Friday, December 19, 2008

school's out

Snow is falling on Rat City and all is right with the world.

Happy holidays, all.

See you in 2009.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

cleaning up the desk

The Museum officially shuts down for the holidays on Saturday at 9:15 PM when the final curtain falls on The Truth About Santa.

After that, it's skedaddling time.

A hell of a year, with mothers-in-law dying and wives bursting into flame and all of the daily doubts and defeats that come with working in the theater in America in the 21st century.

A hard year.

But looking across my desk I see the headshots of some of the beautiful, brave actors I was able to work with this year; I see the fourth and fifth drafts of The Event and Captain Overlord's Folly; I see a huge stack of the by-laws of The League of Independent Theater and I see messages I have to return from friends across the country and overseas and the day seems a lot easier suddenly, the job not quite so hard.

We're getting somewhere, you and me.

Day by day, year by year, show by show and argument by argument we're building an American theater.

Even though some days it feels like we're just flailing about and trying to stay afloat, when you look back a bit, you can see something taking shape.

Thanks all, for reading, commenting, seeing the shows, writing the shows, saying the lines, running the boards and being part of it this year.

On to 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

come see Santa

Five more chances, tickets are starting to get scarce.

I'm to the wall today, more tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

basic principles

I'm wading through all of these end-of-the-year reports here at the Museum.

Same basic results you always see: people aren't going to see straight plays, arts funding is declining, theaters are closing, etc.

I can get lost in the minutia and I can get paralyzed by the stats, but once I get up from my desk I'm going to trudge my ass over to the Kraine theater and get ready for another show.

I've written before that theater is not a business, it's a vice. It may be helpful in some circumstances to speak of it as a business, but it's very dangerous and short-sighted to think about it that way.

Some other basic truths I'm going to try to stay mindful of this year:

A theater is not a corporation.

Art is not a product.

An annual budget is not an accurate measurement of a theater company's health.

Money comes third, if at all, in the list of Things You Need To Get Something Done. First is the good idea, second is a group of people to help, third is money for resources or just the resources themselves.

All right.

Sometimes it's good to put it down in black and white. Helps clear away some of the clutter.

Everyone and my sister got the MMMQ, you sexy things, you. It was Hot Chocolate indeed believing in miracles back in the 70s and through the miracle of time travel, Rose's All Star Jug Band was playing along in the background.

Going to need to ratchet it up again next week. Childhood nicknames of 19th century Italian altos anyone?

Monday, December 15, 2008

rear view mirror

I'm doing a lot of looking back these days, quietly amazed and very grateful to still be doing what I do after 18 years in the Big Dirty.

We never had much of a plan, just tried to stay interested and interesting and chase whatever seemed fun at the moment.

16 years ago we started Present Company, 11 years ago was the birth of the Fringe Festival, 6 years ago we launched Clancy Productions.

I'm feeling the end of another phase and the beginning of something else these days.

Maybe spend more time this year at the writer's desk and less time in the rehearsal hall.

Don't know.

I'll just keep walking down the road, I guess, and try to keep my eyes open.

We're looking way back for this morning's MMMQ.

Found another great CD awhile back: Big Hits of the 70s. It's all there: Right Back Where We Started From, Hot Child in the City, Hooked on a Feeling. 70s AM radio gold, my friends, including my personal favorite, You Sexy Thing.

So who believes in miracles and wants to know where you're from?

You Sexy Thing was recorded by:

1. A Taste Of Honey

2. Hot Chocolate

3. Blue Swede

4. Sugarloaf


5. The Rose Howard All-Star Jug Band featuring Rose "Vorn" Howard?

Friday, December 12, 2008

come on, ben

I know I shouldn't care.

Reading a Brantley or Isherwood essay in the Times is like putting on Fox News, you know you're going to get a warped, freeze-dried, corporation-centric view that's just going to make you angry if you've got the energy or drive you to despair if you're already down.

Brantley offers some holiday gift suggestions today, something to get the dear reader's "sensitive young cousin" who wishes to be "Theater-fluent".

I'll politely decline to address the fey theater-fag slur, nasty as that is, and point to the central problem with the article:

The people who run the theater in this country believe it stopped in 1970.

