Posts Tagged ‘ theater ’

Patty Duke Sipped Here

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I have a story to tell my friends.

It’s a show-biz story. A story of perseverance, fortitude and a never-say-die attitude. A story of pluck, determination, ambition! It’s about going out there a simple chorus girl and coming back a star!

Except the star is an end table.

Allow me to explain. Those of you who know me may have received one of the 10,000 or so emails and Facebook posts regarding my play “Echoes of Ireland.” We’ve been on a bit of a Spring tour, performing the show in Newburgh this March, Catskill in May, and coming up in June—Goshen! Get your tickets! While supplies last! Act now! JUST THROW MONEY AT THE PRETTY COLORS!!!

Sorry, I got a little carried away. Anyway, the reason why we’ve been able to pack up the show so easily and visit these fine villages is that we have practically NO set. It’s literally four chairs, or stools, or boxes, or whatever the theater has handy for us to put our butts on. We have costumes—I mean, we’re not completely without theatrical sensibility. And props! We have…well, we have a couple. More than one. The lights get dim and then bright again. OK, it’s a good show, don’t judge a book by its lack of incidental music. Oh, and there’s one table. Little dark cherry deal, ’bout yea tall.

The table belongs to Dana, one of our cast members. She brought it in two days before we opened in Newburgh, and we were very grateful to have it. Not too big that it blocked the audience, nor to small to rest a cup of tea upon (or some grammatically correct version of that notion.) Through the course of the show laundry is folded on it, and a fake cigarette and ashtray rest atop it. Good, hard-working table that keeps its nose clean, does its job and doesn’t kill you to the rest of the cast as soon as your back is turned. A mensch.

We liked it so much that we brought it with us when we went up to Catskill. We could have used other tables, but this one had proven its worth and deserved more consideration than the rest. Again it took its place among the stools and turned in yet another useful, utilitarian, hard-working performance. The show in Catskill was glorious. A wonderful, receptive crowd in a beautiful, brand new theater space. We received–along with our table—a standing ovation. I mention that fact only to adequately set the scene, not because of any prideful vanity about the show and my cast…(it was one of the best days of my LIFE!) There was a pleasant post-show buzz, as the theater owners supplied free shots of Bushmills and some very nice Irish music. We all packed our costumes up and returned home with the pleasurable warmth of a job well done. And some Bushmills.

And without our table.

The theater owners informed us of the missing cast member and we arranged to pick it up the next week when my wife had a doctor appointment in Albany.  However, that was when fate intervened and decided it was the long suffering table’s turn to enjoy the spotlight.  At the last moment, the owners (a charming couple named Steven and John) made arrangements to bring PATTY DUKE to the tiny, insignificant village of Catskill for a “one night only” performance.  Her only demand?  A small table! Where to find one…hey, what about the one left here by those idiot “Echoes” people?

Thus, the table will soon have an IMDb credit.  With Patty Duke. What a world.

I agreed to this on Dana’s behalf, which you may consider forward of me. But I took for granted that she wouldn’t want to deny her table this once-in-a-lifetime experience to star alongside the original Hellen Keller. However, I took pains to insist I was not responsible for any water rings left by Ms. Duke.

The fact of the matter is that the table will soon have a more impressive resume than I do. My closest brush with stardom was when I almost sold furniture to Dianne Wiest. She didn’t buy. Dana’s fear is that when the table finally returns to her it will be so inflated with its own ego that it will refuse to hold her jar of Q-tips anymore. And this, apparently, would be my fault.

I told her every time the table starts talking about “that time I performed opposite Patty Duke,” just start flipping through an IKEA catalog.  Actors need to know just how replaceable they are.

 

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What NOT to Do While Attending a Stage Show

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I was a fat boy. A big ‘ole fat fat fatty. I am, from long being among their number, quite sensitive to the plight of the overweight, and I denounce those who denigrate people based solely on their waistlines.

Except for this fat, disgusting slob who was at my show this past Sunday.

I know, I know, the fact that he was fat had very little to do with his being a disgusting slob. But it’s very difficult to parse subtleties when you want to wring someone’s jowly neck.

My show was playing in New York for a brief, three night stay, and this was the last showing. Productions in New York are rare for a playwright, unless you have a lot of money and don’t mind losing it all in one glorious shot. They need to be cherished. Like newborn babies, or a really good Jewish deli.

So there I am in the back of the theater, soaking it all in. I always wait in the lighting booth until everyone is seated, then slip out into the last row. I do this for two reasons. First, I frequently have guests in the audience who know me and I would like to avoid that, “Hey, there he is, there you are, you’re about to see my play, yes I am, isn’t this freakin’ awkward?” moment. Second, if nobody likes it they don’t know where to aim the rotten fruit. You have to think these things through.

