Saturday, December 29, 2007

more nog, please

Love these stretches when you can't remember what day of the week it is and then you realize it doesn't matter. Today's Saturday, I'm pretty sure. Too lazy to find the calendar or check the Times home page. Doesn't matter.

Found this in a notebook in what looks to be my handwriting:

A work of art, an original work of art, should come down like the Day of Judgement. For the faithful, it is the moment of consummation, for the wicked (which is most of us) it is a terrible, terrible experience.


Genius or gibberish? Or somewhere in the great in-between?

Taking full advantage of the weird week to hole up and read until I'm blind. Tearing through the Postdramatic Theater book, cracking A Thousand Plateaus, finished the Kandinsky, I'm on a tear. Also picked up two Dave Matthews CDs at a Goodwill up in Connecticut on the drive home from Greenfield. I missed him when he first came out, never really heard him except for the astonishing Ants Marching thing. Not bad at all. Serious musicianship, that's for damn sure.

More nog, please. Thank you, James.

Everyone have a good New Year's Eve. And if you find yourself shouting at and/or undressing a complete stranger, it might be time to go home. Alone. Or, it might be the start of something wonderful. Judgement, as always, is yours alone.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

holiday break

We're just cleaning up from the office Christmas party here at the Museum. Got crazy last night, me and Nancy and the cat all dancing around, lampshades on our head, way too much Electric Kool-Ade punch. Jesus, that punch.

Probably won't open up shop again until the new year and will be spending the first part of January in St. Louis, land of dial-up internet connection and Macs, so you might not hear from me until the Day of Her Birth, January 5th, Nancy Walsh Day.

Here's wishing everyone peace and rest and love.

Pretty hard year, 2007.

Raise a glass for those now gone and reach out your other hand and hold on tight to those still around. End of the day, that's all you've got.

Friday, December 21, 2007

guest host

I've got nothing to say this morning, but my buddy Wassily Kandinsky was keeping me up all night last night, yammering away. He said something like:

Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated. Efforts to revive the art-principles of the past will at best produce an art that is still-born. It is impossible for us to live and feel, as did the ancient Greeks. In the same way those who strive to follow the Greek methods in sculpture achieve only a similarity in form, the work remains soulless for all time. Such imitation is merely aping. Externally the monkey completely resembles a human being; he will sit holding a book in front of his nose, and turn over the pages with a thoughtful aspect, but his actions have for him no real meaning.

I said,

Sure Wassily, I hear you, man, but what about the spark of inner life? Put down that vodka, son, and tell me about the spark of inner life.

He poured himself another tumbler, in the old Russian fashion, right up to the lip of the glass, you know, and said:

This all-important spark of inner life today is at present only a spark. Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal. The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip. Only a feeble light glimmers like a tiny star in a vast gulf of darkness. This feeble light is but a presentiment, and the soul, when it sees it, trembles in doubt whether the light is not a dream, and the gulf of darkness reality.

Then he passed out, sleeping in his clothes on the couch. Big coat, boots, everything, just snoring and choking and coughing all night.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

idiot with a mic

So he's up there, joking and glaring and posturing and being all He-man Presidential and someone asks him about the blatant, glaring, obvious obstruction of justice that is the destruction of the tapes that show our guys torturing some poor, evil motherfucker.

Not harshly interrogating. The full-on money shot. That thing we don't do. Our guys doing it. On tape.

Journalist asks him when he found out about it. He squints, shrugs, chuckles and says:

"Sounds pretty clear to me when I say I have- the first recollection is when Mike Hayden briefed me. That's pretty clear."

Yeah. Classic. It does sound pretty clear when you say you found out about it. That wasn't the question.

You fucking idiot.

The question was when did you find out about it?

And if you don't think we all know the answer to that one, which is as soon as the shit happened and you probably got a hard-on just hearing about it, then you must think we're idiots.

Some of us are paying attention. And more of us are paying attention every day.


blowing of the horn

Everyone should run out and buy The Best Plays Theater Yearbook, 2005-2006, edited by Jeffrey Eric Jenkins. It's the 87th edition of this thing. Do the math, it started in 1919? 1918? Something like that?

Anyone got a calculator?

Actually, don't buy it. It's good, but it's like fifty bucks.

I bought two, not only because I want to read Grey Gardens and Rabbit Hole and Red Light Winter and Shining City and six other fine plays, but because of certain words written on pages 259 and 260 by John Istel in his essay, The Season Off Off Broadway.

