Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In Public and The New York Times

For those of you who don't know, Rob Kendt recently wrote a glowing review for theatre minima's production of In Public for The New York Times. After much foot-dragging from the Times, they decided quite arbitrarily that, since George Hunka (the author of In Public) had written some reviews for the newspaper and since Mr. Kendt was also a blogger, posting the review would be a conflict of interest.

Although both Mr. Hunka and Mr. Kendt maintain theatre blogs, neither one had met each other before Mr. Kendt attended the show, so the review wasn't a case of one friend washing the other's back (or some such nonsense).

Isaac Butler (the director of the show) has posted an open letter to the Times over at Parabasis.

In his letter, Isaac writes:

"This decision also flies in the face of the history of the art forms of both theater and criticism. The great periods of English Language Theater have also been golden ages of theater criticism, and during these times artists often doubled as critics. Great artists such as George Bernard Shaw, Harold Clurman and Harley Granville-Barker were also incisive, intelligent, difficult-to-please critics. Your own Book Review section underscores this point. Well known writers like Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Margaret Atwood review the work of authors such as Alice Munro and Orhan Pamuk. The result has been a better and more readable New York Times Book Review.

By changing the standards, you are putting artist/critics like George in a next-to-impossible position. George is both a talented critic and a gifted playwright. He must now choose between writing for The New York Times and his playwriting career. In other words, he must choose between depriving your readers of his considerable expertise and wide swath of knowledge on theater, or he must deprive his audience of his playwriting. This serves no one's best interest."

The excuse that printing Mr. Kendt's review of In Public in the paper being a conflict of interest is, of course, a bunch of horse manure.

A review in the Newspaper of Record, in particular a good review, is a great boon to an Off-off-Broadway production, so it's more than a little unfair and irresponsible for the Times to offer such a production the dangling carrot of acknowledgment only to capriciously yank it away at the 11th hour.


James "Surly" Comtois

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wrap-Up and Vamp-Up

Well, the Blood Brothers Present show has now come to a close, capping the short run nicely with two sold-out shows consisting of enthusiastic audience members. Although, Pete, Patrick and Steph will be resting for most of this week, we'll be meeting on Friday to discuss the next show (my silly-ass comedy, Suburban Peepshow). Once more unto the breach...

In the meantime, I'm rehearsing not only for "Circo Pelear," a Friday Night Fight Club show (which will actually take place on a Sunday night, but never mind), a show that goes up November 12, but also for this, which goes up the following weekend (November 19).

Looks pretty cool, doesn't it?

My contribution to the "Revamped" show is a 15-minute excerpt of a longer (about 40 minute-long) one-act called "Captain Moonbeam and Lynchpin," which may very well be the most depressing superhero origin story ever told.

I'll offer more details to both shows the closer we get to them.

Putting on his tights,

James "Drunk In A Cape" Comtois

Thursday, October 26, 2006

In Public

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.

-Oscar Wilde

Years ago, I had a friend who was engaged. One summer, he started hanging out incessantly with this new girl. By incessantly, I mean, Every Single Night. He wasn't the cheating type, and years later I spoke with the girl who assured me (quite convincingly) that nothing happened between the two of them. But I definitely found it odd that he was ostensibly going on "dates" with this person.

Had my friend actually crossed a line here? I'm reasonably certain that his fiancée would not be too pleased that he was spending so much time with this new girl either way. But maybe it was completely harmless: maybe he just wanted to flirt with a new girl before walking down the aisle, just as a last farewell to single life.

There's absolutely no way of knowing, of course. This was his private life that I did not have access to.

That's the most immediate real-life parallel I can make with George Hunka's excellent new play, In Public, playing for only three more nights at manhattantheatresource. This is a play about people in relationships crossing the line of fidelity. Or at least, tempted to come as close to the line as possible, which can be just as bad.

