Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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The price of theatre

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

On Friday, a friend and I went to see the Arthur Miller play “The Price” downtown at the Taper. I am not by nature an Arthur Miller fan; I’d rather be burned at the stake than ever again sit through the screaming girls in “The Crucible,” and to me the dramatic problems presented in “Death of a Salesman” would be easily solved if only Willy Loman would get a job he’s better suited for. But “The Price” turned out to be a completely engaging, unexpected and well-written evaluation of the price paid for certain life decisions by two brothers fighting (or not) over what’s left behind after their father’s death. Moreover, it’s anchored by four very fine performances, especially that of 87-year-old Alan Mandell, stealing the show as a comically sly appraiser wheedling a storehouse of old furniture out of Sam Robards’ grasp in exchange for peanuts. Mandell delivers every laugh possible while bringing to life a performance that’s completely plausible and true. That he can do this at age 87 is argument itself against term limits for stage actors.

Afterward, my friend and I went for a drink and shared another sort of price: While it’s often reported how expensive it is to attend the theatre, there’s the even greater very real financial cost paid by those devoted to making theatre. The backdrop for this discussion was our own experiences (I have no doubt I’m out hundreds of thousands of dollars) as well as the ugly rumblings from Actors Equity that it may end the 99-seat plan that allows union actors to perform on LA’s small stages. Moving actors in sub-100-seat houses from token payments of $10 or $20 a performance into minimum wage won’t help them make a living; instead, it’ll shutter our small theatres and sideline thousands of actors. (But then, if you’re the union and you subsist on dues and shares of revenues, and your revenue resulting from these theatres is almost nil, why should you care?) The actors have been subsidizing small theatre, for sure — but so have been the playwrights and the directors and the board ops and everyone else involved. And God knows the producers — and I’ve been one — have spent both opportunity costs and actual hard cash on keeping small theatre alive, because it means so much to us.

Scheduling and life circumstances had cost my friend and me more than a year and a half since we’d last seen each other. I just confirmed this in my calendar. The last time we’d gone out together had been in August of 2013 to see a Woody Allen movie. Judging by the terrific time we had together on Friday night, that’s far too long. I also note that in 2011 we saw a movie called “The Debt.” I couldn’t remember anything about this movie, so I just looked it up. Now it comes back to me. It’s a thriller about old friends who shared an adventure in the past, but who question the choices they made, much as the characters in “The Price” do. And much as we all do.

Critical praise

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

My weekly playwriting workshop, Words That Speak, now in its 22nd year, resumed this morning after a one-month hiatus when the last round ended. Usually, I accept eight playwrights; this time, I took nine, based on the quality of their work, including three new people. (And could have taken more, but eight or nine is really all that can work for a weekly writing workshop where everyone’s work will be heard every time.)

Some of these playwrights have been in the workshop for five, eight, or 10 years.

During the break, I heard one of the new enrollees asking one of the veterans about his experience in the workshop. He talked about the plays he’s written and the productions he’s gotten since starting with me.

“So the workshop helps?” she asked.

“Well,” he replied, “I haven’t gotten worse.”

It’s inspiration like this that has carried me all these years.

Must-see TV

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

I wish the Beckett estate would lift the embargo so the first (and only) season of this could be released on DVD or streaming.

Well, I guess ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

Valentine’s Day

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

For Valentine’s Day, my wife Valorie and I exchanged cards and chocolates. I got her a medium-sized box of chocolates and a pricey card. She got me a tiny little heart-shaped box of chocolates containing only four chocolates (completely fair, because I don’t care for sweets) and a cheap card (because she’s cheap).

Then we decided to take our two sons and our aged but rambunctious dog for a hike. Our 16-year-old daughter had been promised a multi-phase excursion by her boyfriend, so we were looking for something for the rest of us to do together. Valorie suggested the Franklin Canyon reservoir hiking trail because it’s bucolic, we hadn’t been there in a while, and there weren’t too many hills to trouble the dog. I thought that an excellent idea, so off we went.

On the drive over, Valorie’s iPhone dinged, indicating an incoming text message. She was busy driving, because I was loaded up on Benadryl. (No, we don’t have snow or ice, but unlike the northeast, we do have plenty of pollen right now.) I helpfully took the phone in order to see who had texted. It was our daughter.

