Monday, August 31, 2009

A Year Later: Still No Meetings

The day before my first anniversary of calling it a day with drinking, I came across this wonderful essay from Roger Ebert. Since I hadn't read this article from a few years back, I really had no idea. However, hindsight makes it clear that he's always had a great deal of insight to alcoholism with reviews and essays such as these.

On August 29, 2008, I decided to stop drinking for 30 days. I haven't had a drink since. I don't plan to have one today or tomorrow.

I don't go to meetings. I have nothing against them, but I've never felt the need to go. Seriously, no commentary on A.A. should be inferred here. The temptation to go back to drinking isn't there, and hasn't been there for a year and counting. If and when temptation hits me (and honestly, I don't really expect it to), I'll attend meetings. But for now, they haven't, so I don't.

Those of you expecting a commentary on A.A. will be disappointed. I have no experience with the group, and therefore have no insight. Also, those expecting "The Story of James' Problem With Drinking and Road to Recovery" will also be disappointed. I won't be giving you the specific details of my last few months of drinking or offering my reasons for why I decided needed to stop.

I'll give the vague details, many of which all of you no doubt have heard millions of times before: that I would become belligerent and hostile (first verbally and then, eventually, physically), that I would get angry and hurt messages from friends the morning after as a result of my behavior, that I was always the last man standing at the bar, that I would start to get paranoid that the alcohol would be gone abruptly (so I'd "top off" many of my drinks multiple times, getting to the point that my "mixed" drinks would just be straight booze), that I would often sneak away from the rest of my drinking buddies to find another bar so I could continue drinking alone (although the folks in Nosedive didn't know this, many suspected).

Mainly, I'll offer a shorthand summary of my first year without drinking and a handful of reasons why I don't go to meetings.

My main problem has never been that I crave a drink (in the way I crave a cigarette). My main problem has been that once I start drinking, I can't stop. A year later, that hasn't changed. There have been a handful of small bursts of longing, but they're just that: small bursts. A 30 second longing for hitting a bar, then it's gone. Plus, they're very far and very few between (I think I've had about five of those in the past 12 months).

During the first few months of sobriety, I would always worry about challenges down the road. In early-to-mid December, I'd wonder, "How am I going to get through Christmas without drinking?" In mid-to-late December, I'd wonder, "How am I going to get through New Year's?" In late-February, I'd wonder, "How am I going to get through my birthday?"

But the present was never a problem, even when one of those feared holidays became the present. Thus, once the holiday came around, it wouldn't occur to me to drink that day, and I'd realize I had worried needlessly. Despite my theoretical worries on December 15, Christmas was fine (I should also point out that, even while worrying about how/if I was going to get through Christmas without a drink on December 15, it wasn't even occurring to me to drink on December 15). It took me a few months to figure this out. Once I did, I haven't been worrying about how to get through holidays, birthdays or cast parties.

Basically, I haven't needed external verbal reminders (read: the "drunkalogues" that Ebert talks about) of why I shouldn't drink. Hell, I get many external reminders all the time (going to bars, which yes, I still do, often serves as a great "booster shot"). This isn't bragging: this is just how my mind works (see the above paragraph). I like going to bars with friends. It doesn't feel weird to only order pineapple juice. I like knowing that the bulk of my paycheck won't be wiped out that night. I like that I don't have to worry about the evening turning nasty (from my end, anyways).

Was it a problem getting support from the folks in Nosedive Central? Of course not. I told them that I was stopping drinking for the next 30 days, but would probably be putting drinking on indefinite hiatus. They knew I was serious, and that I'd stick with it (they've known me a while). They were there for me. Plus, I'm sure they felt more than a little relieved that a.) there wasn't going to be a Jimmy to have to clean up at the end of the party and b.) they wouldn't have to stage an intervention. And finally, if there was a problem, then that meant they obviously weren't — and hadn't been — my friends.

They were relieved that they didn't have to worry about me anymore: worry if I was going to be belligerent, worry if I was going to unleash my typical brand of verbal venom, worry if I was going to get home in one piece.

Honestly, I was incredibly hesitant to write something like this. Not that I'm reluctant to admit to readers that I've stopped drinking, since it isn't a secret. I've already mentioned my abstaining of alcohol on this site before, and virtually everyone who interacts with me personally knows this. It's not news. No. My hesitance comes from not wanting to "jinx" my sobriety. So far, giving myself the constant out (I had agreed to try sobriety for 30 days a year ago) is, in a way, one of the things that make refraining from drinking no big deal for me.

Will I ever go back to it? Probably not. But being able offer the answer of, "Perhaps, someday," to others and myself makes getting through the day, week, month and year effortless. Perhaps I just worry that saying "I'll never drink again" will bring all the imps, demons and fates running into my world and use all their powers to trip me up.

(My father actually used a similar method for quitting smoking: when he quit, he told himself — and others — that he'd go back to quitting when he turns 70.)

In reality, the notion of being afraid that admitting to my alcoholism (which I have) will cause me to resume drinking is silly. For the most part, it has been effortless. There were vague pangs of doubt and anxiety, but they've always been theoretical and for options of drinking in the future. In the present, I never feel compelled to have a drink. I don't miss drinking. I don't miss waking up hung over, wondering where all my money went, and worrying about which bridge I may have burned the night before. I'd like to continue not drinking.

However, the hesitation to go public with this persists. Just as Ebert explains: "people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse. Case studies: those pathetic celebrities who check into rehab and hold a press conference." Well put.

Still, I think I'll be okay. If that changes, I'll start attending meetings.

We'll discuss prospects of my quitting smoking at a later date.

Able to start anytime,

James "Day At A Time" Comtois


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Rough of The Little One

Well, I've finished it. The rough draft of The Little One, my vampire play, is done.

That's the good news.

The less-than-stellar news (for me, anyways) is that in my estimation, it needs a lot of work.

A Lot. Of work.

It will require several revisions before we even get to preproduction. However, for all intents and purposes, the core story is there and the first draft is complete.

