Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Last night, I took a trip back to my high school days, and was reminded of how far I've traveled since graduating. Now I'm left wondering if I have traveled too far.
I saw the show "All Wear Bowlers" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the latest acquisition of Los Angeles's esteemed Center Theatre Group. The space used to be a movie house, and now is a newly-opened theatre that devotes itself to more original pieces than its big brothers The Ahmanson Theatre and The Mark Taper Forum.
The former movie house setting is perfect for the show, which critics have described as a combination of Laurel & Hardy, Samuel Beckett and Rene Magritte. Which basically means that it's a surreal silent film played out before you on stage. It is a funny, haunting, inventive piece of theater that reminded me of a less-gimmicky "Blue Man Group".
The show starts with a silent film. We see two men hopelessly wandering a deserted plain. Suddenly, by accident, there's a flash of light, and one of them finds himself lying on the floor of the theatre. He gets up, notices the audience and, in a wonderful trick of synchronization, steps back onto the screen to tell the other man about this newly discovered universe. Soon, they are literally leaping between screen and stage like children playing with a new toy. But when the film burns up, they find themselves trapped inside the theater with no escape.
They make due, unscrewing two of the theater seats and bringing them onstage, performing a ventriloquist act and, in an astoundingly simple but effective trick, creating an invisible third cast member. And yet they seem scared of the theater, for good reason. Eggs keep popping up in unusual places, light fixtures fall from the rafters and gravity starts becoming optional.
The show's influences are numerous, and yet you do not need to know anything about them to enjoy the show. In fact, I wished that I had seen the show back in high school, when I had never seen a Buster Keaton film, had never stared at Magritte's "Son of Man" and had only half-read "Waiting For Godot" before proclaiming, "I don't get it."
I realized this fact as Brey and I were leaving the theater. She was bouncing around, giddy and excited about what she had just seen. I, however, was in the hypnotic state I usually assume after seeing a great piece of theatre: Eyes down, gears spinning, head a million miles away. Brey confessed that I'm depressing in such a state.
I suddenly thought back to my first taste of alternative theater, which happened my sophomore year of high school in Spokane, Washington after seeing the national tour of "Stomp". I left the Spokane Opera House drumming on my stomach, wanting to dance around from the adrenaline the show left in me. However, seven years later, the only evidence of my excitement getting the better of me was the way I flew from my seat to applaud and cheer the two performers for their curtain call.
I realized that I thrust myself from high school straight into the adult world. Within two years of graduating, I was working an office job, paying bills, earning credit. And being a patron of the theatre, I became civilized and analytical. I could not remember the last time I responded to something the way I responded to "Little Shop of Horrors" in the sixth grade, "Rhapsody in Blue" in junior high or "Magnolia" my senior year of high school. I suddenly realized something very horrifying...
I grew up.
I felt the harsh sting of those three words as we walked back to my car. I felt awful for being so old and depressing (which only made me more depressing) and Brey felt awful for bringing it up (which was only depressing me more). We entered the parking garage and approached my car. As I was searching my pockets for the parking ticket, Brey, sensing that something drastic had to be done, suddenly walked off and sat down, silently, playfully challenging me to do something, anything.
I suddenly felt my high school days return to me and, in the middle of the parking garage, I launched into an impromptu routine that would not be out of place in the show that we had just seen. As I kept trying to walk to her, I jerked my arms and legs as if some invisible force was pulling me around. It culminated in a series of jerks and spasms that ended with me landing right in front of her.
Anyone could have seen me (and I'm sure a few people did), but I didn't care. It needed to be done. I cannot let my job and my desires to support myself through entertainment rob me of my childhood. I cannot grow up too much. I need to be a little bit naive, a little bit innocent, a little bit goofy. So thank god for this show and for my girl.
And to end on a completely random note: I have a personalized Google homepage that gives me a new word definition every day. And this was today's entry:
"virago: an ill-tempered, overbearing woman; also, a woman of great strength and courage"
Am I the only one that finds it odd that a woman who has great strength and courage is also thought of as ill-tempered and overbearing?
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Yesterday, I felt refreshingly alive for the first time in a rather long while. It is hard to explain how I was before, and even harder to explain how I am now. But the funk that I assume was perceptible only to Brey and myself is now a thing of the past.
There are several events that I believe have led to this blissful state of mind, and I believe they progress in this order: A fight with Brey, a hamburger to the face and reading "Little Women".
A little over a week ago, during a rehearsal for "Guignol X" (currently playing at the Hunger Artists Theater through October 31st...shameless and ill-placed plug), Brey and I had yet another of our little quarrels, in which one of us says something in a certain tone, which causes the other person to give a certain sort of look. These small misinterpretations escalate to the point where we are both in foul moods.
While trying to get out of this argument, Brey informed me that I seem less happy in our relationship. I considered those words carefully, and for the first time, I felt like it was true. What I wanted more than anything is to be a couple where we could tell each other everything, and I felt like we were both walking on eggshells so as not to offend each other. We were turning into the exact opposite of what I wanted.
What followed were frighteningly serious talks about our future. What amuses me in hindsight is that these discussions could only take place in fifteen-minute spurts until one of us had to be on stage to be funny or frightening, then back to the discussion.
However, one of the things that I love the most about Brey is that we can sit down and talk through our problems like sensible, logical adults. In the glow of the College Business Park streetlight, we listed the problems that we have with each other, the things we need to work on. It was immensely satisfying to both say and hear those things, and we have been back to normal since then.
Then, we had opening weekend of "Guignol X" (this is where the shameless plug should have been, but I'm a rebel), and one of the vignettes that I am in is having a perspective-changing effect on me not felt since "The Gog/Magog Project". What's funny is that both pieces were written by the same person.
