- Fantastic acting from Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio as Doc.
- Loved the minimalist set design, effectively conveying everything from a sleek flat, to a crummy apartment, to a rooftop, to the frozen tundra.
- Loved all of the sounds of the show. Loved the way the doors were played as instruments, the way one door had a gratingly echoey megaphone thing going on, and I loved all of the guitar playing that went on.
- Doc’s character became progressively more fascinating and likable as the story progressed.
- It was kind of cheesy, but I genuinely enjoyed how much of the script was written on the two guitars, and on a couple occasions, I had the surreal experience of my eye being caught by the text as it was being said out loud.
- Not sure this was a story that needed to be told…
- Call me a traditionalist, but I want a story to have stakes, and for the protagonist to be empathetic. This had neither– it was about a loser-junkie screwing up his big break, then spiraling downward for two hours. I needed more highs and lows, and for Ethan Hawke’s character to have some semblance of a redeeming quality.
- Too many shock moments and not enough story moments
- Some of the ensemble actors struggled to effectively play the multiple characters required of them. And it was simply confusing to have someone your recognized as an important character early on turn up as a new, nameless character.
Tales from the Stagedoor…
- This was opening night of the show and we scored front row center seats using a handy trick I’ve discovered (ask if you’re curious). I saw Evan Handler at the show, best known for playing Charlie Runkle on Californication. It got me thinking about how Ethan Hawke’s character was basically a music-version of David Duchovny’s Californication character, only less likable.
- There’s a reason this is one of the most enduring American plays. Even with a lackluster production, these characters come off as real people, and the story rings true on a deep emotional level.
- I particularly love the pulling desires I feel of wanting Big Daddy’s land to go to Brick instead of Gooper, but knowing full-well that unless Brick gets his act together, it’s all for naught. And the ‘mendacity’ that keeps Brick all bottled up is a sentiment we all can relate to at one time or another.
- Some fantastic casting choices here. Scarlett was good as Maggie, and Emily Bergl was perfect as Mae; they would have held the show fine on their own. But I was extremely impressed by Benjamin Walker’s frustrated, knotted portrayal of Brick, reminding me of something between Raylan Givens and any role played by Garret Dillahunt, and I was blown away by Ciaran Hinds’ level of gravitas as Big Daddy. Watching the wind get taken out of him when he learns he has cancer is devastating. I can’t wait to see him play Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones.
- Benjamin Walker cut himself to the point of bleeding (by accident) in the first act, but played it all off perfectly in character. I was in the front row and had the, um, pleasure? of watching the blood continuously ooze out of him while he as Brick found opportunities to wipe at it angrily or ignore it pointedly.
- The ensemble is well-used, adding some lovely singing to a few parts of the show. In fact, the only ‘music’ in the whole show was sung (save a silly mandolin part played by Mae in a singing performance by the “no-neck monsters”), and I found that to be perfectly fitting.
- I liked the choice to have a ghost of Skipper (he never makes an appearance in the playscript). There’s a moment where Brick sings “On Moonlight Bay” and it’s mouthed by Skipper’s ghost– lovely and moving.
- I had to check to see if the playscript has Brick explicitly revealing what was said in the “drunken late night phone call” between him and Skipper (and if the production had cut it to make it less overt). The script never had it in there. It’s amazing and wonderful to me that in 1958 (before we were inundated up to our ears with complex narrative), Tennessee Williams trusted his audience’s intelligence enough to think they could connect the dots on their own. Very cool.
- My favorite line delivery: Brick yells: ‘Hello moon! I envy you, you cool son-of-a-bitch!’ Poignant and hilarious.
- Scarlett had one particular gesture where she would floppily swing her arm out while speaking. It was overused, looked unnatural, and was distracting. I looked to the other actors to see if this was some kind of Southern thing they were all doing, but no, they didn’t. Hands are always a difficult thing to make ‘act natural’ on stage. Lucky Benjamin Walker had the advantage of having his hands nearly always occupied by a crutch and/or a drinking glass.
- All of the actors (save Emily Bergl) had their accent go astray at one point or another. Never enough to take me out of the moment, but still, enough to notice the lapse. I should be kind– this was only the second night of previews!
- Debra Monk as Big Mama certainly isn’t fat or ugly or annoying enough to warrant the deluge of vitriol that comes from Ciaran Hinds’ Big Daddy.
- While I generally loved the set, one of the ceiling fans was swinging back and forth like a pendulum most of the production to the point of distraction. And there was some ‘is that or isn’t that a wall’? confusion in a few scenes where characters in the bedroom are deciding how private they want their conversation to be. I would argue that in a realistic set, a wall should never be implied. Just build the darn thing.
