Thursday, May 31, 2007

Don Juan in Chicago

"Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go, it's pretty damn good."

-Woody Allen

Who knew that chasing after the ladies would be a full-time job that would consume one's every waking moment?

The Clockwork Theatre, a relatively young yet ambitious company created by SUNY Grads, is restaging one of David Ives's few full-length plays, Don Juan in Chicago, at the Kirk Theatre on Theatre Row in a fun, albeit slightly amateurish, production.

Don Juan in Chicago is a comedy about how and why the Ultimate Ladies' Man is the way he is: mainly as a result of some pesky fine print in a contract with Mephistopheles.

See, in 1599, Don Juan is a virgin with no interest in knowing the ladies in the Biblical sense, but with an insatiable interest in knowing the secret(s) to life. So, he makes the obligatory deal with the devil for immortality, with said immortality coming with a price: in order to stay alive, the Don has to bed a new woman every night (no prostitutes and never the same woman twice).

Flash-forward to 400 years later: Don Juan (now going by the name Don Johnson) is living in a bachelor pad Chicago with his also-immortal servant Leporello (now going by Lefty) and has realized that having to seduce a new woman each night pretty much wipes out the sort of downtime one needs for reading and enlightenment. Oops.

Now his past has caught up with him and the devil wants to cash in on his soul.

It's been a long while since I've seen a play by David Ives, having seen his collection of one-acts, Mere Mortals, Off-Broadway way back in 1997. His comic timing and whimsical style (both ultra-contemporary and lyrical) is almost enjoyable to listen to and watch and this script - and production - is no exception.

And yet...and yet...

Throughout the show, I couldn't help think that this production seems out of place in an Off-Broadway house. Clockwork's staging of Don Juan looked like a very nicely done, well-financed college production. As expensive-looking as the lights and set looked, there were a number of recurring snafus with both (such as some missed and delayed cues and a door that refused to stay shut) that visibly threw off the actors. These could have been just the result of opening-night jitters, but something about them made the show seem a little less than professional.

I bring this up because when a production is playing at Theatre Row and charging $25 for a ticket, an audience member can't help but expect a certain level of polish from an Off-Broadway play not necessarily demanded from an Off-off production.

Having stated that, Don Juan is a funny and intelligent play (I particularly enjoyed how the Don would be bemused to find himself speaking in verse whenever around Mephistopheles or Dona Elvira) and Owen M. Smith's direction made me laugh.

The standout in the cast is Doug Nyman as Leporello, who provides the most laughs in the show. Justin Long look-a-like Mike Cinquino plays the Don with the right amount of haggard charm that a 430-year-old player would have. Shayna Padovano is quite charismatic and sympathetic as Dona Elvira, the Don's first and one true love who will not rest until she's back in baby's arms.

Despite some of my admittedly snooty objections, seeing Don Juan in Chicago was a fun and funny way to spend my Saturday afternoon. It had been far too long since I had me some Ives humor.

Don Juan in Chicago is playing through June 9. For tickets go here.

Too busy reading to chase after the ladies,

James "Uh...I Mean, I'm A Lady-Magnet!" Comtois

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Impending Theatrical Blogging Event

It appears as though I will be participating in this this Sunday...

The Brick Theater, Inc. presents

The Impending Theatrical Blogging Event


The Pretentious Festival

Tickets are FREE!

Sunday, June 3 at 9 p.m.

At The Brick Theater

The New York community of Theater Bloggers blog about blogging as a theatrical event, live, at The Brick Theater or anonymously at a undisclosed locations. Audience members are encouraged to join the blogosphere conversation on laptops provided at the theater for this event. Experience a conversation about the current state of theater and the web from some of the city’s sharpest writers and artists. Live and online at the same time!

Announced participants include:

• Aaron Riccio for Theater Talk, That Sounds Cool and metaDRAMA
• Ian W. Hill for Collisionworks
• Mark Armstrong for Mr. Excitement News
• Isaac Butler for Parabasis
• Jaime for Surplus
• James Comtois for Jamespeak
• Leonard Jacobs for The Clyde Fitch Report
• Ludlow Lad for Off-Off Blogway
• Matthew Freeman for On Theatre and Politics
• Moxie the Maven
• Rocco for What's Good/What Blows in NY Theatre
• The Playgoer

...and (as the kids say) Many More!