The play starts and I am right there with my cast of two, living the lines the three of us rehearsed in my livingroom for the past five weeks. They’re starting off strong, right from the first scene. I am completely invested, until…

There’s the rustling of a plastic bag. Then there’s more rustling, as if somebody is stuck inside the bag, trying to get out. I look for the source. It’s coming from about three rows in front of me, to the left. There is a woman to the left, trying to watch intently. There’s a man to the right, trying to hear the dialogue.

And there’s a fat slob in the middle, EATING HIS DINNER! He reaches into a tin plate, grabs some dripping, meat-like substance WITH HIS FINGERS and shoves it down his obese, repugnant gullet. I looked up synonyms for “disgusting” to help write this blog: odious, repellent, vile, distasteful, foul, repulsive, revolting, nauseating. None of those words do justice to what I was watching in (thank God!) the dim light thrown from the stage. He looked like this guy from “Miller’s Crossing”, except with hair:

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For those keeping score at home, this is the second blog in a row with a “Miller’s Crossing” reference. If I was making up a syllabus, “Miller’s Crossing” would most certainly be on it, along with every single Bugs Bunny cartoon. Its 7.9 IMDB score is about 2 full points too low. And my comparison with the disgusting fat guy in the theater is nothing against fine character actor Jon Polito, whose work as Johnny Caspar in the aforementioned film is the stuff of film legend. And Jon would most certainly NOT inhale mysterious meats during the first scene of my play in New York.

I forgot to mention the smell. How to describe it? Pervasive is a word that comes to mind. All-encompassing. The type of redolence usually associated with a county fair falafel stand. Which is not a bad aroma…if you happen to be AT THE FREAKIN’ COUNTY FAIR!

I didn’t know what to do. I heard that Laurence Fishburne once stopped dead in the middle of “Othello” when a cell phone rang, then stood at the edge of the stage with his arms crossed and stared at the offender until the phone was safely turned off and tucked away. Should I run to the front of the theater, stop the actors mid-dialogue and demand that Fatty McFatneck stop stuffing his cheeks? Was this a Morpheus moment?

Of course not. First of all, I’m approximately 1/1000th as cool as Laurence Fishburne. Second of all, I wanted to be invited back to this particular festival, and a good way to make that not happen would be to publicly excoriate a paying customer for his slovenly ways. But boy did I want to excoriate! I wanted to excoriate all over the guy! I’m not by nature a violent person, but I gladly would have throttled him within an inch of his life, if I could get my hands around his enormous neck.

Instead I sat there and stewed—no pun intended.

In the end, my actors won the gastronomical battle, or the guy finished eating—whichever. Despite the myriad of distractions, both audience and cast managed to hear enough of each other to create a good show. The fact that the fat guy was fat had nothing to do with his mistaking my show for dinner theater, I’m sure. His despicable habit of eating from tin plates in inappropriate places was his true character flaw, not his poundage.

But if I see him at one of my shows again, I may need to go all Matrix on his fat ass.

Desperation is NOT Pretty

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Last night (and I mean ALL night) I emailed every LGBT organization within a 50 mile radius of my upcoming NYC play, The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein. There are a LOT. Besides the usual community centers, there’s a gay cycling club, a gay wrestling group, a few gay synagogues, a gay chorus, gay country-western line dancing… Out there living the glorious, childless life I could have had if God in his wisdom hadn’t made me so damn straight! There is even a group for bear lovers where you have to press a big hairy belly-button to get into the website. Who knew gays loved wildlife so much?

My show opens a week from this Friday and I am slowly reaching a level of panic usually induced by looking in my rear view mirror and realizing those shiny red and blue lights aren’t a UFO. You know, that moment of sheer terror when you make a quick mental checklist of whether you actually have the car registered, inspected and insured all at the same time and search frantically for your license so you don’t have to spend the rest of the night trying to arrange a ride back home from the police station? No? Maybe this example only applies to my wife and me.

Needless to say, I am freaking. Except for the livingroom where we rehearse, my house is a disaster area. There’s a new tire next to my piece of crap car waiting for it to stop raining so it can be restored to its rightful place. My fantasy baseball team is crumbling into disrepair. The kids have resorted to (gulp) getting food and drink for themselves! Because of my strange, three-hours-at-a-time sleep schedule, the cats pounce on me 12 to 15 times a day to be fed, probably thinking each time that it’s morning again. I’m a downward spiral, wrapped inside a hurricane, surrounded by an inferno of lava. And that’s just my stomach.

