Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Making the Grade

Nosedive is amidst casting Suburban Peepshow, and we've finished casting all but two roles. Considering we're a little more than nine weeks away from opening, I'm not worried. Yet.

We've also found a space and date for our upcoming fundraising comedy show/party, but I'll give more details on that as soon as we come up with a silly name and more details for the damn thing (I'll give you a hint: it'll be in late-February).

* * *

Like with many of my posts, this may tread towards the "Well, DUH, James" Department, so my apologies if the following is excruciatingly obvious to the point of absurdity. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of these self-evident points.

Amidst the discussions that have been going on in the theatre blogosphere about development hell, the writer/director dichotomy, authorial intent, theory versus practice and supporting oneself as a theatre artist, I've been thinking about the importance of self-improvement in terms of artistic abilities and how one goes about this. I brought this up very briefly in the comments section of my "Bottom Up" entry (and sort of ties in - albeit very, very tangentially - with Laura Axelrod's and George Hunka's recent respective blog posts) and I wanted to take this time to expand on it.

(This entry is in a way an addendum to George's entry entitled "The Theatre Writer" and mainly more for writers, designers and actors rather than directors and I'll explain why in a moment.)

When entering any creative field, it's important to keep that mental list of who you believe to be the "cream of the crop" in your field and constantly test yourself to see how well your work holds up. I'm not talking about comparing your work to the work of your peers, I mean comparing your work to the work of the heavyweights of the past and the current heavyweights in the field and being as harsh a critic of your own work as you can.

In other words, for the playwrights out there, who's at the apex of your "Best of the Best" pyramid? What's his (or her) best work (in your as-honest-and-critical-as-you-can-possibly-be assessment)? What's your best work? Compare them side-by-side. How does yours match up? And I don't mean in terms of genre or style, I mean in terms of craft. Ask yourself the tough questions. Where is this person's play engaging where mine is dull? How is his work consistently interesting from beginning to end while mine has ebbs and flows? What makes this a celebrated and critically acclaimed play and mine a complete nonentity? Where is his work tight and polished where mine is meandering and sloppy?

And while you ask yourself these questions, don't fall back on answers like, "This was a different time when theatre was well-regarded," "He had connections and I don't," "He was lucky and I'm not."

No excuses. Be as tough as possible.

(Cerebus cartoonist Dave Sim writes about this all the time, explaining that the difference between the amateur who's fine with staying an amateur and the amateur who wants to be a professional is that the amateur who's fine with staying an amateur compares his work to that of a professional's, squints his eyes and goes, "Close enough," while the amateur who wants to be a professional can't open his eyes wide enough to see just exactly what, where and how big the disparity is between his work and that of a professional's.)

The reason why this is something that writers (and designers) can do with greater ease than directors is because directors don't have immediate access to the works of great directors (or rather Great Directors) past. As Pete has mentioned, when people ask him who his favorite theatre directors are, he can't quite answer them, because he hasn't experienced a large number of any director's work to make a quantifiable assessment. We can't exactly say that we're big admirers of (say) Peter Brook's or Gene Frankel's work, since how many productions of their work - if any - have we seen? (And I mean, how many live productions of their work have we seen? Videotaped productions don't exactly count, do they?) We can really only refer to contemporary artists in this regard.

(This is very tangential I know but I figured I'd at least explain my parenthetical statement a few paragraphs above. And of course, to the directors reading this, feel free to point out any errors in this line of thought.)

A number of actors I know are actually pretty good at this (much better than writers, I think...don't know why that is). Actors often look at film and television actors and study their favorites, seeing and pinpointing what they do that make them so great.

The reason why you should do this with work from an artist that you consider to be way, way, way out of your league is that you can't fall back on the previously mentioned sour grapes. It's easy to say, "That person knew somebody," or, "That person has an agent" with a well-paid hack. But that gets you nowhere. Having aspirations to be the next well-paid hack isn't exactly the best of aspirations.

I should clarify that I'm not pointing fingers or anything; this entry is just as directed towards myself as anyone else. (I'm very often guilty of just squinting my eyes and going, "Close enough," myself.)

Anyway, this could be a good way to circumvent the never-ending development process.

Always hating his own work,

James "Wrong, All Wrong" Comtois


Monday, January 29, 2007


It's been a few weeks since I've seen David Lynch's latest movie, his self-produced, self-distributed INLAND EMPIRE, and I've wanted to write something on it for a while. However, I've been kind of busy with other things and haven't had a chance to. It looks as though I can now bring up my response to the film.

First off, just how do I describe INLAND EMPIRE (which is apparently supposed to be spelled out in ALL CAPS)? I'll do what I can, even though I'm going to fail. It's a three-hour movie starring Laura Dern as either an affluent film actress, a battered working class housewife, the oppressed housewife of an Eastern European mob boss, or a Hollywood (or Polish) streetwalker. Or she's all of these things, or none of them.

It also features giant rabbits on a sitcom set delivering non sequitur lines to canned laughter, prostitutes dancing to the "Loco-Motion" and a group of backyard barbecue guests who claim to be part of a traveling gypsy circus.

(Actually, there are some scenes and situations to which no one can seem to arrive at a consensus. Ms. Dern delivers a monologue about abuse to a bookish man in some abandoned building. Some critics have described the man as a hit man, others thought he was a casting agent and others still believed him to be a therapist. One critic described the giant rabbits as donkeys. Another critic couldn't determine if the young women in the room with Ms. Dern were streetwalking prostitutes or aspiring young actresses, or both.)

We're introduced to Ms. Dern's character Nikki Grace as she's been given a role in an infidelity melodrama, On High In Blue Tomorrows, opposite Hollywood bad-boy Devon Berk (played by Justin Theroux) and directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons). Devon's handlers warn him that Nikki's husband is not the kind of man you want to mess with, so Nikki may not be the best leading lady to engage in any hanky-panky with. Devon is later confronted by Nikki's husband (Peter J. Lucas), a suave and intimidating Eastern European man who seems to have mob connections, who warns the Hollywood bad-boy that Nikki is very much his "property."

Meanwhile, the director warns the two stars that the film is actually a remake of a movie that was never finished because its stars were murdered, possibly because a Gypsy curse has been put on the script.

So, Nikki and Devon have an affair. Or, maybe we're just watching scenes from the movie they're making. At one point, after the two talk in hushed tones that they have to stop sneaking about because her husband's on to them, Nikki says, "This sounds like dialogue from that STUPID MOVIE WE'RE DOING!" Afterwards, we hear the director call, "And...cut!" Nikki, obviously, is confused. And so are we.

Eventually, it looks as though Nikki becomes the character she's playing in On High In Blue Tomorrows, Susan Blue. Or maybe Nikki was never real and Susan Blue was always the "real" character. Or maybe the movie is just the fevered fantasy of some dowdy housewife living in the suburbs. Or maybe...okay, never mind. (I should point out that all I've done is kinda sorta describe the first hour of the film.)

Yes, I realize this is no help at all and I'm cutting out numerous scenes and images to try to make the film sound remotely coherent and linear (as you may have guessed, it's not). Mme. Boo, a.k.a. Dorothy Lemoult, offers a much better analogy for the movie in her excellent entry on David Lynch on her blog.

