Thursday, March 21, 2013

APRIL'S ENTANGLED FOOLS


I keep changing the title of my latest play. I find this fitting, since reality keeps shifting in the play itself. It began life as "Don't Get Too Comfy, Pal", morphed into "Mathurine", and is currently titled "April's Fool"- but I am considering going with "Entanglement". We shall see.

Whatever the title, it is going to be part of the Rough Writers new play fest down at the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs. I am very excited. There is nothing like hearing your play out loud to figure out what works, what needs tweaking, and what needs to go. The festival runs April 18-28, and will consist of readings of several new works- all inspired in one way or another by art works that will be on display at the FAC.  I actually used two art works- a charcoal sketch and a porcelain axe. I am so excited to be part of this festival, for many reasons. First and foremost- I like having my stuff read out loud in front of people. It's my drug of choice. Second, I love the work they do at FAC, and know they will kick it in the ass. Third, my instincts- those voices that whisper to me from some distant star- tell me this is going to be a pivotal experience in my life. Groovy.

The play keeps evolving- tightening up and expanding at the same time. It has taken on a life of it's own. It walks the night. I keep trusting my instincts and leaping, hoping the net will appear. So far, so good.

Here is a little taste, from Act One. At an April Fool's costume party, Ahab has just found out that Moira, the girl he loves/obsesses over, is getting married to Jay- whom Ahab alternately calls Jaypes and/or Dickhead.  A mysterious woman named Norn enters. They are both dressed as jesters.
 
AHAB
Nice outfit. Who’re you supposed to be?

NORN
Mathurine.

AHAB
Who the hell is Mathurine?

NORN
Real life jestress to three kings of France.

AHAB
Jestress?

NORN
Lady jester.


AHAB
I see.

NORN
She was a hero. Saved a kings life once. And you?

AHAB
Oh. I’m Hop-Frog. Another jester. Not from real life, though. From Poe.
You know, Edgar Allen Poe?

NORN
I do.


AHAB
Hop Frog was a fool. And in love with the beautiful Trippetta. Sadly, Hop Frog worked for this king who was a total dickhead. The king had been especially cruel to the beautiful Tripetta. Among other things, he threw a glass of wine in her face and then smacked her. Pow! Right in the kisser. So Hop-Frog decided to teach him a lesson. The king threw a costume party. Hop-Frog suggested King Dickhead and several of his fellow dickheads dress up like orangutans, and have Hop-Frog lead them around in chains like he was their keeper or something. And King Dickhead thought that was a great idea! So the night of the party, the King and his buddies put on their orangutan costumes, and then Hop-Frog tied them up.

NORN
Why did they let him tie them up?

AHAB
Because they’re stupid. Haven’t you ever noticed how the rich and powerful are, for the most part, morons?

NORN
I find stupidity does not confine itself to the ruling class.

AHAB
Yeah. Well, anyway, there they were, dressed up like monkeys-

NORN
Orangutans.

AHAB
Orangutans. And then, in front of all the party guests, Hop-Frog lit King Dickhead and his asshole buddies on fire. Burned them to a crisp. And Hop-Frog and Tripetta lived happily ever after. The end.

NORN
That’s a sad story.

AHAB
Just goes to show, you should never wear a costume that you have to explain.

It's a weird little tale, and keeps getting weirder. I have no idea what will happen next. At the moment, I think I'm going to end it with a mad tea party. But what do I know?



Monday, March 18, 2013

WHAT'S SO FUNNY ABOUT PEACE, LOVE, AND MERCIFUL STORIES?


I went to the Colorado premiere of Jon Robin Baitz's play Other Desert Cities at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Friday night with some trepidation. Not about the production- I have seen virtually every show they have done for the past two seasons, and each show- to a one- has been excellent. No, the reason I felt a little anxious was because one of my companions that night happens to be a staunch Republican, and this show deals with a conservatives and liberals- and I wrongly assumed it would be slanted towards the liberal side of things. Of course, my fears were unfounded, the play outstanding, and we all had a fantastic time.

Other Desert Cities is not a play about political ideas, but about human beings dealing with each other, their past, and how it affects the present. It is a kind, funny, sad, thrilling night of theatre, and if you have any brains, heart and/or soul, you will get your ass down to the Springs and catch this gem of a show.

The plays takes place at the plush Palm Springs home of Lyman and Polly Wyeth, a conservative couple in their waning years who once were among the Illuminati of the GOP. At the top of the play, it's Christmas Eve, and daughter Brooke, a fairly neurotic and seriously depressed writer, has come home- ostensibly for the holiday, but in actuality to show mom and dad the manuscript for her latest book- a tell all memoir. The memoir is about a family tragedy that tore the family apart in the 1970's, which most would like to recover from, but sadly, Brooke can not. Also present at this gathering are Brooke's younger brother Trip, a reality show producer, and liberal Aunt Silda- who is a semi-recovering alcoholic and the antithesis of her sister Polly in every way. As the play progresses, layers are peeled away, and nobody is as easily categorized as we think. As is painfully often the case, there are no good guys and bad guys, just people struggling to understand each other and find some solace in a rather cruel world.

The play is both laugh-out-loud funny and quietly-wipe-away-a-tear sad, and director Scott RC Levy moves it along at a break neck pace. Levy creates a family we all can relate to- slightly crazy, loving, infuriating, and scary. The cast is uniformly excellent. Daniel Noel, as patriarch Lyman, is a wonder to behold. He has this fantastic presence. His performance is subtle, moving, and powerful. He's one of those actors who can with the slightest look or move tell you everything you need to know about a character.  Leah Chandler-Mills is fantastic as matriarch Polly, who hilariously and tragically tries desperately to keep up appearances of normalcy despite all evidence to the contrary. Sammy Gleason plays younger son Trip- a sort of serio-comic modern version of Happy from Death of a Salesman. Gleason is a dynamic performer, and can turn on a dime from comedy to tragedy. Kate Berry, as Brooke, is excellent, giving Brooke pathos, along with a bit of righteous indignation that is both understandable, but also infuriating. Her journey is the spine of the show, and she makes is exhilarating. Stealing the show with ease is Birgitta De Pree as Silda. De Pree owns the stage, prancing around like a deranged rock star who has escaped rehab. Silda has a lot of sharp dialogue, and De Pree delivers is perfectly. She does not sugar coat her character, but rather gives us a fully realized mess of a woman who you alternately want to hug, throttle, and then hug again. The design is outstanding- set designer Christopher L. Sheley has created a home the looks like it was literally pulled out of it's foundations and brought to the stage. It captures perfectly that pseudo Frank Llyod Wright look so common to the affluent areas of California- my home state. Lights by Holly Anne Rawls perfectly capture the desert sky, especially the sunsets. And the costumes by Janson Fangio were perfect, enhancing each character with a look to match their personalities.

So let me say this one more time: If you are anywhere near Colorado Springs, get your ass down to the Fine Arts Center and see this show.



Thursday, March 14, 2013

VESPERS IN BRAZIL, LUNATICS IN BOULDER

Saturday, As Cinzas do Velho (Buring the Old Man) opens in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The production looks to be fantastic. The director, Luis Artur Nunes, calls the play "Poetic Realism". I really like that. The cast is Alexandre Cruz, Marcelo Braga, Antonielo Canto, Ricardo Ripa, Livia Camargo, and Leandro Madeiros. They are going to kick it in the ass. Here is a trailer:




Last Saturday, my class in Boulder presented some work. Here they are, with a piece they created themselves. They too, kick it in the ass.


Monday, March 11, 2013

THIS TOO KICKS ASS

Burning the Old Man is by far my most successful play to date. It's initial run was well reviewed, won the NYIT award for outstanding full length script, been published both in print and online (at the best site for new scripts, Indie Theater Now) is featured in several scene/monologue books as well as in the latest edition of the text book Acting is Believing (a book I had to read in college), and has been translated into Czech and Portuguese. It ran for three years at Divadlo na Zabradli in Prague, and is currently playing at  Divadlo Exil. This Saturday, it opens in Sao Paolo, Brazil with the title As Cinzas do Velho. And this July, it will open in Salinas, CA as part of the 2X4 BASH at The Western Stage.

I look at the above paragraph and think that looks like a bunch of bragging. And maybe it is. But I feel pretty good about everything that's happened with the play, so what the hell? As Max Bialystock would say, flaunt it when you got it, baby! Flaunt it!

I wrote the play very quickly. The first draft took less than a week, and just sort of poured out in a torrent from my mind to my computer screen. I think it's both strange and wonderful that something that  seemed to come so easily has had such a long, healthy life. No doubt there is a lesson in there about trusting your instincts, getting out of your head, and letting the universe, or multiverse, guide you.



