A quick word: I’ve never liked Neil LaBute. I fell asleep during The Mercy Seat, found Fat Pig funny but lacking in substance, and The Break of Noon was one of the most worthless experiences I’ve ever had at the theatre. I was ready to give up, but I’m glad I didn’t.
Tales from After the Show…
Leslie Bibb led a fantastic talkback along with one of the MCC’s artistic directors (Will Cantler) and the associate general manager (Jessica Chase), providing great insight into the development of the show and LaBute’s writing/directing process. LaBute’s relationship with the MCC was covered in detail, and Leslie spoke at length about what draws her to pursue theatre when she’s clearly doing fine at film and television. I also got to ask her about how the play evolved from when Neil first gave it to them, to the point where it was now in previews and she had a ton of fun with the audience taking us through that experience. She showed us her script and it was full of slashes and chunks of dialogue moved to other pages and subtext and just, wow. Looked like the writings of an insane person, but in the best possible way.
Download the full 30-minute talkback here.
The only full-length play I’ve yet finished, ‘Mr. Nice Guy’, is a play I sincerely believe deserves a full-fledged production. I wrote the original version of the play in late 2007 when, during a slow rehearsal of Vaclav Havel’s The Memorandum, I was pushing myself back and forth on an office chair and realized my abdominal muscles were actually getting quite sore. Then I imagined how ridiculous it would be to try to market an office chair as a workout device. Then I found myself wondering what kind of person might not only feel justified in selling such a thing, but revel in their own brilliance for it. The idea merged with a different play idea I had brewing, one about my dad being a ‘yes man’ who could never say no to anyone, and I used that play’s title as the stage name of the lead character: Mr. Nice Guy (aka Felix Hasselbury).
That Christmas Vacation I splurged out 90 pages of what struck me as a fascinating premise to explore: a couple consisting of an attractive no-nonsense female (Sybil) and Mr. Nice Guy’s number-one fan (Michael) seek to sue Mr. Nice Guy when his latest product (the Abjacker 2010) gravely injures Michael. Felix, a master deflector, spins this anger into job offers, and the rest of the play follows Felix’s flailing attempts at seducing Sybil while Michael deals with the crushing disappointment of a childhood hero who has no time for him.
The play was given a further boost of energy when, during auditions, I asked an actor I had cast in a previous original play to give the part an ‘absurdist’ reading– something wacky and really out there to stretch the other auditioners’ imaginations. I had already promised the actor, Nilus Klingel, that I wouldn’t cast him, so off the simple direction ‘maybe give him a crazy accent’, he came out guns blazing with something totally and wonderfully unexpected. What I had pitched as basically a fast-talking, greasy, used-car salesman came out of him like the lovechild of a Strongbad/Ron Burgundy/Antonio Banderas/Gob Bluth orgy. It clicked– he had the casting room in stitches, and agreed to do the show.
Ultimately, the 2008 production was a ton of fun, but unfortunately suffered from a lack of rehearsal time, a refined script, or an audience (I think twelve people saw the play in all). You can see bullet points of that production in this video, as well as the commercial we filmed to open the show here.
Over the past 5 years (still can’t believe it’s been that long), I’ve found myself often wondering how the show could be redone. In that time, I’ve taken scribbly stabs at how I might revisit the play, I’ve written a short prequel called ‘Felix Hasselbury Gets a Job‘, and I’ve edited together a ‘Roofie-Os’ commercial out of 50 minutes of absurd, mostly improvised footage spawned by a song I wrote for my comedy duo ‘A Crooked Boner.’
Finally, starting last month, driven by some unknown force, I took an honest pass at reworking the play. Is it improved? Certainly. Could it use further workshopping and refinement? Indeed! But that’s what’s so wonderful about doing a play reading out loud: it instantly calls attention to poorly-worded lines, jokes too-in-love-with-themselves, and dead-end subplots. I had the pleasure of hearing my words read in the middle of a pot luck picnic in Prospect Park (say that five times fast) by Alex Schmidt as Michael, TJ Clark as a Jamaican/French version of Mr. Nice Guy, Elizabeth Bull as Sybil, Beryl Tayte Johnsen-Seeberger as Assistant, and Morgan Shaw reading the stage directions. We also had an audience nearly as large as the one for the original show!
So it’s on its way. Onward to the next draft, and soon I’ll start sending this monster out into the world of competitive submissions. Wish me luck.