Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Packing It In…?

I was going to point out that theatre blog heavyweight George Hunka was throwing in the towel, only to see that he’s posted a new entry on his “Superfluities” blog this morning. His announcement of packing it in may be akin to Stephen King’s announcements of retirement every so often, only to publish three novels within the year.

Suffice it to say, I do understand Mr. Hunka’s dilemma. Daily posting on a blog can drain any motivation for playwriting. There have been many times when my posting on Jamespeak has hamstrung me with writing my latest play (and vice versa). This becomes particularly true when you feel less of a creative person when blogging and more like a critic/pundit/armchair-thinker. When you write a play, you have to abandon (or at least ease up on) some of the critic/pundit/armchair-thinker mindset, lest your latest play read like a term/position paper.

(Sarah Hepola recently wrote an article in Slate on why she had to shut down her blog. Some reasons for her decision to call it a day coincide with Mr. Hunka’s.)

At any rate, Mr. Hunka strikes me as a more than reasonably intelligent person. He’ll know what to do and how to proceed. Most of this gig is finding the right balance for what to focus your time and attention on and by how much.

(I’m finding this to be especially true now that Jamespeak has adopted the official blogging format, which encourages more frequent posting, yet demands posts to be shorter in length than I’m used to. It’ll take me a little while to strike the new balance with this format, although I no longer feel the need to have each entry be a minimum of 1,000 words.)

I wish Mr. Hunka the best in his future endeavors and encourage you to read his earlier posts.

* * *

This three-day weekend was pretty amazing.

In addition to attending the obligatory Memorial Day barbeque and catching the latest X-Men movie, I had some time to do absolutely nothing. Sunday and Monday were days off from rehearsal, which I think the cast & crew were (are) grateful for, considering we’ll now be rehearsing every day until The Adventures of Nervous Boy opens (which is in a little over a week as I write this).

Anyway, break time’s over. Time for us Nosedivians to kick it into high gear and get ready for the final stretch before I can no longer speak about this show in the hypothetical and future tense.

Is it really that obvious that I can’t wait for this show to open?

Hopping up and down like an idiot,

James “Eager Beaver” Comtois

Friday, May 26, 2006

It's Business...It's Business TIME!

I keep forgetting that theatre people hate hearing about the business side of things.

I guess I need to clarify a few things.

Some people have responded to Scott Walters's blog about relevancy in theatre and my comment about theatre artists needing to understand the business aspect of helming a show. I absolutely don't think art should take a back seat to business by any stretch of the imagination. For regular readers of Jamespeak and/or regular attendees of Nosedive shows, this treads on the painfully obvious (hence me not stating this before). However, in fairness to many theatre bloggers who don't know me from Adam, I can see how my comment(s) could be misinterpreted that way.

So let me just say, so there's no misunderstanding...

Art should not take a back seat to business.

Having said that, artists should know the business aspects of staging a work, unless they're very lucky individuals who luck out with grants or fellowships. I am not one of those lucky individuals, and I have yet to be given the Standard Rich & Famous Contract by Mr. Big-Timey Producer, so it is up to my company and me to get my work staged.

In order to self-produce, you have to know the business elements of staging a play.

(Again, I'm aware that this is sounding excruciatingly self-evident. But I do want to make this very clear, so that there is no misunderstanding.)

My plays are not for everybody.

Do I write with a demographic or target audience in mind? Of course not. But once I've written something that I think is ready to stage, I have to remove my Writer Hat and don my Producer and PR Hats and consider whom in New York this play would play best to.

In her blog, P'tit Boo writes:

"When someone asks me 'who is your audience?', I say : 'People.'

"Though if dogs and monkeys could enjoy it too, I'd be getting even more at universality. My job when I write and create for the theatre is to get at humanity in the best and most compelling way that I can."

On one hand, yes, she's absolutely right, and I want to make it clear for those who are not regular readers of this and/or regular attendees of Nosedive shows, I do not write with demographics and marketing figures in mind. If I did, I should be taken out and beaten. Who is the target audience for my work? I have no idea. My target audience is really whoever buys a ticket. But on the other, I'd be willfully myopic and ignorant to think that any certain play would appeal to anybody and everybody.

When I remove my Writer's Hat, I have to wear my Producer's Hat.

The Adventures of Nervous Boy, for example, is being billed as a comedy-horror. Who is the target audience for this work? I would say primarily people in their 20s and 30s who have soft spots in their hearts for grindhouse horror, people who aren't easily offended or squeamish, people who like really dark work, people in the makeup industry.

It's not a bad idea for a playwright to do his or her own PR work.

Another example of advantages in knowing the business side of things is when selecting a space. One major role of a producer (with an Off-off or indie work) is finding a theatre space to perform your work in.

As the writer of the work, I find it very advantageous to know how and where to find a theatre space. It's not a bad idea for a playwright to do his or her own space hunting.

In order to maintain creative control and ownership of your work, you need to have at least a nodding acquaintance with the business side of things. Otherwise, if you leave all business decisions in the hands of other people, you lose a great deal of creative control, since how your work is staged and promoted is no longer in your hands. This is especially true when you're self-financing your own work: it becomes very important to figure out ways to mitigate financial loss (read: financial ruin).

When your own finances are on the line, and the ability to maintain a company is dependent on at least some sense of financial stability, it's not a bad idea for a playwright to think of marketing, bottom-lines and numbers.

At any rate, sorry, Mme. Boo for irking you...that's something I tend to do whenever I open my cybermouth. I hope this clarifies things.

Anyway, I will resume plugging Nervous Boy after the three-day weekend. As always, I would like to hear comments on this.