Every week the good people from All Out Arts who run the theater festival send me an email with our ticket sales to date. For the last three weeks it’s been the same—four total tickets sold for three shows. Four! Now of course more than four people will see the show. Rationally I know that festival audiences are usually spur-of-the-moment and rarely lock themselves into tickets beforehand. But irrational, sleep-deprived, obsessive Brian reacts like Oskar Schindler at the end of Schindler’s List: if I sold these cufflinks, I could have had three more audience members…this ring, I could have melted it down and gotten four more tickets sold…this car…why did I need the car?…it could have been 20 tickets…

See, if I was thinking rationally I would know that our car would be lucky to fetch the price of one ticket, and only if you sold it for parts.

My problem is I’m a playwright, not a producer. Oh, I’ve learned how to do the things I need to do to promote my show, and I write a helluva press release. But there’s that…glaze-eyed, single-minded, slightly manic INTENSITY good producers have and I lack. I’m not willing to call and call and call until I get what I want. Although some of my Facebook friends might disagree, I am not comfortable with the all-out, Super Bowl marketing blitzkrieg necessary to sell tickets. I’m not above asking friends to come support my work, but I’m no good with the follow up phone call where I ask, “So what day are you coming? Are you bringing friends? How many? Get more, I’ll arrange a bus.” Naked ambition and the ability to use people I like without a conscience aren’t in my DNA. Which is why I will never succeed as a producer.

I’m more of a soft sell guy. The kind who would write a passive-aggressive blog about how freaked out he is over ticket sales with the hope that everyone who reads it and can travel to New York “gets it” and instantly goes to the website at web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/527 and buys tickets to make my stomach stop hurting. See why I suck at this?

 

You want to know how I view the art of selling tickets? You ever see Miller’s Crossing? If you haven’t, go out and buy it RIGHT NOW. We’ll wait. OK, you remember the scene where John Turturro is being taken out into the woods to be shot by Gabriel Byrne and he’s begging, begging, begging for his life to be spared? “I can’t die… out here in the woods, like a dumb animal! In the woods, LIKE A DUMB ANIMAL!” Sniveling, pride-less John Turturro, pissing himself and crying, on his knees in the woods. “I’m praying to you! Look in your heart! I’m praying to you! Look in your heart! I’m praying to you! Look in your heart! I’m praying to you! Look in your heart… ” Producing, ladies and gentlemen!

 

I want the world to see my new show. It’s my latest child, and he’s just learning to walk. I want to show you the video and the endless pictures of his first step. But…I know there’s a limit to how much you’re going to listen to me go on about my miraculous kid. At some point you’re going to smile, nod your head knowingly, say something like “aren’t children great” and try to get away from me as quickly as possible without being rude. Oh, how I wish I could be one of those blissfully unaware people who think whatever is important to them is equally, if not more, important to the rest of the world! If only I lacked all empathetic ability, and cared not a whit about what the other guy was thinking as I’m saying, “So, you gonna come to my show? It’s going to be fabulous. Ten tickets or an even dozen?”

 

I need to send more emails and lie down for no more than three hours, if my stomach stops churning. Feel sorry for me? Good, here’s the flyer: 

 

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How to Produce an Off-Broadway Show for $1.50

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Click on the flyer for more info on the show.

I ain’t got NO money, honey. I mean zip. At this very moment, I have a car with no brakes and a suspended license I can’t afford to pay off. As many of you know I am on permanent disability, which, if you read Facebook, means that I’m luxuriating in mountains of free cash while smoking crack and talking on my brand new I-Phone. Yeah, not so much.

What the HELL am I doing producing an Off-Broadway show?

The short answer: as much as I can without spending a dime.

Way back when when I first started playwrighting, I wrote a play called Everything’s Coming Up Roses that took place on an AIDS ward. I had written a couple of monologues for an Art for AIDS benefit and one of the members asked me to find a play to produce to fill a two-hour slot. I looked at a bunch of AIDS plays, but couldn’t find one I liked. So, being young and stupid, I decided I’d write one.

Against all odds it ended up being pretty good. It was a long one act with strong characters and believe it or not it was funny. I remember being up in the balcony running lights in the Poughkeepsie theater where we debuted the show. I held my breath at the first laugh line. I was both shocked and thrilled when the audience responded. It was a heady experience.

Not that comedy was the point—the play took place in an AIDS ward, after all. But at the center of the ensemble play was a flamboyant character named Sidney J. Stein, who provided many of the one-liners, sang inappropriate showtunes and filled the stage with life. Or it was the actor, Jimmy Pillmeier, imbuing the character with his boundless energy. Script, actor, actor, script. When it works you don’t know where one ends and the other begins.

