Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eulogy


My expectations for this production were very high. And in some manner, they were met. Shaping this piece to match the marathon play was a delicate balance, Ali built on the previous direction, leading me to be less ponderous, and more immediate. To wit; go faster.

This was disorienting at first, I was used to presenting it a very specific way. It led to discovery, and wonderful surprises. Also, in the interest of keeping it short, I used the same edit we used for the radio adaptation. Last night, the last night, I HATE THIS ran one hour.

One of the less pleasant surprises was audience reaction. I won't get into the disappointment I felt at there being small houses. I have done that an awful lot ... for years. Last night I was slapped in the face with a rather obvious revelation:

It doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter how well written it is. It doesn't matter how well I perform it. It doesn't matter, as Jess so kindly reported, that I take care of my audience, and make them feel safe. It doesn't matter that there are all kinds of plays about serial killers, pedophile priests, and men who treat every woman they meet like trash and get away with it which attract vast, sold-out audiences.

Some people cannot handle this.

There is a critic in town whose job, ostensibly, would anyone actually pay him for it, would arguably have a responsibility to come see this award-winning production and grant his opinion. Arriving late to a performance on Insomnia (no late seating) he was offered a ticket to I HATE THIS. He said he wouldn't be able to handle it.

You fucking pussy.

Last night, however ... there were these two people in the front row. About ten minutes in I noticed they were whispering. And I was standing right next to them. I was acting, I was trying not to pay attention, but I was in the far downstage corner of the space, I was right next to them, and they were having an urgent conversation. This was during Becky's/Julie's first phone call.

By the middle of the next scene, "Blame" - the harshest, angriest part of the show - they got up and made their way out. She was weeping, copiously.

Ah. I got it.

After the show, Becca said she spoke to them out on the sidewalk. The woman said what I had written was perfect, exact, and that she couldn't take it. She was very complimentary, but you know, bereft.

At the bar my friends, upon hearing the story, wanted to know how she couldn't know what she was in for. I suggested there is a difference between a story about dealing with grief, and being plunged deep into the experience from the beginning. She told Becca she regretted not reading any reviews or anything, she might have been prepared - or most likely not have come at all.

And that, as they say, is the rub. It made me feel like this entire exercise has been insane. The play found a home in hospitals and church basements - even sanctuaries. Presenting it as entertainment, in a theater, for the first time in years, I was expecting a similar reaction. And I expected a crowd. But young people do not care. And old people cannot take it.

I generalize. I hope you take my meaning.

Where do I go from here, I do not know. I may be done. It has been ten years, I have wanted a run of this show - a public, Cleveland, professional run - and for my efforts, I got one. Previous I had performed I HATE THIS a total of 36 times, with at most five performances in the same space. Now I have added eleven more, all at the Storefront. It was animated, swift, lively, an education ... I could repackage this, and resume my trek across the country, visiting clinics and parish halls. I don't know. It's a good show. It's a good story. And it has its place, as a cautionary tale, as a promise of recovery, of healing, of reconstruction, of rebirth. Of the possibility of change.

Right now I am tired and sore. And I want to concentrate on newer works. It's time for rest and reflection.

Happy Easter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homily


Reverend James R. McGonegal used each of my plays as the basis for his Palm Sunday homily at St. Ignatius of Antioch. I called him on Monday to ask ... what the dillio?

He explained that, much like I HATE THIS, the events of Palm Sunday begin in expectation and exultation, and end tragically with the Passion. Well. He saw right through me. I have explained before how the structure my play was a puzzle for me to figure out; how I could explain moments that happened weeks and months following the birth of my first son, and yet end with the birth of my first son. I am holding my child, like "a new Pieta" (the title of a drawing I found in a book on bereavement for fathers) or holding nothing at all, depending on how you look at it.

But the good Reverend also remarked on AND THEN YOU DIE, using it as a metaphor for how we sometimes run from our pain, suffering and responsibilities. In our phone conversation he hesitated for a moment and asked if he'd gotten that right. I said he nailed it.

Three more shows, schmoes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life is but a dream.


So I went to see the Kids in the Hall last night. That’s my little joke. I have been sharing the make-up room with the cast of Fever/Dream which is playing the Gordon Square. I work with these people, or have done, or I just met them. Most are well-younger than I am, except for the two really old guys.