Perhaps the best way to describe INLAND EMPIRE is that it goes as deep into the subconscious mind of its creator (Mr. Lynch apparently made up the script as he went along) than any other work I've experienced. The film deals with the same underlying theme of Mulholland Dr.: that Hollywood chews up actresses and spits them out, but even that is just scratching the surface. It shows a world where the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Blvd. occupies the same geographical space as a snow-covered street in Lodz, Poland and where a sad working class housewife is the same person as the celebrated film star.

I should probably point out for those of you that don't know that I'm one of those dyed-in-the-wool Lynch fans. I was addicted to the Twin Peaks TV series. Mulholland Dr. was one of my favorite movies to come out in 2001 (which in my opinion was a great year for movies). I often get a strong visceral reaction to the images and sounds Mr. Lynch uses (he has a gift for filling the audience with dread over the most banal and innocuous scenes).

But as much of a Lynch fan as I am, while I was watching the movie, it was testing my patience (this from someone who owns - and has watched many, many times - Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr.) in ways that none of his previous films have. Since my phone was turned off in the theatre, I was tempted many times to run out into the lobby, turn on my phone to see what time it was and find out how much longer I had (I didn't). As I had mentioned before, it's three hours long and boy, does it ever feel long. If you thought Mulholland Dr. was incomprehensible and impenetrable, or if you find Mr. Lynch's work in general too frustrating to deal with, then INLAND EMPIRE is most definitely not for you. This is his most non-user-friendly feature to date.

Having said all this, I haven't been able to shake the movie out of my head since I saw it. This is by far the most uncompromised and uncompromising film Mr. Lynch has made since his debut film, Eraserhead, if not more so. It's at turns his most beautiful and most ugly film (he shot it on a Sony PD-150 digicam; an outdated digital video camera), his most mundane and most horrific. I'll agree with Manohla Dargis when she writes in her review of the film: "[this is] one of the few films I've seen this year that deserves to be called art."

And Laura Dern is amazing, absolutely amazing. Even though she's been on record as to saying she doesn't know what the movie is about, she's clearly simpatico with the material (this is the third film by David Lynch she's been in). This is a true collaboration between her and the director.

Weeks after I've seen this movie, lines and images keep popping up in my head (a few in particular: her husband pouring an entire bottle of ketchup on his white shirt and asking in a comically exaggerated accent where the paper towels are; the close-up of Laura Dern's distorted face super-imposed on her character's husband's; the previously-mentioned Walk of Fame transforming into a snow-covered street in Poland). Ideas throughout it have been festering ever since.

(A weird tangential anecdote: last week, I was having a drink in a bar in my neighborhood, which has a large Polish population. I stepped outside for a cigarette. It was very late at night and had just snowed, so all the stores were closed and no one was one the streets, making Bedford Avenue resemble a Polish city street. A few minutes later, a Polish man came up to me, looking very lost, and asked me, "Vere do I find de beers?" I pointed to the 24-hour deli a block away. He thanked me and moved on. I had to laugh, since it seemed as if I had been literally transplanted into the world of INLAND EMPIRE, or at least, mentally transplanted to a snowy street in Lodz. As unreal as the movie appears, it seems to resonate with my real life and my perceptions of the external world more than most movies I've seen of late.)

INLAND EMPIRE, a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie, is pretty damn brilliant; a movie that was (is) unpleasant to watch (no filmmaker can replicate real life nightmare images better than Mr. Lynch and I found INLAND EMPIRE to be genuinely nightmarish in the literal sense of the word), but one that sticks with you long after the credits roll.

Still reeling,

James "Wwwwwwow" Comtois

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Pre-Order Plays and Playwrights 2007

The New York Theatre Experience's latest anthology, Plays and Playwrights 2007, which features The Adventures of Nervous-Boy (written by Yours Truly) will be available in a couple of weeks. However, anyone interested can pre-order copies at a discounted rate by going here.

On its front page, has a link to the photo gallery of the featured plays.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

“Teen Beat”

The following is yet-another scene in my As-Yet-Untitled-And-Unfinished-Superhero-Play (I've taken off the "Based-Very-Loosely-Off-Watchmen" aspect of the title because it's looking more and more like it's becoming its own beast). I have no idea if this will make the "final cut" (as it were), but at any rate, it may be a fun read.

Nosedive is amidst auditions for Suburban Peepshow this weekend, so I'll let you know how that goes in the ensuing days and weeks.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Dressing up in cat-suits,

James "Rawr" Comtois

* * *


The following exchange is a pre-recorded voiceover. Throughout, Karen, in her Tigress outfit, makes cutesy freeze-frame poses, sometimes looking coy, sometimes holding her tail as a whip and sometimes (say) kicking a faux ninja model in the neck. Be creative. They should look like stills from a photo-shoot for a teen fashion magazine.

INTERVIEWER: What got you into costumed crimefighting?

KAREN: Well, I've always wanted to help people, and I've taken tae-kwon-do since I was eight years old. Plus, I've always been fairly theatrical. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember, so I guess if you add all those things up, becoming Tigress seemed to make sense.

INT: Do you hope to serve as a role model for younger girls?

KAREN: Oh, definitely! The costumed crimefighting scene and the Alliance of Champions is almost completely male-dominated, which I think can be a bit disheartening for girls these days. I do hope that I can show them that they can do anything they put their mind to. Like those Bowzer ads. (Laughs.)

INT: What's the most fun part about fighting crime as Tigress?

KAREN: Well, I think it's about doing my bit to make the world a better place, and also inspiring others to try in their own way to improve the world around them.

INT: Are you okay with people calling you a superhero?

KAREN: It's okay, although I think we all agree that Overman is the one and only true superhero.

INT: Have you met him?

KAREN: Oh, yes. It was a thrill! He's very serious, but very polite. Very handsome.

INT: Do people ask you for your autograph?

KAREN: Oh, yes. All the time.

INT: How do you feel about that?

KAREN: It makes me feel good because then I know that people are being touched by my work.

INT: What's the hardest thing about being a costumed crimefighter?

KAREN: It does take its toll on my social life. I kind of wish I had more free time. But that's really a small price to pay.

INT: What was the scariest case you had ever been on?

KAREN: Well, there have been many scary times. You are, after all, confronting criminals on a nightly basis. This one time, though, I remember patrolling my usual route in New York when I ran into this guy dressed like the Grim Reaper who announced that he was Azrail and was came here to kill me and the other members of the Alliance. It was the first time I had ever confronted an actual costumed criminal, so I was really thrown. We fought, and fortunately he didn't know any martial arts, so I had the advantage, but at one point he yanked on my mask so I couldn't see for a few seconds. It was weird, I didn't know which scared me more, getting stabbed or having him see my face!

INT: What happened?

KAREN: I was able to align the eyeholes to my eyes and I knocked him out. The idiot wasn't even armed!

INT: That's a relief. So, did you read a lot of "Wonder Woman" comics when you were a kid?

KAREN: Oh, you bet! I always wanted that lasso and invisible plane of hers.

INT: What sort of music do you listen to?

KAREN: Oh, I like the Counting Crows, Better Than Ezra, Toad the Wet Sprocket, a lot of alternative, I guess. I just got the new album by Beck, which I can't get enough of. I like all kinds.

INT: If you weren't crimefighting, what would you be doing?