Taking some cues from the Harold Pinter one-act, "The Collection" (which is about a woman teasing her husband about an affair with another man that may or may not have happened), though very much standing on its own, In Public is about two married couples and possibly an infidelity between them. Or two. Or none. It's never made clear. We only see these characters in public places throughout the show - in bars, restaurants and drug stores - so we never see what goes on "behind closed doors," so to speak. They have to keep their game faces on, as they're often interrupted by the outside world (played by Nosedive veteran Brian Silliman). The play shows the passive-aggressive jabs, the thinly veiled threats, the venom disguised as humor between married couples that are meeting in public places and can't quite be themselves.

This really is an excellent show. Very subtle, very honest and very funny. George writes from a very truthful place and Isaac Butler's direction is very in-step with the slight nuances and cadences of the script.

The actors are also outstanding. Though playing someone more than ten years his senior, Daryl Lathon aptly plays Drew, a 40 year-old art history professor who insists on presenting himself as a superior intellect, regardless of the situation. Jennifer Gordon Thomas plays Linda, his wife, a teacher who is tired of pretending to take her husband's "dignified" persona seriously. Arthur, a bartender played by Abe Goldfarb, suspects his wife Lila (Ronica V. Reddick) is having an affair with Drew, and he may or may not be right. Mr. Goldfarb plays the jealous (cuckold?) husband as both incredibly funny and incredibly threatening: you always sense the simmering anger and hostility bubbling just under the surface of his "nice guy" persona.

The previously mentioned Mr. Silliman was incredibly funny as various bartenders, waiters, waiting room attendants and tampon purchasers. It was a bold choice to have Mr. Silliman play the outsider roles for wacky laughs, and I'm sure some may have a problem with it, but it definitely worked for me. (After all, don't those pesky outsiders and passersby always seem so clownish and freakish when they intrude upon your private conversations?)

Infidelity can be - and is - a more nebulous thing than we'd like to believe. Consider this exchange between Drew (Linda's husband) and Lila (Arthur's wife):

LILA: Would you be interested in taking tango lessons with me? (Pause.)

DREW: There's nobody I'd rather take tango lessons with than you.

LILA: Then it's a date.

DREW: Wear the green dress.

Even if Drew and Lila didn't sleep together, is it actually faithful to suggest taking tango lessons together? There's playful flirting and there's...well, this. There's no doubt that this type of flirting crosses a line.

But then again...Drew does point out to Arthur that, if things are going on between him and Lila, why would he make a point to introduce her to his wife? The answer is twofold: a.) To throw his wife off the scent, and b.) Have her implicitly give him permission to spend some quality time with this new woman. Or maybe it's threefold: c.) To keep up appearances that Nothing Is Wrong.

In Public is a stellar example of how to put subtext in a play (or rather, base a play on subtext). The audience's job is to interpret not just what's being said, but how it's being said, and what it means when the character’s facial expressions don't line up exactly with their words.

Again, I was reminded of having to read my engaged friend's face every time he returned from visiting his new "friend."

It's playing for three more nights. Definitely check it out if you have the chance. Buy tickets here.

Showing his privates,

James "Public Menace" Comtois

Ps. I should also mention that the show flies. At an hour and fifteen minutes, the play feels roughly like ten minutes long, which is a testament to how captivating and compelling it is.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My Name Is Rachel Corrie

At the end of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, a video is played of the real Rachel Corrie at age ten arguing passionately at an assembly that world hunger can and must be stopped. Thirteen years later, on March 16, 2003, having lost none of her passion for human rights and living in Palestine advocating for the rights of Palestinians, an Israeli Army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip killed Ms. Corrie while she tried to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home.

My immediate thought as I left the theatre after seeing My Name Is Rachel Corrie was: "Wow. I've done absolutely nothing with my life."