For reservations, visit

Hoping there'll be free wine,

James "I Blog Better When I'm Drunk" Comtois

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Mr. Matthew Freeman writes about genres and subgenres in theatre and the importance of genres in relation to marketing (yes, theatre people, in order to successfully self-produce theatre without going bankrupt and in order to stage a play that will garner an audience consisting of more than just friends and relatives you do have to think about marketing every now and then) brilliantly here. Check it out.

I'm going to go write my romantic kung-fu musical, named hereinafter rokumu.

An evil accountant,

James "Bottom-Lines, Bottom-Lines!" Comtois

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye...

Matt Johnston, author of the Theatre Conversation and Political Frustration blog, is calling it the proverbial day for blogging. Since he and I have been hitting the bars together lately, this is not news to me (he's been telling me for a while he's been done).

For those of you who don't have a co-dependent drinking problem like Matt and me and can't follow us as we get kicked out of every bar in New York after harrassing the staff (because you're not local), Matt does offer a slight hint as to why he's going off into the wild grey yonder.

Ah, well, Matthew. Fare thee well. And of course by "fare thee well," I mean, "I'll see you at the bar this week."

Hang in there, Jennifer,

James "Dr. Cox" Comtois

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Bugs and Barbecues

Although I know the movie can't compare to the visceral experience of seeing the play, I still plan on seeing William Friedkin's film version of Tracy Letts's play Bug at some point. The reviews have been mixed, but I've noticed that they all make the movie sound pretty gosh-darned faithful to the play and that the movie is pretty intense.

It is a bit weird, though, that they keep touting that Bug is directed by the guy who made The Exorcist and The French Connection. The thing is, Friedkin hasn’t stopped making movies. He's been working ever since then, just making mediocre hack jobs (The Hunted in 2003, Rules of Engagement in 2000, Jade in 1995). There's something vaguely depressing about having only two movies pointed out as worthwhile on a long resume and even more depressing that those two movies were made more than 30 years ago.


I've finished up all my work for the week at my day job and am hoping to cash in on the office's offer of early release, so I'll be heading out soon. I'm not going to be doing any work on Colorful World for a little while now, although I know some of the spots I want to fix. Still, it's time to just sit on it for a bit and enjoy the three-day weekend.

Enjoy your Memorial Day, folks.

Crashing barbecues,

James "Yeah, I'm With…That Guy" Comtois

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Required Reading: Laura Axelrod

Laura Axelrod has written an excellent post on how (and why) she hated theatre and how writing her latest play helped to rekindle her relationship with said saucy mistress. It's great. Go read it.

I particularly liked:

When I finished the [new] play, after a tremendous amount of work, I discovered that I wasn't the problem. What I wrote wasn't the problem. Theater was the problem. The model of theater I chose to pursue was an extraordinarily screwed up version. It guaranteed that I would have to hang out with people I didn't like, work with people I despised. Throughout it all I'd have to remain super-conscious of everyone's status, including my own. I would have to create a 'social persona,' an image that could be manipulated so people would believe I was more intelligent and important."

Very, very well said.

Laura's entry reminded me why I'm so glad Pete and I formed Nosedive as early as we did the way that we did, since I realized I could have so easily gone down this road had I decided to listen to the shitty advice of the little demons I met when I first moved to New York.

When I think of the Alternate Universe Me (which is weird, considering I recently posted a comment on Laura's blog saying I try not to think of alternate realities, since I find myself easily getting bogged down in playing the "What If...?" game in perpetuity) that ended up playing the development hell (pardon the redundancy) game, thereby writing less and spending more time hanging out with [gag] theatre people, I definitely understand Laura's frustration.

What are you sticking around here for? Go! Read the entry.

Not liking a dawdling staff,

James "Perry White" Comtois

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Casting Notice For Hail Satan

This is from Mr. Mac Rogers, who you may remember as Nervous-Boy in The Adventures of the Aforementioned. His play, Hail Satan, one of the best plays I saw in 2005, will be in the Fringe Festival this year.

Those interested in auditioning should check out the information below and send an email to the address at the bottom.

Worshipping the cloven one,

James "David Damian Brent" Comtois

* * *

You are cordially and devilishly invited to audition for Hail Satan by Mac Rogers, directed by Jordana Williams, being presented as part of the NY Int'l Fringe Festival. The festival dates are August 10-26. We don't have performance dates/times or venue information yet.

Hail Satan is the story of the Antichrist and the Corporate Communications Department in charge of raising her.

