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


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Carl Reiner, R.I.P.

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

The obit just now in the New York Times for Carl Reiner details his many, many talents:  screenwriter, novelist, director, actor, comedian, political commentator, and probably a lot more.

What they don’t mention is what a great host Reiner could be.

As I wrote about here twelve years ago, I went to the memorial service for a guy I knew and liked, my writing professor Bill Idelson, only to discover that Carl Reiner would be the “emcee.” (Or whatever one calls someone who officiates a memorial service.) Of course it made sense in retrospect — Bill had been one of the writers on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” in addition to playing Herman Glimpsher, Rose Marie’s diminutive suitor on that show. (In an odd coincidence, about 20 years ago, I produced a play that featured Seemah Wilder, never realizing until he showed up that she was Bill Idelson’s wife. Yet another case of “everybody knows everybody.”) I wrote about Bill’s (highly entertaining) memorial service here.

In the years since, I’ve been following Carl Reiner on Twitter; he’s been amusing at times, and certainly life-affirming (he’s got a new book coming out, posthumously now, completed at age 98), and certainly livid about the current occupant of the White House.

But now I’m left wondering:  Who will they get to host Carl Reiner’s memorial service? Who could possibly live up to that standard? The only other Renaissance entertainer I can think of is Steve Martin.

Little things

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Yes, little things make a big difference.

Yesterday I saw a flat-out terrific play, about the benighted state of journalism and what that portends for us. The play was harrowing, somehow funny as well, very well-played and brilliantly directed. Seriously — brilliantly directed. Especially given that the director’s task involved choreographing the entrances and exits of six actors onto a stage the size of most vestibules, and that those actors had to change clothes repeatedly because five of them were playing more than one character.

(Oh, heck, the play was “Red Ink,” by Steven Leigh Morris, in a production by Playwrights Arena. Here’s a link. It’s running one more week — so go see it now.)

I saw it with a friend (another good director) and we both loved the production and the direction and talked briefly about the theme of the play. But what did we wind up texting about?

The shoes.

The shoes on one of the actors. A really great actor, one I’ve seen before, who played two diametrically opposed characters (one a financially successful if scurrilous businessman, the other a mental patient with kleptomania) and who brought life and energy with him in every scene… but who wore scuffed-up, box-toed cowboy boots missing several lifetimes’ worth of polish.

In scene after scene, I found myself staring at the shoes. It was hard to look away. Even during a production that good. Because the shoes are just wrong. They might be right for the mental patient, but they’re sorely wrong for the elderly disreputable publisher who spends all his time on the beach in Orlando. People are doing costume changes throughout the play, so get the man two pairs of slip-ons. Or, at the very least, polish the boots.

I know. It seems picayune. Pedantic. Other “p” words of low value. But when it takes you out of the play, it’s a big thing. And it’s especially distracting when everything else in the show is so good.

Go see it. If  you care about the news — real news — and about journalists who really care about such things, and if you want to see a hard-hitting and completely entertaining play that delves into that subject, you should see this. Just try not to notice the boots.

Etiqan’t

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Last night at the theatre party, I guy I didn’t know buttonholed me so that he could talk up his own history and bemoan some sort of professional defeat.

We had wound up standing next to each other and when he heard my name, he said, “Oh. You’re the founder of the theatre company.” Having a rarely used name like Lee results in situations like this. I agreed that I was indeed the name mentioned in the program, and told him I was surprised he’d read it, because I had just told a fellow board member that the print was so teeny I didn’t think anyone would read it or could read it.

“How long you been in LA?” he asked. “You been here longer than five years?”

“Thirty-two years,” I said.

“Ah. Great. So you know Kate Mantilini? How many deals did you do at Kate Mantilini?”

The wording of this sounded odd. I didn’t know what to make of it. How does one “do deals” at a person? I responded, “No. No Kate Mantilini.”

“You’ve been here 32 years and you don’t know Kate Mantilini? Where do you live?”

“Burbank.”

“Oh. Burbank.” I thought he was going to be dismissive, but he added, “I was born there.” Which may indeed have been dismissive, Burbank, with a hospital, being a place to be born, but perhaps not a place to live. I didn’t know.