Brantley recommends Moss Hart's autobiography, William Goldman's account of the 1969 Broadway season, Peter Hall's diaries from the 70s and a collection of Tynan's reviews orginally published in 1961. And a boxed set of Sondheim CDs.

I own all of the above and am glad I do.

But come on, Ben.

How about recommending Mamet's essays, David Savran's Breaking the Rules, any of the ten Plays and Playwright's collection put out by The New York Theatre Experience?

How about Hans-Thies Lehmann's Postdramatic Theatre?

How about something from the 21st century?

It shouldn't piss me off, I know, this is the cultural equivalent of Bush-bashing, I'm just winding myself up, I know.

But, goddamn.

We're not going to find the future of this artform in Peter Hall's diaries. We're not even going to find it in Judith Malina's diaries.

It's this condescending, closed-casket cant that reinforces the idea that our role is to be cultural custodians, dusting off the old masterpieces and keeping the public at a respectful distance, rather than reckless creative agents, grabbing the public any way we can and dragging them in.

Come on.

All right, I'm done.

Enjoy the weekend. And take your sensitive young cousin to a storefront theater and see a new American play.

They still make those, you know.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Feingold and faith

This is Feingold, writing in the Voice about eight years ago, an essay titled "Your Future, My Past":

...the theater has a future, in our geography as well as in our souls. Technology built the big retail chains that have taken over so much real estate, and technology, via the Internet, is slowly weeding them out of it. Soon the realtors will be eager to welcome us back into their vacant, spacious storefronts. At the same time, millions of desk-locked, glazed-eyed Web workers will be flooding the streets, desperate for unplugged, un-downloaded human experience. We had better be ready for them. We had better know our history, our mission, our tradition, our means for reaching audiences, and our justification for addressing them. We must be ready to speak as the theater has always spoken, to any and all comers. What stories we tell, and how we tell them, will be the meaning of the next millennium, long after the DVD drives and MP3 players have ceased to work.

And I'm reminded again that having faith means not only believing the impossible will occur, but believing it's the only possible thing that can occur.

We're going to get this city back, one arts center at a time.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

another bunker overrun

The Ohio Theater, a place I'd rank as New York's premiere 99 seat house, is in deep trouble.

The building's owners are selling and the space where I built Fatboy and Captain Overlord's Folly, the place that has hosted Clubbed Thumb, the Ice Factory, Pig Iron and the Riot Group, Les Freres Corbusier, WOW International, Inverse and hundreds of other Off-Off and international companies will be re-fitted to sell shoes or coats or some other fine retail merchandise.

We need a sane arts space policy in this city.

We need to honor the history and contributions of Off-Off or independent theater and we need to do that concretely, by preserving the theaters and providing stability and continuity to the theater owners and operators.

Off-Off is a 60 year old sector; a national treasure recognized globally as an innovative engine driving American theater forward. It's where so much of it begins, where so many get their start.

If you keep closing laboratories, where does the research get done?

If you sell the farmland, where do you get your produce?

If you dam the river's source, what happens downstream?

This is a matter of common sense, civic pride and cultural preservation.

And it's only a matter of time before another fortress falls.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

love from above

Great Times review for Truth About Santa today.

Pull quotes out the ying-yang, praise Gob.

It says I staged it with gusto, actually used brio, but what the hell, they can always run a correction.

So, besides some League of Independent Theater business, the rest of the year is just champagne, hookers and cigars for your scrappy correspondent.

And some caroling, of course.

All hail the Lampshade Queen. It was Keith Moon, clad all in ginger, holding a pint of ginger lager, according to Pete Townsend, who drove the original Who drummer from the stage and took his rightful seat with the immortals.

Sorry, Rosie. Should have gone with the Monkees tip and picked up the Sweet Rosie Exception.

Monday, December 08, 2008

get LIT

Working out of the Pocono office for the next few days. Snow on the ground, squirrels leaping from bare branch to bare branch, bright blue sky above.

Opened The Truth About Santa to enthusiastic, appreciative crowds, now waiting for the critics to send their holiday greetings.

