Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Asking for Trouble 2012: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on VHS

There are many, many reasons to love Youngblood’s ASKING FOR TROUBLE, which opens tonight at EST at 7pm, but for me it comes down to the actors.

Man, these actors.

I’ve been working with three big talents – Merissa Czyz, Bob Jaffe, and Jay Patterson – and you should definitely come see them rock out my show, “Flannel and Lace,” as part of Series A tonight at 7pm, Thursday at 8:30pm and Saturday at 3pm. Stick around tonight for Series B at 8:30pm. In fact, see it all. It’s gonna be great.

But I’m posting on Youngblog for the second time in almost as many days (sorry) to comment on the role one of those actors has played in my development as an artist and human and why this has made my first A4T experience extra special.

My childhood was defined by VHS. I was part of the first wave of kids to have easy access to cheap on-demand video entertainment. It arrived in the form of boxy tapes you could rewind and rewatch to your heart’s content. And when I was a kid there was no VHS I watched more than the 1990 action blockbuster Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I crushed that cassette.

Fast-forward to the A4T pick party a few weeks ago. I sat down after drawing the names of my actors and immediately began the necessary Google stalk. The instant I saw Jay Patterson's headshot I knew who he was, even before IMDB confirmed it.

Jay starred in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

He played Charles Pennington, the father of a troubled teenager who flees home to join archvillain Shredder’s dreaded ninja street gang, the Foot Clan. 

I have watched this man act more times than I'd care to admit. I have forced my brother to play him in backyard remakes of the movie while I played Shredder. To Jay this may have been just another gig. To us, this was the art that mattered, the art that taught us how to tell stories.

So I wrote a short where Jay plays an eight-year-old boy, Bob plays his older brother, and Merissa plays their mother. The three of them tell a story. For all the years my brother and I spent playing Jay, now Jay is playing us. 

And he is a fantastic actor – funny and scary and heartbreaking – as are Bob and Merissa. I could not be happier to be working with them and director Matt Dickson. If our play were a VHS, I’d order a pizza with anchovies and watch that sucker on repeat. Come out to EST this week and see for yourself.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Hot Playwrights XIV

When preparing my application for Youngblood I read this blog obsessively (actually, once) to get an insider perspective on the organization and help me make the case for membership. Obviously my hard work paid off.

In my reading I came across an intriguing series of posts with a title that most would agree is a contradiction in terms. “Hot Playwrights” represents Youngblood’s attempt to catalog attractive dramatists. And you know what? It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.

Sam Shepard – Hot
Samuel Beckett – Hot
Euripides – Probably Hot

There’s only one problem with the series: what are we supposed to about it? We can’t date these people – most of these individuals are, for various reasons, undateable.

Sam Shepard is old.
Samuel Beckett is dead.
Euripides is very dead.

And while there are quite a few not-dead playwrights in the series, most are above the cut-off age for Youngblood and may not be in the dateable range for our membership. So I decided to troll the internet to find a writer who qualifies and who’s not in Youngblood because  that would be incestuous, and theater is never incestuous.

BOOM – found her. English playwright Polly Stenham. Very accomplished. Very hot. So I figured I’d write her a letter, on the internet, because that’s how dating starts?

Dear Polly,

You are a phenomenally talented writer with plays produced on the West End and at Manhattan Theatre Club, and I write this with the utmost respect: do you want to date?

Sure, you say, you’d be a catch for a guy like me. Struggling playwright attaches himself to successful playwright to raise his profile. Classic playwright move.

Here’s why it makes sense for you:

I am a bad person. I drink too much. I have zero friends. I live on a steady diet of bodega cheesesteaks and American Spirits. I have no savings, and my checking stands at forty bucks, which is like five pounds in hemophiliac money. I am a total mess.

Okay, well, that wasn’t how it makes sense for you. Here’s how it makes sense for you:

Friends will be confused. They’ll say:

“He’s a mediocre playwright.”
“He’s an American.”
“He’s peeing in the sink.”

But you won’t listen. You are a headstrong artist on the prowl for inspiration. You see in me what others had missed, an opportunity, a stumbling-drunk writer with a few days stubble practically screaming to be moved from life to the page to the stage. You want me to be your muse.

Here’s how I imagine our first date will look:

I head over to pick you up from your flat in foggy London town. You invite me in – you’re sorry, terribly sorry, you’re running late, you have to powder your nose, I’m early, Americans are always early, yes, won’t I have a drink?

I blubber, “Yeessh. Drinkey,” and stumble over your tasteful furniture, my belly uncomfortably full with the six gin gimlets I hastily imbibed in the pub down the street. You are dressed impeccably like the beautiful flower that I know you are with your platinum hair cut pixie short, a cigarette dangling from those puffy, chapped lips.

I proceed to vomit on your rug.

You laugh it off and scribble something in your moleskin.

When we get to the Indian restaurant (you rightly ignored my suggestion of Burger King) you order chicken tikka masala with your perfect posh accent, betraying your perfect public school pedigree. I tell the waiter that I want a cheeseburger, and I want it now, yapping at him with more than a hint of my father’s uneducated Appalachian drawl. You laugh, though. With me, at me, it doesn’t matter. Your smile reveals your poor British dental care, but I don’t mind. I love your imperfections. They’re heartbreaking.

After dinner we head back to your place, your charming flat, and into your room, and under the sheets, and turn off the lights, where I  promptly fall asleep with my clothes on, snoring like a man who will, in a decade or less, die of alcohol-induced sleep apnea while serving as resident playwright of my hometown community theater. And while I’m asleep you whip out your moleskin again and write a new play, another masterpiece, this one about an intolerable American writer, modestly talented yet hopelessly self-destructive. The public loves your fictions.

You’re Welcome,