Digging himself even deeper,

James "Footmouth" Comtois

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Brief Pause To Acknowledge the Blogosphere

Yes, I said I was going to spend the bulk of my time on Jamespeak to incessantly plug my forthcoming show, and I still intend on doing so. However, since there seems to be heated discussions going on in the theatre blogosphere (launched mainly by blogger Scott Walters) about theatre artists being businessmen, I figure I shold point you in their general direction, dear reader.

Check out some of the stuff here, here, here and here.

I’ve written some comments on some of the blogs about this, and I’ve mentioned some of this before right here on Jamespeak, but I’ll just reiterate my point (my position hasn’t really changed on this since Pete and I started Nosedive Productions back in 1999): the idea that a creative person should never have to worry or think about the business aspects of staging a show is the height of foolishness and naivety. When you helm your own work and want to continue helming your own work with full creative control and ownership, you need to start thinking of your company and how it works as a business.

Mr. Walters wrote in his blog:

We need to be reading books like The World Is Flat and The Experience Economy and The Long Tail and Re-Imagine and The Wisdom of Crowds figuring out how the hell they apply to what we do before we get Netflixed out of business. And rightfully so, if we can't come up with a way of creating art that reflects the 21st century. We need to get out of the Theatre section at Barnes and Noble and take a look at the Business section, because business long ago realized that constant and aggressive change is the only way to survive. Not in theatre -- we spend our time asking the world to change its attitude toward us, whining about the lack of public funding and the supposed shallowness of our audience and the crass anti-intellectualism of the American public. Get over it! The problem is the theatre, not the public!

Rather than paraphrase verbosely what I wrote to him and go on and on (like I tend to do), I’ll just reprint my comment here:

Irrelevancy is the big issue here, isn't it? When I get into my more cynical and depressed moods, I realize that many theatre artists are hell-bent on making theatre absolutely irrelevant. Theatre artists have to compete with Podcasts, DVDs, television, late-night benders, and so on, and so on, in vying for people's attention. What's worse is that many of us refuse to acknowledge this.

(And sulking about the audience bein' stupid and lazy gets us nowhere fast.)

I agree, the problem is that many of us refuse to "create art that reflects the 21st century," as you put it, and we suffer as a result. Not only that, theatre artists do have to start thinking like business people. Now, this isn't a bad thing. Actually, far from it. The faster a theatre artist can think in terms of profit margins, customers, demographics and bottom lines, the sooner he or she can become truly independent and self-sufficient.

In short: Amen, Mr. Walters. Amen. You’re really onto something here. Now if only people in the theatre world decide to listen to you, rather than continue sulking, crossing their arms and grumbling about how stupid the world is.

Always sulking,

James “Smartypants” Comtois

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Interview With Hot Young Playwright

INTERVIEWER: I’m talking here with a hot young playwright, the co-founder of Nosedive Productions and author of The Adventures of Nervous Boy (A Penny Dreadful), which opens in nearly two weeks at the Gene Frankel Underground on 24 Bond Street in New York and runs for three weeks in June. Now then, Mister…? I’m sorry, how do you pronounce…?

PLAYWRIGHT: KUM-twah. The ‘s’ is silent.

INTERVIEWER: Okay, I see, I see.

PLAYWRIGHT: No problem.

INTERVIEWER: That’s French, right?


INTERVIEWER: Well, Mr. Comtois, you must all be so excited for this one, this is, what, the tenth original play of yours your company Nosedive Productions has staged?

PLAYWRIGHT: Well, tenth or eleventh, depending on if you count our two productions of Christmas Carol once or twice.

INTERVIEWER: Fabulous. Now, what can you tell me about this show?

PLAYWRIGHT: Well, I guess in a nutshell, it’s a satire of our current culture, a culture run amok.


PLAYWRIGHT: And we follow the day-to-day travails of a guy trapped inside his own head who’s slowly losing his mind…


PLAYWRIGHT: This alienated New Yorker, named Nervous Boy, wanders around our fair city and comes across New Yorkers of every kind…


PLAYWRIGHT: Well, you name it. From rude cell phone users, belligerent alcoholics, pretentious academics, screaming couples, demons from the underworld, brain-dead zombies…

INTERVIEWER: What the hell kind of play is this?

PLAYWRIGHT: What? Oh. I thought you were given a copy of the script before we—

INTERVIEWER: —I’ve only read parts.


INTERVIEWER: Now, why do you continue to write plays with such graphic material?

PLAYWRIGHT: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I grew up reading and watching horror novels and movies, I think they’re a lot of fun. Plus, horror, like comedy, can serve as a good barometer for what people can or can’t tolerate—

INTERVIEWER: —I wonder why anyone would want to engage in such socially deviant behavior.

PLAYWRIGHT: Well, uh…I mean, I don’t know if—

INTERVIEWER: —There’s just so much hostility you display towards your audience.

PLAYWRIGHT: Well, it’s just a play. I think saying that just the act of writing a play is engaging in socially deviant behavior…

INTERVIEWER: I’m wondering if this is coming from a deep-rooted pathological desire to hurt based on some repressed childhood trauma?


INTERVIEWER: Possibly related to your potty training?


INTERVIEWER: Because I have to say, Mister Kumtwas, I really think that Nosedive Productions could be a major voice within independent theatre if you stopped displaying such active aggression towards the theatergoing public. After all, it really isn’t our fault that your mother didn’t hug you enough during your infancy, is it?


INTERVIEWER: Final question. What’s up next for you and your company?

PLAYWRIGHT: Uhh…a comedy about suburbia?

INTERVIEWER: Terrific, terrific.

* * *

The Adventures of Nervous Boy (A Penny Dreadful)

a new play by James Comtois, directed by Pete Boisvert

June 8-10, 15-17, 22-24 (Thursdays through Saturdays)

The Gene Frankel Underground at 24 Bond Street (between Bowery and Lafayette)

All shows are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

For tickets visit www.theatermania.com or click here.

Adults only


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fighting and Banding Together

As you may have guessed, these next few days before The Adventures of Nervous Boy opens I'll be posting more often but posting much shorter entries. When we get up and running, I'll most likely return to my regular long-winded rants about whatever's pissing me off at the time (like those damn kids always playing on my lawn).

Qui Nguyen from Vampire Cowboys worked on the fight choreography for Nervous Boy on Monday night and…wow. This is gonna look hot.

And I’m sure glad I recommended this play being for adults only.

This week we’re in full off-book runs for the show, and I think I’m off-book for my two-minute cameo (yeah, I play a small uncredited role in this one). Now we just have to get the makeup and effects finished.

As for general discussion about the overall state of theatre in New York, I recommend taking a look over at John Clancy’s weblog. He’s a playwright, Obie award-winning director and co-founder of the NYC International Fringe Festival who’s been in the “biz” for a while (and understands the innate sad humor related to trying to have a “career” in theatre). According to his blog, he's trying to organize a new League of Independent Producers, or a new Alternative Touring Circuit, and it's gotten a number of people in the Off-off theatre world talking. I’m interested in seeing where these talks lead.

In the meantime, I need to brush up on my lines and be a shill for Nosedive a little while longer.

Heh. Did I say, “shill?” I meant “happy representative.”

Laying low in the bunker,

James “Private” Comtois

Oddly treading into Nervous Boy territory...

I found this in Salon.com, a letter to the advice columnist about how to deal with his increasing hatred of humanity, and it was just too close to Nervous Boy territory to dismiss, particularly this line:

"I've never suffered fools particularly gladly, but these days I find that I can work myself into an irritable frenzy over the smallest things. People talking on their cellphones and not considering anything or anyone around them. Drivers doing 40 in the highway passing lane, then slowing down even more when they know you want to pass. Cashiers who don't even bother to thank you when you've just plunked down $300 at their store. A mother calling her kid a "lying piece of shit" in a department store. Is it just me, or are people saying and doing more outrageously stupid and ignorant things than ever before?"

Reading that this morning, I was reminded of Harlan Ellison's contention that "The world is turning into a cesspool of imbeciles!"
Cary Tennis does give the letter-writer (named "Ready for a Rooftop and an AK-47") some helpful advice, although I (like Mr. Tennis) actually sympathize(s) with him.

I should send Mr. Rooftop a copy of my script. Dunno if that'll put things in perspective for him or fast-track him towards the rooftop.

Just wanting to share,

James "Giving" Comtois

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hardcore Plugging

It’s now time for some hardcore plugging.

As I write this, The Adventures of Nervous Boy opens in three weeks. It’s shaping up to be possibly one of the best shows we’ve put on in a while. Everyone involved with this appears to be giving their A-game, and I really can’t wait to see how people respond to this one.

First of all, it’s pretty dark. This is Nosedive’s attempt at staging a horror show, and for lack of a better category, we’re labeling it as a “horror” (although I think Pete and I will both contend that we hope people also find it funny, which isn’t surprising, considering the line between comedy and horror is a pretty damn thin one).

Second of all, although I don’t want to give too much of the play away, I am reasonably certain that virtually everyone who comes to see it will relate to it in more than just a few ways.

I think we’re living in very sad and alienating times. Very few of us deal with real tragedy on a day-by-day basis (with some exceptions; I’m not indifferent to family illness or things of that ilk). Living in the wealthiest country in the world — and for us New Yorkers, in one of the wealthiest and most expensive cities in the country — very few are toiling or befallen with catastrophe. This is, I think, one of the rules of the game when everything is automated and everything is provided for us.

Yet still…a number of people I know have this free-floating dread and anxiety, that feeling that Something Is Wrong. We can’t put our finger on it, but we feel it: that feeling that we’re obsolete, we don’t matter, never have mattered and never will matter to anyone or anything.

So, sometimes people create drama for themselves: make their lives more chaotic and problematic than they really are, thereby giving themselves and their situations a (false) depth of meaning.

I really don’t know what the solution to this is. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe we just need to sing “Que Sera Sera” and acknowledge how small we are in the world. Yeah, I know: easier said than done.

The Adventures of Nervous Boy is a play for anyone who has felt a constant and steady fear of dread, who’s felt that the water is up to his or her eyeballs and rising.

A play for anyone who’s felt at times that they’re always in the wrong place doing the wrong thing; who’s felt alienated and isolated despite being surrounded by people all the time.

A play for people who have had their heart broken and have never been able to mend it properly and move on; who have wanted to go on a rampage after a week from hell.

This is a play for anyone who has wondered if we are indeed in hell.

Inflicting his anxieties on others,

James “Debbie Downer” Comtois

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Person With Awesomeism

This was a pretty full weekend for me. In other words, I did stuff other than wake up at noon, watch the TBS afternoon movie, then decide on whether it’s worth showering at four in the afternoon.

(I’m of course kidding ladies. I’m an early riser and frequent bather.)

I was reminded this weekend that before I engage in the full-on plugging onslaught for my own show (The Adventures of Nervous Boy playing June 8-10, 15-17, 22-24 at 8 pm the Gene Frankel Underground on 24 Bond Street), I need to engage in the full-on plugging for other people’s shows.

I want to bring to your attention two plays and one short film I saw this weekend.