KAREN: I guess I would try to be doing good in some way. Maybe get involved in the Peace Corps or Amnesty International. Something like that.

INT: Last question. Is there any romance for Tigress?

KAREN: No comment.


© 2007 James Comtois

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Party Discipline

"It's very dangerous to pretend to be open-minded when you're the exact opposite."

-Dave Sim

Last night Pete and I went to see Party Discipline: A Political Transformation Seminar by the Subjective Theatre Company, a show the group has been working on since June 2006.

Party Discipline is ultimately set up to resemble a conservative boot-camp seminar for liberals to help convert them. The audience is brought into a room and seated at a long conference table, where we are subjected to speeches, sing-a-longs, PowerPoint presentations and invited to fill out questionnaires and participate in surveys.

Believe it or not, it is quite good and very much worth your while to check out.

This was really surprising for me, to be honest. I've often been quite vocal about my overall disdain for political theatre (or reactionary leftist agitprop): 999 times out of 1,000 it makes very pedantic straw-men arguments (or, as Pete put it, "You have someone running around on-stage wearing a George Bush mask with a giant rocket in his pants eating babies") that preach to the choir; smug, self-righteous, heavy-handed, close-minded, insulting to one's intelligence, depressing and dull. ("Uh, Jesus, James. Don't hold back or anything. Tell us what you really think.")

I knew very little about the show before going in, but what I did know (or had heard) did not make me excited: a piece of overtly political theatre (shudder), that intended to confront your beliefs (ugh) with (Oh...Dear...God) Audience Participation.


Imagine Pete and my surprise when we discovered we were genuinely enjoying ourselves.

What I really admired about the show was that it treated the conservative argument(s) with consideration and respect, and didn't treat the Right as some ridiculous straw-man. The smug, self-righteous, "We're so right and everyone else is a retard even though we've never really argued our viewpoint logically" attitude that's so pervasive with the ideological left was not at all present in Party Discipline.

It was confrontational, but not in a way that invaded personal space or resulted in public ridicule (or attempts of converting you); it was so in the way it forced the audience to acknowledge viewpoints they (most likely) didn't share. The audience participation elements were also not done to single anyone out. They were, dare I say, fun. (I particularly liked a section called "You're the Pundit," where you wrote down a legitimate question you'd like to ask a conservative and then ask the person sitting opposite you the question. That person would have a minute to answer it as objectively and as honestly as possible. Then, that person would ask you their question and you'd have to answer it.)

A show such as Party Discipline is a way, or at least a very big step in the right direction, for making worthwhile political theatre.

The purpose behind the show was not to spout off platitudes or get the audience to change its voting habits in a specific way: it was to make you think, which is very rare - if not nonexistent - in agitprop (which is often designed to make you feel). What are your political beliefs, and to what degree are these beliefs based on reason rather than emotion? Can you defend these beliefs beyond sound-byte sloganeering (i.e., "My Body My Choice!")? Can you listen to a well-reasoned dissenting viewpoint without mentally shutting down or storming off in a huff?

Party Discipline doesn't flatter the audience nor assault them (although it looked as though many people were quite offended with the show). Clearly, the creators of the show had put a lot of thought into the ideas expressed in it.

The show isn't perfect. I wasn't quite sold on the pre-show (as the house opens, company members are engaged in a heated political argument). Some of the arguments made in the piece were not as strong as others (such as the pro-racial profiling argument, since the mug shots shown in the PowerPoint presentation were of all races and all of whom, according to the presenter, were violent criminals) and the "seminar" aspects didn't blend very well with the theatrical and song-and-dance pieces (I preferred the former to latter).

Despite that, I found myself enjoying the evening as a whole and can recommend this not just for audience members but also for those interested in producing political theatre as a good example of how it can be done.

Color me impressed.

Party Discipline is playing until February 2 at the Asian American Writers Center on 16 West 32nd Street, 10th floor (between Broadway and 5th Avenue). There are only four shows left that aren't sold out, so seating is very limited. Tickets are $10. To make a reservation, call (646) 205-1627.

Running for public office,

James "Party-Crasher" Comtois

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Monday, January 22, 2007


UPDATE: Matthew Freeman has posted some of his thoughts over at his blog, giving some added insight to his take on theory and practice.

UPDATE #2: Talk of the Walk-Up author Dan Trujillo has posted an excellent entry with his take on theory/practice over at Venal Scene, shedding some light on his writing process.

"Filmmakers generally make movies about movies. Rarely are they inspired by their own lives or real life in front of them. They can never describe their film without immediately in the next sentence making reference to other films or other types of media. They're all making homages to someone other than themselves, and I cannot stomach that. It makes me want to vomit."

-Mark Borchardt

Congratulations to the cast and crew of Talk of the Walk-Up for putting on such a fine, fun and bizarre show. It really is unique. For those of you who haven't yet seen it, you've got two more chances (tonight and tomorrow). Reserve your tickets by calling (212) 501-4751.

There seems to be a big to-do about theory versus practice going on in the theatre blogosphere right now, which you can check out here, here and here.

After seeing Dan and Isaac's show last night, a number of us went to the local bar for some obligatory post-show drinking. Joanne had asked me what I had thought about the idea of incorporating theory into playwriting (she was specifically curious to know how the process of writing for the stage worked for me) and I don't think I provided her with a very coherent answer (go figure). I had said that I didn't give much conscious thought to theory (or Theory) while writing for the stage, but that didn't mean some things weren't rattling around in the ole' noggin (you can't really escape some degree of literary pretension if you're a "former student of English").

Of course, saying I don't think about theory implies a.) my interest in writing is only to entertain (it isn't), b.) it's purely intuitive (also not true) and c.) Pete and I are just throwing some not-fully-baked concoction from my brain a la David Lynch out on the stage and leaving it up to the audience as to what the show is all about (definitely not true).

I am hoping, when I write something, that I can find at least a few audiences to be on my wavelength with the work; to have them relate to it, see their world/life in a new light, cast some light on something that doesn't seem quite right in the world, dispel some cliches, end world hunger, save the world, be one with nature, get closer to God, all that. (Yes, there's much more to it than that, and I'm sure at some point I'll get into greater detail but for the sake of this entry this very short answer will have to do.)

Personally, I do see there being a danger of writing creative work based solely on theory (and, more specifically, another author's theory), because it can stifle your actual "voice" and you run the risk of either writing term papers for the stage or writing "Beckett-lite" or "Brecht-lite."

Having said that, I'm not against a writer being intellectual or theoretical with his or her work. Whatever works for you, works for you, right?

I think this may be just a difference between inductive and deductive trains of thought.

Yeah, you remember learning about "The Scientific Method" back in sixth grade, where you first come up with a theory, then create a hypothesis, then create an experiment to test the validity or invalidity of that hypothesis, then come up with a conclusion, right? That's deductive reasoning; or, "Top-Down" thinking. Inductive reasoning is "Bottom-Up" thinking: you make observations, detect patterns, formulate a hypothesis and then come up with your theory.

When writing for more than just the need to entertain, when writing for the need to get to "the bottom of things," make discoveries, pry open your (and the audience's) proverbial third eye, expunge untrue clichés that we take for granted, I'm more of an inductive (rather than deductive) kind of guy, but that in no way means I'm disparaging of deductive thought.