I'm looking forward to getting dreading going to seek feedback from the folks at Nosedive Central and spending the next few months figuring out how to shape and polish it. Fortunately, I've given myself as much lead-time as possible before we need to start getting it on its feet as an honest-to-gorsh production so I can work and rework and polish and re-polish it to the point where I'm comfortable.

Yeah, I wanna nail this one because, let's face it: when your main characters are vampires, there's gonna be some pretension and corniness in your dialogue and story. That's pretty much unavoidable. However, I'd like to mitigate and weed out as much pretension and corniness as humanly possible before presenting it to paying audience members. Hell, I'd like to weed out as much in the next couple days, weeks and months before showing the script to friends and family members outside the inner circle.

Now let the revision process begin.

Well, first, onto writing episode three of Entrenched for the Saturday Night Saloon. But then: revising The Little One!

Looking forward to a different kind of fun,

James "Masochist" Comtois

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009


In non-theatre news, as I had noticed that Senator Ted Kennedy had passed, Pete sent me this article this morning.

Taz was the bouncer for the Raven, Nosedive’s bar of choice until a fire gutted it in 2006. He was shot while trying to break up a fight, and died at Bellevue Hospital shortly thereafter.

Although I hadn’t seen him in several years, there was one chunk in my life where I saw him 4-6 times a week.

It was a shock, to put it mildly, to discover his passing.

My condolences to all of his friends and family members. My thoughts are with you.

James Comtois


Quick Blood Brothers Update

I know October is a ways away (well, not really, actually), but I figured I'd give a quick update on this year's Blood Brothers horror anthology show. The scripts are in for The Blood Brothers Present...The New Guignol, and the directors are reading them to assess who's directing what. I'm looking forward to seeing who gets what script.

Once that's all settled, I should be confident in unveiling the lineup.

Okay, back to work on the vampire script (that has nothing to do with the Blood Brothers show). Hmmmm...should I be worried about being typecast as the guy who just writes horror?


The guy writes plays about people
being harassed by pizza-boxes,

James "That Fuckin Guy" Comtois

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The New Script

Okay, now having written 40 pages (about two-thirds) of the new script, tentatively entitled The Little One, with the remaining scenes mapped out, I can divulge the premise.

Yes. It's a vampire story.

This is a story I've had the germ of the idea for for a little over a year now, but because of the glut of vampire-mania in pop culture right now (True Blood, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Thirst and The Last Vampire, to name a few), I decided to shelf the premise until the craze winded down.

Alas, ideas don't often work that way.

I ended up thinking of way too many detailed scenes. I'd try to push them away or temporarily table them, but no dice. They kept coming. And wouldn’t go away.

So, I've gone from, "Fine, I'll just write these down so I can table them," to, "Well, shit. Looks like this is what I’m working on," to, "Holy crap I can't wait to show this to the gang!"

We’ll see if having Nosedive stage a vampire play next year will seem like riding some sort of trend or not. Honestly, at this point, I can’t really worry about that. But for now, I'm having fun writing this...

("Really, James? You’re having fun writing a play about chick vampires?” Yeah, yeah, stop the fucking presses, I know.)

...and am hoping to have a readable draft in the next week or two. We’ll see how it goes.

This is definitely the fun part of the process, when the story is fresh and new and the "second act problems" aren't yet around to burden your mind and when rewrites aren't yet necessary. It's the part of the process when you're telling yourself the story and having fun discovering it.

It's the part of the play creation when it's still fun. And this shit is supposed to be fun, dammit.

I guess I should milk that for as long as possible, since I'm sure I've got some major second act problems awaiting me a couple months down the road.

A carefree idiot writing
about lady vampires,

James "Life Is Good" Comtois

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Huzzah! (Sort Of.)

Well, yes. I've actually started writing Nosedive's 2010 mainstage show. Spent the bulk of the weekend working on it, in fact.

I had about three or four vague ideas in embryonic form, but I wanted to put one of them on hold for the time being for various (uninteresting) reasons. But of course, that idea I decided to put on hold is the one I kept having ideas for specific scenes for. Go figure.

We'll see if my reasons for originally wanting to temporarily shelf it (which, again, I won't yet divulge) won't end up making this a bad decision later on down the road (read: production next year). In fact, I suspect once we get into preproduction on this, there will be a great number of blog entries addressing my concerns.

Will it be any good? Who the hell knows? I won't can't worry about that for now. We shall see. As always, we shall see.

Anyway, the working title is The Little One, and the two lead roles will be for women. And that's about as much as I'm ready to divulge on it right now.

Already having said too much,

James "Cryptic Chatty Kathy" Comtois

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Friday, August 21, 2009

First Assessment of Inglourious Basterds With as Few Spoilers as Possible

I really don't want to give anything away from Quentin Tarantino's latest, the World War II western revenge film Inglourious Basterds, even though there are plenty of places on the Interweb where you can find plenty of spoilers (if you haven't found them already). I may write a longer entry on it later (after I no doubt see it a second time in the theatre) chock-full-o-spoilers, but for now I'll just say I loved it. It's Pure Tarantino, so if you love his stuff, it's for you. If you find his work annoying, self-indulgent, excessively talky, too violent, too referential, too whatever, then you won't enjoy this.

The pseudo-controversy surrounding this film is utter crap (especially since the most vocal of it comes from people who, big surprise, haven't yet seen it). But that's a long multi-page rant for another day. Suffice it to say that I wonder if those in a huff about cartoon (albeit extreme) violence towards cartoonish Nazis are also in a tizzy over Raiders of the Lost Arc and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (and, if not, is it just because Spielberg is a Jewish filmmaker, and because of that he gets a [begrudgingly reluctant] free pass, while they quietly grumble)? Besides, there are tons of self-important, somber, Oscar-desperate World War II films out there to enjoy.

(I will say, however, if you're someone who simply believes flat-out that movies shouldn't be made on the subject, in any tone, although I don't agree with that stance, I at least think that's fair.)