Tom figures his new job will be a lot like his last one. Then he discovers that his coworkers all attend the same church. And it's the Church of Satan. And they've got big plans for him.

It's dark, it's scary, it's funny. In short, it's The Omen meets The Office.

Available Roles:

TOM (30)- The new guy. Smart, liberal, perpetually ill at ease. Well intentioned but lacking conviction.

MARCUS (20's/30's)- The strategist. Ambitious, tightly wound.

NATALIE (20's/30's)- The true believer. Passionate, loyal, fiercely competitive.

KRISTEN (30ish)- The skeptic. Lost, longing to belong and believe. Gets romantically involved with Tom.

ANGIE (Ages from 0-18) The daughter. Charming, lovable, smart. Actor must be skilled at transformative physical characterization.

Auditions will be held by appointment Saturday June 2nd 1-4 p.m. and Sunday June 3rd 2-4 p.m. in Midtown. If you are interested in auditioning, please email with your availability and we'll respond with a timeslot. Sides will be made available by early next week.

Thanks and we hope you're well!

Jordana, Mac & Sean

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You Know What Makes Me Laugh?

This (click on it for a larger image):

Yeah, I know. I'm a bit weirded out that Neil Swaab's Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles is so much my "thing," too.


James "No, I Love You, Mr. Wiggles" Comtois

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I've Finally...

...finished the rough draft of Colorful World. It still needs a lot of work, but for good or for bad, a readable rough has been completed.

That is, as the kids say, a load off.

Now I have to get the EC Comics material from Pete and Patrick to write some installments for The Blood Brothers Present, as well as rewrite A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol.

Ah, back to work.

And on a side note, you know what I don't give a flying fuck about?

The Tonys.

Just letting you know,

James "Open" Comtois

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Equity Petition

"We the undersigned believe that, in the interest of preserving and strengthening Off-Off-Broadway in New York City, the Actors Equity Association's Showcase Code merits revision."

Those interested in signing can do so here.

Exercising his First Amendment rights
but not really exercising,

James "Stairmaster, Schmairmaster" Comtois

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Silverland Review for

My review of the play Silverland is now up on

* * *

Silverland, a play by first-time playwright Benjamin Davis, is about people partying like there's no tomorrow, perhaps because there is no tomorrow. Or maybe it's... [keep reading]

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Friday, May 18, 2007

I'm Almost Done...

...with the superhero script. I was hoping to finish writing the final scene (which is mapped out), but I've been writing so much of it all week I now have a backlog of stories I need to write for my dayjob (that are all due today). I gave most of the Nosedive crew the first act and am hoping to send out the second act to them on Monday.

It now has a working title: Colorful World.

Yes, that's a weird reference to this song, which I've been playing on endless loop as I'm finishing the script:

Have a good weekend, folks.

Your salt lick,

James "Chump Change" Comtois

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

As Part of Martin Denton's...

...Summer Reviewing Squad for, I'm off to see my first play for review tonight: Silverland, as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59.

I'll let you know when my review is posted on Martin's site.

Simultaneously excited and nervous,

James "Waffling Bitch" Comtois

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Photos for "Trailers" Are Now Up

Check 'em out!

These photos were also taken by Aaron Epstein.

Often preferring trailers to the actual movie,

James "Short Attention Span" Comtois

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Photos for Suburban Peepshow Are Up!

You can see them all here.

(Yes, you can say it: I'm a fat piece of shit. I know. I should consider situps, now that we've closed.)

The photos for "Trailers" will be up soon.

Always dancin,

James "How Ya Like Me Now?" Comtois

Photos by Aaron Epstein.

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Two Shows I'm Pretty Sure Are Shoe-Ins For My End-Of-Year Top Ten List

Sorry about the sporadic posting last week. I had written a post on Wednesday, then events took place that made about 99% of it be not true, so I had to revise it, then re-revise it, then totally scrap it. Sigh.

I saw about five shows in the past eight days and two of them I can say I'd be very, very surprised if they don't wind up on my end-of-year top ten list. (True, the year isn't even halfway through, but seriously, folks. I enjoyed them Just That Much.)

The first one was the debut production of Four Chairs Theatre, A Guy Adrift in the Universe, written by Larry Kunofsky and directed by Jacob Kreuger. Simply put, the play is about a Guy getting born, living his life and then dying, all in the span of about an hour and a half. He's never quite sure where he is or what he's doing, and it seems as though that whenever he gets the hang of something in his life, it's time to move on.