It turned out that Kate Mantilini was a restaurant — which now sounded somewhat familiar, and it had been in Beverly Hills, and it had been a major hangout for film and TV dealmakers and celebrities. All of which compounded my disinterest. Film and television don’t animate me, and the last time I drove through Beverly Hills might have been 10 years ago, except for the time in 2018 I went to see Laurie Anderson over there in her very disappointing show. Driving to Beverly Hills is like driving to another state, one that is far away and that has a culture you don’t take to.

It also happened that his family had owned Kate Mantilini, that it had closed about five years ago, and that he was an architect.

“Oh, you’re an architect?” I said. As practical artists, architects interest me.

“Well, the recession happened to a lot of people,” he said. I don’t know how the recession, now 12 years in the rearview mirror, forced anyone to stop being an architect, but I imagine that’s what he was leading up to. I say leading up to, because right then, an older woman swam into view and he immediately turned his attention to her.

They started chatting, her about something and him about something, and how nice it was that they were both there, so I did what I always do when someone else interrupts a conversation and the person I was at least theoretically conversing with swivels toward them:  I left. There’s etiquette, and there’s etiqan’t. There’s also average male lifespan, and with a life expectancy of 76.4 years for males, I’m picky about standing in lines, waiting in general, and finding myself left on the burner to warm.  As I walked away, I heard the woman murmur some sort of apology, and the man called out, “I’m gonna finish that conversation, Lee!”

In the adjoining room, I spent some time with one friend after another I’d done shows with, stretching back to the 90s. I saw the former architect gradually inching closer, working his way through conversation with one person after another like a Walmart greeter. But he didn’t get to finish whatever there was to finish with me, because I fell into discussion with a friend and colleague of 26 years about our theatre company and our plans for the rest of the year. We had that conversation outside on the sidewalk, just the two of us.

Short form, long form, and old form

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

Plays come in all sorts and sizes. For three weeks in a row, one of the playwrights in my workshop, a guy who normally writes plays of about 120 pages, has brought in a new 10-minute play. Each of them has been good, immediately produceable, and would be fun to see. Back in the 1990s, I produced a lot of one-acts and one-act festivals, and Moving Arts kept doing that right up until about six years ago. Current management doesn’t produce one-acts — which is completely their prerogative. I liked them because it gave lots of playwrights a chance, and lots of directors, and lots of actors, and because generally the plays were fun. And, as my producing partner of the time used to say, “If you don’t like one of them, just wait, because there’s another one coming right up.”

Of the 64 plays I’ve written, many many of them are short plays. One of them, which got produced in Hoboken, NJ but which I’ve never seen staged or even heard read,  is all of three page long. Here’s why:  That’s all it needed. That’s all the story there was. More importantly, that’s all the theme there was:  Once you’ve made your point, you’re done. I was reminded of this when I had a brief discussion today with another playwright in my workshop about the HBO limited series “Mrs. Fletcher.” Ordinarily, “Mrs. Fletcher” wouldn’t be the sort of thing I’d watch, but for one reason:  I’d read the book and it was starring Kathryn Hahn. (Yes, that is one reason. I usually stay away from watching adaptations of things I’ve read because I don’t want the filmed version interfering with the prose version I already enjoyed; but in this case, knowing what the book was about and knowing that the lovely, talented, committed, and brave Kathryn Hahn would be starring in it, I watched it.)  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that each episode was only 30 minutes. Oh. It was serialized more like a comedy than a drama. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the series ends about two-thirds of the way through the book — right at the climactic event in the novel that resolves the theme. In other words, right where it should. The book, on the other hand, goes on… and everyone’s life is neatly resolved… and quickly what had been a book about adventure and the freedom to be who you wanted to be becomes a book that resolves everyone’s story to the expectation of the society around them. What a disappointment. The series, by the way, was executive-produced by the novelist, who also wrote some of the episodes, so this seems like a rare instance of a novelist getting a second chance at his material… and improving it.

From Méliès's most famous film, 1902.

From Méliès’s most famous film, 1902.