- How unfair is it that the ladies in the audience get to look at Benjamin Walker naked, while all the men are left to see Scarlett never show more skin than her slip allows? Also, the dress she wears most of the show? Super blech.
- The ending didn’t leave on quite as hopeful a note as I feel the story wants. I dunno… the line “Wouldn’t it be funny if that were true?” doesn’t really do it for me. Let’s at least see them collapse into each other’s arms or something!
Tales from the Stagedoor…
- Scarlett is a sweetheart. She only came out for about 30 seconds before getting into her black shady vehicle, but I got a signed program from her, complimented her on the performance, and received a cordial reply. I should also mention this was amid 300 screaming fans. What did I sputter out? “That was a very elegant performance” to which she said “Aw, thank you so much!”, though immediately after I wish I’d said “Your upset face has the power to stop an exploding train.” My desire to interact with celebrities is often overtaken by my desire to say something they’ll think about some random 3 AM.
You might even call it a Post-Mortimer report. Ha ha ha, I am so darn clever!
Whew. The show is over. We made it. Though I’m keeping this website completely image/video free, here’s a few goodie links:
1) The final script!
2) The show program!
3) YouTube Video of the performances with captions!
4) The awesome flash file Dan made and operated during the show! (press ‘/’ to fade in or out, and press all sorts of other keys to make other things happen)
5) Oh, and also this ridiculous video I made when on a whim I asked TJ and Mike to perform the whole play in Simlish (but check out the English captions!) Not bad for being put on the spot…
It has truly been an exhilarating couple of weeks. Maybe it’s because it’s my first time doing this in a professional setting, but I’m sorry, two weeks seems like a super quick turn-around time to cast, rehearse, and tech any play– even a 10-minute one. Here’s a bullet-breakdown of how it all went down:
- First, as you may have seen in my previous report, my very-recently-written play was selected for this festival even though it was submitted late. Minor detail I overlooked: it needed to be produced completely independently of the hosting theater–The Brick. Oh.
- Welp, guess I’m directing now! I was lucky that right off the bat, TJ Clark signed on to play Mortimer Goth. TJ and I had a playwriting class together at Syracuse University, then started hanging out more in the city when he started taking Liz and I to Trivia Trsyt nights at The Rock Shop in Park Slope. I asked TJ if he knew any actors who would be good for a Sims-Style performance, but TJ wasn’t familiar with The Sims. Shooting in the dark, I linked TJ to a few pictures of Bob Newbie and asked him if he knew any actors who at least vaguely looked like the digital icon. “How about Mike Finn?” he queried, and gave me his contact info. Mike signed on too. Huge relief.
- Then came rehearsing. We did it all at my place since Mike lives in Astoria and TJ lives in Park Slope, making Bed-Stuy a happy middle. As someone used to working with actors who are doing it ‘extracurricularly’ in their ‘free time’, I was blown away by the professionalism of these two. They insisted on rehearsing every other day, they always made it to rehearsal early, and they had their lines completely memorized in under a week. And Mike shaved his head for me– wowee wow wow!
- I love rehearsal because I love workshopping my writing. I think of my scripts not as untouchable pieces of art, but loose blueprints to be brought to life by actors. The coolest thing that came out of rehearsal that wasn’t in the original script was the notion that the whole play could be taking place in Bob’s house. Originally, it was just about two different approaches to playing The Sims, but then it took on these lovely dark undertones by visually implying that Mortimer would become Bob’s twenty-fifth victim. Then we even got to have this lovely little twist at the end where the ‘player’ decides to lock Bob in this time, and now he’s destined to die as well. Hooray!
- Meanwhile, I’m working with Liz and Dan on costumes, props, and real-time on-demand flash animation, all the while putting together the dozen or so sound cues I want and e-mailing Ian Hill at The Brick to try to figure out what exactly is possible in the space (please oh please let projecting from behind work!). I’m also in touch with Danton, Morgan, and Ian about any last minute thoughts on the script, and how to create a pleasing show program that properly addresses our first professional performance as WhAT (Warehouse Architecture Theatre).
- Two days before the show we had a tech rehearsal at The Brick. Projecting from behind works-YAY! It went super smoothly except for one small thing– no sound cues. Here’s what happened: I bring in my CD. They tell me its blank. I tell them there’s no way its blank. After all, the night before, I burned it and played it on my computer using three different kinds of software. They insist I am mistaken. Alas, we do the tech rehearsal without my sound cues. I go home, put the CD back in my computer. It plays!! What the heck right? But then my computer starts making a noise like an exorcism. I open the CD tray. There are two CDs in there. The one on top is blank. The one under it is the one that burned, and has been sitting there ever since it was burned. Oh dummy am I!
