Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sick People in Love

Been sick as a dog for a couple of days. The old adage is true, "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything." Much better today.

On Sunday I saw a beautiful, quirky, little musical under development called Sick People in Love. Years ago I became infatuated with a musical called Falsettos, by William Finn. All through the night on Sunday, I was reminded again and again of that show. I saw it twice, in fact, once with Michael Rupert in the lead and once with Mandy Patinkin in the the lead. Rupert was better in the role but, as always, Patinkin was more fun to watch.

Anyway, the music in Sick People in Love reminded me of Finn's intricate melodies in Falsettos. Sick People was written by Nickella Maschetti and her husband (who's name escapes me at the moment). The dialogue is often sharp and witty with a couple of unexpected long monologues dropped in the middle of the piece. And, delightfully, a talking, singing boar's head.

Afterwards, the generous authors, allowed a "talk-back." That is to say, the audience (all invited) were allowed to suggest ideas and share their thoughts with the creators and actors. I, personally, am never comfortable with this sort of thing. Not to say I haven't done it. George S. Kauffman once said, "Human beings have four basic needs: the need to procreate, the need for food, the need for shelter and the need to re-write someone else's play."

The audience seemed a tad confused by the whopping monologues in the midst of this beautiful, little piece. I, too, thought at first they were out of place. Upon reflection, however, I don't. In fact, rather than an obstacle, I think they present an opportunity...sing half of it, speak half of it. Another musical I rather like, Working by Stephen Schartz and Studs Terkel, comes to mind. So add incidental music, simple melody lines, a little water and shake. Easily fixed and at the same time the information and subtle metaphors in the monologues are still there.

As a playwright I have always considered monologues to be arias.

The other thing that came to mind on Sunday was the fact that the audience can really only see about ten percent of what the author's see in their mind's eye. Plays are meant to be seen; not read, not contemplated, not workshopped, but seen. I think everyone can identify with sitting around some lame high school english class reading Romeo and Juliet out loud. Or in my case, Julius Caesar. Here I am sitting there at the age of seventeen, trying to grasp Shakespeare's allegorical history. Years later I saw JC on stage with Martin Sheen and Al Pacino and Edward Hermann in Joseph Papp's famous production in the park. It was meant to be seen, to be experienced. It was altogether a different play than the one I read in english class all those years before. See, plays don't come to life until they're onstage. Plays are quite literally Frankenstein's Monster, dead pieces of meat before the lightning is utilized...and the lightning is the audience, the final ingredient, the bit of brandy dripped onto the writing at the last second and the fire blazes up.

So I'm sitting there watching Sick People in Love and thinking to myself, "How extraordinary this moment is. I'm watching something from nothing. I'm watching someone else's vision being shaped from dust. This is Providence."

Now, of course, I've been there a few times myself. Early on I found myself in this artistic trial by fire. We read a play of mine called Death in Des Moines (based on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice) years ago in NY. The comments afterward lacerated me. Then and there, in that little studio on the upper west, I decided to never do this again. Don't get me wrong, I think at times, a little workshopping never hurt anybody. But its a very, very delicate thing. The absolute right people have to be in the room. And the comments can't be sweeping re-writes of the show itself. They must be specific. They must be helpful. They must be, in the true sense of the word, criticism. Often times what happens is that once the play is heard by an outsider, he then comments on what HE would have done with a similar idea. No. That's not workshopping, that's ego. In fact, it's detrimental to the project itself.

I hope NoHo considers producing this piece, this lovely Sick People in Love. James Mellon, the AD at NoHo, likes the piece a lot, I think, and not surprisingly, had the the single most astute comment of the evening. What a beautiful thing to have this great space called NoHo to create and breath life into our creations.

I could see the two young authors flinch a little as the comments roiled in Sunday night. To them I say, don't worry about it. Use what you like, utterly discard what you don't. This is your vision, your piece. Creation is not a democracy. Incorporate other ideas and let fly the dogs of new possibilities. Besides, at the end of the day, YOUR name is under the title, no one else's.

Sick People in Love is a small piece of joy. I can't wait to see it fly someday.

See you tomorrow.