And on Sunday morning a group of us officially launched the League of Independent Theater at Barrow Street Theater with our first Members Meeting. About fifty folks showed up bright and early and we started charting strategy and setting priorities for 2009. Very energizing and encouraging to sit with smart, committed people for a couple of hours and walk out with a sense of possibility and even faith that we can change things if we keep working.

If you haven't joined yet, you can download the application at

Here's something I handed out to the members:


I’ve spent the last 18 years working in Off-Off or independent theaters in New York City. I’ve helped build two of them and have performed, rehearsed, produced and presented in hundreds more. I’ve seen generations of actors, writers, directors, designers, technicians, administrators and small companies struggle, triumph, fail, go broke and then start up again. I’ve sat in meetings with funders and consultants whose criteria and advice bear no relationship with the working reality of our sector of independent theater. I’ve bit my tongue almost off when talking with mainstream journalists and Off-
Broadway producers all professing bewilderment at where the next generation of artists can be found.

And nothing, essentially, has changed in this cultural and economic territory since I started working here.

Rents are too high.

Audiences are too small.

Runs are too short.

Resources are scarce.

Recognition and respect are hard-fought and fleeting.

This is why I’ve worked to create the League of Independent Theater and why I’ve volunteered to be its’ first Executive Director. Not because of any unique gifts or insights I can provide to this organization, but because I’m unwilling to accept that the conditions we work in cannot be improved if we only, finally, join together and work as a unified force.

There have been efforts like this begun and abandoned over the almost 20 years I’ve been around and I’ve heard some natural cynicism about another effort to “re-invent the wheel”.

And my answer is: the wheel may be fine, but the road the wheel is rolling on leads to a brick wall.

LIT is an opportunity for us to begin to chart a new road, a road that leads to economic sustainability, civic support, institutional stability and greater recognition and respect for our members. With the same tenacity, creativity and urgency we bring to our productions, we can, by working together, create an economically and creatively viable environment for independent theater in New York City.

I look forward to working with all of you on this great endeavor.

John Clancy
Executive Director

Yep. That boat is in the water, time to start rowing.

And here's our MMMQ, for those of you still reading:

Which rock and roll drummer/demigod barged his way into the pantheon by publicly heckling the band's original drummer, driving him from the stage and then picking up the sticks to finish the gig?

Was the ginger-clad gent:

1. Keith Moon

2. Ringo Starr

3. John Bonham

4. Charlie Watts


5. Micky Dolenz

Winners go on a three-year world tour, losers watch the cricket match with Pete Best.

Friday, December 05, 2008

o yes

The show is open, the sun is shining and there is peace throughout the land.

A beautiful, messy, hilarious triumph, well done and thanks to all.

Our last weekend is already selling very well, so come early if you want to know the truth. You'll never look at the fat man in the red suit the same way again.

Now gearing up for the first League of Independent Theater members meeting, this Sunday at Barrow Street Theater. Printing up bylaws, drafting surveys, all that. It's a members only meeting, so if you haven't joined yet, just go to and you can download an application and bring it with you on Sunday.

Sunday is my last official duty of 2008, heading out to the mountains on Monday.

Happy weekend to all.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

all hands on deck

If you're reading this, you're online, so it's just a quick click and a jump to and Bob's your uncle, you've got a ticket to tonight's showing of The Truth About Santa, penned by the inimitable Greg Kotis, starring his whole family and a special appearance by Bella the English bull dog.

We've got a gentleman from a certain paper that starts with a "T" and ends with an "imes" coming tonight and a nice raucous crowd never hurt a comedy.

So bring yourself, bring a co-worker, bring friends and lovers, hell, bring Uncle Bob, he could use a night out.

8:00, Kraine Theater, 85 E. 4th Street between 2nd and 3rd.

Calling all cars.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

over the falls

First audience for The Truth About Santa tonight.

It's always a strange time right before you open a show. You've been working weeks, sometimes months building a thing, worrying about this exchange or that moment, trying different takes and bits, obsessing the details, all of you sitting in a small room together, collectively dreaming up a show.

And then you invite some people in and the whole thing happens in a sudden rush and blur and there you are standing on the other side of the thing.

