Monday, May 20, 2013

Pounding Nails...

-winter 2003
Following JCS, the Red Curtain Players began work on LENNY, about the life of censored comic Lenny Bruce. I played Lenny, and beach resident Mark List played several characters beautifully. I coaxed Shane out of retirement to play the hipster musician. We went through several actresses as Lenny’s stripper wife. Our first, Shanendoah, had a wonderful spirit and great talent, but drinking had control over her life. I made the tough, sad decision – the first time i’d ever cut an actor. Our final Honey was Samantha Bortnick, a gentle, laughing soul who’d been a percussionist in Rhythm Culture. Dave “Big Wave Dave” Lazerson did some nice work as a cop. But the show died in utero. I’d written for performance rights, and didn’t expect any difficulty; the show was twenty-five years old and controlled by the playwright. But i finally got a letter from Julian Barry, saying that the Bruce estate was suing him. He made reference to a litigious woman, whom i surmised to be either Bruce’s child or widow. It was a bit crushing, as our potential had already been blooming. One original touch i’d come up with was having Lenny prance across the stage wearing only a flight helmet, with an inflatable Hindenburg over his groin. For Halloween, we did a mini-performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, in conjunction with the township’s screening of the movie. We acted out “Time Warp” and “Sweet Transvestite” in front of the screen. Shane played Rocky, his girlfriend Angelina played Janet, Paul played Brad, Tony Turiano from BURIED CHILD played Riff, i played Frank, and another ex-student of mine, Athena Collins, played Magenta. Athena and i knew the show best(and she knew more than i). The costumes were a hoot, and the event fantastic. With my lingerie, fishnets, and high heels, a number of guys told me they “didn’t”, but if they did, they’d be calling me. We then began work on THE ROAD TO NIRVANA, by Arthur Kopit. When i found out it had been written in response to SPEED-THE-PLOW (which we had done at the Orpheus), i had to read it. Suffice to say that Kopit out-mamets Mamet. I cast Paul and i as the two Hollywood producers. The play is searingly funny, and Paul was going to be fantastic. But it was not to be, for we kept on going through actress after actress trying to find the right two. Every time we got set, one or the other would drop out. Heartbroken, i turned to another Eric Bogosian one-man show. I tinkered with the lineup of monologues, dropping two and adding one from another show. Another reason for a one-man show was instability in the gallery. Paul’s landlord was a man of suspect integrity. Paul, on the other hand, was not always prompt with payments. I knew that Jorge could force an eviction, and i was still a bit haunted by the instability my actors had endured in JCS. So one actor made sense. The piece was beautiful - the first Bogosian play in which one of the characters is his own persona. The gallery had just been painted red, with a beautiful new bar, new lights, and huge new stage (built with help from Gary Clause, Caitlin’s father). The show opens with “America”, in which a Limbaugh-type DJ chain-smokes and spews hate. I altered one of the lines into a nightmare vision of Britney Spears having sex with Madonna…months later, life imitated art when they french-kissed on TV. “Molecules” has a homeless person on a subway haranguing the audience. In “Intro”, Bogosian’s persona lashes out at the audience and his own celebrity. In “Inner Baby”, a southern self-help guru exhorts a crowd into indulging every selfish whim. In “The Glass”, vulture-like specters of starving africans intrude on middle-class comfort. In “Art”, a dead-on-the-inside porn director runs his actors through their paces (“You need anything there, Chuck-o…some hay, a sugar cube?”). In “Rash”, a poolside millionaire grilling steak laments to a buddy about social problems and home security. In “The Recovering Male”, a man in group therapy shares his feelings of penile shame. “The Stud” has a back-lit man speaking to the audience about how women, upon being penetrated by his large and perfect penis, will cry with happiness. In the final piece, “Blow Me”, Bogosian’s persona lashes out at our stupidity and indifference. The show drew small, enthusiastic crowds. Chris Capp, a gallery regular and publisher of The Really Free Press, was so touched that he special-ordered a cap for himself with “Blow Me!” emblazoned across it. The show turned out to be the Red Curtain swan song, for at the end of the run we found out that Paul’s mother was dying, and that he would need to move back to PA. I helped him dismantle the gallery, and pack his life into a truck. After Paul was gone, i did one final encore performance at the Orpheus, at Tony’s request…

Saturday, May 18, 2013

god is love?




