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.
Okay okay, so I shouldn’t really be reviewing this because it was put on by the theatre group I cofounded while at Syracuse, WhAT (Warehouse Architecture Theatre), but this is a good moment for reflection.
First of all, I had nothing directly to do with this production. WhAT was founded in Fall of 2006, and I was deeply involved in everything it did until my graduation in May of 2010. Three years later, I was invited by the current trio to come see WhAT’s final production involving people whom I personally knew, before the group goes on to be run and operated entirely by people I don’t know. Passing of the torch kinda stuff. Anyway, it was a thrilling weekend of old friends and new, and I now feel super confident in the future of my baby.
And here’s some thoughts on the show:
– LOVED LOVED LOVED the cardboard set designed by Beryl Tayte Johnsen-Seeberger. It made the scenes where character comment on the beauty and tax-deductible quality of this amazing desk all the more hilarious. And when things fell apart, it allowed the actors to riff on what an old house they’re in! Lines like ‘She’s dead!’ and ‘So is my desk…” were gut-busting. Oh, and all the cardboard weapons, complete with Easter Eggs like a lightsaber, were delightful. And the cardboard crossbow actually worked!
– a lot of the dialogue was presented with a certain wooden style that I wasn’t a fan of at first, but grew to love as the play progressed.
– really fun show as its written. I saw the movie with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, but didn’t remember it that well, so all the twists and turns were delightful. I love the meta commentary throughout as the main characters discuss writing the show that they are now in, and even bring up things like scenes that seem to be missing that include important information about key characters (just like in the real show!)
– Ethan Blank almost died! I flashed back to our second season in Spring of 2007 where the giant green wall we made for our Picasso at the Lapin Agile set almost fell on AJ, and Jon Yoder almost became Batman to save her. Anyway, Ethan was getting choked in what was even supposed to be fake within the play, but he passed out and woke up backstage having no idea where he was. Yikes!
After the show, I gave a little presentation to keep up the whole ‘passing of the torch’ motif. Just for fun, here’s the pdfs of the presentation I gave, and the presentation I gave on behalf of Danton. At the cast party I got to spend more time with the awesome new folks who will be running WhAT from here on out, and the only thing that makes me sad is NONE of them are architecture majors, even though WhAT currently still does most of its performing and rehearsing out of the architecture school in Slocum Hall.
This makes me wonder if my archie friends and I who did WhAT throughout school are strange. Myself, and most of them, I’m confident would have joined a theatre group like WhAT if it already existed. The architecture school is so laser-focused on just architecture, I think we all would have gone crazy without any other creative outlets. Maybe there’s too much hostility toward WhAT because sometimes they’re too loud and bother the students focused on their studio projects? Maybe not as many of them enjoyed theatre in high school as I thought? Or maybe none of them have any idea what a huge bonus it is to your job prospects if you leave school as a well-rounded individual with many talents.
Alas, this lack of architecture majors is truly my only regret, but I am proud and humbled by WhAT’s legacy as it lives on, soon entering its fourteenth season!