The first play I saw was called Penetralia, produced by Stone Soup Theatre Arts. Now, much to my chagrin, there’s no nudity in this show (as the title would make you hope for). Despite this, I still had a good time watching it. The play — based on an original script by Randy Anderson, Stephanie Farnell-Wilson, Adam Hunault and Joshua Tjaden — is about a village where all the townsfolk can read minds and converse mentally rather than verbally, their sesquicentennial and a member of the village with the power to telepathically “lie” to and shield his thoughts from his community. It’s short and fun, and didn’t make me fidget anxiously in my seat the way Faith Healer did.

So yes, I can — and will — say this without hyperbole: I enjoyed Penetralia better than Faith Healer.

The second play I saw was Vampire Cowboys’ Living Dead in Denmark, which I said I was looking forward to before. I was not let down: pretty ladies with samurai swords and battleaxes fighting ugly zombies.

Ugly ninja zombies.


Now, for the theatre snobs out there who are just rolling their eyes with derision at the above description, no doubt lamenting yet another nail being hammered into theatre’s coffin, just continue lamenting; you won’t be missed. This is a play for people who actually like having fun going to see shows, something at which Qui, Robert and the Vampire Cowboys gang are getting really, really good. Vampire Cowboys is getting more ambitious with its fight sequences, stage effects and overall theatrics. They haven’t put on a bad show yet and — judging from Living Dead in Denmark — they’re not about to start anytime soon.

Both plays close this weekend, so if you get a chance, you should check out both. (Penetralia is playing at Actor’s Theatre Workshop on 145 West 28th Street; Living Dead in Denmark is playing at Center Stage on 48 West 21st Street.) And bring a date. S/he’ll think you’re cultured. Mention my name to the box office person and you’ll get a…well, probably a weird look that means, “Who the eff is that?”

* * *

Now onto the short film.

In between these shows (I saw Penetralia on Friday and Living Dead in Denmark on Sunday), I played my role as an extra in a short film by Jamie Taylor (from All You Can Eat Theatre) on Saturday. At the shoot, I saw my friend Dennis Hurley (those of you who have seen Nosedive’s Evil Hellcat & Other Lurid Tales may remember him as both Dabba the monkey puppet in “Jiffy Squid” and Zombie Tom in “Evil Hellcat & the Liquid Lunch”), who completed a short film himself, called The Albino Code, a parody of both the Dan Brown book, The Da Vinci Code and the forthcoming Ron Howard movie of the same name.

On his Web site, Dennis explains the origins for his parody movie:

“For those of you who haven't read the novel, there's a heavily featured character named Silas, who's not only an Opus Dei monk and an assassin, he's also an albino. As someone with albinism, I can tell you that albinism affects the pigment of the eyes, skin, and hair; vision problems are a key part of the condition-probably the most important part. In The Da Vinci Code novel, Silas has red eyes, shoots people from far distances, and drives in a high-speed car chase at night. Putting aside the fact that people with albinism do not have red eyes, the activities that Silas engages in are nearly impossible for someone with albinism…”

I would agree that a person with albinism, often having poor eyesight, would make a pretty shitty assassin.

Dennis continues:

“Dan Brown supposedly did his research in the area of religion, but he seemed to skip the albinism research entirely when he created Silas. Silas…bears no resemblance to a real-life person with albinism. As a result, Mr. Brown perpetuates the negative and fictional stereotypes of the evil albino with red eyes and/or supernatural powers that Hollywood has perpetuated for years (e.g. End of Days, The Matrix Reloaded, Powder).”

According to Dennis, after he auditioned for the role (it’s pretty rare that albino actors get work in major studio films, so landing a role in a film by Ron Howard would be a huge break), the part was given to Paul Bettany, a non-albino actor.

He continues:

“So, instead of complaining endlessly, I wrote a short film parody, entitled The Albino Code, with the following premise: ‘What if the story of The Da Vinci Code could be told from Silas's point of view? And what if Silas were an actual person with albinism thrust into a world of secret codes, mystery, and assassination?’”

(Tangential digression: I am reminded of one time after one of the shows for Evil Hellcat, which was staged in September 2004, Dennis and I, along with some other Nosedivians, were at a bar in the Upper West Side when some drunken girl came up to Dennis and asked if she could take his picture because he looked so fascinating. He admitted to the girl that he got this a lot, and she was far from the first random passerby to want to take his photo. At that point I could see how Dennis could find people regarding him as a curiosity to get a little tiresome.)

(Second tangential digression: the name of this post was originally going to be Talkin’ ‘Bout ‘Binos, but thought it would be a tad uncouth. I even ran it by Dennis to see if he was fine with it, and he was. But it still seemed…a tad uncouth, even for me.)

So, I encourage all of you to check out Dennis’s movie, The Albino Code, which has received quite a bit of press (including a feature on CNN). It’s about nine minutes long and is pretty funny.

Well…okay then. I think from here on in I’ll now be using this space to resume shamelessly plugging all of my shit.

And by “shit,” I of course mean “nuggets of artistic gold.”

Going back to watching TBS,

James “Play(er) Hate(r)” Comtois

Friday, May 12, 2006

Faith Healer

This entry is yet another reminder of why I don't write reviews.

One of the perks in having a friend working at The Lincoln Center is sometimes you can score some free tickets to the openings of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.

At the beginning of this year, Christmas Past Marsha Martinez, who works at said Lincoln Center, gave me a pair of free tickets to see Adam Rapp's Red Light Winter. On May 4, Miss Martinez gave Ben VandenBoom (her boyfriend and oft Nosedive collaborator) and me tickets to see the opening night production of Faith Healer, the Broadway revival of Brian Friel's play, which stars Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid (a.k.a. Emperor Palpatine, NYAAAIIGN!) and is playing at the Booth Theatre.

I'll be honest: I'm of two minds towards what I thought (and think) about this play. Overall I'm glad I saw it, although I don't think this would make my "Top Ten" list for the year if/when I compile such a list (although you never know).

