Manhattan Repertory Theatre is a really cool local company that has a lot of studio space right off of Times Square at 42nd street. They're dedicated to producing new plays by aspiring playwrights, and they don't charge hardly anything to you, the playwright, or you, the director to put on a show. Last week the director of one such show (see above) contacted my friend Zack to see if he could fill a small role. He could not, but was kind enough to recommend me, and thus, here we are. A friend of a friend, blah blah blah, no audition necessary, and I've got my foot in the very narrow door of the New York theatre underworld.
I certainly don't want to make too big a deal out of such a small role in a limited project. In fact, I've never been in a show before that had no stage manager, no designers, and no crew (so far it looks like the director will be running the light board and CD player herself). I'm just happy to be back in a rehearsal room, a space where any theatre at all is happening. It's also fun to get off the train at Times Square and walk past three Broadway Theaters on the way to rehearsal.
I have yet to figure out whether the play is any good. I don't quite get it, or at least I didn't at first and I'm slowly warming to it. It's a comedy; a contemporary farce set at present, and has a lot to do with indians, cowboys, wads of cash, diamond rings and the removal of clothing. I play an antiques appraiser, who comes in at the end like Fortinbras and sets everybody straight. If you're in the area, come on out. I know you want to, especially after that ringing endorsement of the material. For reasons completely beyond my understanding, the tickets are $20 a piece.
Months ago someone at work loaned me an advance copy of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Although it took me awhile to plow through it, upon finishing it I immediately considered it one of the best books I've ever read. For weeks I've been recommending it to customers at the store, and I've been pretending to forget to return it to the loaner so I can reread passages. David Wroblewski, writing his first book (which he took over a decade to complete), has somehow managed to craft a tale that is both an a original novel and a literary homage. It's sprawling, immensely imaginative, suspenseful, heartfelt, and it feels like a novel that will one day be an American classic.
The story centers around its titular character, a young mute boy who lives on the Sawtelle farm in northern Wisconsin. The Sawtelles take pride in training their own fictional breed of dog whose characterization is as import to the novel as that of the humans involved. Being inarticulate in voice, Edgar has an uncanny ability to communicate visually with the dogs, and his adept perception helps him to see the world in a different light. The story springs into action when Edgar's father dies and his uncle Claude assumes his paternal and marital roles, Edgar is thrown into a resentful frenzy. When he tries to prove that Claude was behind his father's death, things go horribly wrong and Edgar is forced to flee the family farm along with three Sawtelle dogs, and they live on the lamb until eventually, something calls Edgar back home. The story is artfully composed throughout, and while some may find the long descriptive passages a bit taxing, the plot is well paced and the world of the novel thoroughly explored. I had a lot of trouble putting it down.
It's fun to get in on the ground floor of something. I like being the first, among others, to enjoy a book (or movie, TV show, or play), knowing that eventually it will be hugely popular and people will come running to me and say, "You have to read this, it's incredible, I just finished it," and I'll respond "That old thing? Yeah, I read that months ago. I know it's great. Now get out of my face, latecomer!" After finishing Edgar Sawtelle, I knew I just had to wait for its popularity to increase, either organically by word of mouth and critical praise, or perhaps by a gentle media buzz, and I would soon be presented with many opportunities to look really cool.
So now it's possible that readers of substance will roll their eyes at the title, and all its credibility will diminish. I'll be resigned to discussing major plot points with nannies and rehashing themes with lonely middle-aged women. In fact, any conversation of the book will probably lead to the swapping of stories about how The Secret changes your life. Argh! Curse you Oprah!
It's not that I no longer consider it elite fiction. In the past, Oprah has selected high literature for her book club on several occasions, including classical works by Steinbeck, Morrison, and Tolstoy, and she has also chosen great contemporary works like Middlesex and The Road. It's just that she also has a tendency to recommend a lot of gushy, maudlin prose which is the stuff her viewers generally love and flock towards. So if your book is being plugged by the queen of sentimentality, it's possible it won't be taken too seriously in other circles. Of course, if you're a writer, you don't care about that because that little O sticker in the corner makes you like a gagillion dollars.
At first I thought, this novel is probably safe because it's over 700 pages long and at nearly every turn it intentionally mirrors the plot of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The language is thick and the book begins with an epigraph from Darwin's The Origin of Species. It's just too well written to be trivialized. But then I realized I was ignoring the basic facets of the story. It's about a MUTE BOY. And DOGS. And a BROKEN FAMILY. There are times when YOU CRY. Shit, it is an Oprah book.