Even though she died at the age of 23, Rachel Corrie did a hell of a lot with her life, and realized she could and should have been doing more.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a one-woman show culled from the diary entries and emails of Rachel herself, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner with the permission of Rachel's parents and directed by Mr. Rickman. Megan Dodds plays Rachel, a girl from Olympia, who decides she wants to be a writer. However, in order to be a writer, she has to move out of her small town in order to write about real experiences. Eventually, she moves to the Gaza Strip to be an advocate for the human rights of Palestinians.

The first twenty minutes or so take place in her bedroom in Olympia, talking about awkward meetings with boys and being fraught with indecision as to what to do with her life (she jokes that, even when in college, she didn't have the nerve to cross "Spider-Man" off her list of what to be when she grows up).

This portion of the play does drag. Her monologues are meandering and without focus. Yes, I know this is supposed to be because we need to see Rachel as a rudderless aspiring writer with passion but not direction, but I found my concentration waning here and there.

Fortunately, the rest of the show picks up the pace. The bulk of the play takes place in and around Jerusalem and the Rafah refugee camp, where Rachel stays with Palestinian families in homes that are on the verge of collapsing from attacks, plays with children to distract them from the sound of gunfire, waits endlessly at Israeli checkpoints and organizes rallies. Throughout this, she's lost none of her passion or optimism, though her faith in mankind's inherent goodness is a bit shaken.

Though clearly older than her real-life counterpart, Ms. Dodds does a good job of portraying Ms. Corrie at both stages of her life (the restless dreamer in Olympia and the tired activist in Rafah). She plays her as someone who still has a youthful heart, although said heart is getting heavier day by day.

I can see why it had stirred up some controversy earlier in the year: it takes a very unpopular stance on a very divisive issue. To be as reductive as possible (and yes, I realize there's more to the show than this and it's saying much more and if you said this to Mr. Rickman and Ms. Viner they would probably deny it, but let's just get down to the proverbial "brass tacks" and face it): My Name Is Rachel Corrie takes a pro-Palestine, anti-Israel stance. Or at least, its eponymous heroine does.

Not the most popular position in the U.S., I realize. (Philip Weiss from The Nation pointed out that after Ms. Corrie's death, several Pro-Israel and neocon groups sought to smear her as a servant of terrorists.)

Despite this, the play is not Mr. Rickman or Ms. Viner's attempt to scream from a political soapbox. This is neither heavy-handed agitprop nor knee-jerk reactionary theatre. It is a play that shows the life, thoughts and beliefs of a very young woman who chose to be where she thought she could do some good.

Although having enjoyed a successful run in London (and getting the plug pulled from the New York Theatre Workshop), My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a play that needs to be shown in the U.S., since the bulk of Rachel Corrie's monologues are directly addressing Americans and their implicit support for Israel. (At one point, she writes in an email to her mother: "What we are paying for here is truly evil. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me.") It also just feels so patently American with its references to swimming in Puget Sound and drinking Mountain Dew (not to mention seeing Spider-Man as a possible career choice).

This is a solid production of...yes, I'll say it...an important play. It articulates a very unpopular and minority viewpoint (minority viewpoint in this country, anyway) in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that needs to be heard and considered by American audiences. It's one of the few works of recent Western art I've seen that considers that, maybe, just maybe, Palestinians aren't all warmongering terrorists, but victims of systematic attempts at genocide from "the world's fourth largest military backed by the world's only superpower."

My Name Is Rachel Corrie is playing at the Minetta Lane Theatre on 18 Minetta Lane. For tickets click here.

Doing nothing with his life,

James "Passive Schmuck" Comtois

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The First Review Is Up

From OffOffOnline.com. And it's pretty positive, to boot.

And she found my piece to be the "most graphic." Not surprising.

Often offensive,

James "Crudeboy" Comtois

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ole-Timey Bloodfest

Last night was the opening night of The Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror, and I must say I was impressed. This is most definitely not for the squeamish — as in, wwwwow is this not for the squeamish — but rather some good old-fashioned fun with bloodletting.