An adaptation of Calderon’s Life Is A Dream, it’s a contemporary office comedy where the heir in the dungeon is the heir in the basement taking over for the king/corporate president in a series of nutty vignettes. Honestly, the story itself doesn’t amount to much, except it provided the opportunity for some of my favorite people to create remarkable characters that I was delighted to be in the same room with for two hours.

Nathan was just dynamite as a young turk who doesn’t have much turk in him. My beloved Annie was outrageous and sympathetic in a role my wife tells me is quite the tedious stock clown character in Calderon’s original. Faye presented some of the best work I have ever seen her do. What most excited me was the supporting characters, the kids who play “slacker” characters whose lives appear to have dead ends … except for all of the awesome choreography director Beth and her crew put into the segues between scenes …

… you know, I hate half-assed choreography to mask scene changes. It’s fucking awful, because it usually is awful, an after-thought to make a set change “entertaining.” Not here, this show is a big awesome dance party I was glad to be witness to. Point one to the hipsters.

Dig It


That person from my youth takes credit for my achievements thorugh the arrogant statement, “I told you you could.”

Well. Four years ago Jeremy Paul asked me to lunch to ask how to start a theater company. Everything I recommended he do, he has done. And now he is the hottest shit in Cleveland.

Get your own space, create your own material, be a happening. That’s it in a nutshell. No, I am not seriously taking credit for his achievement. But yes, well, look at it, that's exactly what I am doing.

I thought Inoculations was good. The Excavation is … well, it is hard to hurdle the bar set by Nick Koesters. The major difference is, this production is truly interactive, a choose-your-own-adventure kind of ordeal. And while it is meaningful, it is mostly hilarious.

If you have the opportunity to witness the sexually tense clown show that is the duo of Renee Schilling and Lew Wallace, run, do not walk, to that entrance. Hey, you know what, they need to play Nick and Honey in someone’s production of Virgina Woolf.

Can I ask, what is up with hipsters and fucking terrible beer? And don’t tell me it’s money. Last week it was PBR, today t’s Busch. Tomorrow, what, a Tasty Schaeff?

Speaking of tragic hipsters, at the Fever Dream after party this dude in funky hair, skinny 80s tie and big blocky glasses made a grand gesture to Jeremy, intoning, "Cleveland Theatre Today ..." and then gestured to me, "... and here we have ..."

Yes, all right. Fuck you.

Three Gents


I have to look at this picture a lot.

There’s lots of plays going on, Excuse me for whining about lackluster ticket sales. I always do that. It comes with performing plays about stillbirth. I had a co-worker tell me to my face, “I can’t see your show.” I said I understand, we’re all busy. She emphasized, “No … I can’t see it.”

A number of the shows which opened with mine are closing at the same time. Last week I caught a matinee of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It’s not regarded as one of Shakespeare’s greater works, but the production at Great Lakes this month has been something to see.

The last time - the only time I have ever seen it was at school. It was not a well-produced production. The costumes looked like the designer said, “hey, I’ve got an idea, let’s go through the stock and choose the outfit that best represents your character!” Honestly, I think that was the design. Matt Glave, he of The Wedding Singer and Baby’s Day Out played Proteus. That’s about all I remember about the production.*


Matthew Glave

At GLTF that part is legendary because it’s the one that we like to remind everyone started Tom Hanks career. He won an award from the local critics for the performance. I have no doubt it was a memorable performance.

There was a scheduling conflict with the man playing Proteus this season, and as a result my boyfriend Eric Perusek was in the right place and right time to be assigned the role for three matinees in the middle of the run. I caught it last week. If I didn’t know him, or that he was an understudy, I wouldn’t have been able to tell, he walked in so seamlessly. It’s a lovely rendition of a slight story … Proteus loves Julia. His friend Valentine meets Silvia, falls for Silvia. Proteus meets Silvia, becomes obsessed with Silvia, conspires to ruin Valentine so he can have her … and in the end he realizes he’s been an idiot, Julia takes him back, everyone is happy.

What? Oh, nothing. All right, carry on.


Eric Perusek as Proteus. Feel the burn.

This production was bolsetered by what it did not do, which was try to explain away Proteus’s actions. He is smitten, stupidly so, and gets over it. Eric did that very well. And for the high school audience I watched it with, one pop in the nose from Valentine was all it took to snap Proteus out of it -- and also send shockwaves of reaction through a very tense and worried crowd of teenagers.

