Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

Scrapbook ’em, Dano.

Below is the complete text of the first theater review mentioning anything I have written, slightly reformatted for clarity. (Chicago Reader, July 19, 2002)

CUT TO THE CHASE, Artistic Home.
Few of the eight offerings in this short-play showcase will outlast their initial welcome. It’s a silly to offbeat to surreal program in which quirkiness is sometimes its own reward, as in Peter DeFaria’s wry staging of Jeremy Menekseoglu’s FAR FROM MAN, a one-joke sketch about a con artist exploiting a Sasquatch legend. Equally wacky, Bilal Dardai’s DISCONNECT inflicts a fitting fate on a clueless telemarketer.

Strategically weird encounters fuel two other pieces that are less successful. In Steve Kopka’s too cute MINUTEMAN a superhero who sees ten seconds into the future becomes sidekick to a superheroine who can instantly create vacuums, and in John Weagly’s talky, overlong KING KONG DOESN’T SPEAK a recluse living on an el track offers deliverance to a suicidal loser.

The more successful scripts rely on dissonant characterizations easily exploited by apprentice actors. Paul Moulton’s MARCH contrasts an amoral assassin with a missionary whose prayers fall on deaf ears. In Stephanie K. McCanles’s AUDITION–the most irritating work, albeit an intriguing one–a passive-aggressive casting director triggers a powerful childhood memory in a hopeful actress he abuses. Tim Miller’s very raw 8-POINT assembles dysfunctional druggies in a properly pointless caper. And the amusing NOT EVEN A TRAIN, written by Kevin Armold and Gus Buktenica and directed by Patrick Thornton, delivers Noel Coward-like complications: a romance is complicated by the ghost of a former girlfriend. Nothing here soars, but at least no one disgraces the stage.

–Lawrence Bommer

I’ve been obsessing about these few paragraphs since last evening, still not sure if the review is a positive or a negative, or even which parts of it are positive or negative. To deconstruct:

“…quirkiness is sometimes its own reward, as in Peter DeFaria’s wry staging of Jeremy Menekseoglu’s FAR FROM MAN…Equally wacky, Bilal Dardai’s DISCONNECT inflicts a fitting fate on a clueless telemarketer.”

– I can’t decide if the critic Bommer thinks that “quirkiness being its own reward” is a good thing or a bad thing, or if it’s a positive that my piece is as “equally wacky” as Jeremy Menekseoglu’s FAR FROM MAN [1]. My general feeling is that the review puts it on a middle ground, based on the observations that MINUTEMAN and KING KONG DOESN’T SPEAK are “less successful”–although this too is ambiguous, since Bommer doesn’t state if these pieces are less successful in comparison to mine and Jeremy’s plays, or simply less successful than they could be as stage works. (Even the key description of MINUTEMAN, “too cute,” could be read as either wistful or distasteful.) The Middle Ground Theory, as I’ll call it, also stems from the discussion of the other three plays as “more successful”–again, see note on ambiguity of comparative phrasing. But this opens another can of worms:

“The more successful scripts rely on dissonant characterizations easily exploited by apprentice actors.”

– The more I read this, the more it seems like a particularly vicious backhanded compliment. It seems to me to be on the verge of damning with faint praise. Yes, these plays do rely on broadly different characters to fuel the conflict, but the second part of the sentence is what twists the knife. Is Bommer offering that the scripts are successful because “apprentice actors” [2] can easily handle them, thereby saying that the work lacks depth–and that it’s for the best, since these actors couldn’t plumb them? There’s also the matter of the following two “dissonant” statements:

“The more successful scripts…” and “In Stephanie K. McCanles’s AUDITION–the most irritating work, albeit an intriguing one…”

– So Ms. McCanles’s play is the most irritating, but also the more successful. Again, positive-negative confusion.

In any case, this is the first or second clipping that will go in the scrapbook, now that I have to start one. The first may be more difficult to ratchet up, even though I can find it online, but this is mostly a press release [3] for a show of mine in Urbana, when I was saying really stupid things that appeared in print in between the almighty quotation marks. It’s nice that at least I didn’t “disgrace the stage.” I haven’t seen the last three performances, so I’m definitely going next Thursday.

Speaking of things I’m doing theatrically, not only have I written the vehicle for my girlfriend’s Chicago stage debut, as it turns out, this same piece is also going to be the vehicle for my friend BZ, who, after a reading full of exciting potential, was cast alongside her. I’m still kinda tickled about this.

And on an unrelated note, something that I have to mention out loud because it boggles my mind, is that a doctor in England is currently being indicted for over two hundred murders–by injecting his patients with overdoses of heroin–committed over a span of several years, making him, if guilty, perhaps the most prolific [4] serial killer in British history. Again, no real comment on that, just something big and ugly that I can’t have sitting in my head all day.

[1] I’d actually read FAR FROM MAN before seeing it performed–Jeremy, who I met while working on “24/7” was briefly involved in the Project, until it was decided that he didn’t quite fit into the group. I have kept in touch with him of my own accord. It was really fascinating to watch him watch his play. The man’s a bit rough around the edges, and not the greatest of people to have in a civil workshop, but he’s still a great guy, and fiercely intelligent, and he’s been places from Texas [5] to Russia. After the premiere night, my good deed for the evening was accidentally running into the director, Peter DeFaria, and introducing him to Jeremy (the two hadn’t yet met).

[2] To be fair, some of these actors are, by definition of experience and training, novices to journeymen; but some of them are members of the Artistic Home ensemble, and are clearly more talented than simple “apprentices.”

[3] Written by a recent visitor whose name I should not have mentioned in full in the first place. Sorry, Z.

[4] I hate using this word, even if it is accurate, because in my mind, writers are “prolific,” and evil awful serial murderers shouldn’t be given the same adjectives as those of us in the business of creation [6]. I was originally going to use “notorious,” but I think a certain surgical slasher from the late 1800s takes that prize hands-down in England, if not the world.

[5] Jeremy has a wonderful principle that informs much of his work, which he explained to me in the wee hours of “24/7”–that his feeling on God is that God exists, and when He looks at the universe, there’s a blind spot he just can’t get to, just as we can’t see the small of our back. Jeremy feels that God’s blind spot is a small strip of land upon the planet Earth shaped just like Texas.

[6] That is to say, “lying.” This also reminded me of the small outrage I sometimes feel at the suffix “-ist.” Artist, pianist, guitarist, etcetera, but this suffix also goes to “rapist.” [7] I don’t like the suffix being used in such disparate ways, and it makes even less sense to me because the guy who comes over to your place and hangs curtains on your windows is a “draper,” not a “drapist.” Anguished English, indeed.

[7] “That’s THERAPISTS, Mr. Connery. THERAPISTS.”

Current music: XTC, “Upsy Daisy Assortment”

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This entry was posted on July 19, 2002 by in News of the World, Plays, Theatre, Writing.
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