We're all hoping that this show can take advantage of some positive word-of-mouth for its very limited (only five shows left, folks!) run.

Many thanks to all who could make it for the opening of this show. I'm very curious to see a.) How the reviews are for this and b.) How the rest of the turnout is.

At any rate, congratulations to the Blood Brothers gang, the new splinter group of Nosedive. You boys did me proud!

On a side and unrelated note, if you turn to today's issue of The New York Times you'll see that Neil Genzlinger has come up with the four species of political theatre that are made. Rather than do yet another one of my obnoxious rants about this subject (and I think I've just about yammered away at the subject to death), I'll just point out that Mr. Genzlinger pretty much hits the nail on the head.

Anyway, hope you guys can catch the show. I'll natter on at you about something on Monday.

Keeping his stick on the ice,

James "Skipper" Comtois

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Please Join Me...

...in welcoming Mr. Richard Foreman to the Lovely Land of Blogging.

I will no doubt be commenting on his (so far) to very interesting posts. For now, I'm heading off to the 78th Street Theatre Lab to check out The Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror.

That's it for now.

Dining and dashing,

James "Gotta Go!" Comtois

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

It Begins

Tonight is opening night of theatre minima's debut production, In Public, written by George Hunka and directed by Isaac Butler (with sound design by Nosedive's own Patrick Shearer). It's at the Manhattan Theatre Source on 177 MacDougal Street for two weeks. You can buy your tickets here.

Break the proverbial legs, guys. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Also, tomorrow night is the opening of The Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror, at the 78th Street Theatre Lab on 236 West 78th Street (at Broadway). You can buy your tickets here.

This Blood Brothers show is the first Nosedive (or semi-Nosedive) show I've been very hands-off with. It's been weird, although a bit nice, to be ostensibly a bystander and civilian in this production. I went to the initial reading and witnessed some of the "blood labs" and watched the folks buy and built the ghoulish props for the show (and I've been plugging it), but that's it. I haven't sat in on any of the rehearsals, so I'm excited to see it for the first time tomorrow night.

Despite this, I've been keeping myself busy on my end. I'm still working on that as-yet-untitled-superheroes-in-the-real-world play (slowly, very slowly, but surely), working on a short sketch for Christi Waldon's Friday Night Fight Club, which will be playing at Galapagos in Williamsburg on November 12 and getting ready to stage an excerpt of my short play, Captain Moonbeam and Lynchpin, for the Vampire Cowboys' upcoming REVAMPED fundraiser show (Nov. 19).

Sometime soon, the folks at Nosedive Central and I will have to start prep work for Suburban Peepshow, which we hope to stage sometime in February or March (depending on when and where we find a space).

But really, that's all down the road. In the meantime, why don't you enjoy some marital angst and severed limbs this month?

Game on,

James "Ref" Comtois

Monday, October 16, 2006

Opening This Thursday...

The Blood Brothers Present: An Evening Of Grand Guignol Horror


The Final Kiss, by Maurice Level, directed by Pete Boisvert

The Kiss of Blood, by Jean Aragny & Frances Neilson, directed by Patrick Shearer

Translated by Richard J. Hand and Michael Wilson

Additional material by James Comtois, Mac Rogers and Stephanie Williams

78th Street Theatre Lab

236 West 78th St. at Broadway

October 19th-21st, 26th-28th (Thurs.-Sat.)

All shows at 8 p.m., tickets are $15

Buy tickets here

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pete, Patrick and the gang begin full runs this week for The Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror, since opening night is now only a week away. Pete dropped off a brick of promotional postcards for me to distribute, which is what I will be doing for the next seven days.

Again, you can buy your tickets here.

Last night, Amanda Berkowitz from CollaborationTown got me a ticket to see My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the play directed by Alan Rickman that had garnered a bunch of controversy in the theatre world a while back. Since Isaac Butler wants to organize another blogger reviewing day (like with Pig Farm), I'm going to hold off posting my review until then. So for now, I'll just say, thanks, Amanda!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ah, Shannon Wheeler...