I won't quote, because that would not only be blowing my own horn, but actually blowing myself right here in front of everyone, but suffice it to say that my own Christian name, (correctly spelled) is there. Istel, acute observer that he is, quotes my Obie acceptance speech and goes on to name me as one of the true Titans and original framers of all that is good and true below 14th Street. Hopkins, Parks, everyone gets a nod, with the glaring exception of Nancy Walsh. Behind every great man there's a woman rightfully screaming:

"What the fuck? Again?"

Anyway, a real thrill for your faithful correspondent. It's always good to have a thing around that says you actually did something at some point that you can pull off the shelf and hold in your trembling hands on those dark nights of the soul that come to us all.

Bought two, one for the dark nights of the soul, one for my Mom.

Great meeting this afternoon with Jess Bauman. She's a very kick-ass director whom we're working with, a fellow New York Theater Workshop Usual Suspect who's been working for awhile on something she's calling Into the Hazard, (Henry 5). She had a long workshop at the Culture Project last year, now the thing is starting to cook and she wants to bring it out again to the public eye.

If you like your Shakespeare, you're truly going to enjoy this one. Henry V stripped down, cast of six and very inventive use of video. She's casting this week up at the AEA building, so Nan and I go up there for a meeting, enemy territory and all that. We spend most of the time just bullshitting, but hell, we're only consultants. Early warning:

The workshop goes up Thursday January 31 and Friday February 1st, down at the Tank. Every one of you motherfuckers needs to be there. Even if it means jumping on a plane and flying in from Berlin. Hopkins.

Not that I'm singling anyone out.


All right, enough of that.


Also, I feel I need to address the issue of the first six songs on Icky Thump, by the fine young American band White Stripes. In an earlier post, June of 1971, I believe, I confessed to being unable to listen to the album until track 6 or 8, depending on how Celtic I was feeling at the moment. I've since sucked it up and put the bastard on from the top like Joe Chiccarelli, Jack White and God intended it.

It's fucking great.

Title track Icky Thump is first. No prisoners kind of shit. Here we go, hold on. Crazy-good guitar work, for a moment it's Led Zepellin doing Jethro Tull. Eighth-grade stoner jack-off heaven.

Next up is arguably the best song on the album, You Don't Know What Love Is. Direct, catchy, brutal. I'll just give you the chorus:

You don't know what love is
You just do what you're told
Just as a child of ten might act
But you're far too old
You're not hopeless
Or helpless
And I hate to sound cold...
But you don't know what love is
You just do as you're told

It's what you want to say to every smart woman in a fucked-up relationship. Your mom, your sister, your old girlfriend, your friend, every one of them. And it rocks.

Next is 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues. Not quite as good as its title, but not half bad. Really great lyrics, which is true throughout the album. Ends with:

One thing's for sure in that graveyard
I'm gonna have the shiniest pair of shoes


Fourth on the platter is Conquest which is fucking awful. Written by someone else, starts with a blast of trumpets, no fucking idea what this is doing on the disc. Still haven't listened to it all the way through. Seriously. You sort of run at the stereo, whacking away at it, shouting:

"Get it off! Off!"

Some sort of artistic Jack White bullshit.

No good. Skip four.

Five takes us back to where we live. Angry, spare guitar, Meg banging away on the drums. It's called Bone Broke. At a certain point, Jack's guitar seems to get away from him and play what it's been trying to play since Jack first picked the thing up. He chokes it back down, but there's a moment of whoah what the fuck? that's a lot of fun.

And then, I swear to you, it's off to the races. 6-13. Over and over again. Join me in my joy. It's all I fucking listen to. And I'm so happy.

I just read this over.

What is this, Rolling Stone? Spin? Trying to run a theater blog here.

I am a Titan. Ask Istel.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

jump down, turn around

Full day yesterday. Met up with the lovely Vallejo Gantner, he of PS 122, ostensibly to pitch him on The Event, a one-man thing I wrote for Matt Oberg. As always happens when I talk with V, we end up just laughing about silly shit. A deeply funny man. He's got dates in February, too soon for us to do anything, but he bought my coffee and a chocolate croissant too, so I look at the meeting as a clear gain for me.

Have to get up to 52nd and 7th to have lunch with Dave Weems, my new writing partner and old boyhood friend. I'm coming from 9th street and 1st avenue and its high noon, so I'm fully fucked. Jump in a cab, 15 bucks later I'm still eight blocks away and twenty minutes late. Jump out, run through the madding crowd, Weems is waiting at the bar. We tell each other how much money we're going to make writing screenplays for Al Pacino and Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick, eat stew, hug and I'm off.

CJ calls from Berlin, we talk about his new play America the Beautiful. We're probably taking it to Edinburgh this year, we both get the wild idea of rehearsing in Germany, dirt cheap there and maybe we can get a local theater involved. Hmmm...