One minute he's breast-feeding from his mom, then two sentences later he's old enough for the bottle, then two sentences after that he's late for school.

Man, I really enjoyed this one.

What made the play so moving for me? I think because it uses sentimentality very, very sparingly, if at all (Martin Denton pointed out that this play is like Our Town as re-imagined by Larry David, something I couldn't argue with). In fact, the Guy is a very selfish, egocentric prick who believes the universe centers around him. I really appreciated Larry Kunofsky's honesty here: let's face it, most of us are lost and confused and never getting our bearings straight, but that doesn't make us lovable people (it makes us insufferable brats). I appreciated that the few people he meets (his grandmother, an impatient nurse) who caustically remind him he's nothing special are the people he appreciates the most (he smiles then uses the line, "You're all right.").

And hell, I'll admit it: I got a little misty-eyed at the final scene.

The Guy, played by Corey Grant, plays the role as simultaneously a confused infant (who happens to have a great vocabulary) and a cranky old man (there's a very thin membrane separating the one-year-old from the eighty-year-old).

Corey Patrick, Zarah Kravitz and Sutton Crawford play multiple roles of all the different people who come in and out of the Guy's life. They're all very good as well.

I'm really not doing the description justice. I thought A Guy Adrift in the Universe was (is) a very fine work and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what Larry and Jake do next. I also hope they can find some way to remount this show.

* * *

Jaime G. from Surplus ended up getting free tickets to see last Tuesday night's production of Talk Radio and I tagged along. It was very nice finally getting to meet Miss G. in person and very cool seeing this show, since the first (and up until last night, only) time I saw Talk Radio it was a college production (with an actress playing the role of Barry). Since I hadn't read the script at the time and knew nothing about it, I liked it, but it was very nice to see a fully realized professional production of this show. Wow. I gotta say: that Liev Schreiber has got some game on the stage. I've only seen him in film, but he is an amazing live performer.

Even though I knew the script (of which I'm a fan) and knew the lines, Mr. Schreiber said them as if they were his own. He does live up to all the hoopla surrounding him.

I won't get into a detailed analysis of Talk Radio, aside from pointing out that I was very much aware of the parallels between Barry - ostensibly just a "voice" - and his anonymous callers and bloggers and their (our) comment-posters.

Overall, I really enjoyed this production and was very glad that Jaime invited me to tag along. Thanks, Jaime!

If you have the money or opportunity, check it out. You can get tickets here.

Anyway, I'll fill you guys in on the details of Nosedive's upcoming Blood Brothers Presents (which should take place in October). Now, I have to get back to writing the latest script.

Your caped crusader,

James "Blogman" Comtois

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Lovable Pretentious Swine

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Yeah, I'm so seeing this.

How can you not love that mug?

Full of beans,

James "Insufferable" Comtois

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Writer/Director: "Vagina Dentata"

With Michael Criscuolo helming and moderating an ongoing dialogue about the role of the director, I figured I'd give you folks a quick, inside look at "Vagina Dentata," the vignette that I wrote and Pete directed for last year's The Blood Brothers Present Grand Guignol series. Below is the pantomime script I sent in to Pete. Underneath my script is the video of the performance (which I have posted before).

I'm specifically pointing this one out for perusal for two reasons. The first is (obviously) it's short and we have a decent video of it, so you can actually see what Pete and the cast did. The second is this is the only show I've written for Nosedive Productions where I had no involvement whatsoever with the casting or rehearsal processes. I wrote it, handed it in to Pete, then saw the show for the first time on opening night.

I hope you have fun seeing what I brought to the table, what Pete brought, how and where the script and the production differ and how and where they converge.

(It features Cat Johnson and Desmond Dutcher and was filmed by Ben VandenBoom.)

Getting Up Close And Personal,

James "Inside Baseball" Comtois

* * *

"Vagina Dentata"

A woman's studio apartment. A MAN and WOMAN enter. If the Man is wearing a tie, it's now untied and open. The Woman shows the place off, indicating, "This is the place." The Man looks impressed.

The Woman walks over to the dresser and removes her jewelry. The Man approaches her, and tries to kiss her. She dodges him, walking to the other end of the room. He smiles, far from annoyed. He had a hunch she'd be playing hard to get, but since she's invited him to the apartment, the jig is damn near up, so he's patient.

She indicates toward the bar. The Man nods. She makes them both drinks. She hands him his, he takes it. They chime their glasses together. They sit on the sofa-bed.