Yes, I'm ambivalent towards this play.

(Full ignoramus disclosure: I am unfamiliar with Brian Friel's work, and this production I saw was - and to date, is - the only play of his that I have been exposed to.)

Faith Healer is about Frank Hardy (Mr. Fiennes), a charlatan "healer" of the sick and crippled who travels to small towns throughout the British Isles along with his wife, Grace (Ms. Jones), and his Cockney manager, Teddy (Mr. McDiarmid) to perform his "healing." Oddly enough, Frank points out that most of the weak, sick and crippled who come to see him do not come to be healed (which is a good thing, since nine times out of 10 none of his guests would be healed) but to be given the assurance that their plight is without hope. They "came to seal their anguish," according to Frank.

The entire story is told through separate monologues, with each character getting the chance to tell their side of the story uninterrupted on an almost bare stage. Each character's monologue/story ends up adding to and taking away from the others. According to Frank, Grace was his mistress. According to Grace, she was his wife. Grace tells us she had several miscarriages. Teddy tells us she had a stillborn child. Frank tells us she was barren. Frank's confession reveals that he had to return home to visit his dying mother. Grace's tale reveals that his mother had been dead for years and he had to return to visit his dying father.

The acting is topnotch. Mr. Fiennes, Ms. Jones and Mr. McDiarmid are all excellent and captivating performers. Mr. McDiarmid has the standout performance as Teddy, Frank's (seemingly) slow-witted cockney manager. Not only is he (unsurprisingly) amazing, his character and story really tie the whole play together. (The first act is a monologue each from Frank and Grace respectively, each mentioning their sidekick Teddy. During intermission I told Ben I couldn't wait to hear what Teddy had to say about all of this.)

The he said/she said aspect of the show was also very interesting, letting the viewer both further understand the relationships more and less (since they challenge one another at crucial junctures).

However, there were some aspects to Faith Healer that prevent me from raving about it. First, and this is regrettable, I had a very, very uncomfortable seat. I know this shouldn't be taken into consideration, but it really can't be helped. When you're in an uncomfortable chair for a long period of time, your concentration tends to wane.

And this is a show that demands concentration.

So unfortunately, I was unable to concentrate on the bulk of Frank's final monologue, as I was too acutely aware that I was in searing pain from the waist down.

Secondly, although I'm not nearly as negative as this amateur/reader reviewer in The New York Times, I do understand the "Emperor's New Clothes" sentiment when codename "blairhr" writes in response to the "Best. Show. Ever." reviews:

"We saw the play last night April 27th with another couple and were asking in unison during the intermission and afterwards if perhaps we missed something...Reading the reviews of those who thought the script was wonderful brings to mind the emperor's new clothes....'wasn't it grand?' etc."

There is, to me, more than just a "kernel of truth" to the statement and sentiment above. When Ben and I left, Ben asked me a question about the show, and I realized I couldn't even begin to give him an answer. We both came to the conclusion that it would have helped if we had read the script beforehand.

The reason why I wouldn't agree with Ben Brantley's assessment that Faith Healer is a "great play" is because...it doesn't exactly cover new ground. Although it conveys very interesting ideas (the power of faith, coincidence versus divinity, the cult of personality and the tempestuousness of memory) in very interesting ways (disparate monologues that both complement and contradict each other), they're still ideas I've been exposed to more than a few times before. (I was reminded more than once of the fourth-wall-breaking monologues in Stephen Hopkins's film, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, where Geoffrey Rush plays Sellers playing his friends and family members to talk about the unbridled genius of Sellers being both his redemption and ruin.)

However, having said all of that, as I write this (a little over a week after seeing the play), certain lines, scenes and speeches are still lingering in (dare I use the word "haunting?") my memory. I particularly got a kick out of the story of how, just before Frank would prepare to heal his audiences, Teddy would play a Fred Astaire recording of the song "The Way You Look Tonight," an inappropriate and ironic choice of music to play before a group of anguished cripples. (That each character gave credit/blame to one of the others for insisting on using that song was a nice touch and fit with the overall tone and theme of the play.)

Was Frank a charlatan or an artist? A vessel of healing for the faithful or a drunken conman hurting those close to him? Was one of his final (successful) acts of faith healing signs of his apotheosis or a sign from God that this was the beginning of the end for Frank Hardy? The play is deliberately vague, which makes the show simultaneously appealing and exasperating.

Still ambivalent,

James "Conman" Comtois

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Adventures of Nervous Boy (A Penny Dreadful)

Nosedive Productions Presents

The Adventures of Nervous Boy (A Penny Dreadful)

A new play by James Comtois

Directed by Pete Boisvert

The Gene Frankel Underground (formerly Juvie Hall)

24 Bond Street (between Bowery & Lafayette)

June 8-10, 15-17, 22-24 (Thursday through Saturday)

“Poor Grendel has had an accident… So may you all.”

—John Gardner

“Living in New York, I’m around a lot of people who are stressed out. Always stressed, always freaking out and always living in a constant state of self-created panic. I’m not really like that. I don’t really stress out. At least, not in the way that people I know do. I don’t feel stress. It’s more of a constant feeling of steady dread…”

So opines the eponymous hero of The Adventures of Nervous Boy, a horrifically alienated New Yorker who’s slowly and steadily losing his mind. In the new black-as-death comedy-horror play from Nosedive Productions, the cruelly-named Nervous Boy wanders around a grotesque nightmare version of the city and comes across New Yorkers of every kind, from rude cell phone users, belligerent alcoholics, pretentious academics, screaming couples, demons from the underworld and brain-dead zombies as he tries to burn a recently earned paycheck in order to maintain his sanity.

The Adventures of Nervous Boy features graphic violence and strong sexual situations and is recommended for adults only.

All shows are at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15. Subway: F/V/B/D to Broadway/Lafayette; 6 to Bleeker; or R/W to 8th St. For tickets call 212-352-3101 or click here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Caveh Zahedi

Nosedive had its first reading for The Adventures of Nervous Boy last night at Pete’s apartment, which psyched a bunch of us up for this production. We’ve got a really great cast for this and I’m looking forward to seeing what Pete does with it. It’s now time to roll with this. I’ll be sending out the obligatory email blasts, postcards and blog plugs soon.

In the meantime, I’d like to talk about a filmmaker I really admire, and about a recent film of his I really liked.

(Since I neither have access to the DVDs, shooting scripts or press junkets to the films mentioned below, any and all quotes from and descriptions of the movies are based on my metzo-metzo memory. So I ask that some slack be cut if I get lines of dialogue wrong.)

A couple weekends ago, I went to go see the film I Am A Sex Addict, an autobiographical comedy by Caveh Zahedi about his real-life obsession with getting sex from prostitutes and how this obsession/addiction (go figure) destroyed his relationships and two marriages.

In I Am A Sex Addict, Mr. Zahedi plays himself and has actresses recreate conversations/fights he had with his ex-wife and previous girlfriends, breaks the fourth wall from time to time to address the audience directly and explain to us the context of the scene, uses old home movies to show images of his real ex-wife and ex-girlfriends and uses documentary footage to show some of the ins-and-outs of what happened behind the scenes with the actresses playing their roles.

For example, after casting an actress to play his first wife, Mr. Zahedi stops the narrative to show doc footage of him discovering that the actress he selected is in real life a porn star. In another scene where he’s chronicling his fights with a former girlfriend with a drinking problem, he stops the action to point out that the actress playing his alcoholic ex-girlfriend was in real life an alcoholic and shows footage of the actress stumbling around the set holding a bottle of Courvoisier slurring something about booze being “the source and solution to all of life’s problems.”

It is clear throughout the film that Mr. Zahedi is a brutally intelligent and learned man (bordering on the insufferably pretentious). However, he’s frank enough to point out in his movie how his intelligence is his Achilles Heel in some regards: he uses his intellect, philosophical know-how and bizarre compulsion for total honesty to create justifications for his trysts with prostitutes (at one point in the film, he opines: “I can't keep repressing my lust. It’s not healthy;” at other points, he feels compelled to tell his wife and later girlfriends every single sexual thought he has towards every and any female passerby on the street so as to not act on his impulses).

Despite its painful and depressing subject (addiction never being a walk in the park), the film still manages to live up to its category of “comedy” without cheapening the seriousness of the subject. The switching of gears and changing of styles, rather than being distracting, allows the film to be more frank and open than a conventional documentary or biopic.

Now, some of you may be going at this point, “Ugh. Two hours of self-indulgent navel-gazing from a 40-something self-loathing narcissist. Yeah, count me out, James.” And to be honest, I can’t really argue against that. I also don’t know if I could argue against the claim that a film like I Am A Sex Addict isn’t so much an example of honest filmmaking as it is shameless exhibitionism. But hey, self-loathing narcissists (pardon the redundancy) are sometimes the most fascinating artists. Anyone who’s been a fan of such disparate talents as Peter Sellers, Woody Allen or Vincent Gallo knows what I’m talking about. (Mr. Zahedi argues in his blog: “the film is a critique of narcissism, rather than an instance of it.” A good argument, although evasive in some parts, since the accusations of him and his film being narcissistic aren’t stemmed simply from the first-person narrative but from him being genuinely fascinated by his own behavior.)

I was first introduced to Mr. Zahedi’s work when taking Professor Ray Carney’s American Independent Film Class in college. Prof. Carney showed a film by Mr. Zahedi and Greg Watkins called A Little Stiff, perhaps one of the most honest, ambiguous and personal “boy-meets-girl” movies I had (and have) ever seen.

The story behind A Little Stiff is simple: a young film student (Caveh) meets an art student (Erin McKim) in an elevator and develops a God-awful, seventh grade schoolboy crush on her. The bulk of the movie is Caveh calling Erin (and leaving numerous voice messages), him waiting for her to call him back, stopping by her studio, being blown off, being invited to go to a party with her…along with another guy friend of hers, trying to impress her, deciding to give up on her, spending a day at the beach with her, and having no idea if she has any interest in him romantically or not.

A Little Stiff is unclear if this is a story about unrequited love or the lifespan of a schoolboy crush. The movie is also unclear (towards the end) whether Caveh and Erin are or aren’t dating. Mr. Zahedi and Mr. Watkins are spot-on in their depiction of uncertainty in a relationship. (How many times have you asked someone — or been asked — “What’s going on between you and so-and-so? Are you two dating or what?” And how many times has that answer been: “I have no idea?”)

According to Mr. Zahedi’s Web site, A Little Stiff was based on actual events, which isn’t surprising (he’s playing himself, and Erin McKim is playing herself, so I mean…duh). This is one of those “Yeah, I’ve been there before” types of films. A Little Stiff is painfully honest and just downright funny (I particularly like the scene where he has a bad trip on mushrooms and calls Erin to ask her to come over and talk him down. She refuses, since she has to study. He decides later that he’s done speaking to her: “I mean, if she was having a bad trip I’d go over and talk her down!”). Also, Mr. Zahedi is fearless in portraying himself as both a dork and (let’s face it) a jerk.