...God bless 'im

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Since The O'Neill Controversy Is Over And Done With...

...I might as well take this time to plug other things.

On Friday night a few members of Nosedive Central and I went to go see Martin Scorsese's latest, The Departed. My short review: undeniably kick-ass; the best movie Scorsese's made since Goodfellas.

Seriously, go see it.

My Saturday was indeed spent at my day job (which sucked, since I really had nothing to do), followed by going over to Pete's apartment to watch Pete, Patrick and Steph experiment with making different types of fake blood for the upcoming Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror (which opens in less than a week and a half). Last night, Cat Johnson (who latexed me and Tai Verley up for The Adventures of Nervous Boy) worked on building a crucial prop for the segment in the show written by your truly.

(What, you may be asking, is this prop? I'm afraid to learn the answer to that question, you'll have to come and see for yourself. Nice try, though.)

Any doubts and wonders as to whether or not the guys and gals involved in this would be able to create what they needed to create have dissipated. This is going to be an incredible spectacle.

The Blood Brothers Present is playing at The 78th Street Theatre Lab Oct. 19-28 (Thursdays through Saturdays) at 8 p.m.

Running the same weekends as The Blood Brothers Present is theatre minima's debut production: a two-weekend run of In Public, a play about two married couples needing to keep their "public personas" on during a long weekend written by George Hunka and directed by Isaac Butler. Several past and present members of Nosedive Central are also involved in this play (including Blood Brothers co-creator and co-director Patrick and acting regular Brian Silliman).

In Public is playing at manhattantheatresource Oct. 18-28 (Wednesdays through Saturdays) at 8 p.m. I'll be attending the show on the second Wednesday (Oct. 25). Join me?

I suspect that those of you who are theatre-phobic or theatre-skeptic (and how many of you are there who read this? Judging from the emails I get I'm assuming at least a few) should check both shows out to see the radically wide spectrum of what the medium can offer. Seriously, the difference between these two shows isn't like the one between apples and oranges; it's more like the one between apples and jackals (or flamethrowers and oranges).

Using my flamethrower against those jackals,

James "Apple Of Your Eye" Comtois

Friday, October 06, 2006

Odds & Ends Before The Three- (Er, One-) Day Weekend

Pete and Patrick are diligently working on The Blood Brothers Present: An Evening of Grand Guignol Horror, which is now a little under two weeks away. The two of them are taking tomorrow off from rehearsing to set up their "blood lab," tinkering with all the blood effects needed for the show. Pete’s shown me some of the "toys" he's acquired for his show, which convinces me that this is definitely going to be some fun for those who don’t have weak stomachs. Ah, those crazy kids…

I suspect that the bulk of the entries on Jamespeak next week will be almost exclusively about the Grand Guignol show and its status as we approach opening night. You can (and should) buy advanced tickets for it here.

Over in Blog-O-Land, Andrew Eglinton, the former editor of Desperate Curiosity has opened a new blog: The London Theatre Blog. Its title is pretty self-explanatory, I think. You’ll note its addition to the blogroll below (as well as the addition of Laura Axelrod’s Gasp! Journal).

Tomorrow I actually have to go to work. Yes, work. I had always thought that one of the perks (hell, the only perk) of having a nine-to-five day job is that I wouldn't have to work on Saturdays. But this time I do; there's a big convention coming up that my paper covers, therefore we're doing a double-issue that requires us to work six days this week. I also have to work on Monday, so where most people have a three-day weekend in store for themselves, I have a one-day weekend. Sigh…

Anyway, for all of you who are not me, have a good weekend.