On the sofa-bed, they make eyes at one another, the Woman laughs self-consciously. The Man tries again to go for The Kiss. She dodges, and goes over to the stereo. She indicates to the music. The Man nods. She puts in a CD, and the music changes (if there was music playing before, which I'm assuming there would be, now's the time when it changes). She looks happy and polite, yet agitated.

The Man looks somewhat confused, yet sees no reason to be impatient or agitated. Yet. He stands up towards her, and she immediately hugs him tightly (so he can't kiss her). He hugs her back, smelling her hair.

She pulls away and runs over to the other side of the room, pantomiming talking about something. True, she brought him up to her apartment, but does everything have to go so quickly? Whatever happened to just talking?

The Man pantomimes being interested in hearing what she has to say. He walks slowly toward her, nursing the drink she made for him. He finally approaches her, and kisses her on the cheek. She smiles, but continues talking. As she talks, he kisses her face. She lets him, but her expression shows that she's trying to ignore it. As he kisses her face, he finally goes for the lips. She dodges and let him kiss her cheek. She tries to move away.

He grabs her by the arm, perhaps a bit too roughly, and pulls her close to him. His face hardens a bit, as if to say, "Let's stop fooling around, lady. Why am I up here?" This shouldn't be mean, but now his patience is wearing a bit thin. The Woman looks...not scared, but...a bit startled. They lock eyes. He strokes her hair, his face softens. She smiles. They kiss.

She puts her drink down, he puts down his. They kiss again.

Their kissing becomes more passionate. They paw at each other and after a while move over to the sofa-bed. They first sit on it, kissing and pawing, then lie down on it, him on top of her, as they continue to kiss and grope one another. She puts a sheet over the two of them. They continue to kiss, then the Woman dunks the Man's head down under the covers and in between her legs. He goes down on her (we're guessing, since we can't explicitly see him). The Woman throws her head back, closes her eyes and pantomimes moaning.

Then, a small spot of blood appears on the sheet where his head is. That small spot grows slowly but steadily. The Man's body, which has been moving rhythmically, is now jerking more spastically. The sheets soak up blood.

A lot of blood.

The Man's body thrashes under the covers, as if he's having a seizure. Blood pours through the sheets and onto the floor.

Throughout all of this, the Woman still pantomimes moaning.

After the Man's body seizes, it stops and goes limp. The Woman opens her eyes and catches her breath. She sits up and lifts the covers.

In between her legs, is the bloody stump of the Man's neck, where his head should be. He's been decapitated.

The Woman doesn't look too concerned. She had a hunch this would happen.


© 2006 James Comtois

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Conversation This Weekend Between Myself And Our Set Designer, Lauren DiGiulio, At a Bar in the Lower East Side

LAUREN: You and Pete are like two peas in a pod...

ME: I guess so.

LAUREN: You're like two Noses in a Dive...

ME: Uh...huh.

LAUREN: Like...two Peeps in a Show-

ME: -Okay, Stop It!

Using his free time wisely,

James "Idle Hands" Comtois

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In regards to my previous post, I have to admit that was quite surprised and mildly embarrassed at how much Kira Cochrane's Guardian article (combined with Mike White's op-ed) set me off. Usually I can just read something like that and let it slide, so at first I wasn't 100% why I just couldn't let it go after I had read it. So, my previous post was one of those entries that I simultaneously felt very relieved and very self-conscious that I wrote/posted what I did. Still, I'd like to offer some explanations.

I think it was mainly citing Grindhouse as being endemic of some sort of cultural malaise as well as the line: "In most of these films, both men and women end up being sliced, gored, dismembered, decapitated. In that sense they offer audiences equal-opportunity gore. But it's the violence against women that's most troubling," (emphasis mine) that made me think there was some real intellectual dishonesty going on. Does this mean that having women being victims in horror films At All is unacceptable?

I think it's the Zero Tolerance attitude that annoys me. In other words, are white, heterosexual men the only acceptable victims in these kinds of films? (I'm not against men being cut up in these types of films, but was that what Ms. Cochrane is getting at?)

Also, when the article asked: "Watching Grindhouse, I felt fundamentally depressed: who would seek out this experience as entertainment?" I was mildly offended, because it implied that people who enjoyed the movie are somehow morally/psychologically unhinged/inferior. I'm sorry, Ms. Cochrane (and Mr. White), but who the hell died and left you in charge of what I should and shouldn't enjoy in my entertainment? Watching a film as an adult, I can make qualitative judgments, discern reality from fantasy and good from bad, thank you very much.

