Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Vampire Amorality & Immortality
What appealed to me about writing a play about vampires was the concept of immortality, and how the indefinite passage of time would affect the characters' morality and personality, something that's rarely delved into in vampire stories. It's hinted at every now and then in TV shows and movies featuring vampires—Angel will have a bad dream reminding him that he'll never be able to marry Buffy, and Mae will mention off-hand that she'll be around to see the light from the exploding stars vanish—but rarely focused on, and it was one of the ideas that I found the most interesting when writing The Little One.
Hypothetically speaking (well, duh), being immortal would obviously not only affect your worldview and your stance on killing—you'd see so many lives come and go so quickly, killing would become a very abstract concept, like swatting a mayfly just before it dies of old age—but also your stance on morality as a whole. The idea of "repenting in leisure" would be just fine, since you'd have nothing but leisure to atone from whatever crimes you may have committed.
Sure, some of the characters in The Little One try a more highbrow approach to an extended life—much like the hero in Pete Hamill's delightful novel, Forever, who is granted immortality on the condition he not step foot off Manhattan—spend immortality bettering themselves by learning to play new instruments, learning new languages, learning new trades, mastering the ability to paint or sculpt. But then what? Just as they have an indefinite period of time to better themselves, they also have an equally indefinite time to be base lowlifes.
Immortality would be all about leisure: abstaining in leisure, binging in leisure, repenting in leisure, and being able to repeat the cycle without end (barring exposure to sunlight or being staked). When you literally have all the time in the world, what's the point in being on your best—or for that matter, worst—behavior?
Since there's no "vegan" alternative in The Little One—no synthetic blood à la True Blood or drinking rodent blood—all of the vampires in this story are killers. Without giving too much away, there are a number of reasons why the vampires in this show can't socialize with humans. However, there are those vampires in this story who differ philosophically from one another as to having the right to torment and terrorize their meals (due to enjoying being at the top of the food chain and staving off boredom) or having the responsibility to be merciful towards the humans (being a centuries-old being should come with some level of responsibility and maturity).
In short, most of the main characters in the play are amoral, but not immoral (although there are some who try to adhere to a strict moral code and those who do truly evil things by anyone's definition of the word). Many of them, after having lived for several centuries, and will most likely live for several centuries—if not millennia—more, are bored with being purely enlightened or depraved. They've got time to kill (ho, ho), and most realize there's never just one way to deal with eternity.
And of course, in addition to all of this quasi-philosophical noise, I wanted to write a play that had a lot of fighting and gore.
Having fun psychoanalyzing fictional characters,
James "Futile Freud" Comtois
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Zack Calhoon Interviews Yours Truly
Apparently Zack Calhoon thinks I'm someone you should know, which is incredibly nice of him.
He interviews me on his blog, so you can determine for yourself whether or not I'm someone worth knowing by reading the whole thing here.
Way too up close,
James "Impersonal Close-Talker" Comtois
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Tonight: Geek Out With HACK
Tonight, the Impetuous Theater Group is hosting a video game-playing fundraising event at Barcade for Hack! an I.T. Spaghetti Western by Crystal Skillman playing at the Brick Theater's Too Soon Festival this June.
I saw the serialized version of this show at the Vampire Cowboys' last Saturday Night Saloon and I can attest the show is great fun.
Were you a Donkey Kong champion in your youth? Did you stay up late playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Contra, Tetris, or Paper Boy on Nintendo? Here is your chance to get your nerd groove going and help us raise a little money to produce the kickass, laugh out loud show Hack! an I.T. Spaghetti Western by Crystal Skillman.
For $20 you get 20 quarters
(So it's really only $15)
Plus discount drinks all night, nerdy snacks to keep your energy up all night long, and cool prizes for the evening's high scores!
BARCADE is located at 388 Union Ave (Williamsburg)
Take the L to Lorimer (Exit at Union Ave) OR
Take the G to Metropolitan
* * *
I'm definitely hitting both the show and the video game-playing fundraiser up. Join me?
Expecting to hit up Crystal for more quarters,
James "Arcade Game Junkie" Comtois
Those of you who have been following the posts related to the upcoming show may have noticed a surprise in yesterday's "trading card" image. No, you didn't misread the original cast list announcement: there's been a cast replacement.
Fortunately for Marc, he landed himself what seems to be a super-sweet day job. Unfortunately for us, his job training is taking place in California during the last week of rehearsal and into opening weekend.
And fortunately for us, Nosedive vet and all-around groovy guy Mr. Jeremy Goren was happy to take over the reigns for the role.
So we were definitely sorry to see Marc go, but of course very happy for him for this seemingly kick-ass job opportunity. And also, we're very pleased as punch to have Jeremy returning to play with us here at Nosedive Central.