Enough on that.

Like Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds wears its influences on its sleeve and serves as a mashup of several genres and styles and offers numerous other cinematic references. But unlike Kill Bill, they're more subtle and seamless. (Which isn't to knock Kill Bill: the stark tonal and stylistic shifts were deliberate there.)

And that opening sequence on the dairy farm? Masterful filmmaking. Tarantino shows off his strengths as a filmmaker right out of the gate in this scene. Again, I may natter on about it in more detail later, but for now, I'll be as spoiler-free as possible. However, I find Tarantino's dialogue here (as I often do) utterly absorbing and hypnotic.

I will admit there was one sequence that I found went on a little too long (in a basement bar for Nazis). But only a little. It's still a pretty kick-ass sequence.

In fact, the whole film really consists of five set piece filled with lots (and I mean lots) of talking (most of it in German or French and subtitled) and bursts of extreme violence.

The acting in this is good, particularly from Chrostopher Waltz as the villain, SS Colonel Hans Landa (a.k.a. "The Jew Hunter"). He's an excellent villain, creepy, brilliant and very charming.

Even though Mike Meyers' presence in this film is a bit weird, the scene he's in had me laughing hysterically throughout.

I think this is his best film since Pulp Fiction. But I think I have to see it one more time in the theatre to solidify that assessment. And, like I said before, I believe I shall.

Killin Gnatsees,

James "Aldo Ray" Comtois


Thursday, August 20, 2009

And I’d Just Like To Say...

...I am super-pumped to be seeing Ingourious Basterds tonight. Considering the reviews, positive and negative, all seem to agree that it’s "Pure Tarantino," I am sold.

Note to folks who aren’t Tarantino fans and want to voice said opinion in the comments section: I don’t wanna hear it. You don’t like him? Good for you. You don’t have to come with me tonight. Maybe later we can start a discussion on the pros and cons of his work, but right now? I’m not interested in your dismay.

Giddy as only a nerd can be,

James "Geekwad" Comtois

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mid-Week Check-In

Well, with all the Chicago-gallivanting, New York Theatre Scene ass-grabbing, Fringe-going and decade anniversary-enjoying going on in the past few days, I’ve been able to post some entries of moderate substance and interest on this blog. And by "substance and interest," I mean, "pure silliness."

Hey, "substance" is a relative term here at Jamespeak and Nosedive Central.

Now, I'm in the quiet of the storm, before I see my next Fringe show (Willy Nilly) and a couple of the shows at Ian W. Hill’s festival at the Brick.

In the meantime, I'm working on various writing projects, such as finishing the slasher screenplay that Kid Sister Comtois is planning to shoot over Labor Day weekend for the upcoming Sinister Six series, episode three of Entrenched for the Saturday Night Saloon, and of course, Nosedive’s Spring 2010 show.

Oh, yeah. That.

Once I resume my play-going and show-making, I'll also resume the longer-winded posts of "substance." Yes, I enjoy putting that word in quotes. Because I’m mature.

All about style,

James "Fashion Maven" Comtois


Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Obviously, because of my close personal ties with most of the people involved in this show, including my own sister, this is not a formal review. There's no way I can be fully objective. Still, I wanted to give some thoughts on this show, which I saw Sunday night.

The Internet has opened up a whole new array of personality disorders and fetishes. And I don't just mean that it's opened the door for mental disorders and fetishes. I mean that it's helped create them.

Gideon Productions' latest, Viral, written by Mac Rogers and directed by Jordana Williams, deals with characters that use the Internet to feed a peculiar and literally morbid fetish. Are there really people like this? Considering there's a website out there dedicated to a man who gets turned on by the sound of people brushing their teeth, I'm almost certain.

Viral focuses on a small group of people who get sexually aroused by watching people die of natural, nonviolent causes on video. After trying to lure someone on the Internet via a carefully worded website, this group finds a woman who is suicidal. They invite her to their home. They ask if they can videotape her committing suicide, then distribute the video online.

I wonder if the characters in Viral would have such a fetish if the Internet didn't exist. I mean, perhaps. But even if they did, how could they ever know that they got off on such stuff if they never had access to streaming video technology? Not only that, how would they ever be able to satisfy or cultivate such a fixation?

My suspicion is that they wouldn't. Even if they had such obsessions, the Internet has defined and cultivated them, and gives the characters comfort in the idea that there are other people out there "like them." They even refer to themselves on more than one occasion as a community.

But Viral isn't interested in being a treatise against the evils of the World Wide Web. It's interested in dealing with a very small, unique set of characters that happen to use the premise of the Internet to justify and enable a horrid mutual addiction.

Everyone in the cast, which includes Kid Sister Rebecca Comtois (who got props from folks after the performance I saw, saying they no longer see her as just "my kid sister"), Adventure Quest star The Kent Meister, Jonathan Pereira, Rattlers vet Amy Lynn Stewart and Infectious Opportunity vet Matthew Trumbull, is amazing. No one is afraid of portraying him or herself as weak or disgusting (since every character is, in his or her own unique way).

Plus, no one is a complete ghoul. Even a potential producer/presenter of the proposed film isn't so much a stereotypical sleaze (although he is sleazy) as he is a pragmatic businessman trying to explain to amateurs the reality of the market they're trying to enter. His argument is actually hard to counter.

I think what I find so amazing about Viral is that it's such a unique story for a premise that is very entrenched in our modern culture. Which is a very fancy and pretentious way of saying I find it amazing that no one's thought to write a play like this.

Okay, that's a bit disingenuous. I absolutely know why no one's decided to tackle this story and subject matter. It's very dark, and very disturbing, and not in a fun, "edgy New York theatre" way. Although it's certainly funny (and perhaps, judging from audience responses so far, funnier than the creators had expected), and even being billed in some circles as a dark comedy, it is most definitely not a comedy, dark or otherwise. It's a show that would be either a garish carnie geek show or a glib, tasteless and unfunny comedy in hands of less skilled, less experienced and less emotionally mature theatre-makers.