Now, having said all of that, I will say I'm very much in agreement that the marketing campaigns for many of these movies are very ugly, cynical and mean-spirited. I haven't seen The Hills Have Eyes 2, Turistas and Captivity, so I can't comment on their content, but I will agree that the marketing campaigns focus on misogynistic imagery.

With most of the modern horror films I've seen (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, the Saw movies, House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects, Wolf Creek), I don't see much misogyny as I do suckiness. (To me, the problem with the shitty remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn't that it's misogynistic, it's that it's made, as Roger Ebert wrote, "by and for those with no attention spans.") The makers of most of these films are under the false impression that nasty imagery is a suitable replacement for tension and suspense.

Actually, the Lil' Sistois talks about this much better than I could.

I'll be writing about some other stuff later this week on different subjects (mostly related to theatre). So, thanks for bearing with me on this, folks.

A total crank,

James "Grampa McCrudden" Comtois

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Friday, May 04, 2007

More on Horror and Violence

As I had previously threatened, I'm going to blather on a bit about ulraviolent horror films because for some reason, Mike White's piece and another piece in the Guardian has set me off in a weird way. Also, I wanted to add to some points I had only briefly touched upon in the "Mike White..." entry. Bear with me.

Why do I like horror movies? I don't know; I just do. They're fun. They exorcise demons. As Stephen King pointed out in his brilliant Danse Macabre, watching horrible things happen to people on celluloid reaffirms your humanity. There's no politically correct sermonizing going on. You go in knowing there's no "message," which can be a bit of a relief/release every now and again.

Or, as Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote in his review of Grindhouse, because, "[t]here is not a minute in this three-hour-plus tribute to all that's unholy in cinema that is good for you."

"Charlie Willis" made an excellent point in my comments section two posts back:

"I'm a little amazed that, over the years, there hasn't been a backlash of artists talking in detail about catharsis. That we use fantasy and imagination to deal with darker impulses in a healthy way. We show it so that people can experience that WITHOUT having to act upon it. It's when there's a deeper malfunction in a person's ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality, or simply have no reference with regards to what's right and wrong, that things start going haywire."

Back in 2000, comic-book author Gerard Jones wrote an excellent article in Mother Jones arguing that bloody videogames, gun-glorifying gangsta rap and other forms of "creative violence" give kids a healthy outlet to control their rage. You can read it here. Having grown up on comic books, horror films, King novels and the TV series V (rated at the time as the most violent television series ever), I know exactly what he's talking about.

Seriously. Read it. Go on, I'll wait.

You back?


Horror films are geared towards kids. They always have been. (What, you thought all the people going to see The Creature From the Black Lagoon and The Wolf Man were middle-aged couples?) I don't think this is good or bad, right or wrong. I got into horror movies when I was a kid. The first official horror movie I saw in the theatre was Gremlins (which I think is an excellent example of making good horror for young people). I was seven years old. Sure, I was scared. But I also had an absolute blast. My mother, it seemed, was much more scared than I was (and I don't think it was because she was worried for me; she could tell I was loving it).

Since then, I ended up seeing a number of horror films at a young age and then got into Stephen King's work, starting with It, at age 12.

I was hooked. Still am, really.

(Side note: when I was very young I was plagued with nightmares on an almost nightly basis. I did notice that when I started watching horror movies and reading horror novels, I stopped getting nightmares. I don't know the exact causality but I figured it was something worth pointing out.)

Now, I don't want anyone reading this thinking I'm advocating taking children to see R-rated horror films (Roger Ebert wrote an essay on seeing Night of the Living Dead, which was released one month before the MPAA came out with its ratings system, and seeing several children in the audience). I'm not even advocating that people who don't like horror movies should "chill out" and have fun with them. That's not what's bothering me about the "are movies too violent" debate.

Here's what bothers me about the self-righteous whining over horror movies/violent films: as a fan, I'm not trying to advocate non-fans into watching them, but non-fans don't extend the same courtesy. I'm not trying to convert anybody. Honest. I absolutely loved Grindhouse, for example. If a movie like Grindhouse isn't your thing, it isn't your thing. I promise, I'm not trying to convince you otherwise. That's fine.

So why do people who don't like these kinds of movies insist that those who do shouldn't, either?