After my workshop this morning, I headed over to the Egyptian Theatre for a screening from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s festival of preservation. They had promised a recently discovered Laurel & Hardy short (I’m a fan) and a fully restored Chaplin short (less of a fan) and never-before-seen films by Georges Méliès (film’s first special-effects master, starting to produce and direct sensationally surprising films in 1896) and by the Lumière brothers, who patented their own version of the cinematograph in 1895. I’m not a film fan per se, but I’m interested in the silent era, and I know that because Méliès burned the negatives to all 520 of his films in a dispute over rights, they’re difficult to see in any good form. The intricacies of the preservation and restoration process on all the films shown, as detailed in introductions by a representative, are too involved to go into detail here; for the Chaplin short, an introductory clip showed all four source-material films (three of them prints and one of them a negative) used to cobble together a complete print that could be restored. The Lumière clips were astounding, showing elegantly dressed and coiffed people, in top hats and waistcoats, or in dresses with majestic headwear, strolling along with the Eiffel Tower in the background, looking every bit as fresh as though it were shot with an iPhone today — but clearly being from 1900 or thereabouts. In another one, people are traveling via moving walkway, such as you find in an airport, and I realized:  That’s right! We had moving walkways in some places in 1900, and then we seemed to forget about the technology, because I don’t think moving walkways returned (and then, again, mostly in airports) until the 1980s or so. The Méliès films were very short; his early pieces were only one minute long, and rightly so, because they present the sort of tricks preferred by Méliès, as a stage magician, over things like plot and conflict. (One of his longer pieces, probably 20 minutes, was screened as well, but it required narration by our host and I’ll admit I fell asleep for probably five minutes of it.) Spectacle works in brief bits, but spectacle without the pursuit of objective — i.e., people in conflict — loses its fascination. This is precisely the problem with some of Terry Gilliam’s films, most especially “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” which is a great bore. When nothing matters, nobody cares.

After the screening, and after a late lunch at the Pig n’ Whistle, an English pub originated in Hollywood in 1927, where I had bangers and mash and a Guinness, and where a busser cleared away my copy of The New Yorker when I went to the restroom (I wouldn’t pay my tab until they returned it — which they did), I went to the Moving Arts one-night event “Tainted Love.” This was an evening of — wait for it — short plays, staged in and around a large multi-level house high in the Hollywood Hills. It was terrific fun to be surrounded by so many friends of the theatre, including actors I’ve worked with since the 90’s, and to get reacquainted with a woman who has, off-and-on, been coming to see our shows for 25 years. I also got to see two longtime acting buddies play marshmallows — there they were in their respectably representative marshmallow costumes, playing it for all it’s worth as they feared getting roasted alive, and making me howl with laughter. Georges Méliès would’ve been proud.

Weekend revelations!

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

1.

On Friday night at almost midnight, I finally finished humping all those heavy boxes of comic books back and forth. At some point in my past, I weighed some comics boxes and discovered that each one, fully loaded with comic books, weighs about 60 pounds. Did I mention that I was moving 20 of these boxes from the “office” in my house to the kitchen to a staging area to sort, then out to the back yard, and some of them back inside? So that’s 1200 pounds hither and yon for about 12 hours.

My first revelation was:  Maybe I should give up that gym membership and just do this three times a week.

My second revelation was:  My life would have been completely different if I had collected baseball cards instead.

 

 

2.

On Saturday, my playwriting workshop resumed. I started running this workshop, “Words That Speak,” in 1993. Twenty-six years later, it and I are still here, and in the same location. (Moving Arts, in Silver Lake.) We’ve got stick-to-it-iveness.

When you invest three hours most Saturdays for 26 years in going over people’s pages and trying to relate why something is working well in them, or is not working well, or could work better, you dip into not only past playwriting and teaching experience, but also life experience. I heard myself share this, about how your perspective changes as you age:  “When I was a kid, I was always right, and my parents were doing everything wrong. Now I’m mostly a parent, and it’s my kids who are doing everything wrong.”

Driving home, I realized:  Hey, but I was always right!

 

 

3.

Most Sundays, I do the grocery shopping. That’s because I have a budget of $180/week and I stick to it. I mean, If I had extra money to throw around on groceries, I’d rather spend it on more comic books or more theatre tickets. (My wife’s version of grocery shopping is to spend twice that amount and crow about how much she “saved.”) I make a grocery list, yes I clip coupons, I stick to my list, I tabulate the expenditures as they pile up in the cart so as to ensure that I’m within budget, and then I carefully select a preferred checker, one who will ring me up correctly and accept all my coupons. Last year, there was a lady who not only rang me up wrong three weeks in a row but was quite nasty about it even when, I promise you, I was quite nice about her almost costing me six dollars extra. The whole endeavor takes me 45 minutes. You could set your watch by it. I don’t know how the invasion of Normandy was planned, but the weekly incursion of Ralph’s supermarket is plotted to a tee.

My favorite checker is a guy about my age named Raul. I like Raul for three reasons:  He rings me up right; he’s a store manager, so if there’s anything questionable, he never has to call for a store manager; and if there’s ever any question about any of my coupons or any sale item, he just takes my word for it. (As he should; I would never cheat them.)

Today he asked, “Why’s your hair look different?”

“I just left the gym,” I said, thinking momentarily of the dime I’d found at the gym and slipped happily into my pocket. “I took a shower there and dried my hair, but I didn’t style it. If I put in styling paste now, then I’d have to wash it in the morning, when I don’t need a shower — because I just took that shower at the gym. This way, I can just wet it and go. And get 10 minutes’ more sleep.”

“You’re like me,” he said, “always thinking two steps ahead. You have to when you have kids!”

Raul’s always grumbling about his kids. I didn’t know what they had to do with it — but on the other matter, the more I thought about it, I thought he could be right:  Maybe I am always thinking two steps ahead!

In 2006, I took the employee of a client out to lunch so I could learn more about the client’s company. She asked me what I was doing for them, and how it worked, and then when she fully understood, she turned to me and said, “So you think all the time? How exhausting!”

Well, it can be exhausting. (And it sure isn’t helpful for sleeping.) But… maybe… it also helps me stay two steps ahead.

I’ll have to think more about this.

Collecting value

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

We’ve got guests coming next week — guests we actually want to visit, but thank you for wondering — and so we’ve resolved to make further accommodation here at our hostel-in-waiting. Yes, we have… let me count … six bedrooms, or potential bedrooms, but one is my writing room (and so, nonot a bedroom), and one we still call “the office” although it was originally a master bedroom when built in the 1950s, as it also has a bathroom with shower. Our daughter moved to the unfashionable state of Florida last year, but our two sons are still with us, so that fills three bedrooms. Accordingly, we decided to house my great-nephew in our daughter’s former room, and to clean out the “office” (more properly, the “former office”) and turn it back into an en suite suitable for our much-loved friend from college.

In addition to bookcases stuffed with books, and one of the computer stations, what else is in the “office”? Part of my comic-book collection. By part, I mean about 20 long boxes. I know what you’re thinking:  only 20? That’s what I would think too. But there are another 40 in the garage. And two upstairs in my writing room, for… um… reference. And half of one in the master bedroom; those are the comic books I’m actively reading. So that puts me at owning about 19,000 comic books.

Such a small number for a grown man.

When I look at them, frequently all I can see is the ones I don’t have. Can you believe that I’m still missing a few issues of Herbie? I can’t.

A couple of years ago, my eldest son recently read my entire run of Lucifer, which I testify to you is gobsmackingly good and nowhere near as dopey as the idiotic television show theoretically derived from it. (Hey, let’s take the former angel of light, the Macchiavellian schemer with his own side of things as portrayed in the comic book, and in the TV show have him solve cases for the homicide bureau. ‘Cause, why not?) The entire run of Lucifer consists of a 3-issue miniseries, and a 75-issue main run, providing in all one of the comic-book-reading highlights of my life. In reading this run, my son said said, “Hey, you know you’re missing one issue.” “No, I’m not,” I countered cleverly. He said, “No, you are.” Then he showed me. There was indeed a gap in the run. … You have no idea how frequently I’ve thought about that gap in the run since this exchange of two years ago. … I know I bought all 78 issues, and read all 78 issues. This means that, somewhere within those 19,000 comic books in those 60ish boxes, there’s a misfiled issue of Lucifer. At some point, I will pay someone, one of my offspring, or maybe someone else — maybe even the great-nephew who’s coming to visit — to look carefully through all of those and find it, goddammit, and put it where it belongs.

Today, sizing up the available space in the “office” collection of comic books, and eyeing the “garage” space of comic books, I decided I’d pare back a little. I mean, common sense, right? Why did I have a few issues of Transformers? Channeling Marie Kondo, I figured that I could probably identify 600-1800 comic books that I could part with, if I could pull all the comics out simultaneously, cull the runts quickly with no further thought, thank them for their service to me and wishe them well in their next life, and if they were mostly from the 1990s when the artwork was truly abominable and the stories unmentionable.

The good news:  Eight hours of hauling 60-pound boxes of comics inside from room to room, and outside to a staging area, and I’m halfway done. And it’s only 7 p.m.!

I approached my two sons and asked if either wanted to put the soon-to-be sacrificed comic books on eBay or Local5 or whatever the hot selling site is these days. One begged off, having been down this route before; the other looked at me and, sizing up my state of mind, took pity and agreed to do it if he could keep half the revenue or even all the revenue. Once he signed on (although the specifics aren’t finalized), I started lugging all the comics destined for a new home outside under the carport (“out of sight; out of mind”). As the number of comics there grew, and as I threw out comments like, “This is the entire Ed Brubaker run of Captain America!” and I shed inward tears, I heard myself lapse into self-pitying and aggrandizing comments about how brave and noble I was to sacrifice even one — and look how many I was willing to forsake! My wife, inspired by my actions and now emptying an entire Honda Odyssey load of undesirable detritus from our garage into our van, knew to say nothing. My elder son looked at the comics I was putting out and said, “You certainly have enough of them!” He caught my glare and then quickly corrected himself:  “Well… you certainly have a lot of them.” I said quietly, “There are never enough.”

So, now, I’ll be parting with 600 of them. I’ve already got those set aside, and I’m not thinking about them any more. (Well, maybe those Brubaker issues of Captain America. They were so good!) This isn’t the first time I’ve sold comic books, God knows; I’ve been selling comic books in one way or other, professionally or just as part of, um, late spring cleaning, for 45 years.

But here’s what I think about:  Imagine if I hadn’t been selling them for 45 years. Imagine if I still had that copy of Avengers #1 handed down to me from 1963. Or that precious copy of Fantastic Four #1 that I bought for $85 in 1976. Now I could probably buy a house — even in overpriced Los Angeles! — just with those two! I also had all the early Amazing Spider-Man comics, and Journey Into Mystery with Thor, and at one time or another probably every key Silver Age comic from Marvel and DC. If I still had all those, can you imagine what they’d be worth? … No, not in money. To own! The good news:  I’m going to Comic-Con in two weeks; maybe I can get some more of these back.

In the meantime — interested in 600 or so awesome comics? Let me know!