Mr. Zahedi is a fascinating filmmaker and on-screen persona: both insufferably arrogant and self-effacingly disarming, like a cross between a pompous professor and a child wanting to be loved. He’s the self-absorbed asshole you just can’t stay mad at. New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane pointed out that if you lightened his complexion and gave him a fright wig, he’d be a dead ringer for Harpo Marx. Scott Tobias from The Onion said it best in his review of I Am A Sex Addict: “…his self-effacement makes the film a reflection on narcissism and misogyny rather than an exercise in both.”

Addicted to navel-gazing,

James “Self-Loather” Comtois

Friday, May 05, 2006

From the Lil’ Comtois

In the third part of my dialogue with Mac Rogers, I made a reference to an email my sister sent me regarding my “process, schmocess” line. Of course, with good reason, she was really pissed at me misappropriating her words and misinterpreting her argument.

And of course she was right. I did misinterpret what she was saying.

In the dialogue, I wrote:

“My sister, a recent grad of Vassar’s theatre program, was particularly irritated by my apparent lack of interest in the process. She wrote me this long email telling me how wrong I was, yet more than implied that maybe directors should be removed from the process because they stunt the collaborative effort.”

Here’s her email to me that I was referring to, in its entirety.

> Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2006 11:44:30 -0500

> To: james@nosediveproductions.com

> Subject: Ok, so...(This is Becky)

I read you blog, and had some thoughts. Also, I’ve got nothing to do at work today, so you’re going to hear them.

Ok Jimmy. You said in your blog it seems like you divorce process from product. Either one is process driven or product driven. This distinction I have never understood. The rehearsal process is just as important at the product. It is through the rehearsal process that you can arrive at any product. The importance of process versus that of product should be a non-issue. The problem with those theater people that are “process” driven is that the truth is they aren’t driven. They aren’t working towards an end. To make a simple comparison, no one ever makes a “process” oriented cake. We’re going to add all of the ingredients, mix it, preheat the oven, and then that’s it. “It’s all about the process man.” No, fuck you and finish your homework. When you’ve completed the assignment I’ll look it over. If you don’t have any interest in the final product then what the hell are you doing making theater? The only value art has is in its relation to the spectator.

Conversely, to make “product” oriented shows, and to not be interested in the process is equally profound in its idiocy. To take my rudimentary cake argument again, to focus entirely on the end product and not at all on how you get there, you might very well realize your out of sugar and use salt. If you don’t take care with how you go about making art then you are undoubtedly going to end up with a mouth full of frosted salty sludgy crap. I guess my problem is that people think they can choose one or the other, and you can’t. I mean, I guess you can if decide it’s all right to produce shit.

That’s why I feel that the current director oriented theater process limits collaboration in a way that the result is the “pre-fab” shows that you guys are talking about. This is not to say that I feel that the director should be abolished, I just don’t think that theater practitioners adequately investigate how a particular production should work on a case-by-case basis. The artistic make-up of a production is taken as given at the start of a process, and no one ever seems to say, “Well, being that we are working on this show, maybe some of the production roles should be divided up differently. Maybe the sound designer and the light designer should be the same person since those elements need to be in concert with one another perfectly. Maybe we need a conceptual director, and the stage director, because those become two gi-normous roles in this particular show.” If every show is made in the same way, then of course so many shows seem like cookie cutter versions of one another.

And that’s my two cents.

All right, maybe 1 cent.

I’ll get you back on that extra cent I owe you.

I’m bored; email me back today.

Li’l Sis

The part I was referring to in the dialogue was when she wrote:

“That’s why I feel that the current director oriented theater process limits collaboration in a way that the result is the “pre-fab” shows that you guys are talking about. This is not to say that I feel that the director should be abolished, I just don’t think that theater practitioners adequately investigate how a particular production should work on a case-by-case basis.”

True, she wrote she doesn't think the director should be abolished (so I should have written “heavily implies” rather than “more than implies”), but in my defense, I read it as, "I don't think you should abolish the director, BUT..." in the same way one would say, "I don't mean to be rude, BUT..." followed by a monologue of rudeness.

I basically bulldozed over all of her arguments for needing a balanced approach to process versus product so I could label her as anti-director. Which, as you can see, wasn't really what she was saying. I (unfairly) based this on my assessment of her and her peers’ prior attitudes to “collective” theatre (I had been given the false impression based on prior conversations with her on the subject from a year or two ago).

So, sorry about that, Becky. I know you’re not a proponent of removing the director from the process.

Now you all may be wondering why I singled her out to mock her in the first place.

Why? ‘Cuz she’s my kid sister, that’s why. It comes with the territory.

Doling out noogies,

James “Indian Sunburn Man” Comtois

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Violence and Obscenity

Just when I think about either returning to this subject or putting it to bed, Pete sends me this article in Slate by Zachary Pincus-Roth pleading for more on-stage violence. It hits the nail on the head.

When describing scenes of on-stage violence in plays of yesteryear, Mr. Pincus-Roth writes:

“When do you ever see this stuff onstage? Plays can be emotional, intellectual, uplifting, depressing, titillating, romantic, or cathartic. But...rarely are they exciting, thrilling, or scary. Rarely do audiences witness a moment in which a person could either live or die. Such scenes typically take place behind closed doors or are staged as if the outcome is symbolic or inevitable.”

Now, this practice of violent scenes taking place “behind closed doors” goes back to ancient Greek theatre. The word obscene comes from the phrase ob skene, which literally means “off-stage.” The sexual violence, murders and eye gouging in Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles’ plays took place off-stage (off the proscenium).