“I hate amc!” her text reported.

We all wanted to know why. (Except for her little brother, who doesn’t want to know anything about her, unless it’s something that will get her into trouble.) So I texted back, using my wife’s phone, “Why?” Then, still in helpful mode, I took the opportunity to add, “Your father is such a dreamboat.”

There was no immediate reply. So I texted again, this time stating, “He’s the best.”

Still nothing. Which surprised me, given the categorical nature of the statement. Maybe she wasn’t getting these. Or maybe — maybe — she was nodding in silent agreement. But I wanted to know for sure. So I added, “I’m lucky to have him.” Surely, this should elicit a reply, because it applied to her as well.

Finally, she texted back. “Amc mom the movie theater.”

Coupled with the heavy-duty antihistamines in my system, her poor use of capitalization and spelling made my head swim. Plus, she was overlooking the main point! I responded, “I know. Why do you hate it?” And then, trying to steer her back to the primary topic, I added in a separate text, “Your dad is also so funny! Makes me laugh.”

That certainly should have prompted her to comment. But instead we got a detailed report about how her 16-year-old self had been barred from entering an R-rated movie. I said nothing, but did momentarily flash back to my being ushered in to see “Caligula” (!!!) at the age of 16, and my naively believing it would be a historical epic and not, well, hard-core porn, replete with scenes that made me clutch myself in protection while watching it. How times had changed. It used to be that you could pay your money and see your porn in the movie theatre along with everyone else as long as you looked to be reasonably close to 18. (Or, in my case, even while still looking 13.) Now I guess teenagers have to watch it in secret on the internet.

The bigger question I had, though, was at what point do teens truly transition into adulthood, with an interest in others? My daughter had been presented with numerous openings to weigh in on her father’s positive qualities. But instead she was relentlessly focused on the inanities of movie-theatre policies, which will become utterly moot for her within 18 months. Mistaken priorities, for sure.

Presidents Day

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

I don’t think there’s any holiday I resent so much as Presidents Day. In fact, I don’t think there’s any other holiday I resent; just this one, for two reasons:

1. Taking a day to honor the presidents seems antithetical to the founding notion of the country. It’s a little too close to royalism.
2. That even if we were to honor presidents, some of them don’t merit the honor. Warren G. Harding? Calvin Coolidge? George W. Bush? Herbert Hoover? Andrew Johnson? I can’t participate in any holiday that honors them.

I’m posting this today because today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. There was a time when we had two holidays — Lincoln’s birthday and George Washington’s birthday — and that seemed more fitting. One was indispensable to founding the country, and the other indispensable to saving it. Those two were worth honoring.

News update

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

I’m sorry to hear about the death of veteran CBS newsman Bob Simon in a car crash tonight. It’s a great loss for CBS.

But I do hear that Brian Williams is available….

Actually, this just in: Brian Williams says he was actually in that car crash too.

(And this sort of thing is why I don’t foresee Brian Williams returning to his previous post.)

Status update

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Just now, on LinkedIn, I saw this:

“Ronald is celebrating 3 years at [company name].”

To which I posted:

“No, Ronald is not celebrating today. Ronald died a few years ago, unfortunately.” (That’s because Ronald committed suicide.)

I knew Ronald a bit. But what must this status update be like for those who were close to him? I’ll bet there are no celebrations there either.

The two best ways to support yourself as a writer

Monday, January 26th, 2015

In order, they are: 1. be an heir; 2. marry well.

And either way, just admit it.

Something wicked this way came

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

If you were going to name Los Angeles’ most highly regarded and famous writers, Ray Bradbury would be near or on the top of that list.

When you go to Baltimore, you can visit Edgar Allan Poe’s house. The same with the homes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman and others. (In fact, Whitman has a bridge named after him.)

But, this being LA, now that Bradbury’s dead, the new owners have torn down his house. Because, well, it was just a house. Right?

Here are the photos.

Today’s non-video

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Here’s something I won’t be watching: Every Marvel movie stitched together into chronological order.

Which would still be shorter than something else I won’t be watching: every Peter Jackson Rings/Hobbit movie put together.