My best guess is someone like George thinks about things in a deductive way (the theory comes first, the work comes second). [George, please correct me if I'm way off on this.] I think about things - and write about things - in an inductive way, where my ideas for my plays come first from observations, then noticing the patterns, then halfway through (or a third of the way through, or three-quarters, whatever..."at some point before the rough draft is done") guessing where the patterns come from and why, then finishing the play based on theory and - in case this entry isn't as pedantic and pretentious enough for you guys - having it factor into my personal theory on life.

But that's just my theory.

Just a waste of space,

James "Bottom's Up!" Comtois

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"...a very sort of 'fever moment'"

Gothamist interviews Scott Elliott, artistic director of The New Group and director of its current production of The Fever, about working with Mr. Shawn and restaging his play.

Read it here.

Thanks for sending this to me, Marsha!

Working on an actual post,

James "Dancer" Comtois

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Banding Together

UPDATE: Isaac Butler has posted his response over at Parabasis. From what it seems like, a director's experience with such a show is very different than a writer's or performer's. Check it out.

I just realized that my previous post was my 200th on this site. Shouldn’t there be any fanfare or something?

[insert sound of kazoo here]

Okay, there we go!



As an addendum to my previous post, in addition to keeping costs down, presenting nights of one-acts from various writers with various directors and cast members can be another way for small theatre companies to not only stay afloat but also develop audiences.

The Blue Coyote Theatre Company's recent Standards of Decency Project is a good example of this: an evening of nine one-act plays centered around a central theme. The show had at least 39 people involved in it (perhaps more).

Seriously, folks. Thirty-nine.

If each person involved in the evening of one-acts could bring in six to a dozen people (friends and well-wishers) to the run (something very doable), we're talking 234 to 468 audience members (just from friends and personal well-wishers alone).

Since the theatre showing The Standards of Decency Project, the Access, seats 64, we're talking three to seven nights of the run being completely sold out from the get-go (and from what I've heard, that certainly was the case with the show's attendance). Added to that, each writer/actor/director involved received a wider audience than they would be normally used to.

Homer Frizzell, Joe Ganem, Jason Green and Mac Rogers experienced a similar situation with their short-run of F a few years back, which had a large number of enthusiastic cast members involved that resulted in standing-room-only crowds (and the implicit cross-pollination, giving each person involved several new audience members for their work).

(I've had similar experiences with my participation in Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company's REVAMPED shows and Friday Night Fight Club's "Circo Pelear," managing to rope a few friends into seeing it, but still having the show sell out, since the large number of participants did the same.)

Now, this is different than theatre companies jointly producing a work, or multiple companies putting up multiple shows in a festival setting. From what I've seen and heard (and experienced with Nosedive's Off-Night Series we did back in May of 2005), that often brings the opposite results: drained energy, inflated budgets, diminished audiences and a large number of theatre artists ready to kill one another.

In tough times, presenting multiple acts from multiple theatre artists under one roof may be a good way to develop audience bases and give the region a sense that there is indeed a theatre "scene."

You could do worse, in my view.

Far, far worse.

Throwing tired ideas to the crowd,

James "Pseudo-Innovative" Comtois

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Dr. Hall's Prognosis

Don R. Hall, "An Angry White Guy In Chicago," posts some hard truths about the business of producing theatre. In it, he writes:

Anyone with a fucking brain can see that the art of live theater is hurting - bleeding profusely from the colon and spleen, arthritically climbing those stage door steps for one more performance to an empty house. The 'business' is kicking the crap out of the 'show.'

Emphasis his.

Despite the gloom and doom, he does offer some suggestions for mitigating the bleeding (he cites options within the realms of real estate, marketing and education).

Check it out.

The sad, hard fact of life is that theatre has - and always will have - a limited audience. I've mentioned this many, many times in Jamespeak, but I do think it bears repeating.

One reason for this is distribution. Anyone anywhere over the world has access to a television show or movie. If you miss it when it airs or screens, there are reruns, the Internet, TiVo and DVDs (renting an episode of The Wire is no less an experience than watching said episode on HBO and with the MPAA continuing to gut and neuter the film industry, it's sometimes a better experience to rent a disc of a film rather than see it in its theatrical release). Although plays can be read and remounted, you can only see a certain production for a finite period of time and if you happen to be in the region it's being staged (Dorothy Lemoult and I recently lamented that we're unable to see one another's work, since we're on opposite ends of the continent).

A play being shown in a 200-seat house running five shows a week for six weeks can only receive an audience of 6,000 people. There are more people in the tri-state area watching an episode of Access Hollywood in one night.

Another reason for this is due to the entrenched hegemony that electronic media has over the culture (with no signs of slowing down) and the surplus of options for spending one's free time. As Mac Rogers pointed out in our online dialogue last year, we're writing for an "overserved" market (i.e., people who see their lives reflected in many forms of media, theatre included).

I'm not bringing this up to be despairing. I just think we have to be very realistic when considering our options for marketing and audience development. The relative number of people in the population that regularly goes to see theatre as an option for spending their free time is quite small and always will be.

One thing Mr. Hall doesn't bring up (again, this may tread into the realm of the excruciatingly obvious but when I hear about Off-off-Broadway theatre companies getting into $30,000 - $70,000 in debt after one show I guess bears repeating) is that theatre companies should try to stage within their means, and I mean Well. Within. Their means.

I think one of the reasons why Nosedive has lasted for as long as it has is that it's never staged a show to date that's hit - or even come close to hitting - the $10,000 budget mark. We've never had to, even with rents for theatre spaces in the Rotten Apple skyrocketing every few months. (Let's face it: since we don't received grants, Nosedive Productions is pretty gosh darned penny-pinching.) As a result, although we're not "making money" by any stretch of the imagination, we're not encumbered by debt.

This is a big advantage that theatre has over film: you don't have to take out a second mortgage on your home to stage a play the way you often would to make a movie.

When staging an Off-off show (i.e., a show that doesn't have an open-ended run), you simply know what the cap to your income is going to be. Your house has x number of seats and you are performing for y nights and charging $15 - $18. X times y times 15 or 18 (depending on the ticket price) equals N, which is the most income you can hope for. Except you're not going to get N from ticket sales. Considering you can't realistically expect to sell out each night (you're going to have to offer some comp tickets here and there), it would serve you well to make your budget substantially lower than N.

This may mitigate the debt your company acquires and alleviate the "Sky Is Falling" syndrome. At the very least, you know just how much money you're going to lose at any given point in the run and won't wind up being $70,000 in debt.

You could also do well - hell, we all could do well - in reading and considering Mr. Hall's suggestions.

Ruthless penny-pincher,

James "Scrooge" Comtois

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sarah Kane

I recently read Sarah Kane: Complete Plays for the first time. I don't know if I have a whole lot to say on the plays; considering that 99% of you out there reading Jamespeak are no doubt already familiar with Ms. Kane's work, I don't think I need to tell you that this is some powerful stuff (yes, I'm like the guy who just saw Taxi Driver for the first time and wants to talk about it to a group of people who moved on from incessantly quoting it years ago).

So I'll make this entry short and invite myself to the party very, very late and say that these are excellent plays delving into the subject of love - most often, abusive, codependent and addictive love - that feature some of the darkest and most violent imagery for the stage I've read.

It's not everyday that I read a play that has stage directions explaining that the main character "eats a baby."

I'm very curious to see any of these works staged, not just to see them on their feet, but just to see how on earth a production company stages them. Many scenes made me go, "How do you STAGE that?" One play, Cleansed, has a person getting his limbs cut off and rats running on stage to eat them.

Rats. Running. On. Stage.

I had regrettably missed One Year Lease's 2005 production of Phaedra's Love, which for some reason I found to be the most disturbing to read. Yes, more disturbing than the aforementioned Cleansed.


Not sure, exactly. Perhaps because the character of Hippolytus, an overweight lethargic sex-addicted couch potato who masturbates in his socks and welcomes death, seemed so simultaneously repellent and so believable. Perhaps because of the way it brings a fairly limp...

(Limp because the titular Phaedra is one of those characters with a big neon "Unhappy Ending" sign blinking above her head and you can only be so invested in her self-made undoing before you go, "Oh, right; no surprise there," when you reach the end.)

...myth to life in a way I hadn't expected. Perhaps because of the way it uses pitch-black humor to give the story a grisly "killing joke" feel. (After Phaedra fellates Hippolytus, he advises: "Talk to your doctor - I have gonorrhea.")

I'd also love to see - or rather, hear - a production of Crave, her first play that doesn't feature onstage violence but still repeats her recurring themes of codependent love, love-as-self-destructive-addiction and love-as-identity-creator. There are four characters, each named only by a letter, with no stage directions or indication if the characters are young or old, male or female, interacting or separate. This is very much a "director's show," one that could be very compelling or absolutely insufferable, depending on the ingenuity - or lack thereof - of the director.

A while back, George Hunka suggested that Cleansed be staged "without explicit violence or blood: to allow Kane's vision of redemption to emerge with clarity." An interesting idea, but I'm not sure I'm convinced of that angle: the play is clearly designed to be a visceral - rather than an intellectual or theoretical - experience. Yes, it would make the sense of hope that emerges at the end clearer, but it would be evading (I think) a good portion of the experience (to me, it is not by any means a play about hope and redemption but rather a very bleak play about how love destroys and dismembers us that features hope and redemption).

(I think it also begs the question whether or not one finds the scene where one character force-feeds another an entire box of chocolates "violent.")

Now, I don't want to be giving anyone the impression that Ms. Kane's work is of the "Wow, totally effin' sick and twisted" variety (in other words, empty sensationalism). It's not (although it took Ms. Kane a while to shake this reputation). At the core of all of Ms. Kane's plays is a brutal honesty portraying the sickness inherent to the need to connect that is very rare in theatre these days. To see the difference between Kane's work and sensationalism, compare Cleansed with Brad Fraser's The Ugly Man (both plays are about the characters' desires and how they become their undoing that feature nudity, mutilation and murder, but they're absolutely worlds apart).

It's not at all surprising Ms. Kane killed herself (she killed herself in 1999 at the age of 28), considering her final "play," 4.48 Psychosis, isn't so much a play as it is a 40-page free-verse suicide note. Hell, if the imagery in her plays were the filtered images going on through her mind, I'm guessing her unbridled imagination was implacably and unbearably horrific.

Well, these are my initial half-baked initial reactions to Sarah Kane's plays after (finally) getting around to reading them. If you're like me who's almost always behind the times when it comes to who's being paid attention to in the theatre world, check her plays out if you haven't already.

And if anyone's doing a production of one of the plays in New York this year, please let me know.

Diggin' the creepy-crawlies,

James "Crazyface" Comtois

Ps. To read George Hunka's excellent essays on Ms. Kane's work, click here.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

The Dirty Talk

Okay, we've given the space our first payment, so I think it's now safe to say where and when Nosedive's next show is playing.

Suburban Peepshow, a comedy about the dredges of suburban life, will be playing at Horse Trade's The Red Room on East 4th Street (between 2nd and 3rd avenues) every Thursday through Saturday in April (April 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 26-28). I think this is going to be a fun one. I'm definitely looking forward to it.

More incessant plugs and fanfare will follow in the ensuing months.

Last night, while my sister was handing off the check to Horse Trade, MattJ and I went to go see Spare Change Productions's remounting of The Dirty Talk, written by Matthew Puzzo and directed by Padriac Lillis. I had read the script a few months ago — it's in the 2006 edition of Martin Denton's Plays & Playwrights — and found it to be a very fun and fast read. Seeing the play on its feet does not disappoint.

I have to say, the show is a whole lot of fun.

The short description of the show is that two men — gruff Mitch (played by Sidney Williams) and mousy Lino (played by Kevin Cristaldi) — are stranded in a cabin during a torrential rainstorm. The phone is dead, the car's engine is flooded and its windshield wipers have been ripped off. We learn early on that these two men have never met before, yet are antagonistic. Through the course of Mitch and Lino talking about wives, fathers, fantasies, hunting, manliness, intimacy and online chat rooms, the play reveals who these men are and why they're together in said cabin.

The Dirty Talk is an excellent example of character development and storytelling. I had thought about telling the story of the play, which is very simple and linear, but realized that in doing so, I'd not only be describing 90% of what you don't see on the stage, but I'd also be ruining most of the fun. The fun of the play is slowly and steadily finding out who these men are, what their connection is and why they're stranded in the cabin. Michael Puzzo's script takes its time in filling the audience in as to what's going on.

It's also quite funny and (dare I say) touching even.

The show is also perfectly cast. In addition to the actors being good and completely believable in their roles, Mr. Williams and Mr. Cristaldi work well together as the play's Odd Couple, often riffing off each other's lines like a vaudevillian comedy team.

Seriously folks, check this one out. You'll be glad you did.

The Dirty Talk is playing at Center Stage on 48 West 21st Street until February 4. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased here.

Talkin' dirty,

James "Angelmouth" Comtois

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Closing In

Pete, Steph, Becky and I (a.k.a. Nosedive Central minus Patrick, who's working diligently on the sound for Dan Trujillo and Isaac Butler's Talk of the Walk-Up) looked at a theatre space last night to house our upcoming production of Suburban Peepshow. We all liked it enough to give the manager a tentative "yes." So, we are 95-99% certain in locking this space down for my silly-ass comedy. I'll announce the venue on this site as soon as we give them the down payment (which we should do in the next couple of days).

As always, this is a huge relief, since locking down a space is not just the first step in getting the show produced, but really the first five steps, since everything else (casting, scheduling, promotion) is all predicated on when and where the damn thing is being shown.

Again, since we haven't given them the check yet, I'll refrain from saying where and when we'll be performing Suburban Peepshow until said check is delivered.

Tonight I'm off to Center Stage to see Spare Change Productions's staging of Michael Puzzo's play, The Dirty Talk, which was a fun read (it’s in Martin Denton's Plays & Playwrights 2006). Let's see how it fares on its feet as a staged production (considering Martin based a good part of his decision to publish it on the production and considering that this is the same cast reprising their roles from the 2006 production, I'm working under the assumption that it will fare quite well).

Naively optimistic,

James "Gloomsmith" Comtois

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Wallace Shawn's The Fever

Although I can't say I exactly like this cold weather, it does make me a whole lot less nervous.

