Wednesday, August 25, 2010

FringeNYC: Picking Palin, Lenny's Dead, and The Hyperbolist

It’s August 22, 2010 and I have finally finished my Year of Plays.  Fifty-two plays in three hundred and sixty five days and I feel fantastic.  I was always confident I would pull it off – making myself accountable to you all pretty much sealed my fate on that score – but it was a big undertaking and I’m very proud to have finished.  It feels momentous.  Of course I’m not truly done, as there is still the matter of writing about these last three shows.  Perhaps you’d like to count down with me, 3-2-1?


Picking Palin
Performance Date: 08.18.10
FringeNYC Venue #2: Connelly Theater

Ever find yourself wondering, How the hell did Sarah Palin come into my life?  I know I have.  The woman is just so very special.  Thankfully for those of us needing an answer, Picking Palin goes a long way toward providing one.  The play takes place during the last week of August 2008, with Barack Obama poised to finally accept his party’s nomination in Denver, and the McCain camp scrambling to decide what worthy candidate will round out the Republican ticket.  Under the mounting pressure of night after successful night over at the DNC – recall the huge stadium, Hillary’s unifying address, Barack reaching the apex of his political stardom – McCain’s top-level strategists duke it out in a hotel room over how best to play the election’s endgame, and who best to usher their side to victory. 

I love political process stories – both real life and fictional – so I enjoyed tracking the compelling arguments that were ostensibly aired (hopefully aired? regrettably aired?) within the McCain camp before asking Palin to join the ticket.  What sticks with me now, however, is the strange effect of watching a play about highly charged events that happened only two years ago.  At times, it felt like reading a book with my face too close to the page – not enough distance to have a clear perspective.  At other times, I felt I was walking with dinosaurs – so much has happened in our country since then that the events of the play seemed downright, even quaintly, sepia-toned.  And yet it was just two years ago.  The combined effect made me feel a little queasy, like walking through a funhouse hall of mirrors.

‘Queasy’ sounds like a criticism but I don’t mean it to be.  In fact I find that reaction rather telling.  Queasy is how I feel, for example, when I wake up the morning after a party and worry about what I said in a tipsy moment.  I remember the details clearly enough to know it’s not that big a deal, but the sense of having been just a little out of control, just off-center enough to be unsure of my behavior – that makes me feel queasy.  Picking Palin reveals that the last election is an analogous experience for me.  I was awash in emotion during that time – the unbearable, swelling optimism that Obama inspired in me, the vitriolic scorn I felt for Palin, the disappointment that was McCain.   I remember the details enough to know I wouldn’t take back anything I said or did in those days, and (in case you were wondering) I’ve been happy with the job our President has done so far.  But I can also admit to that having that same sense of off-centeredness, of having been just a little bit out of control – and it was not until Picking Palin that I had occasion to notice it. 

That’s a useful observation for me.  I add it to my evolving perspective on politics and the media.  I add it to my growing awareness that when I decide to listen to and care about the arguments presented in the political/cable news arena, I am deciding to enter a meme-war.  And in meme-wars, the participants are all conscripted to serve as soldiers for one side or the other.  If we have enough presence of mind – as I feel I did in 2008 – we can ensure the memes we solider for align with our values.  But even when that’s the case, we’re still following orders handed down from up on high, from somewhere other than ourselves.  Our words and actions are not entirely under our control.  We are off our centers.  And even if we don't want to change that exactly, it’s still a good thing to keep that in mind.


Lenny’s Dead
Performance Date: 08.18.10
FringeNYC Venue #3: The Kraine Theater

This play has got me thinking about writing as catharsis.  Writing as a way to purge oneself of something stuck inside.  Writing as the exorcism of a story from one’s soul.  It’s no wonder the play has led me here.  Lenny’s Dead begins and ends with a man needing to just that – exorcise a story from his soul. 

The man in question is Hank, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and the story is what really happened to his friend Lenny, killed by enemy fire thirty-nine years ago.  To aid Hank in his catharsis is Lenny himself – appearing to us and to Hank as a ghost, or perhaps the embodied memory of the man.  Lenny insists Hank has been hiding from the truth for far too long and he is determined to see the whole story finally come out.

Augmenting this writing as exorcism idea is the knowledge that Hank is performed in this production by the playwright himself, and that Lenny’s Dead is the gentleman’s first play.  This suggests to me the possibility that the story of Hank must be, in some fashion, rooted in the facts of the playwright’s life.  It must be his story that we are exorcising here.  Of course I could be wrong; it could all be utterly fictional.  But there was a certain innocence about the production, a guilelessness that makes me suspect I’m right.