I think I am on the same track with my latest play, now titled Mathurine. I wrote the first draft in less than a week, have not over thought anything about it, and it seems to be touching a chord with everyone who reads it.

Now that I think of it, most of my best work is the work that I don't over think. I wrote my one act Hela and Troy in a day, and that's my other international play, having had productions in NYC, Canada, and Dubai.



But maybe those plays were only easy because I had spent plenty of time on plays that were not so easy. Or because I've spent my entire adult life around the theatre, as an actor, reviewer, director, and audience member. I don't know why. But I do know that, for me, the best thing to do when I sit down to write is to put on some good music, find the dimensional door that opens into another world, and walk through it. When I say dimensional door, what I mean is this: when I write a play or story or whatever, I usually see in my mind some scene- a guy running into a hotel lobby with a box full of his father's ashes; Hela, the Norse goddess of death, speed dating; a guy and a girl breaking into an apartment in Manhattan intending to do violence to a pinball machine. Then I go to that world, and that's that. It's hard to describe any better than that.

I must say here that I owe a lot to JoAnna Beckson- one of the best acting teachers around, who I was lucky enough to study with when I lived in NYC. She taught me to check my head at the door and be in the moment; to listen to my instincts; to listen and respond to what is happening right in front of me and to stop imposing my idea of what should be happening on top of what actually is happening. I've been very fortunate in my life when it comes to teachers, mentors, and colleagues. JoAnna inspired me, challenged me, and gave me wings.

One more thing. In Burning the Old Man, there is mention of the phrase "this too shall pass." There is a song by OK Go called This Too Shall Pass, and always makes me smile. There are two videos for that song. Both of them are clearly the product of people who let their imagination soar.

Monday, March 4, 2013

IGNATIUS' CAT

It is an amazing thing to be alive. I find the universe full of wonder, mystery, adventure, and joy. Yes, there is ample supply of boredom, anxiety, and sorrow- but I am fairly certain that those are part of the equation that need not be the rulers of our personal galaxies. I remember once, riding in a taxi home to Brooklyn shortly after learning that my mother had been given less than two years to live because her body was full of cancer, I was looking out the window at the moon as we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, pleading with whatever gods were out there to make what was happening not be happening. I had been having variations of this scenario for weeks. But on this particular night, out of the blue, this thought hit me like a bolt of lightening- a bolt that was full of positive energy and some kind of peace. The bolt, which entered my soul like a downloaded computer program, told me that the only thing to do to combat death was to live. To seize the moments we are given, to listen to all the music of the world, to hear all the laughter and get to the point where your own laughter is part of the mix. To listen to children who have important things to tell you, to notice how beautiful the moonlight is as it passes through the clouds. To realize that we are indeed all connected, all part of the bigger picture, all part of the mind of God. Mom still was dying, and all the horrible things out there in the world were still happening- pain, desolation, cruelty, madness. The list is endless, I suppose. But what am I to do? Give up, lay down, and weep? I think not. I have never been able to do so, and I hope I never will. One never knows, maybe some day this life will wear me down to the nub and I'll give in to despair.

So far, that just hasn't happened.

I bring this up because of late I am working on a new play, and it's drawn me to quantum physics, fate, and perception. And the more I work on this latest project, the more I am convinced that Bertrand Russell was right when he said the universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

Maybe I'm a fool, inclined to what some call magical thinking- you know, in denial; not facing reality; chasing rainbows and unicorns. If that's the case, no doubt I'll read this someday in the future, and think "Ah, what a fool I was!". Or worse, I'll have been killed in some horrific manner, and someone else will read this and think "What a moron! Too bad he didn't see what was coming!" Well, if I am doomed to some nasty fate, I prefer to gather my rosebuds while I may- the bad times will come when they come.

But I digress. The main thing I want to mention today is a moment, a quirk, a suggestion made to me that put all the pieces of a puzzle together.

As I mentioned, I'm writing a new play, working title "Don't Get Too Comfy, Pal". It began as an entry in the Rough Writers program at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center- but has taken a life of it's own, and will have a long life. Anyhow, at the same time, I've been wanting to write a play that somehow addresses the theory of Entanglement, which I learned about while watching Ancient Aliens- a television show about UFOs and history that I enjoy. I dig all that paranormal stuff- Bigfoot, ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. But what would you expect from a magical thinker? Anyhow, Entanglement, as I understand it via this tv show, is something Einstein espoused, saying that if two objects are joined at an atomic level, and then separated, they still are connected. They still affect one other. To me, this sounded like a great metaphor for human relationships. Now, in the new play, I have a scene involving a hot dog cart which is a blatant reference to the classic book A Confederacy of Dunces. This play is a weird, serio-comic story that touches on the idea of String Theory and multi-verses. All told via four New Yorkers who are each kind of lost and crazy. So I send this new scene with the hot dog cart to my brother, and he writes me back, mentioning how in Confederacy of Dunces, the anti-hero Ignatius J. Reilly kept a cat in his hot dog cart.