Last night I saw Wallace Shawn perform his 1990 one-man show, The Fever, produced by The New Group at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row. This is the second time I've seen Mr. Shawn's piece performed; the first time was Bryan K. Brown's rendition at the UnConvention (which I reviewed here and put on my "Top Ten" list for 2004).

In The Fever, Mr. Shawn plays "The Traveler," an unnamed upper-middle-class cosmopolitan narrator awakening in a hotel room in war-torn country with a terrible fever, being forced to confront his life of privilege in contrast to his current surroundings (where people are being tortured and murdered on a daily basis). Being in this poor and unstable country, away from his civilized New York niche, the narrator's love for beauty, art and luxury disintegrates from the realization that his life of luxury has been brought about at the expense of the impoverished.

Mr. Shawn had originally performed this piece in apartments for groups of a dozen or so friends and acquaintances and "toured" the piece to other apartments of friends of friends (and eventually friends of friends of friends) in order to strip away the illusory ingredients of theatre and talk frankly to his audience base and social class ("the privileged"). This production seemed to be set up to go back to those roots (despite being in a 199-seat theatre). When the house opened, the audience was invited to get up on the stage and have some champagne and chat with Mr. Shawn, who was pleasantly greeting the attendees.

(No, I didn't talk with him. When the house opened, he was damn near already mobbed. I stood about four feet away, and nodded hello to him, and he nodded politely back - along with the huge mob surrounding him - but I really couldn't have gotten his attention unless I flailed my hands around and went, "HEY! HEY WALLY! OVER HERE! HEY! MY NAME'S JAMES! YOU ROCK! HEY!!!" That, I think, would be tacky, even for me.)

After the audience members finished drinking the champagne and examining the set, the audience settled into their (our) seats and he chatted with the audience, saying he was stalling to let the technicians get the sound and light levels right. The set itself resembled a portion of a nicely furnished upper-middle-class New York apartment (not unlike the ones he had performed in back in the early '90s). When he said he and the technicians were ready, he sat down in the chair placed center-stage, the lights went out and he started the piece.

The show was mainly an auditory experience. There's virtually no blocking in this production, as Mr. Shawn spends 90% of the play seated in his chair center-stage. From time to time, the house lights would turn on, attempting to give the "we're all in a giant living room listening to someone speaking," feel.

Although I'm not sure if you can fully-recreate the experience of being in a living room in a 199-seat theatre with a group of total strangers (that old saying, "You can't go home again," ringing particularly true), this production does bring an immediacy and intimacy that I imagine is not often present in a space like The Acorn (though I'm speculating; I've certainly been to spaces like The Acorn, but I had never been in the space itself before last night).

Having now seen The Fever staged twice, I've noticed how less confrontational it feels to watch rather than read. My initial experience reading the script was caustic and scathing, perhaps because in both productions (in Mr. Brown's rendition and Mr. Shawn's) the most damning lines were directed inward rather than outward. For example, reading the following passage...

"No, I'm trying to tell you that people hate you. I'm trying to explain to you about the people who hate you.

"Why do you think that they would all love you? And what do you think they would love about you? What are you? There's no charm in you, there's nothing graceful, nothing that yields. You're simply a relentless, unbearable fanatic. Yes, the commando who crawls all night through the mud is much much less of a fanatic than you. Look at yourself. Look. You walk so stiffly into your kitchen each morning, you approach your cupboard. And you open it, and reach for the coffee, the coffee you expect to find on its shelf. And it has to be there! And if one morning it isn't there - oh, the hysteria! - the entire world will have to pay! At the very thought of the unexpected, the unexpected deprivation, you begin to twitch, to panic, to pant. That shortness of breath! Listen to your voice on the telephone, listen to the tone that comes into your voice when you talk to one of your very close friends and you talk about your life and you use those expressions - "what I need to live on?" - "the amount I need just in order to live?" Are you cute then? Are you funny then? ... Without the money, your face would become the face of a rat, your hands would be paws - sharp, nimble, ready to scratch, ready to tear. "

...feels as if the words are directed toward the reader. But in both productions I've seen, the actors directed these lines towards themselves (Mr. Shawn more so than Mr. Brown, if memory serves). Although the lines are the same and the meaning of said lines is still there, the play as staged is much more sad and mournful than biting.

And it is more mournful than biting, because Mr. Shawn is writing just as much about himself as he is about his colleagues. The unnamed narrator ultimately feels no sense of superior over his privileged peers (i.e., us). He's just as guilty of oppressing the impoverished as we are.

If you've never read nor seen The Fever, I suggest you do. I remember first reading the play 10 years ago in college and was blown away by it. It was great (for me) to hear Mr. Shawn recite the text himself (and it's pretty obvious hearing him deliver the lines that it was written to specifically cater to his distinct speech patterns and cadences).

The Fever is currently in previews. It officially opens January 29 and runs until March 3. You can get tickets here.

A Child of Privilege,

James "Spoiled Brat" Comtois

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Monday, January 08, 2007

January Preview

Damn, don't you theatre people let up? I guess not. I looked at the calendar and there is a slew of shows going on this month, many of which I'm planning on seeing (or at least hoping to see).

For those of you who have already seen Blue Coyote's The Standards of Decency Project (which closes tonight) and still want to pack your January with more shows, here's a small list of plays on my radar (and therefore should be on yours):

Kill Me Like You Mean It. The Stolen Chair Theatre Company presents an absurdist film noir for the stage by Kiran Rikhye (The Man Who Laughs). This is the second installment in their "CineTheatre Tetralogy." January 5-27 at The Red Room.

The Fever. Wallace Shawn performs in his 1991 one-man show about an unnamed sick and guilty man in a hotel room in an unnamed country undergoing a revolution. January 9 - March 3 at the Acorn Theatre (Theatre Row).

TASTE: A Reading Series Of New Plays. Ken Urban's Committee Theatre presents a reading series of three new plays by Crystal Skillman, Caridad Svich and Mr. Urban. January 11-16 at the Linhart Theater at 440 Studios.

The Dirty Talk. Spare Change Productions remounts Padraic Lillis's 2006 staging of Michael Puzzo's comedy (which was published in Martin Denton's Plays & Playwrights 2006) about two men stranded in a hunting cabin during a storm. These men are not here merely by happenstance but rather by a purposefully misguided Internet chat room connection. January 14 - February 4 at Center Stage.

Party Discipline. The Subjective Theatre Company presents "A Political Transformation Seminar." Let's see where this takes us. January 17 - February 2 at the Asian American Writers' Workshop.

Talk of The Walk-Up. Isaac Butler directs Dan Trujillo's freestyle verse play about a tyrannical apartment superintendent, a demented runaway and their bad, bad thing. Featuring Betsy Johnson, Daryl Lathon, Heather Lind, Scott Olmstead, James Prendergast, Ronica V. Reddick and Mac Rogers. Live sound design by Nosedive's own Patrick Shearer. January 21-23 at manhattantheatresource.

So there you have it. I'm sure there are many, many more plays going up in the Rotten Apple this month, but these are the ones that have come to my immediate attention. If you have something going on this month in the city, by all means feel free to plug it in the comments section below.

Happy play going!

Ready to see some theatre,

James "Fancypants" Comtois

Friday, January 05, 2007

Gettin' To Know Your Comtois

Mr. Isaac Butler has tagged me with another Meme dealie. This time, the goal of the Meme is to list five things about yourself you think your readers probably don't/couldn't know.