Okay, fuck it. There's another reason why it irritates me on some fundamental level: because arguing against violent horror films is such a safe and easy argument. Complaining about violence and sexism and rolling your eyes theatrically will win you huge brownie points in the politically correct public sphere.

I'm reminded of an old joke Chris Rock made in his stand-up routine, responding to white people who complained vociferously about rap music with: "It's not for you!"

Seriously, do we have to have every aspect of our popular culture and entertainment be given a Politically Correct Seal Of Approval? Really?

Wanting more violence,

James "Vicarious Sociopath" Comtois

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From The Vault: Schlock

I'm working on a new entry on violent horror films as an addendum to "Mike White, Violence in the Media and Personal Responsibility," but I may not finish it before the end of the day. Hell, I may just scrap it. Who knows?

In the meantime, I invite everyone to read (or reread) my entry entitled "Schlock," which was posted on October 31, 2005.

Loving trash,

James "Oscar" Comtois

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Hold Me Closer, Tiny Theater

If anyone is free tonight or tomorrow and have a hankering for some fun, experimental theatre, you may want to head over to the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator for the Tiny Theater Festival as I did last night. (It's also playing at the Brick until May 12).

The Tiny Theater Festival features six short experimental-in-narrative plays. One of the standouts includes "bullet hole road," an excerpt of a longer piece by Temporary distortion called Welcome to Nowhere (bullet hole road) about a road trip/series of road trips (of sorts).

This is from the company's Web site:

"Welcome to Nowhere (bullet hole road) is Temporary distortion's investigation of the American Road Movie. At the core, most road movies fall into one of two distinct categories: the Quest road movie or the Outlaw road movie. In Welcome to Nowhere we weave together these two narrative trajectories to form a crossroads - a dynamic narrative landscape where the road stories of multiple characters continually shift on an uncertain terrain."

I'm very curious to see the whole piece, since the 10-minute excerpt was fascinating. To me, this is a very good example of experimental theatre done right: there's no linear story to follow per se, but at no point while watching it was I lost, bored or confused. It's an incredibly hypnotic and engaging experience.

Another piece that makes the evening worth checking out is "Theme & Variations" by Steven Gridley and Spring Theatreworks (whose Post Oedipus made my "Top Ten" list for 2004), a truly funny and bizarre piece about family mealtime, The Honeymooners and how one can never have too much salt on a nicely-cooked fish.

Steve Gridley (who co-directed this piece along with recurring collaborator Jacob Titus) has a knack for creating plays that resonate in the brain and imagination long after the curtain call. There's stuff in "Theme & Variations" that is still making me giggle as I write this.

It also features Mr. Gridley who, based on this performance, should consider acting more often.

And there's also "Li'L Care Bear 'Crash'" by Cherry Red Productions, a reenactment of the Oscar-winning movie, Crash, done with Care Bears. I'm not kidding.

So, before we get inundated with the big festivals of the summer, you may want to check out the plays going on at the Tiny Theater Festival.

The Ontological-Hysteric is at St. Mark's Church on 131 East 10th street and 2nd Ave. You've got two more chances to check out these plays. Tickets are available here.


James "Ontological" Comtois

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mike White, Violence in the Media and Personal Responsibility

Isaac Butler pointed out an interesting op-ed piece by screenwriter/actor Mike White (who wrote and acted in the films Chuck & Buck, Orange County, The Good Girl and School of Rock) about considering violent films in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. I'm actually in agreement with Mac that it's a terrible piece, mainly because it's simultaneously self-righteous and evasive (full disclosure: I am a fan of Mr. White's work), simply arguing "We Have A Problem" without coming even close to addressing what the problem is or what steps should be taken to fix it.

Now, I don't want to seem flippant about this "violence in the media" debate, as much as it annoys me (since it is so much in the Far Too Little, Far Too Late Department). I have pretty strong thoughts and feelings about the subject, being both a writer and as a fan of movies/television shows/books that feature violence (sometimes very graphic violence - I am a dyed-in-the-wool fan of horror films and Stephen King novels). I've also been very reluctant to comment on the Virginia Tech shootings, since even I find having a playwright from New York (read: some schmuck) offer his two cents to this tragedy to be in poor taste. Still, it's something that is going to be discussed no matter what and it is something worth discussing.

(I'm also not much of a, "Blame The Culture" kind of guy. I'm much more of a, "Blame The Mass Murderer" person.)

Should artists be responsible for their work? Absolutely. But just writing that doesn't really mean anything, so I'll use my own work and myself as examples.