Meet up with Jon Stancato of Stolen Chair, end-of-the-year catch-up thing. Stolen Chair have been clients for awhile, we're actually on retainer for them, how cool is that? Like we're lawyers or a goon squad or something. They are, frankly, rocking of late, got a NYSCA grant for two years, planning their latest unholy hybrid, working title is The Tragic Swashbuckler, an Errol Flynn movie as penned by Sophocles. Love how their minds work.

Then out to the wilds of Brooklyn to The Brick for a reading of Julia Lee Barclay's latest, Besides, you Lose your Soul, A History of Western Civilization. Julia's in town from London and the evening is hard to distinguish from some sort of feverdream. Everyone from the old Theatorium days is there: Elena, Fred Backus, Maggie Cino, Robin Reed, Danny O'Brien, Chris Campbell, the Dentons, the Piper McKenzie crew, Julia, etc. The Brick feels like a scaled-down Theatorium, in a way, and I keep flashing back to the old days, losing the train of meaning of the script, which is easy to do even if you're paying full attention because it's a Julia thing and you better not be looking for narrative.

Goddamn. Just typing all that wore me out. Thank god for the meth or I'd never get through these days.

Last League meeting of the year this afternoon. Things finally winding down. I'm about ready for my nog and a good book.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

many things

Looking ahead to January and Lordy, we're going to be busy.

We've all had those stretches where you check to see if the phone is actually on and wonder if you've insulted everyone somehow and figure it's finally time to get out of the business and go back to St. Louis and sell shoes, so it's good when the gigs come fast and furious.

We get back into town on the 4th, do the APAP conference thing on the 13th and 14th, rehearse for the nEW Festival in Philly that week, open Time to Dance on the 18th, fly to Edinburgh on the 19th to meet with the International Festival people and talk about Overlord, come back on the 22nd, fly to Chicago on the 24th for the Fatboy opening at A Red Orchid Theater, come back home on the 26th and then start the Overlord workshop at the Ohio the following week. All that plus a consulting gig that caps out on January 31st. Me and the missus will be dancing as fast as we can.

Congratulations to the fine folks chosen for People of the Year by the other fine folks at I know a lot of them, this being a fairly small fishbowl of a town, don't know some, congrats all.

And I'd just like to randomly say that I've recently come across two excellent young playwrights. Eric Sanders I've written about before, he wrote Ixomia which played as part of the Crown Point Festival a month or so ago. Beautiful, crazy, disciplined work. And my old buddy Danny O'Brien just turned me on to his wife's work. Julie Shavers some of you may know. She had a hit at the Fringe last year or two years ago with Go Robot Go. Her new one is Silver Bullet Trailer. Man alive. Can't adequately describe her voice, only read each play once, but she is funny, assured and very brave.

These kids give me hope. And it's hard to do this stuff without hope. So, thanks, Eric and Julie. Write if you get work.

Monday, December 17, 2007

the truth, at last

Didn't catch all of it, but the Sunday talk show highlight for me was Tim Russert going for the full hour with the Mittbot. I, personally, would have been worried about the lengthy exposure to the radiation or whatever it is he emits. And the mindcontrol he's clearly capable of.

That's one high-tech robot.

Tim, in best prosecutorial mode, kept patiently nailing him. Mitt would smile, hunker down and press on. Impossible positions would become defensible, clear contradictions in public statements would vanish. Extraordinary. He's got a great sound bite he's playing now. When pressed on the ludicrous and racist dogma of his church, he gets all steely-eyed and repeats:

I'm proud of my faith. It's the faith of my fathers.

Tempted to go with "also the faith of his mothers." But that would be a cheap Mormon shot and we don't do that here. Ever.

But he was tough. Hung in there the whole hour. Fiercely defended the Idiot from Pastor Mike, contorted himself into the actual shape of a stem cell at one point, talking about abortion and generally beamed the Presidential Death Ray full-on.

Maybe there's some alien/Mormon connection we're all missing. Joe Smith, abducted by Maroni, taken to the Mother Ship, impregnates forty alien Mormonots or something, they come back down, off to Salt Lake. Generations later, Mitt rises.

I love a good conspiracy. Too bad there's no electronic way to spread rumors and conspiracy stories rapidly, like, globally. Hmmm...

random Monday

Oh man.

Went to Dov Weinstein's bachelor party last night at the Comfort Inn on 25th Street. Got home around 3:00. Strippers, male prostitutes, cocaine everywhere, lots and lots of unprotected sex. The usual drill.

No. Just poker and booze. Hilarious.

Day started with my cousin Deirdre's birthday party out in Queens. This year was also her engagement party, so lots of family. And strippers and cocaine and unprotected sex.