It's like spending a month studying a river and then one day just jumping in and swimming to the other side.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

it's official

We've been in a recession for a year, according to the Official Doomsayer Bureau down there in Washington.

I have a hard time getting personally worked up at the news, it's the old Dylan line from Like a Rolling Stone:

"When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

What I keep thinking about are all those empty and shuttered big box stores around the city and how we get theater companies in there.

In hard times, people cut back the money they give to the arts, but in the theater we usually take that money and use it to rent space to rehearse and perform.

So, cut out the middle step and just give us the space.

Easy like pie.

Ann guesses correctly, keeping the streak alive. It's the St. Cleve Chronicle that heralds the work of "Little Milton", the ostensible writer of Thick as a Brick. Rose also wins for bravely revealing her love of the Shropshire Strumpet.

All day in the theater again today, technical rehearsals for The Truth About Santa. Coming together nicely.

Cold, sunny day in Rat City. Good day to sit all day in a dark room shouting at musical elves.

Monday, December 01, 2008

words words words

Got to make this snappy as well as scrappy this morning. Going into an all-day technical rehearsal for The Truth About Santa and been up since dawn getting ready for the big League of Independent Theater members meeting on Sunday.

Expect to see most of you at both, don't break old Scrappy's heart.

Great long week-end, feel ready to make this last mad dash to the end of the year.

Our MMMQ goes back to the day, 1972, when concept albums ruled the airwaves and Jethro Tull put out their monumental Thick as a Brick. Really don't mind if you sit this one out, but what newspaper's front page was on the front of the album? Was it:

1. The Shropshire Trumpet

2. The Manchester Guardian

3. The St. Cleve Chronicle

4. The Liverpool Intelligencer


5. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Shutting down the Museum for the holiday, back on Monday.

A long, hard year but I'm thankful for many things.

The unwavering and rock solid support of our friends and family and even some strangers when Nancy pulled her fireball stunt.

The confirmation that this hypnotized, terrified, bug-eyed country that I love has taken at least one step out of the tarpit of racism with the election of Obama.

The tenacity of the American theater artists I count as friends and even those I don't. It's hard staying honorable and enthused out there, but every show, every reading, every rehearsal keeps the torch burning, flickering though it may be at times.

The support of the audiences this year (you still got one more date to dance with us, Truth About Santa, don't worry I'll be reminding you soon). Honestly, if you didn't care, we wouldn't be doing it.

Try to take some time for yourself tomorrow.

It's a hard road, but that doesn't mean the sun isn't shining in the fields all around you. Take a second to look around.

Pretty, right?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

our ancestors speak

Here's Herbert Blau, writing back in 1964:

If, as I believe, it is the nature of the theater to court peril, then it's a risk one may have to take if he wants to work in it honorably. There is a lot of desire and thinking incipient in our theater that is quickly cowed by the cocksure weary realism of established mediocrity. It may be true that thought collects in pools, but still water stinks if not deep. And we must talk up if we're not to be talked down to.

"...cocksure weary realism of established mediocrity."

Man, that's good.

Good run-through of The Truth About Santa last night in the space.

Thank gob for my musical elves, they're making me look great up there.

Ann correctly lassos Wildcat Kelley, winning another MMMQ and Rose wins as well, since (as she points out), Rattlesnake Pete is exactly the name you'd give to an old hound dog if you lived down South, which was the question hidden within the initial question.

Way to go deep, Rose.

Monday, November 24, 2008

professor scrappy

Spent the weekend up at Williams College, taking part in the Dialogue One Festival.

Taught a master class, Matt Oberg did The Event, all just a regular part of our ongoing efforts to warp young minds and feed off of the hulking, shambling beast that is the American theater's academic gulag.

Lot of money up there in them ivory towers.

The League is convening on December 7th, if you're not a member yet, well, why the hell not?

Download the application at

Due to some Museum housekeeping that had to get done, today's MMMQ is technically a MAMQ, but don't let that throw you. Ann was looking for a challenge, so how's this:

Ella Fitzgerald warbles her early genius all the way through "Don't Fence Me In". Who wants land, lots of land, under starry skies above? Who wants to ride to the ridge where the West commences and gaze at the moon until he loses his senses?

