In the late 80s I turned out a number of absurdist one acts that mixed together elements of Beckett, Genet, Shepard, Pinter, and Mamet in various proportions and combinations. The most successful of these has been Ezekiel’s Wheelchair, which has been produced in cities from London to Austin, TX and places in between, although it hasn’t been done in NYC in almost 20 years. Sea of Love was another of these, with its major production happening at Soho Think Tank’s Ice Factory in 2002. HERE’s American Living Room produced Hecate and Beckett in 1997 and The Dorothy Building in 2006. The circuitous career of Universal Rundle , about to be re-mounted, is here. Still, there is a backlog of unproduced ones from this batch. Two of them are about to receive their world premieres — the occasion for this post.
Starting chronologically, Dysfunctional Theatre Company is premiering my play The Big Donut on a bill with five other one acts at the Red Room, March 14-23. The play is actually based on a real experience I had when a high school friend and I decided to travel up to Providence and prowl the streets the entire night — he taking photographs, me writing about it. It was one of those precocious kid school projects. It was the dead of winter, however, and prohibitively freezing, so we spent a good deal of time seeking shelter in all-night diners and coffee shops. The characters in The Big Donut were based on people I observed that night, although my propensity for fantasy does kick in towards the end of the play. After all, one has to make something happen. I think of it more as sketch or fragment than a complete one act. At a certain point I was using it as a framing device to kick off a full length play, modeling it on the induction to Taming of the Shrew. Recent plowing through the forgotten lesser works of the likes of O’Neill and Williams made me realize that there can be a validity to little studies like this, and I had those two playwrights in mind when I recently dusted the play off and got it into shape for production. Anyway, it’s better than a kick in the pants.
At any rate, it’s being directed by Peter Schuyler, a smart and talented fellow, and I don’t know who’s in it, but I’m mighty glad it’s being done. If you’d like to catch it (and five other plays by the likes of Josh Hartung, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hrosvitha, you can get more info here).
Also receiving its world premiere this month is The Strange Case of Grippo the Apeman a.k.a Contrapuntal Bestiale, which will be part of Trav S.D.’s Tent Show Tetragrammaton. Like a lot of my plays ,this one had its origins in a visual image. My old comedy partner and high school buddy Matt Mania came up with it — he envisioned the two of us on stage at the top of the act, handcuffed together, one with a hood on his head (me). I loved it — it seemed very Penn and Teller. I filed the notion away, and brought it out again when I got an idea for a play about a musical idiot savant, based on “Blind Tom” ,whom I’d read about in Ricky Jay’s Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. Work on the play began with the two bizarre moments that bookend it — the story merely being a delivery machine for the O.Henry/ E.C. Comics ironic twist ending that caps it off. It concerns a couple of fly-by-night con men who exploit the titular “ape man” for his musical genius….and the day when the chickens finally come home to roost for the none-too-nice boss of the operation. The name “Grippo” came from a shoe repair shop in Portland, Maine, where I wrote the first draft. (Er, I wrote the first draft in Portland, not in the cobbler shop).
I say it’s the play’s world premiere, and that’s true, although there have been readings. George Ferencz directed a public reading as part of La MaMa’s regular series in 2007. And it was also read in 2008 at the Bob Dylan Days Writing Contest in Hibbing, Mnnesota, where it took First Runner Up. I’m thrilled to get it on the boards. NOW: when I say these various plays of mine have gone unproduced for decades, I do not mean they have been laying in a desk drawer. I have been sending them out, submitting them, proposing them, and so forth, which is very much like sending packages postage due to the dead letter office. Most of these plays, granted, come with technical challenges. Grippo has a few and we’re grappling with that now. (I won’t tip my hand and say what they are, beyond “many sound effects requiring split second timing”, “stage combat”, and “characters and a situation that are far from realistic”. In short — nothing the seasoned indie professional ain’t done a thousand times before, so eat worms, you weak-sister, myopic producer-dwarves! Oh, my god, now I’m channeling Charlie Sheen…)
Of the folks in the show…
As lovable, kind-hearted Harry Frobusher, Bob Laine has been a rock throughout this process. He had his lines down cold before the very first rehearsal; when I rewrote the entire first scene mid-way through the rehearsal process he had THOSE lines down next time I saw him. Furthermore, he’s giving a really solid, connected performance from Alpha to Omega…which is a Godsend to me, who’ve ended up acting opposite him. Another actor was initially cast as the nasty smooth-talking huckster Eddie Templeton, but had to drop out due to other commitments. As I was slated to understudy the part anyway on one of the nights when that performer had a conflict, and I’d written the damn thing anyway, it made the most sense for me to jump in. Which is just as well, for the Countess informs me “The part is YOU.” Let us amend that to Me the Actor and not Me the Fellah. At any rate, working with Bob has been an immense pleasure, and I am most excited about our final scene together, which is rather heated and dramatic and not remotely comical. It’s a new experience for me personally and Bob is making it easy because he is so damn good.
I also want to give a shout-out to Tom Bibla, who’s doing yeoman’s work as the ape monster himself, but also the rather meticulous sound design required for the show (including going above and beyond the call of duty by recording himself playing Beethoven and Bach). He and I also get into a major donnybrook (guess who loses? ) choreographed by Adam Swiderski. The Countess has helped me immeasurably as a “second pair of eyes” through all this, as directing oneself onstage is kind like watching a movie with a blindfold on (or something). Catherine Porter and Stephen Heskett are hilarious in their character roles as the town busybodies. At any rate, the video at the top of this page probably told you more about the show than all this blather did.