No. We always use protection out in Queens.

I've had White Stripes Icky Thump, Tom Waits Mule Variations and the Very Best of The Grateful Dead on seriously heavy rotation here at the Musuem. It's like the Soulful White Men Station around here.

Last week before the holidays hit. Need to get some stuff done and in the can before Friday.

Friday, December 14, 2007

mug shot

And apparently my name is now John United States.

another reason I will never be president

Watching the Democrats debate yesterday afternoon out in Iowa and they’re all talking tough about protecting the family farmer, like it seems everyone always does just around this time of year every, oh, four years or so, and one of them, Richardson I think, lets slip that there’s only about 550,000 of them left. And I’m thinking,


Fuck the farmers, then.


550,000? There are more one-armed Filipino barbers in this country named Joe than there are family farmers. Why are we all bowing and scraping to these motherfuckers?

You’re going to say food, they give us the food, and I’m as big a fan of food as anyone else out there, but do they really do that? Doesn’t Beatrice or AgriGro or the Jolly Green Giant or someone actually do that nowadays? Is this just nostalgia? Some land-yearn we’re all having, some national memory/fantasy of the Joads? Do these 550,000 actually put the muffin on my plate or are they just sitting out there in Iowa going broke like the rest of us, only they’re doing it with a view?

If it's nostalgia, then shouldn’t we be fighting for the sheet music sellers and the icebox manufacturers and the organ-grinders? And their monkeys? What about those poor little monkeys?

Someone set me straight here. Don’t want to malign those hard-working farm folk, but what are they actually doing of vital national interest? And what’s up with those subsidies? Tell me it’s not true that you can make more money staring at a field than tilling it.

I remain,

Ignorant in Manhattan

Thursday, December 13, 2007

readings and writings and meetings

Had the big Captain Overlord's Folly reading on Tuesday up at the Ohio's Sixth Floor space. Assembled a true all-star veteran cast: Nancy Walsh, Kurt Rhoads, Kevin Pariseau, Paul Urcioli, Ben Schneider, Matt Oberg, Eva Van Dok, Bill Coelius, Matt Whitten, Danny O'Brien, Eric Davis and newcomer Kate Lord.

Man, it was good. Needs a ton of work, but as I said to someone at the bar afterwards, it floats. It's seaworthy. I'd been working on the thing for so long and this was the first time I'd heard it in a room with a bunch of people and it works. Hallelujah.

Second act is weak, but the ending is great. In other words, only things I can fix. Nothing needs to be scrapped.

Also read Greg Kotis' Bad Christmas, or most of it. Jesus, it's funny.

Met with my writing partner Dave Weems yesterday and he showed me our screenplay all typed up and looking real. Quite exciting. We've got a meeting this afternoon with a major player, Dave thinks he can hook us up with an agent and then, well, it's Scrappy Jack no more. Gentleman Jack, motherfuckers.

I'll be saying,

"Who? No, I don't think I remember you. From where? Stanton Street? I don't believe I've ever been to Stanton Street. Drive on, James."

In a bad bullshit English accent. Wearing a cape. O yes.

Also met up with Peter Tear and the good people at 59E59. The usual mutual hustle.

So far a productive week. May have yet another consulting client. We're just consulting our asses off around here.

All right. I'm late for a fitting. For a cape.

Drive on, James.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

another from the vault

Wrote this three years ago, after attending the Berkshire Conference, a high-end arts junket run by MassMOCA and some other big time folks.

I was asked to come and sit on a panel about alternative theater in America. Turned rapidly into one of the worst, most angering weekends of my adult life.

They put us up in high style, fed us, we were hobnobbing with some serious folks and Nancy and I stood around like a couple of assholes, not able to catch the flow of the thing for a single moment.

Went home and wrote this. It’s undated, but it must be sometime winter of 2004, if I was 41 and Ben Cameron was still at TCG.

I’m frankly surprised I wrote anything this cogent. I remember feeling only furious and foolish, that awful combination where you know somehow it’s all your own fault but you can’t figure out exactly how.

Anyway, here's the rant:

Either they don’t get it or I don’t. Either new work and new forms and young artists are perfectly fine and taken care of or their welfare is not up to us at all. The entire weekend colored by the disorienting, umanning feeling of encountering smart, successful people in my own industry: arts leaders, curators, programmers, and having nothing to say to them. Having no common experience. As if we had lived through completely different times.

Must remember that this was organized by successful nonprofits, Shakespeare and Company, etc. The nonprofit universe they live in has provided well for them. It’s a universe filled with smart people, alarmed people, aware people. They don’t need to be told that there is a crisis. They are dealing with the crisis with the strategies and vocabulary of their world. They’ve survived over forty years with this approach.

The problem might be that I have never been in that universe, not as an artist or a producer. I’ve grown up next to that universe, knowing a lot of the people, but never really knowing or respecting that culture. I’ve developed a deep distrust of that universe and a dismissive attitude towards it without ever really understanding it. It’s a complicated, ambivalent emotional attitude. I never joined that club.

I don’t have a club.

I’m 41 years old, have been working in New York theatre actively for 12 years and I can’t think of one ally I can call. Most people in the business know my name but don’t know my work. I have never adequately been able to describe my style. I feel there are reservoirs of creativity and resources and people I could pull together, but I don’t know what to do with these things.

I’m tired of not liking, of actively hating the industry I work in.

I feel too old to still be a malcontent.

And my strategy, to the extent that it exists, is fuzzy. If Ben Cameron said, here, take the reins, what would I do? I don’t want those reins, don’t want to drive that stagecoach, because, again, it works for those people and those institutions. I have to actively stop looking at that world and worrying about it and letting it anger me and be mature about it. Use it, accept it and work around it.

So, what do I want? To run a massive institution and die a cultural icon? To write a recognized American masterpiece? To articulate a new American style? To run the hippest venue in New York and 20 years from now be Grandpapa Fringe?

Figure you got 30 years, probably only 25. Still a long time. Start by knowing where you are.

My theater has always been generous, direct, engaged. Present. Keeping the focus on humans in front of humans. Low to no-tech. Text-driven, rhythm focused. Power of imagination. Blurring of performer/character. Open, easy acknowledgement of audience. No effort of creating illusion.

Start there.

three things that are perfect

A long night with a full moon.
A long night with a blazing fire.
A long night with a beautiful person you love.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

new rule

I'm on record for calling grad school for theater artists a waste of time and money. In some cases, graduate programs are perpertrating what amounts to fraud, taking massive amounts of money from young people or their parents and implicitly promising a thing they cannot deliver: a career in the industry. I tell students and others thinking about grad school to move to LA, Chicago or New York and start working. Volunteer to be someone's assistant. See every show you can. Audition for and take every job. If you're a writer, start writing. Et cetera.

It's all about flight time. If you want to be a pilot, you need flight time. The more hours you've logged actually in the air, the better you're going to fly. The more time you've spent actually on the stage, or in the rehearsal room with actors, or having actors and directors and designers talk to you about your play, the better you're going to be at your craft.

So, I'm establishing a new rule here at the Dime Museum.

No more grad school recommendations. My last one will be Chris Taylor, an excellent young playwright I met down at Rowan University. He's looking at Northwestern and from what I can tell, he's looking for the right reasons and while it's still a big mistake, it's one he's making with his eyes wide open. Plus, I promised him.

But that's it. I will no longer be a party to the hoax. If you're applying for a grant or a gig, I'm your man. But school's out around these parts.

Monday, December 10, 2007

dream ticket

It hit me yesterday.

Obama Biden.

It rolls, doesn't it? And Barack could say that Joe's one of the cleanest, most articulate VP candidates out there.

And Biden is Johnson to Obama's Kennedy. And of course, Obama isn't Kennedy, but Kennedy wasn't actually Kennedy either. Sure, Kennedy was Himself, but his admnistration was Vietnam and the Space Race and The Cuba Fucking Missile Crisis and then Dealey Plaza and bye-bye.

What if we could have a Kennedy administration without the Kennedy ending? What if a young, idealistic guy could sit behind the desk with an old, totally trusted guy in the VP seat? And what if, and I'm dreaming now, Barack had the balls and imagination to appoint

John McCain

The Man

As Secretary of State?

Yes. Think on it. Him.

Isaac has a point in a comment to the previous post, which is that Johnny wants to bomb the living shit out of most countries and probably most states beside Arizona. But the Secretary of State doesn't make those calls. And yeah, it's a really bad idea the more I think about it, but he came to me because he's the only person, the only one, god help us, to be able to state simply and with conviction:

No. We don't do that.


We're Americans. I swear to you that we won't do that anymore.

John McCain.

If you don't know his history, look it up. And forget about the last five years. He made a bad, stupid deal with his tribe and he chose loyalty over honor. It was a bad deal, but you should look at his whole life and you'll see that it makes internal sense that he made that deal. He should have beat the Idiot in South Carolina seven years ago. He didn't and he accepted that fact. And he stayed, tight-lipped and smiling, loyal.

Stupid. But honorable. I carry such a torch for this guy, don't know why.

So that's my banner:


McCain as SOS.

Hillary stays an extraordinary and effective Senator from New York. Edwards starts a church or a shopping network or something. Rudy's head explodes from internalizing the Snarl for too long, but he survives, of course. Big Fred is revealed to be Newt Gingrich on Dan Quayle's shoulders, dressed up in a Big Fred costume. Huckabee eats a pie, blows back up to 350 pounds, loses all electability. Richardson retreats into obscurity, still insisting, rightly, that he's the most qualified person in the race. Romney, angered but still smiling, goes back to the Mother Ship, after destroying several major American cities with the beams of light that come out of his eyes. And the rest of us find something else to bitch and argue about.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

the kids are all right

Took a free-fall leap of faith on Friday, out to an apartment in Williamsburgh to see an illicit, off-the-books performance of a certain fairly recent Off-Broadway hit.

Yes, I said apartment.

20 of us crammed in a corner, three stellar young actors foaming away mere feet in front of us, no royalties, box office, backstage, lobby, program, nothing.

We're just sitting in their apartment and they're doing a show.

20 0f us and except for me and some dude named Richard I smoked with at intermission, no one over 20 years of age. No idea why Richard was there. I went because a kid named Emily Loeb invited me. Emily came and saw Americana Absurdum in London three years ago and stayed in touch. Last week she emails me and says:

"We're doing this thing, we're doing it in an apartment, can you come?"

Now, I love apartment theater. I've seen professional apartment theater and random, broke-ass apartment theater, and I love both varieties. Even if the play sucks, you're sitting in someone's home, watching art or something like it flail and flap around in front of you.

I love it.

This one was spectacular. They're doing it a few more times, call me and I can hook you up. And if you're an agent or a casting director out there reading this, you need to see these people.

Nothing startling, just straight-on American psychological realism, but the acting and the direction are really, really fine. Play is quiet good, better than I remember it being. It's set in an apartment, so it works great.

Actors are the aforementioned Emily Loeb, T.J. Linnard and Ian Alda. Direction by Brian Frederick. Smoking young talent.

And from the political world, the best quote of the Sunday talk shows has to go to Joe Biden on This Week with George Stephanopoulus. Talking about the latest outrage, he says,

"...this is the Nixon administration without the competence."

Go, Joe.

My dream ticket: Obama Biden.

Say it out loud. It rolls, doesn't it? And we convince McCain to be Secretary of State and suddenly the world might have a prayer again.

I can dream, right?

Busy, busy week. Trying to get everything locked down before the holidays rage. 08 could be very rewarding if I can keep all the ducks in their goddamned rows.

Goddamned ducks. They just won't stay in their rows.

Goddamn them to hell.


Friday, December 07, 2007


I started working with a writing partner about a month ago, my oldest friend, Dave Weems.

I met Dave on the playground of Flynn Park Elementary School back in St. Louis in the fall of 1970. I was heading into my kindergarten class, he was an old creepy man cruising the playground.

No, he was also walking into class.

Best friends all the way through high school until I got kicked out and then we roomed together the first two years at Oberlin. Dave put himself through law school here in New York, works in midtown for some big firm. But he's been whacking away at screenplays the whole time. He bluffed his way into a meeting with a major player a month ago, called me up and said,

Dude, you have to help me finish this thing. This guy wants to see the script and its got to be polished and sharp and done.

So I put on my writing scrubs and we've got a screenplay. And we're jamming on a TV show and another treatment.

The beautiful thing is, I don't really care about movies or TV shows. I write plays. But I'm finding that it's really fun to pitch TV shows and movies because it allows me to tell stories, something I'm not that interested in doing on stage. But who doesn't love a good story?

And because we've known each other forever, we work fast and don't have to be polite with each other.

That's bullshit.


You meant to say blah blah...

Really fucking fun. And if we sell one of these things, that's like selling forty-three plays. I'm moving to Monaco. Scrappy Jack on the beach, sipping a Mojito, counting my money.

O yes. Believe it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

missed it

Man. Just realized I missed Maxwell's Ode to the Man Who Kneels. Had an actor friend who saw it and said it was the worst, most ass-clenching experience he's had in the theater in memory. Made me want to see it even more.

I'm an unabashed fan. His House is still the best thing I ever sat in front of. He did Boxing 2000 at the Theatorium back when. Many, many stories I could tell and will if you buy me some drinks.

What I need is a personal secretary. Besides the cat. Someone to tell me where I'm going and when and whether or not I should wear a hat.

Goddamn it. Now I'll have to go to the Netherlands or somewhere to see it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

WTFC strikes again

Berit Johnson, as reported by Ian Hill, at , has christened Charles Isherwood, second lieutenant of The New York Times as What the Fuck, Chuck?


Ian's blog isn't on my blogroll, I just noticed, but that's only because I'm an idiot and couldn't dial a telephone until quite recently. No idea how to get him on, embarrassed to ask Steve or Nancy again.

Sorry, Ian. I'm a regular reader.

In a rave of August: Osage County yesterday, WTFC penned:

The play has the zip and zingy humor of classic television situation comedy and the absorbing narrative propulsion of a juicy soap opera, too.

All right...

The play is killing all critics and hey, hallelujah. Tracy Letts is a very good writer and I know the guy a little bit, enough to know he's a guy not a gal despite the ambiguous first name, he read Fatboy a while ago and was very cool and supportive about it. He's also a very fine actor, as anyone who saw Austin Pendleton's Orson's Shadow at Barrow Street a few years back can attest. Judging from the current and projected field and the very strong notices so far, Mr. Letts should start working on some acceptance speeches. The Tony and the Pulitzer are out there waiting for the Chicago mantle back home.

So bully, Tracy. Good on you, son.

But back to Chuck.

He doles out the appropriate pull quotes:

"sensationally entertaining... blazes... the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years blah blah blah..."

Fucking great. A new play received on Broadway with open arms, great.

But then, Jesus, then, he wrote and someone allowed him to publish:

Watching it is like sitting at home on a rainy night, greedily devouring two, three, four episodes of your favorite series in a row on DVR or DVD.




Several things come to mind.


What the fuck is a DVR, Chuck?

And what the fuck are you talking about?

And simply,

What the fuck, Chuck?

I mean, fuck.

Come on, man.

Is there a good reason you can't go to the person behind the Big Desk who decides these things and tell him or her you are fucking dying to be transferred to the TV beat?

You're salivating, publicly, for the gig. You recommended, during the recent strike, that theater audiences should rent or buy Friday Night Lights and sit at home, alone, and enjoy themselves.


Sir. Chuck. You're a theater journalist for The New York Times. Do you have no idea whatsoever what your job is? Have you ever had the single thought, once, to wander, carelessly, thoughtlessly outside of your prescribed, corporate bailiwick?

Move over and let Zinoman or Kendt or Jacobs or Simonsen or Cote or Feldman or any of a legion of very qualified and hungry writers I, and anyone else who's paying attention, could name to take your spot.

Guys who care about the theater, Chuck. Guys who know what the fuck they're talking about and where the fuck they live.


What the fuck, Chuck?

Life will roll on at the Times, I guess. They gave up really caring years ago. A shame, but hey, at a certain point you have to stop looking at the idols of your youth for guidance today.

I knocked a first draft of the Melanie Stewart Dance piece out of the park today. Beautiful little ten-minute piece. Hope she likes it. Basically just boiled down C.J. Hopkins' screwmachine/eyecandy to a ten-minute dance thing, but it's good.

And had a wild, hour-long conversation with a tune-meister from the 70s/80s about a potentially big-ass musical he wants me to direct. Major money behind this. Could be great, could be ridiculous, don't know yet. Remember, I'm the genius who worked on the stage adaptation of Midnight Cowboy.

Never heard of that?


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

god's mercy on the elephant man

At the end of the first long day back in the Big Dirty, Nancy and I fall back on the couch and click on the TV.

IFC is showing The Elephant Man.

Haven't sat through the entire thing in years, so sure, yeah, turn it on.

Sweet merciful Lord.

We are plunged into David Lynch's one true masterpiece.

Black and white. Hopkins. Hurt. Bancroft. The Elephant Man.

He is not an animal.

Halfway through, no, ten minutes in, we are both convulsing, sobbing, and Nancy gasps out:

"This is not entertainment. This is just crying."

I blurt/snot out agreement and we watch the whole thing.

See it again if you haven't seen it in a few years or if you haven't seen it three times. Seeing it with no sense of the visual shock is seeing it fresh, seeing it for what it is. Christ, we went through half a box of Kleenex.

Then, (and this post is becoming a TV diary, sorry about that) there's a special on Fred Phelps.

You've probably only heard about this fine man as a bit player in The Laramie Project. He's a hateful, organized, Kansas piece-of-shit fuck who's made it his own personal mission on this green earth to protest anything that gets TV coverage with bright black-on-yellow signs proclaiming "GOD HATES FAGS" and "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL" and other such incisive shit. Fred and his church are particularly attracted to such blazing, public media events as private funerals for guys and girls who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.



Real subtle player, our man Fred.

The documentary clearly lays out that he's an abusive, deluded, deranged motherfucker, but hey, is that actually a news flash?

Here's my solution, assuming the prick is still walking around. Give me some time and money and I'll break the bastard. Seriously.

Anyone with real money out there, listen to my pitch. Because everyone's missing the two cogent points.