Who don't want to be fenced in?

1. Rattlesnake Pete

2. Wildcat Kelly

3. Wild Joe Poke

4. Johnny Appleseed


6. Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens?

Winners get to wander over yonder til they see the mountains rise, losers get the pokey.

Friday, November 21, 2008

on the road

Couldn't get out of the city last night, so it's an early morning sprint up to Williamstown.

Had our first stumble-through of The Truth About Santa last night, funny stuff.

World stays crazy, stocks keep dropping, the Attorney General collapses, MTA raises fares while cutting service.

Let's just hold on and get to the end of the year.

Good weekend to all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

mike stutz is a bad man

Kept me up all night last night, forcing me to drink whiskey and expound my opinion on every matter under the sun.

In my own home.

A very bad person.

Mike's in from Los Angeles, but he used to be a downtown performer and producer. His company Hoffenrich was in the first two Fringes here, '97 and '98, and they performed at the Fringe Club up on 45th Street way back in the day.

Crazy funny stuff, mixing modern dance with sketch comedy, which somehow worked.

Full day today, meetings, rehearsal and then driving up to the Berkshires tonight for a workshop and performance of The Event at Williams College over the weekend.

I'm going to need another pot of coffee.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008



Hijacking oil tankers?

Isn't that the plot of Superman V or something?

That's not really playing on my TV screen as news, is it?

The American auto industry, the entire industry, saying it probably won't make it until the spring?

Maybe electing the first black President tipped us into one of those parallel universes you hear smart people talking about all the time. It's just like our world, only your name is Jim, the president's black and pirates roam the seas.

What's next?


Powdered wigs?

It's getting very strange out there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

winter comes

Saw a few snow flakes this morning while walking up Avenue B, late for a breakfast meeting at the Odessa.

Come on, Father Frost.

End this year and give us a new one.

I promise we'll do better next time.

Ann nailed the easy MMMQ, Noel Redding was the last leg of the rock 'n roll tripod of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Next week, obscure garage bands from St. Louis, circa 1976.

We'll see how well Algernon does with that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

scrappy's back

Amazing what about sixty hours of sleep can do to a man.

Busy week ahead and on Friday we're up at Williams College with The Event as part of the Dialogue One Festival.

Going to warp some young minds, Gob willing.

And I'm breaking all theatrical laws with The Truth About Santa. Decided last week to cast Lusia's bull dog as the lamb with seven horns and seven eyes in the big apocalyptic finale.

Yep. Children and dogs.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Mitch Mitchell died last week in a hotel in Portland, Oregon. Mitch was one third of probably the greatest all-time power trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The obit said he thought it was going to be a two-week gig, ended up putting out three albums before Jimi shuffled off the mortal coil.

Our MMMQ goes back to those days of bell-bottoms and towering afros and asks you to name the third man on stage with Jimi and Mitch. Who put out the bass line that Jimi could fight his guitar back to when the beast got tired of yowling?

Was it

1. Kenny Gradney

2. Noel Redding

3. Otis Redding

4. Ray Manzarek


5. President-elect Barack Hussein Obama?

Winners get to kiss the sky, losers get experienced.

Friday, November 14, 2008

scrappy is down

Woke up this morning, stumbled to the coffee-maker as usual and realized I could barely stand up. Went back to the bed and slept until noon. Up now, but just barely. Nothing hurts, just tired to my bones. Going to sleep a little more and see if I can make a 3:00 rehearsal.

Man. Whipped.

Here's another essay from the vault:


When I think of Shakespeare, I think of Gulliver in Lilliputia: a giant tied down and held fast by hundreds of tiny ropes. We are the Lilliputians when we approach Shakespeare, busily fastening our slim theories, inspirations and critical interpretations to the great bulk in a foolish and futile attempt to hold the Titan still.

Another metaphor: a ship so covered in barnacles that the weight makes the sailing sluggish and slow. The generations of criticism, prejudices, assumptions and unchecked misperceptions cling to the great ship Shakespeare and all but drag it under. The barnacles are then blessed with the pomp and sanctity of hallowed writ and the once living ship descends to the depths, the Titan becoming a Titanic, distant, cold, dead.

The constant miracle, of course, is that all one must do is read the lines aloud and listen to them, unvarnished and alive and Shakespeare is among us again, breathing hard on our neck and pushing us about the stage. And if we hold three things in our heads and refer to them throughout the rehearsal process, Shakespeare again becomes accessible, simple and immediate.

The first thing to hold in your mind when working with Shakespeare is that he wrote for the stage, not for the page. The Globe was open to the sun, half the audience was standing and the reverent, hushed atmosphere of today’s audience was something a player had to earn and fight to keep against great odds, not something assumed. For the actor, this translates simply to making the primary focus and scene partner not your fellow actor, but the audience immediately in front of you. It is not a job for psychological realism or imitative dexterity; it is a job for speaking clearly and standing still. The audience is directly addressed, of course, in the constant soliloquies and asides, but these moments are not departures from the world of the play but rather logical extensions. When playing Shakespeare, you are never in Verona, never in Arden, never in Egypt, Rome or England. You are always on a stage, playing a role in front of an audience. This consciousness will both heighten the urgency of your speech and action and add a necessary freedom and critical distance to the degree of your role-playing. By not burying yourself in character, you remain free to engage in the larger wordplay and dramatic conceits of the language. While this understanding is blatantly essential when playing a fool or a rustic, it is no less necessary in the more subtle and complex roles. There is always an awareness in Shakespeare that another living being is watching and listening. To disregard this is as crippling as disregarding the rhythm and meter of iambic pentameter.

The second principle, which follows from the first, is that Shakespeare used poetry to write drama, not the other way around. Since the formal, rhythmic constraints of blank verse shape the thoughts and expressions of his characters, the actor must understand and respect the rules of the verse. But neither the actor nor the director should ever be concerned primarily with the beauty of the language. Shakespeare has already created the language; your job is to make sure it is heard clearly. The creative team must be concerned with action, character, and drama. The reason Shakespeare’s plays are still performed is not because of their gorgeous language, but because of their theatrical economy, wit and intelligence. You are never reciting. You are always playing. The character is never engaged in wordplay for it’s own sake, but only to complete or initiate an action. One must accept that the characters speak in this fashion, understand the rules and governing principles of the style and then banish the idea of “poetry” and all of the word’s passive associations in order to chase and follow the actions and thoughts of the character and the play.

The third essential thing to understand when playing Shakespeare is the simplest and yet the most widely disregarded. This is the principle of playing the opposite. Over and over we see “regal” kings and “comical” clowns and “virtuous” heroines and “noble” heroes plodding dully across countless stages in what seems to be a conscious conspiracy to render Shakespeare dull, obvious and dead. Playing a clown as comical is as good an idea as pouring sugar on ice cream. To approach a villain with the goal of expressing his malice is to twirl a mustache and wear a black hat. It is a universal truth that comedy is funny in direct proportion to the gravity of the comedians. If Lou Costello doesn’t passionately want to know who’s on first, the bit becomes quickly endless and endlessly annoying. If we remember that the fools in Shakespeare’s time literally lived on their wits and depended on the understanding and appreciation of their words for their food, clothing and shelter, we would see far fewer slouching, winking, leering and unfunny fools on our stage. In the same way, a tragic figure is only tragic to us when we are allowed to see his frailty, her humanity. Play the man who bears the crown, not the king who wears it. Pay attention to the heroine’s work, not her worth. You will find Shakespeare reaching towards you and handing you the tools if you begin to play the opposite and the weight of the great roles will lift from your shoulders and become wings.

When working on Shakespeare, stay on the stage, aware of the audience, study but never play the poetry and look for the opposite of the established understanding of the role. With these three things in mind, Shakespeare becomes your collaborator and partner and his plays live again, rescued from the depths of unthinking tradition, liberated from the thousand thin ropes of theory.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

on rehearsal

Pressed for time today and the cat doesn't seem inspired, so here's a long-ass post about rehearsal, an essay I wrote a few years back.