This practice of making all sex and violence — the ob skene acts — taking place exclusively off-stage was eschewed by the English dramatists of the 16th and 17th Century (sure, I’m thinking of Shakespeare, but more particularly the revenge tragedians of the 17th Century like John Webster and Thomas Middleton, whose plays were the equivalent of modern-day slasher flicks). Also, as Mr. Pincus-Roth points out, Parisians in the 1890s and early 20th century enjoyed the Grand Guignol tradition of stage horror. However, both of these traditions of on-stage violence have faded out of favor in theatre of late, possibly because, as Mr. Pincus-Roth suggests, “most attempts at suspense are too stylized to be genuinely scary.”

For the longest time, I’ve been very much under the impression that my opinion that theatre should offer a visceral response has been a minority opinion. Yes, many people in the theatre world have said that theatre should offer a visceral response and many theatre bloggers have written that theatre should offer a visceral response. If I got a nickel for every time I heard or read someone in the theatre world say or write the word “edgy” when describing theatre I would have $6.75. However, I get the impression that most of it is all lip service, empty rhetoric, since if I got a nickel for every time I heard or read that onstage nudity should never be attempted because “that’s the only thing the audience will pay attention to” (which begs the question, “Yeah, and so what?”), for every time I heard or read that onstage violence should be conveyed with moody lighting or artfully performed behind a scrim, for every time I heard or read “You can’t stage that!” when I sent someone one of my scripts, I could buy a studio apartment on the Upper East Side.

Because, let’s face it…we’re all friends here...despite the liberal attitudes and the abuse of the word “edgy” and “daring” inherent to the world of self-produced Off-off Broadway theatre, theatre people — with some exceptions, of course — are generally the most uptight and conservative folks around.

(In all fairness, in addition to Qui’s Trial By Water, I recently saw a reading of Dan Trujillo’s very fun Conference With the Bull, which, like Qui’s show, featured on-stage mutilation and cannibalism. That makes me smile. In fact, there does seem to be a rising trend in the Off-off scene of trying to make use of on-stage violence, which receives no complaint from me.)

Mr. Pincus-Roth offers us the money-shot in the penultimate paragraph: “For all the talk of attracting young people to the theater, producers have completely ignored the escapist thrills of action and horror that send kids flocking to the multiplex and turning on their TV sets.”

I’m not talking about shamelessly pandering to the youth demographic (okay, I'll admit it: I really don't know what to think about the video game Grand Theft Auto, although I'm pretty sure any parent who let's their pre-teen play it is an imbecile), nor am I unaware of the difficulties in staging violent scenes onstage without them looking cheesy (although hell, with Mr. Trujillo’s play — which was a staged reading — the actor only pantomimed cutting out his flesh and eating it and the audience groaned in disgust, which goes to show you don’t need a lot — or any — money for effects). I am, however, saying that yes, theatre not only can offer visceral thrills, but should.

If only to remind people that yes, dammit, this shit is fun!

Violent and obscene,

James “PG-13” Comtois

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Who's Psyched to See This?

I am. I'm really pumped to see this.

They've got the guy from GWAR doing their effects. GWAR!

From writer/producer Qui Nguyen himself:

Why should you come and experience LIVING DEAD IN DENMARK?

1) Girl fights. A ton of them. 32 pieces of violence in total. And we don't mean the hair-pulling-roll-around-on-the-floor variety, we mean full-on Crouching Tiger, Kick Your Ass girl fights complete with katanas, battle axes, and spin kicks. This is one wonderfully violent show that pounds thru with Kill Billian action at its finest.

2) Zombies by Chuck Varga of GWAR. We have some of the best scary beasties on stage since . . . well, since ever. And they're funny too. And they're awesome. Really effin’ awesome.

3) This is the finest funniest crop of actors Vampire Cowboys has ever assembled. And they're hot. All of them. LIVING DEAD IN DENMARK is soaking in hotness.

4) Puppetry. And this one's really cute. It'll make you say "aw".

5) And, finally, it's just plain ol' fun. The first rule of the Vampire Cowboy manifesto is to entertain and we are delivering this in bulk. It's a blast - better than any Hollywood Blockbuster from last summer and it's live. This is theatre for the geeky-fanboy in all of us. Come on – let us be your guilty pleasure!

I'm sold.

A total geek,

James "NYAIGN!" Comtois

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sallying Forth

Things are moving slowly and steadily in the right direction for The Adventures of Nervous Boy. It is now cast and we begin rehearsals next week. Pete is working on the postcard/poster image right now, and the roughs look pretty damn cool, if I do say so myself.

Let's just hope things don't fall apart at the last minute (as they are wont to do).

Of course, as is often the case, we do need some help with this current project. For those of you who were unable to attend our Good Night, and Get Laid fundraiser and still feel adequately guilty about it (tee-hee), or, you're on the opposite end of the continent and simply feel bad that you don't live anywhere near New York, it's still possible to donate online.

And of course in addition to making us love you all the more, a big perk is that your donation is tax-deductible.

If you would like to make an online donation to our fare company, click here.

In the "on behalf of" line, select "Nosedive Productions."

Then, fill out the rest of the form as applicable.

Obviously, every little bit helps. (And hey, added to that, every big bit helps as well). So, if you can donate a lot or a little, it will help us tremendously.

Thank you for all your continued support for Nosedive.

I love you all.

I'll actually have a, y'know, real Jamespeak entry for y'all soon. In the meantime, here's another reminder of how brilliant Stephen Colbert is, and how self-absorbed and cowardly the Washington Press Corps is. Is it a surprise to anyone that the mainstream press — aside from the obligatory "Colbert was off his game" op-ed piece here and there — is barely covering this? Kind of like Jon Stewart joking about Hollywood being out of touch with its audience, then getting only nervous titters at the Oscars from a group of people wondering why box office receipts are down and no one takes them seriously.

Always slightly off,

James "No, He's Okay" Comtois

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.