As it happens, Gideon & Co. manage to walk the razor-thin line of comedy and tragedy with this material, acknowledging the absurdity of its characters without mocking them, dealing with the horrific nature of its theme without being heavy-handed and maudlin.

Viral is a very good, very disturbing play about a subject matter that many may find amusing at first, but will get over such amusement as the play winds down to its nerve-wracking climax. Even though I've only seen 2% of its output this year, I'm pretty sure it'll be one of the highlights of the 2009 Fringe Festival.

Viral is playing at the SoHo Playhouse on 15 Vandam Street as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. For tickets go here.

Still looking for soft core material on YouTube,

James "Polite Reprobate" Comtois

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Ten Years

Well, today marks a milestone.

What? No, not this guy's birthday, you fools! Though yes, that is today.

Today marks my 10-year anniversary of moving to New York.

That's right. Tuesday, August 17, 1999, I moved to New York. My first apartment (of sorts) was on East 6th between Avenues A and B. It was a friend of a friend's vacated and barely-furnished apartment where Ben VandenBoom, Matt Wexler and I stayed/semi-squatted for two weeks rent free before I moved to my first proper address on East 14th between First and Second Avenues.

At the East 6th apartment, we had one of those portable faux couches in the living room (really just an oversized couch-shaped cushion) and slept on inflatable mattresses in tiny windowless lofts. We didn't have cell phones at the time (oddly enough, pagers were still in when I moved to the city) and the landline was disconnected about halfway through our stay. This was actually fine. We didn't have any real obligations to anyone (we weren't paying rent in the semi-empty apartment) and had enough working payphones in the area if we needed to get in touch with someone.

I find it odd to consider that I'd often use the Twin Towers and Empire State Building as my compass points to find my way back home after nights of heavy drinking. ("Ssssooookay...I'mmmon...Ninth. Need to go to...Ssssssssixth. That's...[Counts on fingers.]...downtown. Thosearethetwintowers. Those are...downtown. Sssssssso I needtogo... [Pointing in the direction of the World Trade Center.] thisssway...togethome.")

And the fun aspect for an aspiring playwright moving to New York was that I had landed right when the Fringe Festival had started. Bear in mind this was when most of it took place in the East Village rather than the West Village now. Plus, this was waaaaay before I had any time to be hip, cynical and jaded about the festival. So at the time, it was nice to be coming to a city where a ton of low budget, indie theatre shows were taking place all around the neighborhood I was staying in.

I can't remember when Ben and I first met up with Pete in the city (he had moved to New York a week or so before me). It may have been the first week, but I actually can't be too sure. It was definitely before I moved to 14th Street. It was at a pool hall/bar in the Lower East Side. We talked about still being interested in theatre, but how both of us lost interest in acting.

The Fringe at least gave me (and perhaps Pete, but you'd really have to check with him) the feeling that it was very possible to put on plays in New York quickly and cheaply. Is that true? That's a huge debate that will never end (and one I don't want to get into at the moment). Regardless, it was that feeling (however naïve) that allowed Nosedive Productions to start existing a few months later.

And I won't get into the formation of Nosedive. Seriously. I've told that story enough. You all know it.

It's kind of overwhelming to contemplate the number of events I've participated in and/or observed in the past 10 years here in the city, major and minor, citywide and personal, from forming my own theatre company in 1999/2000 to September 11 to the blackout in 2004 to the too-many-to-count plays I've staged to the seriously-good-lord-too-many-to-count plays I've seen to witnessing my favorite bar (The Raven) get gutted by a fire to the people I've formed very close ties with.

In a way, it feels both like I just moved here, and have been here all my life.

And it's still amazing to consider that, in the 10 years I've lived here, I've still never been to the Bronx Zoo, MoMa, the Whitney, gone to the top of the Empire State Building, or seen a Yankees or Mets game.

Hey, maybe that's what I can do during my next 10 years.

Anyway, yeah. I've been a New Yorker for 10 years as of today.

And, seriously, Adam. Happy birthday.

Officially a New Yorker,

James "Native Curmudgeon" Comtois

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hot Air Buffoons Review for

My review of Hot Air Buffoons is now up on

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Hot Air Buffoons, presented by The Polite Society, is a mildly formless hour of highly energetic, sporadically funny sketch comedy that employs the esoteric transitions of Monty Python's Flying Circus and Mr. Show and... [keep reading]

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The Most Mediocre Story Never Told! Review for

My review of The Most Mediocre Story Never Told! is now up on

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There is definitely a formula for one-person autobiographical shows. They often have the writer-performer telling his or her life story in an amusing yet poignant way, playing out... [keep reading]

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Friday, August 14, 2009

What? Oh, Right. The Fringe.

Okay. To quote Nathan Rabin, "But enough foolishness. On to more foolishness."

In all the talk about my Chicago trip, I’ve completely been blindsided by the fact that the New York International Fringe Festival has now descended upon our fair city like the Fat Man and Little Boy.

I figure, being a New York theatre blogger and playwright, I should at least mention the monstrosity big annual event.

Thought this may change, I think my Fringe-going may be a bit light this year. It’s likely I’ll only be seeing four of the 201 shows playing in the festival this year: these two tomorrow (to review for Martin), then these two as soon as possible.

Wait. That's not light at all. By my calculations, I saw only four shows last year, too. So I'm par for the course.

So happy Fringing, everyone. And have a good weekend, folks. I’m off like a prom dress.

Getting taken advantage of
by the homecoming king,

James "Drunken Slut" Comtois

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In The Doghouse With The Missus

PLAYWRIGHT enters his apartment, late. In the living room, NEW YORK THEATRE SCENE waits for him in the dark.

PLAYWRIGHT: (Turns on the light, starts when he sees NYTS.) Oh. Hi. What were you doing sitting here in the dark?


PLAYWRIGHT: Uh...I was...I told you. I was out.

