Monday, November 21, 2011

From the East to the West...again.

Chad Coe and myself in rehearsal for FROM THE EAST TO THE WEST, North Hollywood, CA, 2010.

Day five. Still not smoking. Unless you count the smoke coming from my ears.

I wish I had a DVD of 'The Insider' right about now. Or maybe 'Thank You For Not Smoking.' Or even the old Bob Newhart film, 'Cold Turkey.' But I think 'The Insider' would be best. I'm at the point now, five days into it, where I need to work up some old fashioned, righteous, pissed off, unapologetic rage. And 'The Insider' would probably do that for me.

Today is my wife's birthday. I'm thinking I'll take her to a hookah bar and buy her shots.

Actually, a highly regarded Los Angeles Theatre Company - ECHO Theatre Company - is reading my play, From the East to the West, out loud tonight over in West Hollywood somewhere. Angie and I will head over that way and take a listen and probably grab a birthday bite to eat. It's a casual thing, mostly so the various company members can read it out loud and get a feeling for it...possibly do it as part of their season next year - that would be the best case scenario.

That play has a long and varied history. Although I've had a few requests to do it as a full production, the venues haven't suited me thus far and I've always turned the offers down. Echo, however, has the talent and clout to do it right, I think. The play was originally written as a follow up piece for a company in Chicago called Actor's Workshop. They had just finished one of two long runs of my play, Praying Small, and wanted another one by me because the critics were being very sweet on me at the time and the theatre needed exposure. For whatever reason, and frankly I don't remember, it never got produced. So it got a reading over at Steppenwolf across town and they loved it. It was being considered for their main stage and a copy of it had been shipped off to Gary Sinise - they thought he might be a perfect 'Harry' in it. And he would have. But again, for whatever reason, it never came to pass. Shortly after that I moved to Los Angeles. Within a few weeks of being here, a friend working with Pasadena Playhouse wanted to read it for their 'Hot Box' series with an eye toward main stage production. It was around this point that my friend, the wonderful veteran actor, John Schuck, became attached to the project as 'Harry.' Again, he would have been superlative in the role. In fact, we had a private reading here at my house with John reading 'Harry.' He was extraordinary. A few weeks later, Pasadena Playhouse went belly up and closed their doors.

Next I tried to get a full production with a small company I was working with at the time in North Hollywood. But the Artistic Director there, a guy with a long and distinguished background as a musical theatre chorus member, didn't care for it and put the kabosh on the production. But not before we had a chance to mount it for three days with an amazing young cast. I took the role of 'Harry' myself. The production was a 'benefit' production for the theatre. We rehearsed it for three weeks, gave a blistering performance - one I'm very proud of - sold out all three nights and raised a buttload of money for this lttle company in NoHo. The AD, who never actually SAW the production (he was on a Caribbean cruise at the time), later said he didn't like it ("It's too dense. Too much in it.") and he wouldn't be producing it ("It would be a great disservice to you to let anyone see this play.").

So. A long and serpentined history. At one point I was thinking Powers Boothe might be a good 'Harry.' He told me he wanted to work onstage again and Steppenwolf was still hot on the project and the idea of putting the legendary Boothe together with the legendary Steppenwolf seemed like a good one. Alas, Powers wandered off to Bulgaria, of all places, for a few months shortly after that conversation to make 'The Hatfields and McCoys,' a min-series with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall.

Then I did a play with the great character actor RD Call. RD and I became pretty close during the run of the show ('The Interlopers') and finally I just gave him a copy of the script and asked if he'd be interested in playing 'Harry' at some point. A couple days later RD called me and said he loved the script and he wanted to play 'Harry' anywhere, anytime. So, tonight, RD Call is reading 'Harry' for me. RD is a powerful actor, tremendous authority onstage, and perfect for the role. I'm very lucky to have him involved.

So, it's been a journey with this piece. Incidentally, my old buddy from Steppenwolf, Pulitzer-winner Tracy Letts, emailed me the exact same day the Artistic Director, the ex-chorus boy, at that little company in NoHo told me 'it would be a great disservice to you to let anyone see this play,' writing, '...this is the best thing I've read in several years, Clif...' There's no accounting for taste, I suppose.

From the East to the West is a very personal piece of writing for me, far more autobiographical than Praying Small, although no one ever believes that. Praying Small poured out of me as I wrote it. I couldn't get the words on the page fast enough. It was as though the piece was already written and I was simply transcribing. But From the East to the West was labored over. It was like a birthing. Every sentence was painful to get out. It took me a month to write Praying Small. It took me nineteen years to write From the East to the West.

So...reading the little skit out loud tonight. They might like it, they might not. Whatever happens, I'm glad someone is taking an interest in the piece again. It's a good piece of work, I think, and one I'm proud of.

See you tomorrow.

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