Thursday, May 9, 2013


There are certain actors you only need to see once, to know that you'd like to see them in anything they ever do. Sometimes this instinct serves us not well - Hank Azaria (THE BIRDCAGE, MYSTERY MEN), come on down. HUFF revolves around a psychiatrist trying to keep his life together in the face of patients who test his faith in himself (including one who commits suicide in his office), a controling mother (Blythe Danner - MEET THE PARENTS, FUTUREWORLD), a man-child best friend (Oliver Platt - THE IMPOSTERS, THE WEST WING - who, to the surprise of no one, nearly steals the show), a sensitive son (Anton Yelchin - ALPHA DOG), and a stressed-out wife (Paget Brewster - CRIMINAL MINDS). It's easy to be sucked in, there's a lot to love - sharp, funny dialogue plus fantastic acting (throw Swoosie Kurtz, Robert Forster, Lara Flynn Boyle, Annie Potts, Sharon Stone, and Tom Skeritt into the mix). But the show tantalizes without gelling. And then the season 1 finale overreaches so badly it almost becomes shark-jumping farce. This show makes you realize why both psychiatrists and shows about psychiatrists should perhaps forever be avoided. The story arcs into a scenario where Huff is tempted to "stray", and the way this supposedly highly-educated human being reacts to human nature is simply embarrassing...mirroring the fact that psychology is the only institutionalized branch of "learning" that tries to contort human beings into something we are absolutely not - monogamous. Here we are, thirty years after THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and we're basically just as dishwater dumb when it comes to sex (on TV, anyway). Perhaps the show came together in season 2, but i may never know.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

John Jones

How is it possible that one of your dearest friends could die...and you don't find out until over half a year later?
No, neither John nor i were arctic explorers (but let's not kid this era of satellite communication, even those folk are only a dial, did i just say "dial"?). Nor were either of us a Guantanamo detainee, eliminating the only remaining plausible explanation.
But then, perhaps this isn't as improbable as it feels, in this land of staggering population densities, same-day contintental travel at the drop of a few thousand dimes, and an average of fourteen addresses per lifetime.
No, perhaps the amazing thing is that i found out at all. For in close to a decade of friendship, i never met a single other friend or acquaintance of John's, and he never met a single one of mine. How do you get news to someone that nobody but the deceased knew existed? I can only imagine assume that Kristen did a search of John's inbox to find any loose threads of his life.
Bless her.
John and i first met in a seedy little dive in wait, that was John Noonian Jones. Who were we talking about?
Reading the reminisces from his friends is a bit eye-opening. Not that he was so cherished, but that he was so, quite widely. I must inform Cynthia, however, that there's one error in her luminous remembrance - not ALL of John's friends were conscientious professionals. At least one of them was an aprofessional, dimestore buddha.
Another curious aspect to my long ignorance is that i was no stranger to his illness. I visited him several times at the hospital after his surgery. He asked me to run some errands, and perhaps some other business. As he enjoyed some of my writings, i'd looked forward to having him as a captive audience. He wanted to pay me for my visits, and i honestly can't remember whether i was able to dissuade him. I knew that it had always been important to him to be financially generous with me. I think he looked favorably upon my non-materialist life, and wanted to know i was cared for.
Another reason i went through the past half-year assuming he was fine, was that there was no feeling of death about him when we parted. It didn't occur to me to think anything of some unanswered e-mails - there had always been lapses in our talks. Plus, one aspect of being a two-cent thoreau is that we have a generally different relationship with time. We almost always know what decade it is, but anything more specific can get hazy. In my memory, i was sure i'd visited him at Sinai in the fall, but realize now it must have been earlier.
The subject of money harks back to how we first met - as client and coach. He hired me (and my extensive theater background) to improve his public speaking, an aspect of his life that had given him bouts of flop sweat. For several years, we met every month or two at Columbus Circle, for exercises in escalating mortification. Picture John flapping his arms and clucking like a chicken while doing laps around a busy public fountain, and you'll get the idea.
At a certain point though, i was clearly getting as much out of his company as he was getting from mine. The greatest thing we shared was a similar sense of humor - so very sweet and rare it is, to find someone who "gets" a very personal part of you. Perhaps my single greatest triumph in tickling him was a parody i wrote of a Chicago song:
So we stayed in touch as friends. We were close to the same age. At some point, i began to take comfort in the thought that he would be there for most or all of my life.
And now there's a John-sized hole in me.
All too often, we ascribe a certain universality to how people react to death. But the difference in cultural attitudes toward death over the course of human history, is far more diverse than most of us imagine. Many cultures have defined a person's death not by their biological end, but by the moment when one passes from all memory. In that spirit, i dedicate these words to my friend John, and amend his life dates thusly:
I've always imagined that i'd break the human record for longevity, which is 137 years. So settle in, sweet John. You may have business in this world for a long time to come.

Monday, May 6, 2013

if you're young...

If you're young, you'll live to see...
1) The end of separate "best actor/best actress" movie awards.
2) The last execution.
3) The first female president.
4) The first asian president.
5) The first openly atheist president.
6) The first openly non-heterosexual president.
7) If we're verrrry lucky, 3-6 might be all rolled into one.
8) The last president.
9) The last prison.
10) The last pope.
11) The last lottery.
(Okay, i can't guarantee each and every one of these within that time frame. Prognostication is an inexact venture. But isn't it amazing to sit a child upon your knee and think about how many of these they'll witness?)