Sunday and Monday

Monday, May 27th, 2019
  • Having decided — again — that the play I was working on had been best served in its one-act version, i.e., that it should not become a full-length version, this decision being made after many months and endless pages of struggle to turn it into said full-length version, a version that I was having trouble believing one bit of, I turned back to a play I started this time last year, in the hopes that it would become my new full-length play. Fingers crossed.
  • Had some friends over last night from eight until midnight for drinks and cigars and snacks. Two of them are playwrights, one is an editor of TV shows and videos, and one is this universe’s foremost expert on “Star Trek.” We talked a lot about comic books and, naturally, “Stark Trek,” and a bit about theatre, and a surprising amount about Nancy Pelosi (impeachment now, yes or no?). I guess we’re all exhausted of talking about you-know-who in the White House.
    • When the subject of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination came up, I said that now that I’d watched all eight seasons of “Game of Thrones,” I had a new outlook. “Almost nothing that happened in the first seven seasons mattered in the end,” I said, “and the Democratic nomination is like that. I don’t need to tune in until next June.” One of the playwright friends said, “Yeah, backing one of the candidates now is like being all-in for Robb Stark.”
  • Started reading The Terror last night after midnight (okay, this morning). This is why I mostly don’t see movies or TV shows on books I’ve read or am going to read — it’s impossible to get the actors out of your head. I didn’t see the film version of “Anna Karenina,” but nevertheless Alfred Molina is now connected in my mind with that book, which was the most compelling novel I’ve ever read. Same with The Terror; even five pages in, it was difficult not to “see” Jared Harris on the page.
    • I also had an extremely sinister and upsetting dream — one in which I manage to evade some sort of creatures in a post-apocalyptic setting, but wind up running into a real-life person from my real life, someone I have studiously avoided for a long time now, and was forced to work with that person. Compared to my nightmares — in this case, the nightmare of being forced to work with this person again — no horror novel can compete.
  • This morning when I woke up I vowed to finally do something about the ever-running toilet in the master bathroom that had to be manually jiggered in order to stop running water. So I went and bought the part at  DoIt Center (yes, yes, it’s been renamed D.I.Y. Center, but in my household it’s still called “doit,” pronounced to rhyme with the first part of “soitently!”). Back home, it took about 20 minutes to fix. Well worth the eight weeks I put that off.
  • My son left for an overnight camping trip, and our other two children are already out of the house, and my wife works nights, so at one point the two dogs and I looked at each other like the last survivors on a life raft. They mostly prefer the other people and weren’t sure what to make of it being just us.
    • But given that they know I can still open the refrigerator door, they remain hopeful and attentive.
  • I was cautious in announcing any triumph in fixing that toilet, lest I get assigned any further duties. Proud of my strategy in delaying so long!
  • Washed some dishes. Not all of them from last night! — not the cocktail glasses or the rocks glasses or half of the snack bowls and plates — but enough to be seen doing it. Should get me through for now.
  • Now I’m sitting out back surrounded by loudly chirping birds oblivious to all the bad news in this morning’s paper, and I’m prepping another cigar, with hope in the air regarding this new play, a play based on an obscure, rarely named and somewhat disreputable philosophical condition. Fingers still crossed. I’ve cleverly entitled it “New Play.” (Might change that later.)

Fred Willard 2 Night

Monday, May 20th, 2019
Fred Willard plying his trade with Jimmy Kimmel

Fred Willard plying his trade with Jimmy Kimmel

 

Here at the headquarters of leewochner.com, we’re big fans of the comic actor Fred Willard, dating back to adolescence.  As an early and longtime fan, I just about passed out when Mr. Willard himself came to see a comedy of mine 20 years ago. He sat through it like an Easter Island statue, but then went around telling people it was the funniest play in town. (If only he’d told the right people. But anyway….) It’s difficult to express what a great tribute that was.

The first place I saw him was on Fernwood 2 Night, in 1977, a syndicated satire of small-town talk shows that was supremely important to the 15-year-old me because it was so utterly divorced from the overly slick and rampantly unfunny “normal” offerings on regular network television.  Its gimlet-eyed take on false glitz mirrored my own skepticism. Willard played Jerry Hubbard, a none-too-bright sidekick/announcer with a flair for the obvious, paired against the disdain of the host, Barth Gimble, played by the multifaceted Martin Mull. Since then, I’ve enjoyed the work of both men; I’ve got all of Martin Mull’s solo albums, and as for Fred Willard, I loved him in “Best of Show” and so many other things over the years, whether they were little guest appearances or sitcoms, or voiceover work on King of the Hill or wherever.

I used to know his wife, the playwright Mary Willard, in passing, and went to one of her plays in the 1990s at the Company of Angels Theatre, up the street from Moving Arts (which may have been why we were seeing each other’s work; that, plus our mutual membership in the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights). I had heard that she died last year, but hadn’t given it much thought. Then, somehow or other through social-media networks, a couple of weeks ago I came across a howlingly funny appearance by Fred Willard in a clip from The Jimmy Kimmel Show, a show I have generally found not-howlingly funny and have avoided like a traffic accident. Fred Willard was his usual deadpan self, and Jimmy Kimmel’s transparently radiant joy at having Fred Willard to work with lit up the entire bit.

All of this is by way of saying that I was delighted today to discover a piece in the LA Times about Fred Willard, and about his personal renaissance under Jimmy Kimmel. (Here’s a link to it.) Fred and Mary had been together 50 years, the piece says, and when she died last year he was left unmoored and wondering if he felt like doing anything at all. Since pairing with Kimmel, they’ve done about 20 sketches together. I’ll have to hunt those down. It’s nice to know he’s still out there making people, including me, laugh.