NYTS: You were with...her...weren't you?

PLAYWRIGHT: Baby, I was—

NYST: —Don't "baby" me, you prick! I can smell her perfume on her!

PLAYWRIGHT: Come on, don't be like that. I mean...yes, Chicago Theatre Scene and I had dinner and danced a bit. That was all.

NYST: Did you kiss?

PLAYWRIGHT: (Pause.) No.

NYST: You sure?

PLAYWRIGHT: (Pause.) A little.

NYST: (!!!)

PLAYWRIGHT: She kissed me. There was no tongue. It was just a polite goodnight peck, that's all!

NYST: Really?

PLAYWRIGHT: (Pause.) There was a little bit of tongue.

NYST: (Almost faints.) I KNEW IT!

PLAYWRIGHT: But come on wait wait wait, sweetie—

NYST: —You're in love with her, aren't you?


NYST: You can't stop talking about her...

PLAYWRIGHT: Look, New York Theatre Scene, it's just...

NYST: And I found your love letter to her. Sitting on your blog, for everyone to read, no less!

PLAYWRIGHT: That's just...hey. You and I, we've been together for nearly 10 years. I met Chicago Theatre Scene and we hit it off. It's's nice to flirt and be flirted with, you know? It's been a while. (Pause.) Maybe I got a little carried away.

NYST: ...

PLAYWRIGHT: I even said yourself if I wanted to see other Theatre Scenes, I could. Hell, you're still seeing a ton of other Playwrights.

NYST: You don't love me anymore.

PLAYWRIGHT: Oh, come on. Don't be like that. Seriously. We're about to have another child together. Would I seriously leave you just before you're due?

NYST: (Starts sniffling.) You think I'm fat now, don't you?

PLAYWRIGHT: Oh, no, sweetie, come on. You're beautiful.

NYST: I'm a whale...

PLAYWRIGHT: Oh, no, you're adorable. You know that, right?

NYST: (Snff.) ...yeah...

PLAYWRIGHT: And you know I love you. Right?

NYST: (Snff.) I know...

PLAYWRIGHT: Of course, you big silly. CST means nothing to me. Now c'mere.

NYST: you, too...

Playwright hugs his life partner of nearly 10 years. Tries to push New York Theatre Scene's head down lower, but is denied. Fine, fine. He knows he shouldn't press his luck.

Still wanting to go dancing with you again, Chicago,

James "Call Me" Comtois

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Outsider Looking In On Chicago Theatre

UPDATE: Jamie DesRocher has recently written an excellent entry on her blog about working in the Chicago theatre scene that you should check out here. It gets into a lot of what a couple people in the comments section here have touched upon.

As previously threatened, I wanted to offer my scattershot first impressions of what I noticed about the theatre scene in Chicago.

Now I need to make a few things very, very clear. First off, here's what I really know about the Chicago theatre-scene: fuck all. I spent four days there, saw a grand total of three plays, and talked to a little over a dozen people in the theatre scene there. These are simply first impressions* from a guy who was there for a very short period of time, saw a very small number of shows and spoke very briefly to a very small number of people.

So, for all the Chicago theatre-makers reading this, if I grossly - or even slightly - misrepresent the scene in this entry...

(Which I absolutely will be. When you're writing in broad generalizations, even on a subject on which you're an expert, there will be some distorting of facts and figures. When you're doing as I'm doing, which is writing on a subject on which I'm a complete novice, there will be some major botching of facts and figures.)

...feel free to correct me and/or expand on what I'm blathering about here. Just bear in mind that you're correcting someone who freely admits he doesn't know what he's talking about, so try not to be a dick about it.

My immediate impression was, like I wrote earlier, Chicago seems to be the land of milk and fucking honey for DIY indie theatre. Rent for space is significantly cheaper in Chicago than it is in New York. I won't divulge numbers, but a few were given my way by some folks there, and holy balls, producing theatre in Chicago can be done very, very cheaply.

I could be wrong, but I got the impression that it's less expensive and much faster and easier to put on plays in Chicago than New York (not that Nosedive has had any problems in this regard, but then again, we've been around for [Good Lord] nearly 10 years).

I also got a very garage-bandy vibe from the folks I talked to in the Windy City. The idea of turning this into a day job is not a priority. It's about putting on a show, not necessarily about creating a career. (This in particular is pure speculation on my part; career-minded Chicago theatre-makers are welcome to correct me on this.)

Frankly, I found this element of the scene to be the most refreshing and exciting. That feeling of wanting the show to provide a major source of income, expand or move on (to Off-Broadway for many, Broadway for some) pervades the entire New York scene, even if you don't have any of those ambitions. I didn't get that talking to folks in Chicago.

The shoptalk didn't revolve around getting an "in" with a major Equity house. It was about having ideas, and finding ways to put those ideas on the stage in front of an audience.

This may also have to do with the fact that there seems to be a clear delineation between Equity and non-Equity theatres in the Windy City.

Which isn't to say that it's all garage band, DIY-style. I saw a show in a big Off-Broadway style theatre (the Goodman) with a clearly large budget. But here's the thing: the tickets were only $18. And hell, Bob Fisher (someone entrenched in the DIY camp) clearly knew the director of the show at the Goodman quite well (okay, so much for that "clear delineation").

Also, the Chicago theatre community seems much smaller and closer-knit than the one in New York. Although it's not a case where everyone knows everyone else on the scene, it's pretty close. There seemed to be only two degrees of separation (tops) from other companies or people.

Chicago also has the same potential for getting audiences for theatre as New York (and despite some recent complaints scattered throughout the NYC scene, I think the audience for NYC theatre is doing just fine: of the nearly 50 plays I've seen so far this year, almost all of them enjoyed full to sold-out houses when I was in attendance). And hey, maybe I wasn't there long enough to hear them, but I also found it refreshing to not hear anyone complaining about not being able to get audiences, so that was pretty cool.

