My First New York Show–Embarassment With a Spotlight!

I haven’t mentioned playwrighting yet, mostly because if I gave daily updates it would look something like this:

Waited again today. It’s been three and a half weeks since my last rejection. They took eighteen months to reply, then said there were too many characters. It was a solo piece. (Sighhhhhh).

Actually an online publisher recently asked for the full script of “Banshee”, so there’s that.

So what shall it be, snowdays or my first play in New York? Mainly my point about snowdays is that if you have kids it basically takes what was once a magical day of sledding and play delivered straight from God with an annoying extra day of parenting spent breaking up fights and pretending you “get” the ten-minute long joke. But kids ruined my life, blah, blah, blah—let’s get to the main event!

“Before the Parade Passes By” was the second play I ever wrote, and the first full-length. It was a “prequel” to my first play called “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (obviously I had to work on title variety) and shared a character from that play named Sidney J. Stein. I was going to play Sidney myself at first until we invited a guy named Jimmy to a reading—he stood up with his droopy sweater and became Sidney right before our eyes. We did a version of “Parade” in a big empty room on the Bard campus with Jimmy, my wife Mary El, a great actor friend Joe and our wonderful late friend Ellen. It went really well, as the 30-odd people in the crowd could attest. I was able to thank each audience personally for coming.

So when I got the letter from the NY theater saying they wanted to produce “Parade” I was understandably psyched. I was just 30, I had two whole plays under my belt, I still had my colon (I’ll explain that in another post, but trust me, I still had it). When Jimmy went down to the audition and nailed the role of Sidney, it was like everything was—dare I say it—coming up roses.

Ernest Hemingway once said if you want to make Hollywood movies, drive to the California border, toss the script over and drive away. Having a play done in NY is a similar experience, except you have to take a subway when you flee. My play is, in part, about a family who was dominated by a father who recently died. The mother abandoned her Jewish faith for her husband, so the family was raised Catholic. Sidney, who was kicked out of the home by his father as a teen, reconnected to his Jewish roots in honor of his mother and took her last name. Got it? Of course you do. You’re smart people.

The director didn’t get it. She was a Jewish woman in her early sixties who had a gorgeous, humongous apartment on the Upper West side. She did all the rehearsals up there, and served shrimp and wine. I’m sure she put her own money into the theater, and it bought her the right to direct the plays she wanted. Everything was great, except for the fact that she didn’t know what she was doing.

The play revolved around the flamboyant Sidney, his sister Jen who was trapped in a loveless marriage and his brother Christopher who was outwardly living the perfect life but was actually living a secretive lie. Sidney was Jewish by choice and his siblings were raised Catholic in upstate NY. Sounds simple, right? Apparently not. The director had the siblings smacking each other, screaming at each other, basically acting like they were extras from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. It was Neil Simon meets Yiddish Theater meets awful.

I was embarassed for the poor actors. But then I realized it was my name under the title, and I’d better save some embarrassment for myself. I warned my wife that rehearsals weren’t going well when we went to opening night, but nothing could quite prepare her. For those of you who know Mary El, you can imagine. For those of you who don’t, let’s just say that when it comes to bad theater she doesn’t go gently into that good night—or quietly. The audible sighs, pounds on my leg and whispered statements of outrage eminating from the woman in the seat next to me were, quite frankly, more entertaining than the play and easily worth the price of admission (since I had gotten comps). After the show I apologized to the two friends who had made the trip to NY for my debut, hugged Jimmy (who managed to still be good somehow) and tried to keep a straight face as I spoke to the director: “the set really came together”, “you all did a lot of hard work”, “the menorah and yarmulkes were an…interesting choice”.

The production ran two weeks, and it would have run longer if I had let the director put more of her money in and extend it. I just couldn’t (sorry Jimmy!). It wouldn’t be the last time I did something stupid because it was the “right” thing to do. I hadn’t learned yet that compromise is absolutely essential to success. Just ask anyone successful, if they’ll still talk to you.

    • Daniel
    • April 28th, 2011

    I don’t know Mary El, but I do know Elysabeth Kleinhans

    • Jim Pillmeier
    • May 9th, 2011

    No need to be sorry at all; that woman tortured me!! I am so grateful to you to this day, not only for giving me the incredible gift of Sydney, but for allowing me to send her the review for “Parade”!! I gave me SUCH satisfaction!!!

  1. February 4th, 2011

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