A broad but truthful dividing line between all theatre people separates those who would prefer to always be in rehearsal and those who would prefer to always be on stage. I’m a rehearsal man. It’s sort of like preferring to be on a journey rather than at the destination. I find that all destinations, no matter how glittering or exotic, inevitably disappoint while the most mundane journey offers endless surprise and opportunity to marvel. By the same analogy, there is no one way to rehearse, just as you cannot give the same directions to Poughkeepsie and Cairo. You can’t even give the same directions to two different travelers both on their way to Poughkeepsie. The first may be wealthy and need to be there tomorrow while the second is penniless and has nothing but time. But as there are general principles towards safe and enjoyable travel, there are principles of rehearsal, which hold true in all circumstances.

The rehearsal period is one of discovery and it is impossible to discover anything if you believe you already know what it is. Any conversation about spirituality with a religious zealot is sufficient to convince anyone of this. For this reason, all theories and assumptions and first and second impressions of the play in rehearsal, no matter how obvious, august or time-honored, should be regarded with a high degree of suspicion. Often we find we believe plays are comedies only because we have been told so repeatedly. In the same way we are subjected to productions of Romeo and Juliet that stubbornly attempt to convince us we are seeing a great love story, despite the obvious foolishness and bloodlust of the protagonists.

The opening period of the rehearsal process is a rigorous interrogation exercise where the text is forced to incriminate itself. If the author is alive and present, she is at best the text’s attorney; she must not be treated as a witness or accomplice. She will not be on stage with the actors opening night, they will be alone with the text. Question the text, together as a company and most importantly, listen to what the text actually says. The key question the director asks in this phase is “What do you think?” All too often you hear exactly the wrong leading question, “How did that feel?” In these early stages, any feelings the actors may have towards the text or their work is unreliable. Odds are they will feel stiff and clumsy and hesitant. You don’t ask someone about the view when they’re still in the train station. “What do you think?” allows the actors to use all of their intellect and common sense and experience to analyze and respond to a phrase or an argument or a line of thought. Like good interrogators or detectives, they can latch onto the smallest clue, the detail that can unlock the entire piece for them. It is important for the director to ask, listen and ask again, leading the investigation but not coming to or announcing any conclusions. This is a hard thing for a director to do, but an understanding of a production that has come out of consensus and the actor’s own discoveries is much more valuable and durable than one announced at the first rehearsal and doggedly prosecuted for four weeks. The director’s job should never be to convince anyone of anything, it should be to provide the opportunity for the text to reveal itself to the actors and for the actors to give themselves to the text. Directors are not surgeons, they are midwives. Question everything, question each other, but always go to the text for answers. Every answer is in the text.

After a few sessions of open questioning and group discussion restlessness inevitably descends. The actors are tired of talking. The wise director agrees with them and lets them run at this point. The majority of the actual work of rehearsal: character definition, blocking, the first breaching of the arc of the play, is accomplished during this second period. The actors grow confident. The spirit of play and creation bounce around the room. The director can literally direct, steering the ensemble into and around the reefs and shoals of the text and always back towards the center of the play.

Usually towards the end of this second period of serious play and accomplishment the bottom drops out. Like the alchemical process set horribly in reverse, all that was golden turns to lead. Actors turn into automatons, the text is revealed as hackneyed, pretentious, second-rate scribbling, the director is a tongue-tied fool who never should have been trusted in the first place. Embarrassment, if not career-ending disaster is certain if the wretched thing ever actually opens. This is the time when everyone realizes independently and as a group that it’s serious. It’s actually going to happen. The idea of opening night is best kept out of the rehearsal hall for as long as possible, but it must be faced and it always bursts in frantic and accusing. The more discovery and risk that have occurred during the early phases, the deeper the unease and doubt at this phase. I have been in rehearsals where terror has reigned and actors have been physically affected by the depth of their discomfort. This is not the time to change course or pull out a map you have been hiding the whole time. Nor is it a time to reassure. The terror, doubt, or if you are lucky, simple boredom of this phase must be addressed directly and endured stoically. This is the time to say, “Yes. It’s horrible. Why?” Keep running the scenes and acts and look carefully for the one moment or exchange where the unhappiness in the room most clearly manifests itself. Focus on that moment, not by running it to death, but by talking about it and drawing the company’s attention to it. Question it as you did in the beginning. It will eventually answer and open the door to the final phase of rehearsal. There is always something in the play or the production or the ensemble that has been disregarded or left undeveloped, something small that was remarked upon early in rehearsal but not understood. Look for it now and it will come rushing towards you in all its insignificant simplicity and it will hand you your play.