1. He's an advertising genius.

Why do you think the signs are black on yellow? They pop on TV. Why do you think he protests soldier's funerals? He gets press.

His website is You're going to go to it right now, how can you resist? It's a great domain name.

He's Rove to the nth. He's got the zeitgeist around the neck and he's fucking it doggy-style and the whore zeitgeist is loving it. He's brilliant.


Don't argue with the man. That's what he's counting on. That's just more free press.

Don't condemn the man. Same thing. There's only one way to defuse a brilliant, virtually unassailable position.

Laugh at it.

Turns it around. Makes him angrier and sillier. Crown him as the rightful descendant of Andy Kaufmann. Praise, honestly, his audacious humor and media manipulation. Place him where he belongs, as a jester, as a fool. That's what he knows, inside, he really is.

He's too smart to be that ridiculous. And he thinks he's smarter than anyone who may call him on it.

It will kill him from within. His own spleen will spit bile, writhe up and do righteous battle and strangle his own leathery throat.

Again, this is all assuming he isn't dead and turning on a spit somewhere. I just saw him on TV, what do I know?

Here's what I'd do with some money:

Hire 20 people to track Fred's Crew to every event for a year and have them wave the seemingly exact same signs. His signs are his ticket to TV. We've all seen his signs. They pop.

Except our signs say:

God Hates God

God is Fred

Fred Hates God

Fred is God.

God is Gay

Gay is God

Goo Goo Ga Choo

Gabba Gabba Hey

Et cetera. Increasing absurdity. Only our people are paid ,which Fred's faithful aren't. And our people are actors, and they'll perform better in front of the camera, which is the only audience Fred cares about. And our people, straight-faced and sincere, claim to be Fred's people. We out-faithful the faithful. And we make every goddamned Phelps outing a beautiful surrealist comic performance, gentle and warped and silly and patient and inexhaustibly comic. Keep calmly repeating Tommy Smothers nonsense until they turn off the cameras.

Because Here's the Thing:

2. He's got nothing behind the advertising. That's his whole play. And that's his weakness.

Anyone that media-savvy in today's world can't resist the media. So we bring him into our home field and we blitz his dumb-fuck, Bible-based, backwoods, piece-of-shit Kansas hateful motherfucking ass. Blitz him all day long. With step two:

Invite Fred and his family to have a civil dialogue in whatever forum they want.

Invite him not as an opponent or an adversary, but as a wonderful, accomplished, curious comic. This will take the patience of Job, but it will work. He vomits stupid hate, we gently, easily point out the absurdity and wait for the response. He'll probably refuse the first fifty offers, explaining to anyone who asks that he doesn't want to talk to fags, fag-enablers, sinners or whatever the fuck else he calls us.

We just keep inviting him. It becomes a joke. He becomes the punchline.

The trick with these absolutely crazy, unhappy people is patience.

They're nuts. They've got nothing else. They assume they can out-wait any sane person.

You make them a very minor but diligently observed part of your daily schedule, get on with your life, and sure enough, ten or twenty years down the line you've reduced them to the self-admitted joke they've always been. And sometimes, if they're crazy enough, it happens a lot faster than that.

Or, we could just hire some guys and shoot the evil fucker in the heart ninety times.

Either way. Call me and we can discuss details, money and the salient points.

My point, long-winded though it may be, is that Fred may be our own American Elephant Man. Keep him in the dark, in the shadows, hide him, and he's a monster, some Other that we fear. Welcome him into the discourse and he may just quietly lay down and die.

If the soul of John Merrick is out there somewhere, forgive me for using your horribly painful earthly existence to make this argument and I apologize for associating you in any way with the twisted, ugly, wracked, choked visage of Reverend Fred Phelps. The man looks like he's trying to damn his own lips for the audacity of speech every time he opens his mouth to spew.

Look at the poor tortured bastard. Jesus. If hate were hair he'd be Sasquatch.

Long day at the corporate office. Nancy and I had two serious meetings, pulled both of them off convincingly. Continued rocking on the Melanie Stewart Dance piece, think that might turn out to be quite good. Need to focus on the screenplay the next couple of days, that could be money.

Emphasis on politics lately. Just writing down what comes out. Thanks for reading.

catching up

A beautiful, funny, emotional week-end down in Dallas, catching up with Joe Nemmers and Sally Nystuen now Vahle. Met their respective off-spring and Sally's husband Tim, drank many margaritas, drove around town in our rented Hyundia Sonata blasting Tom Waits, drove by the apartment Nancy and I first lived in, many many memories were just standing there waiting to be waved at. And they all waved back.

Lost a day yesterday and can't believe it got to be December. Lots of things piled on the desk here, have some catching up to do.