And this, of course, makes me think of Schrodingers Cat. This is the part that gets freaky, even for someone like me who bounces from tangent to tangent like a happy kid in a room full of trampolines. Schrodinger was this guy who posed a question in response to Einstein's writing on Entanglement. He basically said that, according to Einstein and quantum physics, if a cat was in a box, and had a 50-50 chance of being alive or dead due to this complex device, until someone opened the box and observed the cat, it would be both alive and dead at the same time. This sounds a little odd- but then again, two things that are diametrically opposed existing at the same time isn't really all that weird, is it?

So I thought, cool, I'll put a cat in the hot dog cart in my play, and have some clever dialogue on the nature of the universe, or multi-verse. And then I looked up some info on Schrodinger, and it turns out he actually came up with the term Entanglement. And maybe that means nothing to you- but to me, it was like a sign, like that bolt of lightening that hit me in the cab, saying all is well, you are on the right path, and you need to keep on trucking with the dooh dah man.



Friday, March 1, 2013

I AM A MYSTIC IN TRAINING

I think the universe leads me around the planet, and I happen upon certain things- pieces of music, people, events- at appointed times. Well, maybe not appointed, like "on March 1, 2013 at 10:15 am, while walking his dog Padfoot, he will hear a song on his Hawk and a Handsaw station on Pandora that will inspire him to write a scene between Jaypes and Norn as a hot dog vendor ala Ignatius from Confederacy of Dunces", but more like there are all these secret doorways to insight and spiritual tranquility that have are set all around the universe, and if I want to follow a certain path, achieve some sort of destiny, I need to find those doorways, those hidden Easter Eggs on the DVD of me. Maybe life is like whatever algorithm Pandora uses to figure out what music we would like, and the choices we make lead us to logical places. I read a book when I'm in fourth grade that turns me on to Norse mythology, which leads me to read other books on myths and fate, and over the years I accumulate all this seemingly useless knowledge, trivia really- until one day I write a play with Hela in it, which leads to another play with Hel and Raven in it, which leads to yet another play with the three Norns smashed into one character in it.

I really don't know, and I suppose in the grand scheme of things, and in the not so grand as well, it doesn't really matter. As Popeye, famous one-eyed sailor and lover of spinach would proclaim, I am what I am, whether by choice or fate, and all I can do it live my life as well as I can, try to find some sort of moral compass- be it part of natural law or of human construct.

Which is a long winded way of saying I am feeling connected to the world at this particular moment in time. I feel as if I am doing what I should be doing with myself in order to live the life I want to live. And a huge part of that is because I am happy with my latest play. At the same time, there is a loneliness when writing something- a feeling like no one else can see this brave new world coming to life in your brain, or alternate universe, or where ever it is that stories live.  Still, it's quite euphoric being me right now. And this feeling of well being urges me further- not only to work on the new show (working title: Don't Get Too Comfy, Pal), but to finally finish post-production of Strong Tea, get to work on a screenplay idea I have that mashes up the story of Edgar Cayce with all those reality/paranormal shows on cable these days, clean up Rose Red- which is having another production this June in Boulder and possibly more in Ohio and California- and on and on. Nothing inspires like inspiration.

Right now, I'm rewriting and rewriting and then rewriting Don't Get Too Comfy, Pal. At the same time, the first draft is being read and judged by the good people at the Fine Arts Center in Colorado Springs as an entrant in their Rough Writers event. So I want all of you to face Colorado Springs from wherever you are, and send a telepathic command to whomever is reading the play, telling them to put it in the festival.

I am fairly certain I am hoping to become, or already am, a mystic.


SABRINA
So now that we’re in, what’s the plan?
AHAB
Grab the pinball machine Dickhead gave her, throw it out the window, and escape into the night!





A WALK IN THE STARS

We got away for a few days. Away from the news, from the Mask Wars, from Memes and Madness and My God Where Are We Going, and it was numinou...