Still treating tonight like it's Friday night,

James "Make It A Double" Comtois

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Terry Gilliam

As part of the IFC Film Center's "Movie Night" program in which filmmakers host screenings of their favorite films (that are not their own), filmmaker Terry Gilliam spoke yesterday at the Center after he showed the auditorium Toto The Hero ( Toto le héros), a French number he had seen in '91 while promoting his movie The Fisher King. A bizarre little film about a young boy in love with his sister and engaging in a life-long rivalry with his next-door neighbor using the narrative devices of dreams, half-remembered memories and whimsical musical numbers, it was pretty obvious why this movie tickled Mr. Gilliam's fancy.

Before the film started, he told the audience that he originally wanted to screen One-Eyed Jacks, Marlon Brando's sole directorial effort, but the Brando Estate (big surprise) wouldn't allow it.

It should be a surprise to no one that Mr. Gilliam is one of my favorite filmmakers and Brazil is one of my favorite films...

(I always find it bizarre that most critics admire Mr. Gilliam's work but always refer to Brazil as "overrated." What I don't understand is if virtually every film critic finds it to be overrated, who's rating it so highly? Doesn't that mean it's underrated? But, as always, I digress.)

...so when I was told of this event, I made sure to keep my schedule open (even though I hadn't bought a ticket in advance). Obviously when I showed up to the Center, the event was sold out and the standby line had started to form. Fortunately, a guy in line sold me one of his tickets (I guess one of his friends had bailed on him).

Anyone who's listened to his director's commentary on the Criterion Collection edition of Brazil knows that Mr. Gilliam is a fascinating speaker. (When I bought the Criterion edition, my friend Chris Bujold and I watched the movie from beginning to end, then watched it again with the commentary on, believing we would only listen to a portion of it. Halfway through listening to the commentary, he realized we were going to sit through the whole thing, since Mr. Gilliam was so captivating and amusing to listen to. In a day and age where director's commentaries are being offered to the lamest of movies by directors who have little to say except, "It was really cold the day we shot this," or, "This actor here was so great, just great," watching a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute movie, then watching it again right after with the commentary track without being bored at all is really saying something.)

Now in his 60s, he still has a very impish sense of humor, wearing the grin of a precocious and mischievous eight-year-old. At the screening, he showed up on the stage with a cardboard cut-out: one one side was a poster for his upcoming film, Tideland. On the other, written in magic marker a la a sandwich board for a homeless person, were the words: "STUDIO-LESS FILMMAKER SEEKS HOME. WILL DIRECT FOR FOOD."

Mr. Gilliam answered the audience's questions (which of course ranged from serious questions about working for studios to ridiculous requests to have him sign a pair of hollowed-out coconut halves), made jokes about suing the Bush-Cheney Administration for copyright infringement of Brazil, gave the latest updates on the statuses of the projects-in-limbo The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and Good Omens and gave anecdotes about being involved with Monty Python's Flying Circus.

What I found surprising and amusing was when he was asked about working for studios versus making films without studio backing and told the audience that he loved to make studio films. "I get away with murder when I make movies for studios," he said "When you have a small film being independently financed you know the guy financing it and feel bad knowing he's not going to get his money back. With a studio it's a nameless, faceless entity that you have no problem taking money from."

Yes, this certainly was a dork's delight.

His new film, Tideland, about a little girl with drug-addict parents who lives in a half-real/half-fantasy world, opens next weekend at the IFC Film Center. His last effort, 2005's The Brothers Grimm (which was his first movie since 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), could be charitably described as unfortunate (it is unclear whether or not to blame Mr. Gilliam or studio interference). Roger Ebert pretty much hits the nail on the head with his review of that very "shmeh" movie. Tideland was made with no studio interference (and no studio, really), but has unfortunately been given negative reviews from those who saw its debut at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Whether or not Tideland marks Mr. Gilliam's "return to form" or a sign of him "going 'round the bend" remains to be seen. At the event last night, he appeared to have all of his rational faculties at his disposal, but also seemed sufficiently nuts. When it comes out, I'm sure to be first in line to see it and will let you know.