And yeah, this is one last thing that I could be very wrong about (and this could be due to only being there a short while, as opposed to New York, where I've lived for 10 years), but the fear and self-loathing talk among the theatre-makers I met was practically nonexistent (whereas it can get pretty pandemic in New York). Again, these conversations may be going on a lot in Chicago, and the folks I met preferred to put on their game face around me.

Anyway, those were some things I noticed off the top of my head while I was there.

In short, I dug what I saw of the scene.

And really, the above caveat aside, any Chicago theatre-makers reading this feel free to chime in with your thoughts, experiences, divergences and enhancements from my (myopic) assessment.

Buying tons of novelty junk at the O'Hare gift shop,

James "Fascinated Tourist" Comtois

*Although I did see a play when I first - and last - visited Chicago, that was nine years ago and just one play, so I think it's safe to say that my experience this weekend represents my first impressions of the Chicago theatre scene.

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OWP Titles Available at the Drama Book Shop

Oops. Spoke far too soon (hence today's post being immediately deleted). Original Works Publishing is planning on putting my play, Suburban Peepshow, on the shelves of the Drama Book Shop at some point in the future.

In the meantime, as a test run, there are nine, count 'em, nine, plays by OWP that are available at the fine shop on West 40th Street, including a couple from my good friend, Johnna Adams and colleagues Ken Urban and Bekah Brunstetter.

They are:

By Ella Hickson

By Johnna Adams

Sans Merci
By Johnna Adams

Militant Language
By Sean Christopher Lewis

Poona the Fuckdog
By Jeff Goode

Private Lives of Eskimos
By Ken Urban

By Justin Warner

Terminus Americana
By Matt Pelfrey

You May Go Now
By Bekah Brunstetter

So if you like buying things but hate buying them online, those in the New York area are in luck, because now you can purchase these fine shows in person at the Drama Book Shop.

Supporting his local merchants,

James "Stinky Derelict" Comtois


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Scattershot Thoughts On Gorilla Tango's The Adventures of Nervous-Boy

Well, let's get this out of the way first: yes, I enjoyed myself a great deal. It was a whole lot of fun watching the Chicago-based Gorilla Tango Theatre's production of The Adventures of Nervous-Boy, which Nosedive Productions staged here in New York back in 2006. It made me laugh loudly many times. Director Jamie DesRocher and the ensemble cast brought a lot of great energy to the show that made me very glad I was able to come to Chicago to see it.

Now, onto some random thoughts in no particular order. Bear in mind some of these musings are as much about my experience seeing my play performed by people I had never met before in a town I'm not very familiar with as they are about the production itself. (Yes, this is the first time a full-length play of mine has been staged outside of New York.) Also, I'm going to name-drop scenes and characters with no regard for anyone who hasn't seen or read the show, so I hope the uninitiated will forgive me.

I was able to get over the whole, "Who are you people and what are you doing saying my stuff?" feeling pretty quickly (about five minutes in) and go along for the ride. Since it was part of Gorilla Tango's Experimental Night Series, which presents hour-long plays, Jamie made some smart cuts to trim the show down to 55 minutes (Nosedive's production ran about 75). Most of them I barely noticed: a few trimmed lines from a long monologue here, a transitional scene there.

Obviously, there were many spots I couldn't help but compare and contrast the two productions. Nervous-Boy's (Nicholas Caesar) first encounter with Emily (Leslie Frame) was staged very similarly (hell, in both productions, they were seated at a table upstage left with Nervous-Boy to stage left of Emily), as was the play-within-a-play scene and the post play party scene.

In terms of big differences, the scene where Nervous-Boy meets a client and the one where he goes to a strip club are the two that diverge most from one another. Gorilla Tango's Client (Joe Von Bokern) is a frazzled nebbish office hack in a constant tizzy, easily spooked, throwing papers in the air when Nervous-Boy sneaks up on him, looking like he's due for a heart attack before the end of the year. Nosedive's Client (Marc Landers) was a soulless cyborg drone, eyes whited out, constantly typing, speaking in monotone, as if the company he works for surgically removed his personality. For me, both were pretty different yet spot-on ways to approach the character.

In the stripper scene, Nervous-Boy and the Stripper (Jaimelyn Gray) played the scene with an air of inevitability, as if she knew what was about to happen next, and couldn't care less. I liked how Caeser's detached performance seemed at home at the club. In other words, his disaffected demeanor was no longer caused by anxiety, but by comfort and confidence.

I liked the way Nervous-Boy's asshole friends, led by Grog (Scott Cupper), were presented as frat boy douches (wearing either ties around their foreheads or golf visors). (In our show, led by Patrick Shearer, they were presented as cavemen.) The way they staged the phone call Nervous-Boy makes to Grog near the end of the play had me cackling. It read instantly, and it was one of those, "I can't believe we never thought of that!" moments for me.

And Amy Whittenberger's Skank was goddamn hilarious.

One of the things that took me a little by surprise was how the election of Obama has dated the script. In the program, the production specifically makes the setting New York in 2005 and added a line or two about President Bush (in the script there are oblique references to war, the President [unnamed] and the divided election). This makes a lot of sense: anyone suggesting to young Chicago theatergoers that President Obama is going to destroy us all would not go over well.

Added to that, this past election wasn't particularly divided. So I found it interesting that already the script is in a sense a period piece portraying a very specific recent period in time.

(Now, this could and probably will change whenever we inevitably elect a warmongering dipshit into the Oval Office again, but for now, such political references, even ones I had intended to be vague, date the show to a pre-Obama, Bush Jr.-era New York.)

Also, I liked the recurring motif of characters taking pictures on their cameras throughout. It was put to particularly good use when a guy takes a photo of his girlfriend's body after he kills her, as if preparing to post it on his Facebook page later. People are creepy.

I dug everyone in the cast, which also included Neil Robertson Huff, Dennis Schnell and Anthony Stamilio. They all clearly had a lot of fun putting this show on, and it shined through in the performance I saw.

It was a fascinating experience seeing a new group of people perform a play my company had staged, especially since it was a show that I had heard 15 times in a row three years ago, then hadn't revisited since. Congratulations, guys. It was awesome getting to meet you and see you stage my play. Have a great rest of the run.

I'm hoping to write up some scattershot thoughts on my first impressions of the Chicago theatre scene soon. Bear in mind they'll be from an outsider looking in, and only looking in at a small section for a brief period of time, so caveat emptor.

For those of you in the Chicago area, The Adventures of Nervous-Boy has two more performances at the Gorilla Tango Theatre on 1919 N. Milwaukee Avenue: Monday, August 17 and Monday, August 24. For tickets go here.

Puttin that on his Facebook,

James "Dated Sociopath" Comtois

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Heading Back

I'm heading back to New York in a little bit. Barring delays, I should be back later this afternoon. I'll write more of my thoughts on the Chicago production of The Adventures of Nervous-Boy tomorrow, but for now I'll just say I had a whole lot of fun.

Pictured (from left): Amy Whittenberger (the Skank), Anthony Stamilio (the Interviewer), Scott Cupper (the Grog), Yours Truly, and director Jamie DesRocher.

Congratulations to Jamie and the cast, you guys were awesome. Have a great rest of the run.

Buying more Dots,

James "Shitty Moviegoer" Comtois

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Put My Finger In Your Mouth

Bob Fisher's play, Put My Finger In Your Mouth, is a delightful Neil Gaimanesque fairy tale about two sisters confronting loss and the forces of evil in polar opposite ways. It deftly walks the line between contemporary real world story and mythic fable without being confusing, cloying or self-indulgent.

In this lurid fairy tale, the aptly named Turtle (Stacie Hauenstein) has retreated into the safety of "clean living." She cooks. She cleans. And most importantly: she never leaves the house. Her younger sister, Birdy (Erin Elizabeth Orr), is the wild child who goes out to this goth/punk club every night, much to Turtle's chagrin.

At the club, Birdy meets and is instantly taken with Snailman (Emily Mark), the club's mesmerizing and intimidating owner. Snailman seduces Birdy by convincing her to suck hallucinogens off of Snailman's fingers (hence the title). Instantly, Birdy is addicted: to the drugs, Snailman, and the lifestyle.

Meanwhile, trying to help the sisters get out of their equal yet opposite personal hells is Boxman (Neal Tucker), a hobo living in a giant cardboard box who sells drugs and asks Birdy to, um, pose for photos for him. Yes, he's trying to help these two.

Thanks to Fisher's script, Nathan Robbel's smart and slick direction and the ensemble cast, Put My Finger In Your Mouth has a whole lot of style and doesn't get too caught up in its own aesthetic, which is a fancy way of saying it remains coherent and doesn't crawl into itself.

Some reviews found the story treading too close into "Afterschool Special/Just Say No" territory. I disagree. I liked how the story remained very simple and engaging throughout. I enjoyed that this oddball fairy tale had roots in the real world. Plus, the play takes great pains to show that neither Turtle (afraid of the world and hiding from it via a Donna Reed lifestyle) nor Birdy (going to the club every single night) are living ideal lives. Finally, it doesn't seem that Fisher & Co. have any real interest in celebrating or denigrating the clubbing/drug culture. Seriously, folks, this is a fable; there are clear cut heroines and villains (and even the heroines in this fable are far from flawless).

Everyone in the cast — which also features Christian Kain Blackburn, Morgan Christiansen, Jesse Neal, Catherine Price, Amy Sokol, and Conor Woods — is good, clearly having fun with their roles. Sarah Elizabeth Miller's inventive design transforms the tiny performance space into Alice's Wonderland by way of Blade Runner.

If there's one minor criticism I have, it's that the play is too coy with Boxman's backstory. The show hints at what his connection to the sisters is, which is a potentially huge one with a potentially huge impact on the show, then brushes it off. I think this needs to be either made more explicit or played with more. In fact...

[MAJOR SPOILER BEGINS HERE] The show hints that he's the girls' father, and he denies this, since he clearly has prurient interests in the girls. Now, if he is in fact their long-lost father, the fact that he enjoys having them pose in highly sexualized positions opens a huge and ugly can of worms for the character. If he's telling the truth and is not in fact their father, then why bring it up, especially since the subject is dropped as quickly as it's brought up? [MAJOR SPOILER ENDS HERE]

Now, this is a very, very small piece of the show, which is a great deal of fun. I mean, hey, it's a fable that features a war between Goths and Furries. Tell me that doesn't sound intriguing.

Put My Finger In Your Mouth runs Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m. at RBP Rorschach at 4001 N. Ravenswood in Chicago. Closes August 29. For tickets go here.

Sucking on fingers,

James "Raver" Comtois

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

My Trip So Far

I had a grand time hanging with Mr. Bob Fisher (pictured with me below) and Mr. Don Hall (not pictured) on my first night in town.

Photo by Don.

I'm hoping to write up some coherent thoughts about Mr. Fisher's play, Put My Finger in Your Mouth, soon.

Yesterday was spent wandering around downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan and hearing a cacophony of noise that was Lollapalooza. This afternoon I'll be seeing this.

And I will say, Good Lord: in terms of audience, talent pool, real estate and price, Chicago really seems to be the land of milk and fucking honey for DIY indie theatre. If only I wasn't so addicted to my spoiled and hedonistic New York lifestyle...

Aside from the one of Bob and me, the rest of the shitty photos are taken by me from my phone.

Finally having that deep dish
pizza after a nine year hiatus,

James "Tastes Like Freakin Pizza, People" Comtois

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Friday, August 07, 2009


Well, I've landed and arrived at my hotel in Chicago. I'm off to meet fellow blogger and the author of Put My Finger in Your Mouth Bob Fisher then see said play.

I gotta say, it's kinda nice to have just enough things to do and just enough people to see here for the weekend, but still not have any real agenda for the bulk of my stay here. That's pretty much how I like my vacations.