And what the hell does it matter if it parallels Hamlet? So does The Lion King. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
Folks, you're just gonna have to trust me. Read this book. Oprah's not telling you, I'm telling you. If you're a dog lover, you will enjoy this book. If you love Hamlet, you will enjoy this book. Even if you don't know, or care to know Hamlet, you'll still find this book endearing and profound. Stephen King loved this book. Actually, a lot of the Oprah ladies have come into the store already (they walk in at 5:15) to check it out, but many of them hand it right back to me, citing that it's, you know, too big and stuff. Plus there's nothing on the cover that implies if they read it their lives will take new direction.
If you buy only one book this holiday season, which is reasonable, considering you're wallet is pretty busy bailing out insurance companies, treat yourself to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
It was fifty-five degrees and windy when I arrived in Central Park this morning just before seven o'clock. I could be wrong, but it seemed to me the coldest it's been in New York since spring. Now, thankfully, three hours later, the sun has come out, the sunshine in, and it's truly a glorious day. I'm sitting with my back against one of those temporary wire fences the park puts up when they want you off the grass. I ain't got no chair, but I got a blanket, a pillow, some goldfish crackers, and I got a few boredom-fighting Apple products. I'm sound as a pound.
The event is the Public Theater's 40th anniversary production of Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, currently in its last week of a twice-extended run at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The tickets are free; all you have to do is get to the park on the day of the performance early enough to be near the front of the line when they hand out tickets at one o'clock. "Early enough" varies from day to day, but if you get here when I did, you're safe. I'm roughly eightieth in line, and most of the two hundred or so people behind me will also get tickets.
I've sat in line for tickets to see Shakespeare in Central Park a few times now, and I recommend it to everyone. What beats a day in the park followed by free tickets to high quality theatre? You get to meet very interesting and dedicated theatergoers. You get to watch countless joggers, cyclists, dogs, bums, and tourists visiting the park. You can order food to be delivered right to you in line. There's a flautist. What more could one ask for? Plus, if you're lucky you get to see a fight between New Yorkers over line semantics and cutters/cheaters; really fantastic stuff, especially when the other members of the line democratically decide to extradite someone.
Okay, I have to stop and tell you that the flautist was working his way down the line playing the likes of "Fur Elise", "Musetta's Waltz", and "Can't Help Falling in Love". Then he gets to my part of the line: "We Three Kings of Orient Are", "Tomorrow" from Annie, and the theme from Indiana Jones. Let's just say there's still a dollar bill in my pocket.
I've never seen Hair orworked on it. I haven't seen the movie either. Tonight will be my first genuine Hair experience. I do know the popular songs from the show, and I know the plot fairly well, and as a theatre geek, I understand the significance of this musical, which I'll do my best to impart to you.
I think most people only know that Hair is a show where hippies hang out, sometimes naked, take drugs and sing about astrology, among other things. This, of course, is a gross understatement. Hair was the most groundbreaking show of its era. In 1968 when it began off-broadway, it pioneered both the rock-musical and the concept-musical. It was immediately controversial for its exploration of race-issues, profanity, nudity, drug-use and sexuality. The show addressed issues and themes that, quite simply, had not been talked about before in a theatre building. The show remains one of the most important representations of hippie counter-culture and the protest of the Vietnam War. Above all, Hair takes an in-depth look at pacifism and revolution, and examines what it means to be a hippie.
Hippie is a term that today has become largely generalized and trivialized. It seems to me that people nowadays throw the term around to describe longhaired people wearing tie-dye shirts, or folks who enjoy cannabis and Jimi Hendrix, but calling people hippies based on their style, appearance, and musical taste is not fair to them, nor is it fair to actual hippies. While many of things we visually associate with the hippie era (love beads, acid trips and the like) were definitely a part of the lifestyle, it's important to remember that these people fought for specific causes particular to their time. Their country wanted to force them to help fight a war they didn't want any part of, for instance. So remember, those kids down the block with the hacky sack and the pot: not hippies.
Anyway, I'm very excited to see the show. While audiences in the late sixties were watching something pulled right off the streets they lived on (including some of the performers), I now get to see the same thing, but as a period piece.
Some of you may have noticed Zach England complaining about not getting any mentioning in the first post. The reason for this is that he's not very important, but we'll humor him this one time, and while we're at it, let's paint him as a damned liar.
A few years back, Texas beat USC in the college football national championship game in comeback fashion. Zach was watching the game with Brian Gentry and Zach remarked when USC was ahead, "If Texas wins, I'm in the river." Well, Vince Young (who now apparently wants to kill himself over a few interceptions) caught fire and led the longhorns to victory. Consequently, Zach had to jump in the Tennessee River, in January. Flash forward to two Saturdays ago, where Tennessee loses an overtime surprise to UCLA. But before overtime, the Vols have the ball down three points with under thirty seconds to play when I receive an incoming text message:
"If we kick a field goal, I'm in the river."
It's almost two weeks now and that rat bastard hasn't taken the plunge yet. Join me in ridiculing his brazen threats and pending cowardly refusal.