- The next night we do a dress rehearsal at my place, and we try to time everything with my sound cues from a small, spazzy laptop. At this point I’ll be up in the booth during the show making all that happen. Things look good though.
- Night one goes great! Only real hiccups are TJ’s mustache constantly almost falling off (yeah… eyelash glue wasn’t working so we duct-taped it) and that the placement of Dan backstage forced him to have to leap through the projector, creating a shadow and turning it off briefly. Really though, it was wonderful. From the moment people started laughing when music from The Sims played, I was overjoyed…
- Night two goes EVEN BETTER!! The lines are delivered with the strongest punch I’ve heard yet. We paint TJ’s mustache on this time, which makes more sense anyway since in The Sims, facial hair is a painted texture and not any kind of polygonal geometry. Dan sits on the side that doesn’t force him to stumble awkwardly into audience view. Only downside– like an idiot, I didn’t empty the Bloggie I had Liz filming the show on, so we didn’t get to record the last few minutes of the show, which was done to absolute perfection. Oh well. Theatre is always meant to be a live medium anyway, and its my hope the experience was extremely pleasurable for all involved, and at least a little pleasurable for all reading/watching this stuff after the fact.
And there you have it folks: my off-off Broadway playwriting/directing debut. I’m extremely grateful for everyone who made it such a lovely, welcoming experience. Now on to more!
My very-recently-written play, ‘The Following is Based on True Events (From a Video Game)’, will now be very soonly performed!
On a whim, I submitted it (late) to The Brick’s 2012 Tiny Theater Festival, and they selected it! This is my off-off-Broadway Debut, and the first time Ian, Danton, Dan, and I will be using WhAT (Warehouse Architecture Theatre) as the name of our professional theatre company, despite how it’s still going strong at Syracuse University under the direction of some very fine archies.
This is quite the group effort. I wrote it, then received solid feedback from Kelly Gorga, Arielle Shear, Ian Nicholson, Danton Spina, and Dan King. Now, I’m also directing it. TJ Clark and Michael Finn star as Mortimer Goth and Bob Newbie, respectively. Dan King and I are working on creating an ‘on-demand’ flash file using graphics by Ian Nicholson (color-corrected by Morgan Shaw). This will display various icons above my actors’ heads showing their mood, like in the game.
And yeah, it’ll be performed in less than two weeks. Gulp. Here’s the whole script for your reading pleasure, and for your viewing pleasure, I hope you’ll come see the show!
- Love the reconstructed Globe stage and how they still treat the audience like groundlings (they even keep the lights on!)
- Such a playful production, and it worked. Hamlet can be a real downer (which is fine– it’s clearly in the text), but this was actually a lot of fun.
- The play within a play was indescribably hilarious and masterful.
- Loved the use of sound and music– from the opening and closing songs to the ambient noises punctuating key moments of the play. They used a violin bow on a cymbal!
- Loved the pace (no pun intended). The play was nearly 3 hours but felt like half that.
- All 8 of the actors were fantastic and filled the 20-odd roles extremely well. I particularly enjoyed seeing the same actor play Claudius, Hamlet’s father, and the King in the play within a play.
- The actor playing Hamlet reminded me a little of a young Ralph Fiennes in his cadences and expressions, and that’s never a bad thing.
- I was distracted fairly often by the costume changes and whatnot happening backstage. It wouldn’t have been hard to close off the audience’s views to this and I don’t know why they didn’t.
- By making it a ‘fun’ production, some of the dramatic weight was lost. I’m typically close to tears at the end of Hamlet and didn’t feel it this time.
- Likewise for the speed– the pace kept it entertaining, but there weren’t a whole lot of pregnant pauses to allow for an exploration of the weight of a moment.
Wacky side note: My wife Liz and I had some crazy telepathic synchronicity during this production and afterwards found ourselves with basically the same proposal. Today, audiences are smart and they’re pretty darn familiar with the story of Hamlet. Why not spice it up a bit and remove some of the ‘givens’? What if Claudius didn’t kill Hamlet’s father? What if Hamlet is truly insane and is the only person who sees his father’s ghost? What if Hamlet killed Ophelia? What if when Claudius is praying, he’s praying for Hamlet’s mental health– maybe he truly cares for the boy? What if Hamlet is responsible for his own father’s death? What’s interesting to us is not making any of this overt, but like the ending to such films as Inception and Looper, why not provide enough evidence to allow audience members to make a case either way? Don’t have Claudius confessing to the murder. Don’t have the guards see Hamlet’s father. Allow for the reaction Claudius has to the play within a play to be a debatable one. Maybe add a couple small scenes and remove a few that are too on-the-nose?
We think this would be fun. What say you?