My play The Adventures of Nervous-Boy features an act of horrific violence in its climax. Pete and I tried to make it as clear as possible that this act of violence is not a good thing (in other words, the character making the violent actions has Made A Bad Choice). I very much hope - and we tried to make this as clear as possible - that I am not condoning this behavior.


What if (say) someone in the city was recently arrested for murdering a streetwalker and, upon being cuffed and put into the police car, yelled out to passersby or reporters, "I AM NERVOUS-BOY!" (and later admitted in a statement that he was referencing my play and that the outburst wasn't some sort of unnerving coincidence), how would I feel about this? Would I feel responsible?

Yes and no.

I mean, on a very personal level, I obviously would. Honestly, I'd probably lock myself in my room for days and consider never writing another sentence ever again. I'm not joking or being hyperbolic. The guilt I'd feel would be damn near crippling.

Having confessed that, if I were to retain or regain any of my rational objective faculties, I would realize I have no legal responsibility (any more than John Woo has for making The Killer or Stephen King for writing The Shining after someone killed a person and wrote "REDRUM" in the room). Wondering if a violent psychopath I don't know will get a hold of my work and that he'll be inspired to behave violently and that he'll actually act on that inspiration is no way to live and no way to work. (In other words, I won't be wondering every minute of my life if I'll spontaneously combust.)

The fact remains that it was the act of a violent psychopath.

What is my responsibility for giving a violent psychopath inspirational fodder for his means of his violent psychosis? How responsible is an artist for the actions of violent psychopaths?

What irritates me with Mr. White's column and the attitude he expresses is that he admits that he grew up watching trashy horror movies for cheap thrills, but doesn't cite any specific examples as to how this corrupted...

(And corrupted is the operative word. We're not talking about being influenced. We're talking about being corrupted. We need to acknowledge that it's not a "fine line" or a "slippery slope" or anything like that. There's a huge - HUGE - difference between talking and dressing like Han Solo or roughhousing in a friend's backyard and murdering people.)

...him or his peers.

I'll put it another way. What if a statistic came out revealing that 99% of all NAMBLA members owned a copy of Star Wars? (I just made that up; I have no idea if that's true or not.) What would this say about our culture? What would this say about the correlation to child molesters and popular culture? What would this tell us about George Lucas and his responsibility? Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Should artists take responsibility for their work? Absolutely. Most worth their weight in salt already do. And again, I think this is a subject worth discussing. But self-righteous posturing gets us nowhere and talking about the influence of media doesn't really get to the root of things. It's not about influence. It's about corruption.

Perhaps in a bit I'll go into my thoughts and feelings on horror films, but that, as the kids say, is another topic for another time.

Still feeling uneasy about commenting on even
super-peripheral subjects near the VT tragedy,

James "Let's Keep To The Subject of Art As Close As Possible Here" Comtois

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Living Dead in Denmark Gets Resurrected

This is pretty sweet.

For a limited four-performance engagement, Vampire Cowboys resurrects its critically-acclaimed award-winning production of Living Dead in Denmark for the first National Asian American Theatre Festival. The show's original run last season garnered 5 New York Innovative Theatre Award nominations including Best Production and winner of the Best Choreography/Movement category (not to mention made it to Yours Truly's Top Ten List for 2006).

For tickets go here.

Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company presents Living Dead in Denmark June 12th through 15th at The Clurman @ Theater Row (410 W. 42nd Street).

Living Dead in Denmark is an action-adventure/horror sequel to William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Set five years after the events of the original, the play follows the story of a newly resurrected Ophelia, Juliet and Lady Macbeth and their quest to save Denmark from an army of the undead. Includes the award winning fight choreography of Marius Hanford and zombie masks/gore effects by the legendary Chuck Varga (The Sexecutioner) of GWAR.

Featuring: Carlo Alban, Alexis Black, Jason Liebman, Maggie Macdonald, Tom Myers, Melissa Paladino, Jason Schumacher, Andrea Marie Smith, Temar Underwood & Amy Kim Waschke

Written by Qui Nguyen, Directed by Robert Ross Parker

Fight director: Marius Hanford

Set and lighting designer: Nick Francone

Costume designer: Jessica Wegener

Zombie masks and gore effects: Chuck Varga

Puppet design: David Valentine

Graphic media: Nathan Lemoine

For more information, go here.

Ready to fight,

James "Zombie-Killer" Comtois

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