There have been five incarnations of Roses, and Jimmy played Sidney in each one, from Poughkeepsie to the Village to Brooklyn. My first full-length play was a prequel to Roses called Before the Parade Passes By, which focused on Sidney’s troubled family at his abusive father’s funeral. Jimmy was in the show we debuted at Bard, and then again when it had a limited run in New York. In short, Jimmy has been Sidney on stage whenever there’s been a Sidney to be seen.

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Needless to say, after my first two plays dealt very specifically with AIDS and gay characters, I gained a bit of a local reputation as “Orange County’s Foremost Gay Playwright” (that’s Orange County, NY—in California I wouldn’t have been in the top 20). The fact that I was actually straight seemed not to matter much, which I chose to take as a compliment. If the plays had sucked, the gays would have dropped me like last Spring’s fashions!

Since that time I have written a range of characters, from my own Irish uncle to a German boxer to a Polish Holocaust survivor to my wife’s grandmother. It is a particular freedom playwrighters enjoy, to be able to create characters who are often very different from themselves. As long as the characters are true, not false. False will be ferreted out before the end of the first scene, if it takes that long.

Which is all an effort to explain how I came back to the beginning by writing a new play called The Love Song of Sidney J. Stein. I will soon be embarking on a one-man PR blitzkrieg in an attempt to make everyone in the metro New York area (and everyone else I know) aware that this play will be going on in New York this July. Which is not the point of this blog, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. They say you have to put a message in front of potential “customers” 20 times before it has the desired effect of having them notice it. One down, 19 to go!

The idea of seeing where Sidney might be at this stage of his life was immensely appealing to me. He never really went away as far as I was concerned, but it had been quite a while since anyone else had heard from him. He has changed in some ways, like we all do as we mature and age. He works at a halfway house now, trying to help the new generation of runaways and hustlers who always seem to repopulate themselves. He is still himself—still snide, still funny—but more than himself at the same time. And somehow he’s alive, as many folks who are HIV positive have recently found themselves.

And as luck would have it, Jimmy returned from his theater job in Maine around the same time! Kismet!

So when I saw that there was going to be a “Fresh Fruit Festival” in New York featuring LGBT-centric plays, I knew Sidney, Jimmy and me had a date with destiny. I entered the play for consideration, letting Jim know of the possibility, and waited. I can’t say I had no plan about what I would do if the play was accepted—I have done the self-producing merry-go-round before—but I can safely say it wasn’t completely thought out. Of course we got in, and I beat the bushes looking for a producer. No dice. So…I borrowed the refundable deposit from my Dad and we’re embarking on the $1.50 version of Sidney.

What does this mean? OK, first of all I can’t hire a publicist, which means I have to make up my own press release and send it out to the oh, two thousand media outlets in and around Manhattan. Request reviews, follow up with pictures, pursue contacts. I started that this week, and I will probably keep doing it until we open. Good thing I don’t have a job, although the Cadillac shopping does slow me down some.

It also means niceties like costumes and set pieces are probably going to be necessarily expendable. Neither will a stage manager nor a light/sound tech be affordable. It’ll be me, me and me, and my two cast members, and however many of our friends or strangers we can convince to come.

And you know what? So what. There’s no helicopter landing, or chandelier falling from the roof in act two. There’s no multi-media, no light show, no puppets. It’s a two-person character-driven play that we would do with flashlights if we had to. Because it is important to us and we need to show it. I’d like it to become a huge, runaway success that warrants a twenty-thousand dollar budget, or a two-hundred thousand dollar budget, with a lighting director and a costume mistress and a paid producer. Hell I’d take 200 bucks to defray travel costs. But no multiple of twenty is going to make the show itself any better. The right actors, with the right script. You should be able to stage it at the bottom of a well.

So this is how you produce an Off-Broadway play for $1.50, if you’re ever in the mood. Write a script you have the passion to get out no matter what. Cast talented people, preferable ones you’ve worked with before so you know what they are capable of. Rehearse the hell out of it. In your living-room. Send a LOT of persistent emails. Bother everyone you know to come see it. Carpool down to New York. Find out where the “lights up” switch is on the board and tell the actors to project. Try to enjoy every second, because the opportunity does not come around as often as you’d like it to.

Or you can find a producer, but what fun would that be?

Aborigines and Community Theater

Mary El opened in “Grey Gardens” this weekend. I couldn’t be there for the shows because both boys had Little League games this weekend, but I was able to catch a rehearsal earlier in the week. Mary El is extremely good as Little Edie, amazing really. I know, I know…what else am I going to say about my own wife. In fact if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone’s mate was “amazing” I’d have, I don’t know, twenty, twenty-five nickels. But she really is. Can’t wait to see her next weekend.