So welcome aboard, Jeremy! And Marc, don't take any guff from these swine.
Bidding hello and adieu,
James "Wal-Mart Greeter" Comtois
Monday, May 24, 2010
The Little One: The Bodyguard
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Well, heck. Congratulations to Mac Rogers, Kid Sistois, and the rest of the Viral gang for shout-outs and wins in the 2nd Annual Independent Theatre Bloggers Association Awards! Very well deserved, guys. That is, as the kids say, fucking awesome.
Feeling way too proud of his pals of late,
James "Doting Playwright" Comtois
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Half-Assed Progress Report on the New Show
Rehearsals for The Little One are now underway, which makes me quite happy and more than a little relieved. That time between casting the show and the first rehearsal is always a particularly frustrating period for me, since there's nothing for me to do except...well, wait to get started.
Our first reading reminded me that we really hit the jackpot with our cast. I
think know they're going to do wonders.
I need to send over my final draft to the gang in the next day or dos. Fortunately, the rewrites for this script will most likely only consists of very cosmetic line cuts or additions here and there. In other words, there won't be any structural changes, so Pete and the cast can start work and don't have to wait for me.
I think this goes without saying that the next few blog entries on this site will be stunningly, if not exclusively, of the "self-promotional" variety. But as I said before, I am hoping that they'll still be worth your while to read and offer more substance beyond the gospel of "Buy your tickets already!"
Though, speaking of which, you should.
Not doing a good job of earning your trust,
James "Come Closer" Comtois
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Well freakin done, guys. And well freakin deserved. We here at Nosedive Central love y'all and are beaming with pride.
Promising he wouldn't cry,
James "Gushing Sissy" Comtois
Monday, May 17, 2010
The Little One: The Seducer
Thursday, May 13, 2010
(Again, I'm good pals with most folks involved with this production, wrote a piece for their ForePlay series leading up to this show, and have worked with one of the actors—Zack Calhoon—in Nosedive a couple of times. So, grain of salt, all that. Plus, I paid a discounted price on my ticket.)
Flux Theatre Ensemble's latest production, Jacob's House, is an Americanized retelling of the Old Testament story of Jacob. It's at times fun, confusing, thought-provoking, frustrating, touching, muddled, and cathartic. Do you need to know the original story to follow and understand the play? No. Would it help to know it? I would imagine so. As I am unfamiliar with the original story, I did find myself getting lost on more than one occasion in the first act. But more on that later.
First, a little bit of background on this show for those of you who don't already know: Flux was originally set to mount a production of JB, Archibald MacLeish's modern retelling of the story of Job. However, the company was denied the rights at the 11th hour. Rather than cancel their spring production, Flux's artistic director August Schulenburg wrote a new script over the course of a weekend for the already-assembled cast based not on Job, but on Jacob wrestling the angel. (There is however a winking nod to JB, or at least the story of Job, in the script.)
To harp on some minor structural flaws in a script written under duress in mere days—a stunningly impressive feat—seems horrifically unfair and petty, especially considering how impressive the end result is. So, lest I seem like a crank, let me get all of my criticisms out of the way up front, since this is a show I ultimately liked and recommend.
The play centers around the offspring of Jacob, who recently died. They’ve just come from the funeral and are at his house, waiting to see who inherits it (and all its contents). Joe and Dinah believe they should get it, much to the dismay of Tamar, who became part of the family through marriage. Joe and Dinah—particularly Dinah—doesn’t believe Tamar should be entitled to anything of their father’s, but Tamar obviously disagrees, claiming she knew a side of dear old (and I do mean old) dad that Joe and Dinah never did.
So, through flashbacks and recreations, the siblings air out dirty laundry and revisit tales from their—and Jacob’s—past. And here’s where I can offer my two major criticisms and get on with the show.
The first act centers around stories that deal with Jacob’s childhood, his upbringing, how he became prosperous, how he met the love of his life, his wife, and how he became—depending on your viewpoint—blessed or cursed. The first act is very much all over the map, with sometimes achronological flashbacks that go off on tangents of their own.
For example, the scene where Jacob meets his true love’s father, although offering crucial information for the second act and is in and of itself fun, due in part to Bianca LaVerne Jones’s marvelous portrayal of the father, it derails the primary thrust of the flashback, which is the story of how Jacob fell in love with Rachel but married her sister instead.
All of this is a long roundabout way of stating that I often wondered where the show was going in act one, and sometimes had difficulty finding my bearings or locking onto the main narrative thread. I kept forgetting about Jacob’s exceedingly long life and couldn’t pinpoint when he got this gift or acknowledged it.