Then there’s the singing and the music. It’s a big, heartsick lovesong, this production. I was very happy with it. It made me happy.


*Sounds like I am dissing Mr. Glave, doesn't it. That's wrong, I am not, it was Shakespeare's script and an uninteresting production concept. Before he left O.U. I entirely fell in love with Mr. Glave as Betty/Gerry and the entire company of "Cloud 9". (Glave, seated on the floor.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Crumbling

This morning a man in a coffee shop said something very positive to me. He seemed like a positive guy. I got in my car with my cup of coffee, placed in the cup holder, sat back and a large muscle in my back flared up.

I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t reaching or flexing, I just had a thought and my back seized up. I must be under a lot of stress. Maybe weeping uncontrollably in the car last night for ten solid minutes had something to do with it. I haven’t had a stress-induced back spasm in years. I also have not cried like that in some time.

It has been a challenging weekend.

You know, strange of strange, it felt like the closing weekend to me, like things had come to an end. I have been disappointed with turnout. I take this too personally. There are a lot of shows going on right now. But they aren’t this show. I wrote this. I lived this. And I never thought I would perform I Hate This ever again – and I am very happy that I am. The text is legend to me, my old story, made new by sound and light and space. I feel so un-alone in it, it’s not just me and Kelly anymore, it’s Josh and Christopher and the house management people, and even the cast across the hall.

The running play is fractured, less labored, more prismic. It is also something to see. I do not believe I will have the opportunity to perform these shows ever again. I have three more performances. I have enjoyed ever single one (that's not true ... performing before my peers last Monday was a little intimidating) and mean to enjoy the hell out the final three.

I feel like bits of my life have been thrown up into the air, at work, at home, in my personal life … this weekend someone came to the show I did not want to see, someone I was hoping never to see again. I did not know who they were during the performance, and thank God for that. They stayed after to say hi, and to ask why I had blocked them on Facebook. Honestly, people who are so arrogantly clueless need to fucking die.

I hurt someone once. I didn’t realize it at the time, people can be ignorant in that way. But that’s the point, I thought about them as though they were just another chapter in my life, to be shelved forever. Until the Internet made it possible to unlock our past and walk right through. And this was in 1999. I fecklessly used a search engine and found their email address. I wrote her, “Hi, how are you?”

She responded, “How wonderful. My father had a stroke last week, my boyfriend wrapped his car around a tree, and now I hear from you.”

I had the opportunity to learn something a long time ago. If you live a normal life, there are people who will hate you. And there is nothing you can do about that. Live with it.

I hate myself for being so goddamn polite to this unwanted audience member. I don’t usually care about the personal stuff I throw up onstage. That’s what I do. But this interloper knew these people I love, from my life, who I speak about. Knowing that they were sitting there, secretly listening, laughing knowingly at these memories, I feel violated. I have never felt like that before, performing my work.

Are you reading this? Here you go. You hurt my brother. And then he left me. You messed with my head. You say you always knew I had it in me, that you told me when I was I kid that I would accomplish great things. Well. From where I am sitting, I would have conquered the world, if it hadn’t been for fucked up people like you.

Don’t contact me, stop trying to “friend” me, don’t “follow my tweets.” Do not respond to this post, stop reading my blogs, do not communicate with me. If you have any respect for me, leave me and my family alone.

As Renee would say, “Moving on …”

Speaking of family, my folks were the audience yesterday. That was awesome. I do not believe my mother has ever seen I Hate This. During Big Box (back in 2003) she was there, in the theater, but she didn’t watch. She sat behind the seating unit, with my infant girl, so my wife could watch – and because, as she related, because she couldn’t. Not because she felt I was unfair to her, but because she didn’t like to see me relive such pain.

It was great fun to hear them and the party they came with explode with laughter when I call him “fat.” I had to stop and say, “… what?” Good timing. Kelly kept an eye on Mom, she says she laughed every time I dropped and F-bomb.

The audiences have been wonderful to me. I have been working to sense where they come from to watch these two shows. I can spot fellow travelers pretty easily. There are key moments during the performance where I will watch a man put his hand on the hand of the woman he is with, and I know. And then there are the runners, who love all the running minutiae.

And then there are the American Greetings employees, they are a special segment of the audience.

On Saturday night I was joined by friends I wouldn’t even know if it weren’t for the loss of our children. We went to XYZ afterwards and indulged in war stories. It’s been so long since I have felt liberated enough to do that. Nothing changes. Couldn’t talk about it then, can’t talk about it now. It was a welcome release.