The piece is called "Gorge Rising". It is a brutal attack on the fast food industry as two Hansel and Gretel-like characters (played by the incredible duo of Joe Smash and Jessica Beane) tie up the assistant manager of a hamburger chain called Dinky's, and proceed to wreak havoc on him.
Throughout the show, I am shouted at, pushed around, licked, nearly have my neck snapped, and am forced to eat not only five hamburgers, but sawdust (really crumbled up graham crackers), bloodworm (brownie mix and gummi worms) and rat feces (chocolate sprinkles and raisins). The show is a grueling experience, as there is very little in it that is an trick of stage combat or special effects. Yes, I'm really getting that much food shoved in my face.
After the show, I walk off-stage covered in five types of food, fake blood on my face and in my hair. My mouth is sore, cold sores forming on the insides of my lips. Every so often, there might be a scratch on my face, or something up my nose like graham crackers or fake blood. I look like I've risen from the grave after being buried under a Nabisco factory.
And oddly enough, the piece makes me feel alive. I am not simply skipping up to the stage to recite meaningless jokes or tearfully pound home an "important" message. I am volunteering to go through an experience that most people in their right mind would not subject themselves to simply because I love the play. It's strangely revitalizing to know that there's a piece of theater so good that I am willing to be tortured for it. If only more shows could be this immediate and redeeming.
Then, I recently found out that I am going to be cast in the next Hunger Artists show, which is an adaptation of "Little Women". I will be playing the role of Laurie (which was played by Batman in the latest version), and to better understand the character, I have been reading the novel.
Yes, go ahead and make your gay jokes now...I'll wait...Okay...Oh, that's a good one...Oooh, burn, got me there...You finished?...Oh, wait, one more...Okay, now done? Cool.
I've discovered a couple of things while reading the book. First of all, Christian Bale had a very unusual approach to Laurie in the movie. Where the Laurie in the novel is bashful and lonely, Bale's Laurie was charming and playful. It worked in the movie, but was an odd choice, considering the way the source material describes him.
Secondly, it's really quite hard to feel depressed while reading the book. I believe one of the reasons that it has held up over time is its incredible warmth. These characters, steeped in poverty, trying to do good while making ends meeet, are so sincere in their nature that it is difficult to not get drawn in to their problems which, especially in the backdrop of the Civil War, seem rather petty.
It made me look at what's been going on in my life? Why was I in such a funk? What was bothering me so much? What was I desiring? I can't answer these questions, for I really don't know why I was being such a dick. All I know is that I've undergone a severe attitude change. Brey pointed out yesterday that I even seemed to have a sense of joy when talking about my job.
So a fight, some torture and a classic novel. Like two left jabs followed by a right hook, it knocked some sense into me and showed me what I have and what I should be grateful of.
On a completely unrelated note, the movie "Me and You and Everyone We Know" came out on DVD today. I know I've obsessed about this movie in previous posts, but I can't express enough just how awesome this movie is. Rent it this weekend. You won't regret it.
Monday, October 03, 2005
There is a new guy at the office who has singlehandedly reminded me why I love doing storefront theater over professional paying gigs.
This man, we'll call him "Jori" (because frankly shouldn't there be more Jori's in the world?), is the latest addition to our lunch circle (the now four-member group that sits next to the company fountain, chicken quesadillas and tuna melts cooling in front of us, while we discuss the topics of the day).
Today, we are discussing the upcoming show I'm in ("Guignol X", opening Friday at the Hunger Artist Theater...Shameless plug), and the following dialogue ensues between him and someone who we'll name Hecuba...
JORI: I did that for a while. Full-time.
JORI: Yeah. The biggest thing I did was I was in "La Cage Aux Folles" the first time it was on Broadway, about twenty years ago.
HECUBA: Wow, really?
JORI: Yeah. But I couldn't do it anymore.
HECUBA: Why not?
JORI: Because you save up all this money, then you spend five months unemployed spending all that money while you wait for your next job.
ME: Yeah, a full-time job like this won't do if you want to go professional.
JORI: Yeah, because sometimes you have performances during the day.
ME: And rehearsals during the day, too.
JORI: But I miss it. I miss it a lot.
HECUBA (pointing at me): Well, maybe you should start doing stuff at...
JORI (looking as if she had suggested he try garbage collecting as his trade): No.
HECUBA: Oh, okay.
I'm glad that people like him are around to let me know that the kind of theater I do is amateurish, unprofessional and, from the way he was acting, downright filthy.
Because I thought that I was one of a troupe of talented, dedicated and passionate acters, directors and designers doing what we love without any sort of compensation other than the experience, one of a handful of troupes trying valiantly to stay afloat in this culture-deprived county. I didn't know that I was simply some talentless nobody monotonously reciting Larry Shue dialogue while forgetting to cheat out and project my voice.
So Thank God for people like Jori, who can let me know that what I'm doing is unimportant, merely a roadside strawberry stand in the highway of theater. And thank God that he can regale us with his tales of yesteryear, underscored by his torment at having to give up a life on the stage without daring to compromise his dignity by doing STOREFRONT THEATER! I'm sure the very words send chills up his spine.
And how dare Hecuba even think of suggesting that - instead of spending his nights watching "Desperate Housewives" - he waste his time at some theater that would not only fellate him just to have a morsel of his wonderful talents, but would not know how to properly use those talents to any sort of great effect.
After all, if he were going to do theater in the area, it would have to be professional venues like Laguna Playhouse or South Coast Repertory. But only now that they have been established as Equity theaters, and not when they started out being storefront venues.
And he'd rather be working with Broadway stars, like Cheyenne Jackson. But only when he is the lead in shows like "All Shook Up", and not when he was doing community theater productions of "Cinderella" in Idaho.
So thank God for Jori, who can remind me what real theater is.