Getting his coconuts signed,

James "Patsy" Comtois

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I saw Neil LaBute's latest play Wrecks last night and was going to write a full-length 700-1,000-word essay on the show until I found this reader review in the New York Times that said it better than I ever could:

"In a nutshell, WRECKS is a meeting of the weakest in modern playwriting (Mr. LaBute) and the best in modern performance (Mr. Harris).

Seriously, I couldn't have put it better myself.

Wrecks is a one-person show starring Ed Harris about a grieving widower spilling his guts to the audience. At the end of the day, it's a weak show performed by an amazing actor.

And Ed Harris truly is amazing and captivating to watch live. I've always been a fan of Mr. Harris (seriously, is there anyone here who doesn't think he's an amazing actor?), so it was a thrill to see him perform in person for the first time. After seeing Faith Healer I was reminded how tough it is for an actor/actress to retain an audience's attention when reciting a monologue that clocks in at over an hour (and Wrecks is about a buck twenty in length), and he does so with ease and grace. Even with some of the more hackneyed anecdotes and pieces of writing in the script, I always had the impression that Mr. Harris was saying his own words. Perfectly at ease on the stage, he even kept his poise when forced to provide some impromptu ad-libbing for the sake of an audience member...

(At one point in the show, he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and asked the audience if anyone minded. One woman in the second row asked if he could refrain from smoking. He looked at her, smiled and said, "Are you really going to tell a widower that he can't have something? I was really just trying to be polite." That tore the audience up. Fifteen minutes later, when he pulled the pack out again, he looked at the audience member and said, "I'll wait. Fair enough?" Not once during this did he appear to be phased or breaking character.)

...which is something you don't necessarily see from actors whose bread-and-butter is film. Mr. Harris is perfectly at home performing on the stage and was an absolute delight to watch. His performance reminded me of why I love theatre.

As for the play itself, well...

As far as Neil LaBute's work is concerned, I'm quite ambivalent. I admired his first cinematic efforts In The Company of Men (which was previously a play) and Your Friends and Neighbors (which wasn't). I even put The Distance From Here on my first "Top Ten" list for Jamespeak. I also admire anyone so prolific in a medium where foot-dragging and indefinite "development" is the norm rather than an annoying anomaly.

But then, when Scott Walters writes, "Labute is deeply dishonest...moralistic AND voyeuristic, masochistic AND smug," and Isaac Butler points out, "The problem with...LaBute is that there are playwrights out there who really are interested in limning the depths of what we're capable of, psychologically, spiritually, politically, physically etc. ... I think this dishonesty of the more mainstream versions of this outlook...tarnish the reputations in a guilt-by-association way of [his] betters," it's hard — if not impossible — to argue otherwise.

The problem with the script of Wrecks is that when all's said and done there doesn't seem to be much to it. I left the theatre after Mr. Harris's curtain call thinking, "Oh, that's it? That's where we were going with that?" It doesn't particularly say anything that hasn't been said before by many other plays that are, quite frankly, much better.

I absolutely wasn't sold on the ending (and to be fair, no, I won't spoil it for you). It seemed very tacked-on, as if Mr. LaBute felt obligated to give the show one of those "sick and twisted" endings. It doesn't work. And I'm unsure of how Mr. LaBute wanted the audience to react (the audience I saw it with didn't react at all). Are we supposed to be horrified at the "revelation" at the end? Sympathetic? Disturbed? A little bit of all three, I suppose. I really wasn't any. I will say that regardless of the intended reaction (again, there was visibly none with the audience I attended with), Mr. Harris's character remained likable. I have to admit, I have no idea if that's due to the script, the direction or the actor.

(Outside the theatre, I figured out the pun of the play title, and all I could think of was, "Oh. I get it. [Groan.]")