Community theater is a peculiar thing. It is filled with authentic passion, along with a variety of different talent levels. The outcome is usually a bit dubious. I’ve seen very, very few shows that strike a balance between the good and not so good. There are people who do it because they love it, people who do it because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves, people who do it because they don’t like bowling and people who do it so other people will look at them. There are people who know their limits, those who are good enough to give a role a go, and those who are so far off in their self-regard that they think everything they do is magical. If there’s one criticism I would make of community theater in general it’s that the majority of its actors, directors and choreographers think they are WAAAAYYYY better than they actually are. The tech people are solid, and often deserve higher billing.

Actually, I have another criticism. The worst offenders, usually in the category of those who crave attention and think their poop don’t stink, have a tendency to withhold complimenting anybody who is outside their little circle of self-congratulation. I’m a playwright, so I’ve had to develop ten extra layers of skin to deal with the overwhelming amount of rejection that comes my way. Between theaters saying no to my work and critics sometimes being savage, I’ve had to build up a resistance to negativity. Sometimes there is a grain of truth in negative comments that can help the progress of the play. Other times it’s just people trying to prove how much smarter they are than everyone else, or how nasty they can be from their bully pulpit, or how outraged they are at the thought of someone trying something new. Separating the grain from the chaff is a big part of the job, and recognizing the source of criticism is paramount. Does the critic have the good of my work at heart, or do they fall into one of the above categories? In the end, I’ve had to develop a rock-solid assuredness about my writing that can withstand anyone’s attempt to tear it down, because there are those people out there who endeavor to do just that for whatever reason. I take criticism quietly and attentively, then decide whether or not it’s warranted, whether the source can be trusted, etc. afterward.

Actors are a bit different. For one thing the performance is done with by the time you receive criticism, because it’s not like a script that can be amended and improved. What you did onstage is the show. I once was approached by someone after performing McMurphy in “One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest”, and was told my rendition was “over the top”. I got lots of positive feedback for that show, and I liked what I was doing, so I don’t want to come off like I was tremendously affected by her statement. I just kinda agreed with her and said yes, it’s a very over-the-top character. What could I say? The show was over. I suppose I could have toned it down the rest of the run, but I didn’t think I needed to. The point is, there is necessarily a truckload of ego that comes out on that stage with you every night and it’s very easy to have your self-worth trampled by idiots who think they know better than you because they’ve been involved in the “the-A-tre” for X number of years and have directed or appeared in X number of shows. Doesn’t impress me. Maybe they all sucked! And the ones who withhold their compliments, out of envy or mean-spiritedness or their own precious ego, really need to be ignored themselves. Given their hunger for attention, that’s the worst thing you could do to them.

People with real talent don’t need to tell you how talented they are, or prove it with a resume, or try to make other people less by promoting themselves as more. Really talented people can afford to have an open heart about other performers and directors and writers because they have nothing to prove. A talented person WANTS to see others succeed, because their success does not diminish him or her. Much is made of divas and egocentric actors and directors, and aloof, quirky writers. The truth of the matter is that those behaviors are only tolerated of the top .001% of the most talented, and even then it is a shame. The overwhelming majority of very talented people have learned to seek out other talented folks with which to surround themselves. Theater above all is a collaborative art, and while ego is always a part of the equation, playing nice with others is FAR more important. In the REAL acting world, do you know what tooting your own horn and tearing down your fellow actors will get you? Not hired. And a bad reputation to boot. I never pursued acting as a career, but I know enough people in the business and I have been around enough people who are professionals to know this to be true. If you are negative, bitchy, a “me” performer, think too highly of yourself, or make a cancer of yourself backstage, you had better be a superstar talent. If not, you won’t even get roles you’re good for, because nobody will want to work with you.

I took a Sociology class a million years ago and read about this Aboriginal tribe that hunted caribou, I think it was. As in any competitive activity, there were tribesmen who were more adept at tracking and killing the animals, which served to feed and clothe the entire tribe. When a hunter had a particularly good kill, the other hunters would inspect the carcass and begin to denigrate it– “very skinny”, “I think this one must’ve been sick, for you to catch it so easily”, “this will not feed many”. The hunter, rather than defend his kill, would agree. “You are right, it is a paltry animal. I should have left it for the birds.” It is a cultural game they play with each other—all of them know the kill is a good one and the hunter is commendable. But they withhold glorifying the hunter and his deed, and the hunter refuses to take credit. It is built in, cultural modesty, a way to immediately undercut pride and egocentricity.

I think I’d like to see these Aborigines do a version of “Hello, Dolly!”

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.