Right. Here goes:

1. I’ve never seen nor read anything by Bertolt Brecht. Although I've mentioned this before in Jamespeak, it's been such a long while (it was in, like, my third or fourth entry) I think 99% of my current readers either weren’t around then or have forgotten. This fact hasn't changed since I admitted this back in 2004.

2. With some very rare exceptions, I have written most of my plays while on the clock at work (as in, my day job). I think my home computer may be dead (it hasn't been turned on in several months and has been collecting dust in the corner of my room), so when I'm at home, I'm usually watching TV. Sometimes while at home I write longhand on a yellow legal pad, but for the most part, the bulk of my work that’s been staged has been written while at my desk at work.

3. I think Mike Leigh's movie Secrets and Lies stinks on hot ice. Melodramatic, heavy-handed, facile and boring as all hell. It took me a long while to get over how much I hated (hate) that movie to actually check out the earlier films that garnered his reputation (since Secrets and Lies was the first film by Leigh I saw and was perplexed why it was given such accolades). I do, however, think "The Short and Curlies" and "Hard Labour" are excellent films by Leigh.

4. William Reynolds, the film editor of such films as The Sound of Music and The Godfather, was a distant relative (he was my grandmother's cousin).

5. I have a filling in one tooth.

Honestly, I don’t think any of the above was even remotely helpful in getting to know me more. At all. But there you are.

Now, who to tag, who to tag, who to tag…how about Mr. Matthew Freeman, Mr. Ian W. Hill and Mr. Adam Szymkowicz?

Giving so much it hurts,

James "Open Book" Comtois

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Settling Into The New

Now that I've finished my Top Ten of 2006 (and congratulations to all who are on the list and to those who weren't, fear naught, you still have my love) and we're starting to recover from our holiday hangovers and accepting the fact that it's now 2007, it looks as though it's Back To Work, Full Speed Ahead. (Although to be fair, my shcedule isn't nearly as full as Ms. Lemoult’s. She's really going Full Speed Ahead.)

Here's a small sample of what’s going on in Little Jimmy’s world this month, both directly and tangentially…

Nosedive is closing in on finding a space (we have a few options) for our next show, Suburban Peepshow, and the folks at Nosedive Central are meeting sometime this week to figure out our next plan of attack. As soon as we know what’s happening with the status of our follow-up to The Adventures of Nervous-Boy and The Blood Brothers Present, so will you, dear reader. So will you.

On top of that, I'm dancing as fast as I can with this damn superhero play (which is becoming this monumental project that may take considerably more time than I had expected). It's definitely fun to write, but it's definitely going to take a long-ass time to come up with anything close to resembling a readable first draft. All I can say is patience, Young Padawaans, patience.

(If you're really, really lucky, I just may post another random scene up on this page some time in the not-too-distant future. I know, be still your beating heart.)

Mr. Isaac Butler over at Parabasis has tagged me with another one of those memes, this time, asking the recipient to write five things that his or her readers couldn't or wouldn’t know about them. I'm working on that, trying to come up with anything even remotely interesting that I'm fine with you dear readers knowing about.

I've just bought my ticket for the first play I'm to see for the year: Wallace Shawn’s one-man show, The Fever, to be performed by Mr. Shawn himself. I'm checking that out over at The Acorn Theatre on Tuesday. Considering this is a show by one of my favorite plays (I saw a production of it performed by Bryan K. Brown that made my "Top Ten of 2004" list) by one of my personal all-time favorite playwrights (and I'm still upset that I missed the production of The Designated Mourner directed by Andre Gregory), I really couldn't be more pleased.

Although this has nothing to do with me directly, I want to extend congratulations to Matthew Freeman and the rest of the folks at Blue Coyote for extending The Standards of Decency Project an additional week. It closes this Monday so if you didn't get a chance to see it the first time around, definitely check it out. To get $15 discounted tickets for tonight and tomorrow, use the discount code "VJAJAY" here.

And for those of you with some downtime at work, I recommend checking out Mr. Joshua James's New Years Resolutions on the Daily Dojo. I for one really can’t stop going back and giggling like an idiot over some of them (particularly his one concerning The View). Check it out. It's some funny, funny stuff.

Finally, I'm hoping to soon do another online dialogue with another member of the Off-off theatre world in the first quarter of 2007, like the one I did with Mr. Mac Rogers. I'm only in the preliminary stages of preparing for it, but like with everything else, I'll let you all know how that's coming along.

Anyway, welcome back everybody. I'm off to work on that above-mentioned meme.

Ready for the weekend despite
having taken so much time off,

James "Pampered Idiot" Comtois

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Top 10 of 2006

It's time once again for Little Jimmy's Take-It-Or-Leave-It Top Ten Plays of the Year.

2006 turned out to be a really good year for plays in New York. This is the third year I've done a "best of" list and this year was (by far) the hardest to compile (with the exception of the top three; I pretty much knew immediately after seeing these shows that they were going to be the "top of the top"). I had the list written out a couple weeks ago, then spent part of the holiday break looking over what I had and comparing what I had to the few shows I had seen in the meanwhile and assessing and reassessing and re-reassessing what constituted (to me) the best shows I had seen over the course of the year and found it to be a much tougher challenge than the last two years (there weren't really any "Too Close To Call" choices for me to make in 2004 and 2005).

For those interested, the final tally of productions I saw in 2006 ended up to be 41 plays, four readings and six miscellaneous performance works (things like improv or sketch comedy shows). Of the 41 plays I saw in 2006, I only saw one Broadway show, six Off-Broadway shows and 34 Off-off-Broadway shows. My final tally for the top ten: no Broadway, three Off-Broadway and seven Off-off-Broadway.

Obviously, like with any "best of" list, everything should be taken with more than a grain of salt. I'm sure more than one person reading this list will think I've simply gone 'round the bend and have absolutely no ability for making aesthetic judgments. ("Comtois thought THAT play was one of the ten best? And he thought it was better than THIS one? What a MORON!") This may very well be true. Again, just remember that the following list has been created by Some Guy Who Has Kinda Weird Tastes. Also, part of the purpose for creating the list is to give you an idea of the kind of things I like (if you're going to read me natter on about theatre, it's only fair that you get to see just what it is I find to be the "cream of the crop" in any given year so you can determine for yourself where my aesthetic compass points).

It should be known that this year, like with every year, I missed a number of high-ticket productions, such as Sweeney Todd and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. I really wish I had caught these (and other) shows that (from what it sounds like) had a very strong chance of making the list, but there’s only so much time in the year and only so much disposable income. So remember that these are not the ten best plays produced in 2006, these are the ten best plays I saw in 2006 (kind of a given, I know, but I figure it’s something worth repeating).

A new thing I've added to the credits list (along with the producing company, writer and director) is the venue at where I saw the show. All of them are in New York.

So, for what it's worth, in ascending order, the ten best plays I saw in 2006:

Honorable mention: "A Sizable Town"
(New York International Fringe Festival, part of 24 is 10: The Best of the 24 Hour Plays, written by Mike Doughty, directed by Angie Day, at the Lucille Lortel)
Though the entire evening of one-act plays was pretty mezzo mezzo, Mike Doughty's 10-minute play about a couple wanting to go to a sizable town to break into showbiz and fight crime is one of the silliest and funniest plays I've seen. As Mac Rogers stated, "I don't even know how to describe, but we went nuts for it when I saw it." Yes, indeed.

