Archives May, 2013

31 May
ibrews

A-

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.

 

Hoo-rah!

  • A well-crafted play with a sense of dialogue and pacing that’s been worked over, refined, and reworked to the point where it achieves a remarkable level of honesty.
  • Perfect set design: one very detailed sliding set (the break room of a factory), and simple benches and props to evoke the additional scenes.
  • The four characters were previously seen in ‘reasons to be pretty’, taking place a few years earlier, but this truly is a standalone companion piece. I would love to see the older show, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything important. Ultimately I think LaBute benefited from building on characters he already had a strong grasp on.
  • It was revealed in the talkback (see below), that the first play focused on Greg’s journey, whereas this play brought a gratifying arc to each of the four characters. Greg was my least favorite character, so I’m glad we were given this 2 hours with each character going on an organic journey with lovely moments of reversal and discovery.
  • Back to the crafting of the play: excellent choices of what scenes to show and not show. The play feels sequential, but actually covers a fair span of time with a number of important events happening offstage (Steph confronting Carly about the baby, for example). The fact that you remain in the moment is a testament to the precision of the scenes we are seeing.
  • Lovely acting by the entire cast. It was fun to see Jenna Fischer (Pam from The Office) play a borderline insane clingy irrational woman. Leslie Bibb (that reporter from Iron Man 1&2) as Carly reminded me a lot of a friend I lived with in Richmond, VT who works the graveyard TSA shift at Burlington Airport. She brought a much needed sense of common sense and practicality to the show. Josh Hamilton was appropriately charming (though infuriating in his indecisiveness) as Greg, and Fred Weller brought a surprisingly nuanced performance to the role of the most super-ego-lacking character, Kent. Without trying to convince us Kent and Greg are best friends (a common contrivance I find hard to believe in plays of this nature), they share enough circumstances in common that it makes sense for them to have the few conversations they do, and they work as an excellent counterpoint to each other; Greg reluctant and reserved about every choice, while Kent dives in head first, usually bruising himself in the process but feeling much more alive.
  • Love Kent’s line, something like “So I walked up to the guy in the bar, and I tapped him on the shoulder, probably less hard even than I just tapped you, and he turned around, and I punched him. And I was willing to leave it at that and let it go, but he had to take it further.” De-lightful.

Blech…

  • Music was strangely chosen and far too loud in between scenes. This seems to be a stylistic choice of LaBute across all of his plays, and I’m yet to see it work as effectively as he seems to think it does.
  • Nitpicky but something I was still very aware of: the various contrivances brought about to stop a character from leaving the scene. Some conversations that certainly would take place across multiple locations in real life were compressed into one (a Trader Joe’s Parking Lot, a school bench, a restaurant waiting area), and in at least one occasion I knew what was supposed to be a big conversation later at, say, an IHOP almost certainly wouldn’t take place there, and everything important was about to be told to us now.
  • Except for Carly who needed to be in uniform, very poor costume choices. Nothing any of the characters wore gave me a better sense of who they were, and in a few cases (particularly with Steph), it just confused me.
  • Nothing brought me to tears. This is important to me. Let me be clear again– this was an incredible ‘slice of life’ play, but none of the characters tugged on my heartstrings enough to pull me close on their emotional journey. This isn’t a flaw of the writing or the characters (who were very true to life), but simply who they were and my lack of empathy for them.
  • Ultimately I found Greg to be too indecisive, to the point where he just kept hitting the same ‘nothing’ beats and I was frustrated to not see the show move things along. Out of the cast of characters, I would only want to be friends with Carly and maybe Kent.

 

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.


30 May
ibrews

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.

 

More links:

Photos from the original production
Photos from the reading
Audio from the reading
Script from the reading