Okay, so I have been emotional, for obvious reasons. A little to close to the skin this weekend. Then I get home and find this message from Michael Heaton, entitled "jim mcgonagle pastor at St. Ignatius of Antioch ...":

So. I’m a rock star. Most people would be overjoyed. I collapsed on the couch and whimpered for a little longer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Theater Professionals Night

7:11 PM

A few years ago Cleveland joined the ranks of those theater communities that provide Monday night performances for the benefit of those actors who are busy every other night of the week. Monday is Actors' Equity day off. It's also a good way of adding a "cheap night" to the run. Tickets tonight are only $10.

Pre-sale for this evening's performance exceeded the attendance of any single show I have had so far. That's a good thing. I expect co-workers, cast members from FEVER/DREAM, and from Two Gents.

I already hear Tim out there. That by itself is a good sign.

7:22 PM

Good Lord, it's like the GLTF Actor-Teacher retirement home out there.

8:42 PM

Oh my GOD! An audience of my peers scares the hell out of me -- what is up with THAT!?

11:08 PM

Sitting in the parking lot of CPT. Going out after a show on Monday night, probably not a good idea. Especially if I have to sub for one of our actor-teachers tomorrow. Couldn't help it -- I had friends in from out of town for this one, and so many others. Good times at XYZ, Lauren had so many questions about the show she needed cleared up, it probably sounded like I was performing a third show there at the table.

Thanks for coming, Magdalyn. You are the best.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

BRILLIANT! ENGAGING! MUDDLED! Wait ... what?


Good Lord, this is an old picture.

Ah HA! I was a little confused when I saw that a review had appeared on cleveland.com. Tony hadn't come to see my show, how could he review it?

He hadn't. Christine Howey was in the audience on Thursday night to write for them, and not for SCENE or for her own blog.

I am trying to figure out the whole "preview" thing here in Cleveland. All kinds of houses have previews, big ones and small ones. What does that mean? In New York, for example, it means the show hasn't "opened" yet, and that it is a grace period where the actors can get accustomed to an audience before being appraised by a critic.

But critics in Cleveland don't play that. I don't care, I treated Thursday night as an opening, anyway. The problem, as I see it, is that it means critics are taking in the show in a room with a small number of people in it. Granted, they should judge the work on its own merit, and not whether everyone else is having a good time.

Anyway. The review did not surprise nor disturb me. The basis of Howey's review is correct -- the subject matter of AND THEN YOU DIE "pales" in comparison to the subject matter of I HATE THIS. You can take the rest of the review as you like.

Me, I treasure another comparison to Spalding Gray, and value Ali's work being appraised as "adroit" and that I am a "talented writer and an engaging performer." And she does call I HATE THIS "brilliant."

So I'm thrilled. A review! I didn't know if I was going to receive a high-profile review. It helps. It can't hurt. And I'm sharing all of this because I don't want you to think I am the kind of actor who says he doesn't read his reviews.

It's like what they say about masturbation. 95% of men masturbate. 5% lie about it.

OPENING! TONIGHT! BE THERE!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

First Preview

7:05 PM

There are openings all over town. Two here, one at Theater Ninjas, Great Lakes opens Two Gents on Saturday. Tonight is a "preview" for all of us ... but for some, really. It's an opening. There will be critics here. What does "preview" even mean anymore? Is it just that "opening" means that's when the party is?

I hope someone comes to see my play.

I HATE THIS has had a lot of openings. In Minnesota. In New York. In Carlisle.

If they all have one thing in common, it is small houses.

8:40 PM

Eleven audience members. Well ... ten people and one critic. ALmost all of them over the age of fifty ... of course, that means they "get it" more than a lot of youngsters might. There were a number of good-hearted laughs in the right places.

I really have done this show a long time.

11:22 PM

Sitting in the parking lot of CPT, next to the Fellowship Hall. Wifi is amazing.

Just left XYZ for a post-performance beverage with friends and admirers, Dan & Eddie, Josh & Kelly ... Beth sits with usm the folks from Ninjas roll in, we've ll had out "previews." I shouldn't fret, while eleven is on the low end, none of us had audiences above twenty. That's a Thursday Night Preview for you.

It's been a good night. I need to go to work in the morning. Time to drive home blasting some techno.