10. They're Just Like Us
(CollaborationTown, written by Boo Killebrew, directed by Mike Doyle, at The Red Room).
Seemingly silly and innocuous but deceptively biting and very accurate, Ms. Killebrew's satire about people working and/or skulking around the film industry in Hollywood simultaneously mocks the shallowness of La-la-land and our weird obsession with celebrities and D-listers (most of the characters are just reg'lar folk who portray themselves as up-and-comers). Really spot-on in its depiction of shallow interaction disguised as intimacy (everyone promises to "text" each other). And really funny, too.

9. Abacus Black Strikes Now: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black
(The National Theater of the United States of America, directed and developed by Ryan Bronz, at PS 122)
A group of traveling performers hoping to get to the Golden City before they get their brains eaten by zombies. Screeching heavy metal music, bloodletting and brain-eating. Oh…God…YES!

8. Living Dead in Denmark
(Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company, written by Qui Nguyen, directed by Robert Ross Parker, at Center Stage).
Another play about zombies (2006 seemed to be the year for those brain-eaters). Five years after the events of Hamlet, King Fortinbras has assembled a Charlie's Angels-style all-girl fighting team (made up of Lady MacBeth, Juliet and Ophelia) to destroy the zombies infesting Denmark. Chuck Varga of GWAR did the effects. Freakin' sweet. Vampire Cowboys specializes in doing shows that make theatre snobs huffy, which is precisely why their stuff works so well. Every time I go see a Cowboys show, I know I'm going to enjoy myself. I was far from disappointed this time around.

7. Food For Fish
(Sanctuary: Playwrights Theatre, written by Adam Szymkowicz, directed by Alexis Poledouris, at The Kraine Theatre)
One of the funniest plays I saw in 2006 about truly sad people. A play about three sisters living on Manhattan's Upper East Side hoping to move to New Jersey, their dead father decomposing at a rapid pace in their apartment, the oldest sister's husband facing a midlife crisis and an author who throws pages of his manuscript into the Hudson River and kisses random women on the street. The play is about longing, regret and being held back. There was one point in the first act where I had no idea where the show was going, but didn't care. Wherever it was going, I was interested.

6. My Name Is Rachel Corrie
(London's Royal Court Theatre, culled from the diary entries and emails of Ms. Corrie, edited by Alan Rickman and Katharine Vinerat, directed by Mr. Rickman, at the Minetta Lane Theatre)
Managing to look past all the controversy and pseudo-controversy plaguing this one-woman show, I still maintain that this was a solid production of an important play. It's one of the few works of recent Western art I've seen that considers that 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." It articulates a very unpopular and minority viewpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that should be heard by American audiences.

5. Nerve
(Packawallop Productions and the Hypothetical Theatre Company, written by Adam Szymkowicz, directed by Scott Ebersold, at the 14th Street Y)
Mr. Adam Szymkowicz graces my list again with his sad, funny, creepy and magical play about two psychopaths on a first online date. The girl creates elaborate dances when she gets nervous. The guy makes puppets of his ex-girlfriends to nag him when he gets uneasy. They fall in love. They suffocate each other. They decide they're perfect for each other. After reading (then seeing) this play, I realized that Mr. Szymkowicz is definitely one of those playwrights to follow.

4. Red Light Winter
(written & directed by Adam Rapp, at the Borrow Street Theatre)
I'm pretty sure that I'm in the minority in the theatre world for loving the production of this play. So be it. Adam Rapp's show about two friends meeting a prostitute in Amsterdam then separately reuniting a year later in New York — the first play I saw in 2006 — was an incredibly simple, captivating, compelling and entertaining piece of theatre with some excellent performances (particularly from Gary Wilmes as the scumbag alpha-friend). And yeah, I'll admit it: I was also roped in by the use of Tom Waits after each act, 'cuz I really am a sucker for Tom Waits’s music.

3. In Public
(theatre minima, written by George Hunka, directed by Isaac Butler, at manhattantheatresource)
George Hunka's excellent play about people in relationships crossing the line of fidelity (or at least, tempted to come as close to the line as possible) hit so many right notes in such a short period of time. Very subtle, very honest and very funny. Mr. Hunka writes from a very truthful place and Isaac Butler's direction was very in-step with the slight nuances and cadences of the script. The actors were also outstanding. Mr. Hunka has done seemingly without effort something I've often tried (but never quite succeeded in) with my own work: build tension through characters offering subdued, passive-aggressive jabs (as opposed to histrionic screaming). I knew right after curtain call that this was going to be on the upper-end of my Top Ten list.

2. Trial By Water
(Ma Yi Theater Company, written by Qui Nguyen, directed by John Gould, at The Culture Project — 45 Below)
The second play by Mr. Qui Nguyen to appear on this list, having written something completely different from his Vampire Cowboys-style of theatre. Intense, hypnotic and deeply personal, Trial By Water was the first play Mr. Nguyen wrote. Based on real events, it is the account of two brothers traveling from Vietnam to America on a broken-down boat adrift at sea with several other refuges and doing what it takes to survive (the passengers and crew kill and eat each other). This was a play that explored cannibalism, post-war Vietnam and the slow death of the soul. This one stuck in my head for a long (long LONG) while after I left the theatre.

And the #1 play I saw in 2006 was…

1. Dead City
(New Georges, written by Sheila Callaghan, directed by Daniella Topol, at 3LD Art & Technology Center)
As is almost always the case for the #1 slot, this should come as no surprise to anyone who either knows me or regularly reads this blog. Ms. Callaghan's ambitious and whimsical adaptation of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses transplanted to modern-day New York had me hooked within the first five minutes (when Samantha Blossom is listening to the morning radio DJ who turns out to be really her inner monologue). The show kept surprising me with each successive scene, making me think, "I didn't think you could do that in a stage play, much less an Off-off-Broadway production!" (i.e., adapting a book like Ulysses into a stage play under two hours and be coherent and faithful to the source material, revealing characters’ detailed back-stories without being intrusive or insulting the audience’s intelligence). I knew immediately after seeing this play that this was a "shoe-in" for my Top Ten list. It's plays (and productions) like New Georges’ staging of Dead City that remind me why I love theatre.

So let’s bring on 2007…

Already buying tickets for this year's shows,

James "Spendthrift" Comtois


Page 123

Okay, I'm back. Happy 2007, everybody! I hope everyone's holiday was a pleasant one. I got enough Christmas goodies (mostly DVDs) to keep me entertained through January. I'm polishing my "Top Ten of 2006" list right now, but first I have to address the meme that has been going around.

Here's how it works:

1) Find the nearest book
2) Open to page 123
3) Type lines 6-8 of said book
4) Tag three others.

Well, Mr. Freeman tagged me, so here I go.

The closest book to me was Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Lines 6-8 on page 123 of said book are:

"…with her new companions, dangling lanterns on strings over the black water to attract the goggle-eyed fishes who swam slowly up to be lunged at with sharp sticks and missed."

So now I'm tagging:

Patrick, Joshua and Dorothy.

I'll be posting my Top Ten list later today.

Back in the swing of things,

James "New Man For a New Year" Comtois

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