At some point last December, while we were out to dinner, someone in my immediate family prompted the obligatory discussion of New Year's resolutions. We were to go around the table one-by-one, and resolve to do...anything...in the coming year. This way, you know, our studio audience would have plenty of zany antics to follow in the coming weeks as we tried/failed to reach our goals.
Out of respect for their privacy, I have chosen not to disclose the others' resolutions (read: I'm self-involved and don't remember), but I remember that I pulled mine out of nowhere that night. I had moved to New York only two months before, and the year ahead seemed quite daunting already. With so much - get work, find a place to live, make friends, come up with a plan, don't give up, and generally just grow up - already on my plate, I didn't feel comfortable piling on "take up the oboe." So instead, I reached into my pocket and pulled out "I want to start blogging again." It was simple, surmountable, and it had the luxury of being true.
And now it's September.
Let's just ignore the fact that I came so late to the party and cherish the fact I showed up at all. Here we are. Welcome! Those of you who were readers of my first blog (Dlog) know that it was poorly maintained and slowly updated. I expect the go-around to be different. It's possible that I have more time on my hands than I did in college, but that's not the reason I will post more often. Lately I find myself in need of a creative outlet, and obviously in the future I hope that such a thing will be available in the form of cracking my way into the theatre business, but for now, I think this can help. I also want to stay in touch with many different groups of friends and family, and this is a good way to do that too.
Also I may have forgotten how to write. I'm currently trying to work up the courage to use a semi-colon.
To get us started, how about I fill you in on what I have managed to accomplish since graduating from the University of Tennessee in May of '07. I'll be brief and chronological:
I went west
My summer at Shakespeare Santa Cruz was an amazing experience. I got to work with talented and passionate people in an environment that was almost imaginary. My correspondence with the great friends I made there, on the other hand, has been lackluster, and it's all my fault. Occasionally folks in Santa Cruz give me a call (at 3 in the morning), which is nice, but I haven't done my part. I really hope someday I can make it back to that company.
I came back
The three days I spent driving back from California was the longest I've ever been completely alone. I got a lot of thinking done. I also got a lot of mountain dew drinking and singing loudly done.
I moved into my parents'
Awesome, right? Well my parents are cool, okay, so rack off. They're the parents that hold the best sleepovers and always have the fridge well-stocked. Needless to say, I need to find an apartment, and it's not easy in New York, but it's going to happen soon.
I got a job
I'm a Barnes & Noble Bookseller. I guess it doesn't pay well at all, but it's enjoyable working with books and people who like books. I don't expect I'll be here for very long, but in the meantime, it's a good fit. If you ever want to distract me from showing crazy people where the sexuality section is, call 212.794.1962. I also occasionally run Doug's Doggy Daycare (unofficial title) which includes walking pups and housesitting. It's easy and it brings in some extra scrap.
I met a girl
A lovely lady named Meredith is now a huge part of my life. We've been dating for almost nine months. She's gorgeous and way smarter than me. Looking back, it's crazy to me that I just moved to New York and took only a few months to find someone. Sometimes I feel like I'm on Sex and the City. Anyway, she delights me to no end.
Some. Not enough, and not as much as I will this year. I went to my first New York open calls, and I got to experience my first agent-arranged commercial audition, and I got a call-back or two. Alright, I got exactly two. I have a feeling when the next New Years' resolution comes around, it will involve not sucking as much in this department.
I saw some theatre
My first chance to see a full season of theatre in New York has not disappointed. August: Osage County was one of the best plays I'll ever see. Rock n' Roll hit such a chord with me, I had to go see it again. Seeing Hamlet in central park with Mer on my birthday was a great experience, even if they shot horatio in the head. I also loved Top Girls, and no, Brad, that's not what it's about.
I went to the beach
After a notable absence from Moron family summer festivities in 2007. I was able to get away this summer and visit the whole gang in Garden City, SC. I love my family, and this week was special for me. Also, I got a sunburn that looked like China.
I got a day off, had nothing to do, so I started a blog
And I'll try to make it as interesting as I can. Please feel free to comment at length, post links, correct me, mock other commenters and make jokes, but please don't do it anonymously. I just realized this post had no foul language, but I can't guarantee that trend will continue, especially if the post relates to Tennessee sporting events.
My main inspiration for starting this today was my friend Alex, who I haven't talked to in a while. I was thinking of him today because his fantasy football team really sucks, and I remembered a time in college when I thought no one was reading the blog at all, but Alex told me "Every day I come home and open my computer to check espn.com and your blog. Only one of them is ever updated. You need to get going so I can have something to waste my time on." That felt really good, and it was encouraging to know Al could read.
Enjoy the weekend. I hope you're all ready for some football.