Also (and this is a minor thing that didn’t cause too much confusion), during the flashbacks, sometimes the actors playing Joe, Dinah and Tamar would step in and play younger versions of themselves, and sometimes other actors would step in to play them. Although it’s not too confusing, I’m not 100% sure why this inconsistent device was used.
Which isn't to say the first act isn't fun or interesting. There are many tales about the recently departed father that are compelling. It's just that in the first half of the show, I sometimes had trouble figuring out what these stories were all adding up to.
Aside from this, my confusion dissipated in the second act, where the narrative threads tighten and we’re presented with some very compelling stories that make up the Big Picture. (And really, if an audience member stops being confused before curtain call, the playwright’s done their job.) Specifically, there are two tales—where Dinah’s parents (unwittingly?) destroy her fiancé’s life (and in turn, Dinah’s chance of marrying the love of her life), and where Jacob bargains bits and pieces of himself with an angel for just a little more life during an extended chess game with Tamar—that are touching, heartbreaking and utterly absorbing. Thanks to the writing, directing and performances, theses scenes are almost worth the price of admission alone.
In the second act, we learn more about the "gifts" Jacob has been given by a nameless angel, and how said gifts have affected him, his offspring and really, everyone around him.
The actors are all great in this, particularly Matthew Archambault as Jacob and Isaiah Tanenbaum as the nameless angel who shows up from time to time to either bless or taunt Jacob. They inhabit their roles as if they were made to play them. Zack Calhoon, Jane Lincoln Taylor and Jessica Angleskahn are perfectly cast as the squabbling heirs, Tiffany Clementi and Kelli Holsopple play of each other well as the two sisters vying for Jacob’s love, and hell; they look like they could practically be sisters in real life. Johnna Adams, the aforementioned Jones, and Anthony Wills, Jr. deftly play multiple roles throughout (I particularly liked one bit where Johnna Adams, playing a young Tamar, tricks one of Jacob’s dim-witted sons to do her toilet-cleaning work for her).
And the previously-mentioned quibble aside, Kelly O'Donnell's direction is excellent. She seamlessly blends scenes from the past with those of the present in a way that's not cluttered or confusing.
Jason Paradine’s set is also astounding. Seriously, I didn’t think you could make the Access Gallery look like that. His set makes the space, which is really just one large dance studio look like the interior of an old cluttered with lifetimes of knickknacks and belongings.
Despite my reservations—and hey, maybe those more familiar with the original Biblical tale won’t be as sporadically lost as this ignoramus was—Jacob’s House makes for a night of compelling and fascinating theatre. It deals with a man blessed with fortune and long life, and shows the after-effects and consequences those gifts have on him and his family.
Wanting to learn to play chess,
James "Agnostic Moron" Comtois
Jacob’s House is running until May 22 at the Access Gallery on 380 Broadway. For tickets go here.
Monday, May 10, 2010
The Little One: The Socialite
Stephanie Cox-Williams as Flora in The Little One.
"More hunters. This is getting ridiculous. Seems people are becoming more open to the idea that we really exist."
Opening Thursday, June 17 at the Kraine Theater. Tickets on sale now!
A ridiculous man who
writes about vampires,
James "Social Dandy" Comtois
Readings & Events This Evening
Hey, gang. I hope everyone had a decent weekend (as I did). Because of the sudden shift in weather I've come down with a pretty nasty head cold and will try to brave the workday with the proverbial stiff upper-lip.
However, don't let my weakened constitution prevent you from seeing some pretty cool-looking events happening tonight in our fair city.
Tonight at the Cell Theatre on W. 23rd St. (between 8th and 9th avenues), Shawn Harris, writer and administrator of the Love's Labors Lost blog, is unveiling a reading of her new play, Anne&Me, at 7:30 p.m.
Here's what Shawn tells us about it:
Anne&Me tells the story of a Black woman whose world is turned upside down when she meets a celebrity in the most unlikely way. Combining pop culture with concepts from Tibetan mysticism, Anne&Me explores the impact of racism and sexism upon the psyche of Black women with unbridled honesty.
Featuring Toccara Castleman, Sarah Koestner, Verna Hampton and Ayo Cumming.
The reading—part of the Blackboard Reading Series—is free, although donations are of course, greatly appreciated. Reservations can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
Also tonight is the final session for Flux Theatre Ensemble's ForePlay reading series, An Awesome God.
Tonight's entry features new short works by Erin Browne, Fengar Gael, Mac Rogers, & Crystal Skillman, all directed by Michael Davis, about either "The Creation Story" or "The Rebellion of Korah."