Anyway, I'll give you reports on the shows I see here. In the meantime, have a good weekend, folks. I'll be "thinking" of you.

Yes, that was a jacking off joke. Because that's just what the theatre blogosphere needs more of: masturbation jokes at the expense of you, dear reader.

Intensely lazy,

James "Hurry Up And Zzzzzz..." Comtois

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Playgoing in Chicago

Well, my lovely little fucknuts. In about 24 hours I'm off on a plane headed to Chicago, where I'll be for the weekend and the first chunk of next week. It looks as though the hotel I'm staying in has free wi-fi (oooh, that sounds tasty), which means I could very well be posting updates on my trip and my assessments of the show-going.

And thanks to Mr. Devilvet, I'll not only be seeing Gorilla Tango Theatre's production of The Adventures of Nervous-Boy, but his show, Put My Finger in Your Mouth, on Friday night. I'm pumped for both.

And it'll be very nice to finally meet both of you, Mr. Vet and Miss Moxie.
Until then, I just gotta finish up my day at work. Almost there, almost there.

Vacationing just too damn much,

James "Fuck Off, It's My Summer Vacation" Comtois

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Scattershot Thoughts on Funny People

Some thoughts (in no particular order) on the third Judd Apatow-directed feature, Funny People. There are spoilers, so caveat emptor.

Overall, despite it being rambling and overlong (though that's nothing new with an Apatow movie), I liked this one about 20 times more than Knocked Up (I know I'm in the minority on this one; I'm not the biggest fan of his sophomore effort). It's clearly an intensely personal film, and an insightful and accurate portrait of isolation stemming from massive fame and fortune.

It's no small feat to make a movie about how much being a rich and famous movie star sucks ("Oh, boo fucking hoo, you're expcting me to sympathize with you moping in your stretch limo?"), but Apatow & Co. pull it off, mainly because he clearly knows what he's talking about. There's a particularly poignant scene where Sandler's character, who's been diagnosed with a cancer-like illness, finds he is free and clear, and has only his maid to deliver the great news to. She didn't even know he was sick. So she musters a mildly puzzled and ineffectual, "Congratulations," followed by a piece of banal news that digs the metaphorical knife a little bit deeper.

Adam Sandler is excellent in this, his best performance since Punch Drunk Love. He's clearly playing a surrogate of himself (although damn, I hope he's not this depressed in real life for his sake), with posters of stupid Sandler-style movies all around his Xanadu-like mansion (one of them is a buddy movie with Owen Wilson called My Best Friend is a Robot). He doesn't shy away from being a pretty unlikable and abrasive character.

It's interesting to see all the old footage of Sanlder as a young standup. In fact, the movie gets a little meta. There's no breaking of the fourth wall or anything, but there's a lot of footage of Sandler before he was famous that's clearly real, and I assume that the old acting reel they watch for Leslie Mann's character is indeed Mann's original reel.

It's funnier than I expected. Although it is dark and sad, it's still very, very funny. It made me laugh more than Knocked Up. Then again, Knocked Up didn't make me laugh out loud nearly as much as I had expected.

The scene with Eminem and Ray Romano may damn well be worth the price of admission alone.

I'd be very curious to see a shrewdly cut 90-minute version of the film (although that'll never happen; the DVD will no doubt be 20 minutes longer than the already 140-minute theatrical cut).

Despite a brief scene in the beginning, Leslie Mann doesn't really show up until over an hour into the movie. And Eric Bana (who's featured prominently in the trailers) doesn't show up until, like, 90 minutes in.

Speaking of which, this may be the first time I didn't want to punch Eric Bana in the crotch. Odd.

At the end of the day, it's kind of brilliant.

Wanting all Sandler's stuff,

James "Hanger-On" Comtois


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

This Halloween

That's right. They're back.

The Blood Brothers Present...The New Guignol

Wednesday, October 28 through Saturday October 31, at 8 p.m.

At the Brick Theatre in Williamsburg

For this year's installment of The Blood Brothers series, we go full circle, adopting the methods of the original Grand Guignol show creators by presenting a series of new horror plays based on stories "ripped from the headlines."

More details to come soon.

Cranking out the depravity at an alarming clip,

James "Trashy Pulpsmith" Comtois

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Back and the Same as Ever

Well, bitches. I'm back from Maine, all refreshed and ready to overcrowd the Interweb with banalities and blathering.

That's right. You've missed me. I can tell.

Well, the feeling is mutual, my little cyberdarlings.

Any ole' fuckeroo, I know there's been a request to bring some action and excitement back to the world of theatre blogging, but alas, I don't think I shall be bringing that to this site today. Maybe down the road, although it's kind of doubtful for several reasons, the biggest of which being that I'm not particularly interested in creating pseudo-controversy just for the sake of pseudo-controversy. And that's what it would be at this point, since I have no real beef with folks on the 'net or theatre scene.

(Word of warning to those who may interpret the above as a potential challenge: the odds of me taking any such bait are not good. I've got a great deal on my mind of late that makes a possible cyberfight on theatrical theory very, very low on my list of priorities right now.)

I will, however, be coming up with more ideas to make the blog less just blatantly "pluggy" (although that will continue to happen here). Doing the interview with Gus from Flux was a lot of fun and (I think) a great way to discuss theatre in a practical (as opposed to a vague and ethereal) way. I may consider doing another long-form dialogue with someone, like I did with Mr. Mac Rogers a few years back. And I may continue to write more reviews. And entries on horror films. We shall see, we shall see.

So, suffice it to say, I'm back. It feels okay, albeit a little weird, and I hope to get back into the swing of things here in the Rotten Apple soon.

And before I go, I just wanted to say break legs to the cast and crew of Gorilla Tango Theatre's production of The Adventures of Nervous-Boy, which opens tonight. If you're in the Chicago area, check it the hell out.

Yes, that's right. I'm still plugging. I never said I'd stop.

Crowding the Web with inanities,

James "Your Senile Great-Aunt" Comtois

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