To be fair to Mr. LaBute, this is his least blatantly misanthropic play to date and it's impressive to see that he's covering new territory (I've always given Mr. LaBute more of the benefit of the doubt than many of my blogger colleagues after seeing his movie Nurse Betty, which made me think that he's more than just a one-trick pony [as opposed to, say, Todd Solondz]). Also, although he does cover some of the same ground that he's covered before (seemingly nice guys being repellent in the context of dealing with their significant others), the sense of sadistic glee that you find in much of his other work is refreshingly absent here.

So again, I couldn't have put it better than "nycwriter623:" a meeting of the weakest in modern playwriting and the best in modern performance. If you go see Wrecks expecting great writing or a new entry into the realm of Great American Theatre, you'll be sorely disappointed. If you go see Wrecks expecting a great performance from a masterful actor, you won't be.

Expecting that dollar from Mr. Harris,

James "Total Wreck" Comtois

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006


...it is so on.

78th Street Theatre Lab

October 19th-21st, 26th-28th (Thurs.-Sat.)

8 p.m.

Buy tickets here

Monday, October 02, 2006

I (Heart) Kant

"I just realized I'm suspicious of happiness. I'm afraid of happiness."

Ken Urban's ambitious though somewhat slight I (Heart) Kant, which is presented by the Committee Theatre Company and playing for one more night at 440 Studios' Linhart Theater, is about four very different women in New Jersey trying to find happiness in very different ways. Or, as Mr. Urban puts it, "the women search for happiness and instead stumble upon the sublime."

One woman, Linda (played by Kate Benson), is a graduate student who has been working on her dissertation on 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. After four years of writing, she only has one chapter. And by "one chapter," I mean, "one sentence."

Another woman, Betsy (Frances Mercanti-Anthony), freaking out about turning 30, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown after attending a family reunion, getting drunk and having sex with her brother (whoops). To try to take her mind off things, she (reluctantly) sees a therapist and has unfulfilling sex with random strangers who are much more deviant than they appear.

Pam (Edelen McWilliams), a divorced mom, works in a warehouse, spends much of her time trying to convince Betsy to give therapy a try and may have been killed in a terrorist bombing (in the program notes, Mr. Urban explains that he completed the play in February 2001 and hadn't changed a word since).

Maureen (Kate Downing), Linda's younger sister, is a substitute teacher and heroin addict who gets slapped around by her boyfriend.

These are some deeply unhappy women.

The one male in the cast, Steven Boyer, plays various men in the lives of these women, from Maureen's abusive and deadbeat boyfriend to an obnoxious grad student who writes a paper on "vagueness" to Betsy's semi-anonymous one-night-stand.

Mr. Urban's I (Heart) Kant (subtitled A Play About Happiness) shows how these women's separate searches for happiness and meaning interconnect in direct and ineffable ways. Dylan McCullough's direction maintains the humor throughout the show despite its (very) depressing elements and keeps the disparate plotlines flowing smoothly. All four actresses are excellent, as is Mr. Boyer as The Guy. The character I suppose I empathized with the most was Betsy (although no, I have not had any incestuous relationships, thank you very much and I'm not freaking out too much about turning 30). Lee Savage's set literally boxes the women in (they each remain on their respective segments of the stage, each of which is separated by walls).

It is, in short, quite a nice play that's worth seeing, even if you are a complete novice when it comes to the philosophy of Kant (as I am).

Having stated that, one of the problems with I (Heart) Kant is (and I never thought I'd say this about a play ever) that it should be longer.

Yes, longer.

The show, a one-act, clocks in at under an hour and fifteen minutes and could stand to be a two-act piece. As it stands now, the ending (to me) seemed very abrupt; it has the feeling of being over as soon as it starts.

Despite this quibble, you should check it out if you have the chance (and you do indeed have one last chance).

I (Heart) Kant closes tonight at 440 Studios' Linhart Theater on 440 Lafayette Street (third floor). You can buy tickets here.

Stumbling upon Sublime

James "40 Ounces To Freedom" Comtois

Ps. If the show ends up being sold out, feel free to join me at this in Williamsburg.

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