Featuring Will Ellis, Daryl Lathon, Nick Monroy, Ingrid Nordstrom, Chandra Thomas, & Cotton Wright.
It's at the Access Theater Gallery (380 Broadway, 4th Floor). The event, too, is free, with a suggested donation of $5.
This reading series is part-and-parcel with Flux's current mainstage show, Jacob's House, which I saw Friday night and about which I hope to write later this week.
* * *
So don't use the excuse that Yours Truly is down for the count: do yourself a favor by checking one of these events out.
Needing the NyQuil,
James "Stuffed Up" Comtois
Thursday, May 06, 2010
The Vigil or the Guided Cradle
(I guess in the full disclosure department, although I've only actively worked with one person involved in this show, I'm good pals with most of them; plus, Crystal and John staged something for Nosedive's 10th Anniversary Gala back in March. Also, I paid for my ticket, if anyone really gives a dick about that sort of thing.)
The Vigil or the Guided Cradle, written by Crystal Skillman and directed by John Hurley, is simultaneously a horror story, historical fiction, contemporary political thriller, and a variation on the age-old "woman in peril" story.
What makes the piece work so well, in addition to the great writing, deft direction and spot-on acting, is that it's focused on the narrative and the characters, not about political talking-points. It's not interested in delivering a heavy-handed sermon about the horrors of torture so much as crafting an engaging story that lets the audience see for itself how torture takes its toll on the victim and the victimizer.
The show follows two concurrent narratives that complement each other. In one, Ippolito, an Italian interrogator in the 15th Century Prague has unveiled a new
method of interrogation torture device that may render his associates (rivals?) redundant: the titular vigil or guided cradle. It is regarded as an innovation of style and the next phase of getting confessions out of imprisoned suspects.
As horrified as I was with Ippolito's invention, like his fellow "interrogator" played by Travis York, I was also fascinated with how he genuinely believed in his methods. He's not interested in being cruel so much as he is in being efficient and effective. He also seems to delude himself into thinking he's being merciful (although the vigil has the potential to cause serious physical harm, its main goal is to inflict mental and emotional—and therefore more "humane"—pain).
In the other storyline, Susan Louise O'Connor plays a young American woman touring present-day Prague who meets up with a handsome stranger played by Dion Mucciacito. He offers to serve as her impromptu translator and tour guide during her stay. And of course, as we get to know these two, we realize that their pasts are indirectly connected, and their relationship takes a sharp left turn.
The play flips back and forth between the two narratives, with a subtle yet substantial thread connecting them both (for example, in one scene, the present day tourist admires the Astronomical Clock in the Town Square; in another, Ippolito uses his new torture device on Jan, the son of the Clock's maker).
Skillman and Hurley ably show the thin membrane between the two centuries and plotlines, revealing that the differences between Ippolito tormenting Jan and Mucciacito's tour guide holding O'Connor's tourist hostage is by a matter of only a degree or two. But again, it's not delivering a sanctimonious message about how our current torture methods are medieval: it's using that concept as a given to tell an engaging narrative.
The cast—which also features Vinnie Penna and Alex Pappas—is excellent, with a couple members of the ensemble playing counterpart characters in both threads. Christian Rummel is perfectly cast as the intimidating yet sympathetic Ippolito. O'Connor is, as usual, great as the seemingly naïve tourist-turned-victim-turned-victimizer. Joseph Mathers also deserves applause for his grueling and convincing performance as the tortured Jan, who's unlucky enough to be one of the first people to have the new torture device used on him. It hurts just to watch him in this show.
Sylviane Jacobsen's set, Meryl Pressman & Holly Rihn's costumes, and Olivia Harris' lighting are also all powerful and effective.
At 70 minutes, the script could actually stand to be a little longer. In fact, my one major criticism is that the present-day storyline actually feels a bit truncated. And although it's always a good thing when you want more from a show, there's easily enough material here for a 90-100-minute story.
This quibble over the runtime aside (and yes, it's always better that a play be too short than overlong), The Vigil or the Guided Cradle is a taught piece of thought-provoking—and sometimes intense and harrowing—piece of theatre. I think it has life beyond this limited run at the Brick Theater, and I for one would like to see it remounted, with perhaps a few more minutes put into it.
The Vigil or the Guided Cradle is playing at the Brick Theater on 575 Metropolitan Ave. in Brooklyn until May 8. For tickets click here.
Cradling you in my arms,
James "Cruel and Unusual" Comtois
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Just to Reiterate...
(This was actually supposed to be a non-self-promotional entry, but I got a little backed up with work and errands over the past 24 hours. And by "errands," I of course mean, "watching Star Trek IV on Netflix's Play Instantly feature.")
All about prioritizing,
James "Busy Executive" Comtois