Critical response

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

Tonight, my wife Valorie and I went to our friend Amy’s 50th birthday party at a club in Sherman Oaks.  Because our lives have been intersecting for more than 15 years, Amy and her husband Ross and Valorie and I have a lot of friends in common.

Still, there were some people there I didn’t know. One guy, Bill, asked how I knew Amy and Ross, and I explained that Amy is my business partner. I’ve also done a lot of theatre with Ross, who is a fine actor and director, but I didn’t go into that because the club was loud and it was a chore to have a conversation.

Bill said he’d known Ross for a long time, ever since they lived next to each other 32 years ago. Then he ventured that he saw Ross in “Cabaret” some years ago, and laughed at the memory, then added that he saw Ross in a show he did last year “across from Paramount.”

“Oh, what show was that?”

“I don’t know. Something with three people,” he said.

I remembered this play. It was called “Triptych.”

“How was it?” I asked.

“Not good. But you couldn’t blame Ross. It was the script.”

I didn’t tell Bill that I too had seen that play.

Because I wrote it.

(un)professionalism

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

IMG_0608

It was the best of (theatre) times, it was the worst of (theatre) times.

I was going to write a long post about professionalism, and actually had most of it written in my head, but I can boil it down to this:  Professionalism is like what Justice Potter said about pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Just over a week ago, we had our tech rehearsal for The Car Plays, which is running now at Segerstrom Center in Orange County. (It’s sold out. Don’t even try.) I directed a play called “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”; here are a few words about my cast. We rehearsed over the holidays; for this 10-minute play, one of the actors would spend five hours on LA’s notoriously convenient buses (two-and-a-half getting to rehearsal; two-and-a-half getting back home), and another one of the actors would drive about an hour each way; the third actor changed her work schedule whenever needed; one of the guys rehearsed a few days after painful, extensive abdominal surgery (!); and our artistic producer drove two hours out of his way to check on our show when we decided we needed to rehearse all the way across town and down south in order to accommodate the guy who had surgery. Meanwhile, three people coordinated and scoured the area for the necessary costume bits and props. Oh, and the tech? The tech involved about four dozen people and 15 plays, and top-to-bottom was probably the most well-produced, well-run, efficient tech rehearsal I’ve ever seen in the 40 years I’ve been doing theatre.

Meanwhile, in the past two weeks I saw an improv show billed as featuring “the top improv teams in LA” where people had no idea how to do improv — low energy; no projection; no familiarity with the announced-in-advance script prompts, and I assure you, these were very well-known script prompts; and where the second team, given its prompt (“It’s a play”) rejected it (“Actually, we’re doing a documentary”), which is a complete no-no in  improv. Rarely have 40 minutes seemed so long. Dying painfully of a gut shot would’ve seemed quicker. During the third of these internal skits, I leaned in to my wife and whispered harshly, “We’re leaving” and grabbed her and ran for the exit, past the audience, who consisted almost entirely of the other people waiting to do “improv” and a scattering of friends-of-the-performers who kept shilling for the performers in a recognizably false way.

The photo above is from a show I saw this weekend. You’re seeing the stage action from my seat. Some members of the audience dragged their chairs left and right in an effort to see something; I just gave up and decided I was attending a radio play. Before the play, the playwright introduced me to “the greatest director in the world”; judging just from that photo, I’m still waiting to meet him. I couldn’t quite figure out why this playing space had the absolute worst sightlines I’ve ever seen, until I turned around and saw that 20 feet behind us was an elevated stage! For some reason, the greatest director in the world decided to stage the play in a slightly elevated room across from the stage. This meant that, as you can see, we couldn’t see; it also meant that the actors’ words were lost to the depth of the room, and, given that there’s no light plot above a room (as opposed to, say, a stage), the actors were frequently in dim. It’s a real shame, too, because the play is better than that. But, the director and his cast found ways to bury the laugh lines too.

My best advice:  Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. Whether it’s doing live performance or changing the oil in your car.

By the way, the young woman in front of me, in the center above, had beautiful ash-blonde hair, as well as an attractively smooth back, both of which I got to admire closely for an hour and a half.