It doesn’t matter either way.  What I like is the thought of someone carrying around a bit of shadow inside him, a knowledge within himself that he doesn’t particularly want to see.  And perhaps it doesn’t bother him all that much, or maybe it does, but he always knows that its there.  And then, one day, rather than continuing to carry that shadow around – which is completely within his right to do – he decides instead to take a deeper look at it.  To examine that place inside himself.  To shine some light into that hidden space and see just what it is he finds. 

What I like even more is using the act of writing to aid in that examination.  I think writing is one of the best tools we humans have for self-discovery.  And the more we use it for that purpose, the better we get at it.  The better we get at precisely defining our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  The better we get at noticing when we have a stone left unturned within us.  The more dissatisfied we are to leave those shadows there unchecked.

If you’ve never picked up a pen to sweep out those darker places inside you, I suggest you do it.  It feels incredible, as I suppose all catharsis does when it is over.  You don’t have to know where you’re going when you start.  In fact, you don’t have to know anything at all.  Just begin.  You will discover what you need to along the way.  And you just might surprise yourself and end up with a play.


The Hyperbolist
Performance Date: 08.22.10
FringeNYC Venue #18: HERE Arts Center, Dorothy B. Williams Theater

I couldn’t have asked for a better show with which to end my Year of Plays.  It was such a delightful experience.  It had all my favorite things in it.  Wit and whimsy.  Words -- such words -- and wiggly eyebrows.  Tradition and innovation.  Craft and inspiration.  Physicality, philosophy, and film.  Puppets.  Can’t forget the puppets.  And of course at its center, the absolutely essential element for all utterly Anna-approved works of art, a great big beating heart.  Love!  That was the theme of the day in this collection of works by Joe Mazza.  And not just any love, but pure love, fundamental love.  The kind that makes you blush when you witness it in the physical intimacies of Dante and Florence, your pair of trained circus fleas.

I don’t want to share too much about this show because there are two shows left and I think you should just see it.  But I will say that Joe Mazza strikes me as the kind of artist I admire most – the kind who makes whatever art is in his heart, in whatever form, for whatever reason.  The kind who follows his own fun without bothering to wonder if others will come along.  The kind who gets satisfaction in the doing of art, rather than in doing art “right.”  Because the art he does is right, just by virtue of him doing it.  He is incredibly talented -- in his writing, his puppeteering, his Keaton-esque clowning on film, his command over his body and face, his music -- and he also just seemed like a really nice guy.  Greeting each of us as we sat in the theater waiting for the show to began, Mazza created an atmosphere of creative conspiracy that was warm and welcoming.  He was casual, gracious and charming, with a comedic flair somewhere in the vicinity of a refined Robin Williams with a vocabulary the size of the OED.  Apocape.  I learned that word within four seconds of me sitting down and I knew immediately I was in for a treat.

The Hyperbolist is an entertaining little gem in the Fringe and I'm glad I found it.  And I'm glad it is the production that puts the period on my playgoing project.  You should check it out and maybe start a playgoing project of your own.


So that’s it folks.  That’s the official end of A Year of Plays.  It’s truly been a pleasure writing these posts, and I hope you have enjoyed reading them.  I highly recommend embarking on some similar adventure for yourself.  There is nothing like immersion to teach you something new about a subject.

As for the future, my immediate plans are to go to Burning Man.  Seriously.  I leave on Saturday.  But when I return, the blog will resume.  Come on, you didn't think you could get rid of me that easily, did you?  Especially not when I enjoy writing the sound of my voice so much.  So meet me back here in mid-September.  It will still be called A Year of Plays, but I'm relieving myself of the play-a-week structure.  I do plan on keeping up the regular attendance in the theater though and I also hope to keep writing about art without reviewing it.  What will change is my scope of inquiry, so to speak.  I plan on loosening up on what "counts" as theater and am really looking forward to considering more unconventional forms.  Burning Man of course is at the top of the list for new subjects.  So you have that to look forward to.

In the meantime, please check out my upcoming appearance on the New York Innovative Theater blog -- should be up some time today.  NYIT guest blogger Neal J. Freeman, a good friend and longtime collaborator of mine, interviews me about the conclusion of this year long project and about writing without reviewing it.  It was a fun interview and hopefully will be an interesting read.

Until later, my friends.  Thank you once again for all your support.  It has meant the world to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment