club, there is one show, with one well-funded donor in the audience, that promises to change their lives, leading them to make destructive and inhuman decisions for very little gain.

Why does this theme seem to pop up again and again? It just so happens that these companies and these writers are all in very similar places, knowing that they have achieved a certain level of success, but they also see the distance from where they are now from where their dreams had been, and it is beginning to dawn on them that the sacrifices they make have to be limited to things within their moral framework, because the return is not gonna be worth ruining your life for.

Glee Club is the best example of this. The best singer in the club has ruined his life with drink, has lost his family and his job, has hit rock bottom, and has, in the last two weeks, joined AA. The problem, of course, is that he can no longer sing. And he’s the soloist. Before you can even say, “How do you solve this problem”, before you can even think it, the desperate, disgusting men on stage have already realized that they need to get this guy drunk, so he can do his solo and save the Glee Club.

That is exactly where so many of us are right now. If I hire a publicist and hassle all of my friends, and get every single ticket sold, and then, on the other side, I try to get as much stuff for free as I can and rehearse in the back of my car or in a park, and guilt trip the actors to work for sandwiches… THEN – when all of this master plan comes together – THEN… I will have broken even. Or maybe made two hundred dollars.

Or, not even thinking about money, if we make a play and every blogger shows up, and all the online reviews are great, and the actual print media comes, and the New York Times says it’s great… then, what? It’s a little easier to put on the next show? You can walk in to an agent’s office with some hot papers, they sign you and then… what? You’re writing a spec script for Grey’s Anatomy, a show you’ve never even seen, in a medium you care nothing about, where there’s a lot of money but where you do nothing but pine for the days you were writing off-off shows and cast your friends?

I mentioned in a blog post recently that our community is freaking me out with how good everyone’s work is, but it wasn’t until I saw the play yesterday that I kinda understood why. Glee Club sold out the performance I was at, and if there’s any justice in the world the next show will sell out too, and then the run will end. And then what? It’s a terrifying question, and it’s one that every one of us asks ourselves three or four times a year. Of *course* that’s what we’re all writing about. The incredible horror of the fruition of our work.

As for this specific show, there is *no way* it could have lived up to expectations. It was basically sold to me as the ultimate Sean Williams show, so I have to admit, I was disappointed in one or two ways. First of all, while it’s important to leave your audience wanting more, I wanted A LOT more. I want this to be a two act play, and I want the characters to be developed a little more patiently. I laughed solidly for 50 minutes, and I walked away with days worth of stuff to think about, but I think there’s a lot here to be mined, and I sincerely hope they expand this thing to two acts.

It’s kinda hilarious to complain about a play being too short. How often does that happen?

The only other disappointment was in the staging, but a lot of that was because of the limitations of the space. There was a lot of stuff going on, and I missed too much of it without being able to see the actor’s faces. I chalk this up *entirely* to the severe depth and very little breadth of the Brick. Although, I gotta say, at this point the Brick has engendered so much good will, I fell like a dick for complaining about it.

The characters were pitch perfect, and the cast was spot on. If the play were twice as long, then we could have gotten to know everyone with a little more patience, but I just loved seeing all of these people *I know* on stage, all of the characters who find themselves drawn to small, non-professional, performing groups. It’s terrifying.

In particular, Stephen Speights, who also wrote the insanely fantastic song that they’re rehearsing, is transporting. I wonder if he’s been through what I went through in my twenties, because he couldn’t be more honest in his portrayal. This character could really suck, but Speights fights for him every step of the way, and even lines like, “You call us your friends, which I find surprising because I don’t think of you as my friends” and even, “I hate you with such a white hot passion”… theses are delivered as if to think otherwise is just naive. I loved this performance so much, the bits of comedy were simply *one tiny notch* larger than the moments of tragedy, and both played pitch perfectly. I wanted to watch a two hour show about this character.

And then Matthew Trumbull, who’s tiny staggers and halting brain blasts have become a staple of incredibly comic perfection all over the place… he was just fantastic. How do you deliver a line like, “I can’t even watch a DVD without gin”, and make it both small and punched. He’s really a force, in a thousand small neurotic gestures, he’s just brilliant.
This isnt’ to take anything away from the other actors, I just can’t slob all over everyone all day. This group of actors was, to a man, fantastic. And the direction was wonderful. Was it a broad comedy? You might think so when you see one member who is obviously a psychopath (played brilliantly by Gary Shrader), but then you see that it really isn’t when another member struggles with the dissolution of his marriage and his heart-aching longing to see his kids. A guy with cancer? Maybe we’re in a tear-jerker… the rest of the glee club mocking the guy with cancer because IT’S BEEN IN REMISSION FOR FIFTEEN YEARS…?

YES. When my only real complaint is that I wanted the whole thing to be an hour and a half longer, you know, this is my kind of fucked-up play.