Finally, you are in technical rehearsals and previews. Best to forget about the play entirely during technical rehearsals and leave the poor actors alone. You’ve given them all you can at this point. Once you can get a decent run together, complete with costumes, sound, light, props and sets, it is the right time to ask the company as a whole “How do you feel?” Actors are, in most cases, a very brave and canny lot and all you can do on the eve of their battle is thank them, praise them and embolden them as best you can.

So. Question everything and everyone at first, looking for and noting any truthful response. All of these responses will add up to something the actors can run with and breathe life into. Anticipate disaster. Acknowledge doubt and discomfort. Stay the course; eyes open for the detail that has been neglected. Seize it, unlock the last door, usher the company through and remain on the threshold, cheering them on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The title of this post, "xd'" was suggested by the cat, who just walked across my open laptop when I turned to try to adjust the volume on the TV, typing the mystical syllable:


Have we unwittingly stumbled upon a fragment of the ancient cat language Mu?


Not sure if I can top that, so that's my meditation for today.

xd' to all and be careful out there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

ruby tuesday

It's a proper fall day out there in Rat City, sweaters and jackets and such. We're starting to get holiday party invitations here at the Museum, hard to believe another year is winding down.

I've got Palin on MSNBC in the background. They keep giving her rope. She's starting to sound pathological, just babbling away with those fixed eyes and hard smile. It's a blood sport and no one seems to have the heart to crucify Johnny Mac, so Ms. Palin is tethered on the altar, I guess.

Back in rehearsal today. Also meeting up with the Stolen Chair crew today, keeping my consultant hand in.

Everyone got the MMMQ, even Rose, I'm going to have to ratchet it up next week. The Glimmer Twins produced Rewind and Obama is a de facto correct answer for the forseeable future.

Tony brings up the Google question.

I don't know about the fine young men and women of Temple University, paying good money for their education, but it seems to me there's something sacrosanct about a weekly online music quiz.

But I'll leave it to the judges to parse.

Happy Veterans Day to all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

itching and scratching

and just trying to move on. I'm seriously jonesing over here without my nightly Chuck Todd numbers and Chris Matthews televised bar-fights.

And I don't want to hear about McCain or Bush or any of those other liars being "generous" or "gracious".

It's actually quite easy to be nice when you've lost, the test of a person is how you behave when you're in a fight.

Spent the weekend working on The Truth About Santa, Greg Kotis' apocalyptic holiday tale. How many shows manage to fit in singing elves, candy-wine, ice wolves, joy-weed and the Apocalypse in under an hour?

Damn few, I would imagine, but I'm working on one of them.

Also had a very productive League of Independent Theater board meeting on Sunday. The fall flung us all far and wide, we're back now and focused. Charter members should be hearing from us very soon and I'm really looking forward to hearing from you. Much to be done.

Caught Shine a Light last night on my Time Warner Video on Demand (or Video on Humble Request as me and McGee call it, since it often involves wailing "O please! Come on!" at the TV screen before your selection appears.) Man. Those boys haven't lost a step. Great footage of the lads acting sweet and harmless, shaking hands with Bill Clinton and friends before taking the stage and then hurling themselves into the Rock and Roll Frenzy.

The Stones are the subject of today's MMMQ. Rewind (1971-1984) was produced by:

1. The Neville Brothers

2. The Chemical Brothers

3. The Glam Twins

4. The Glimmer Twins


5. The Righteous Brothers, except for track five, Tumbling Dice, produced by the Olsen Twins.

Winners get a heaping spoonful of Brown Sugar, losers are just Fools to Cry.

Friday, November 07, 2008


I had to meet my writing partner up in midtown last night around 6:00.

Took the subway up to 50th and 8th and then cut east into the Belly of the Beast, walking fast because I was late.

And I started moving like a Terminator. And I started thinking like a chess-playing computer, like Deep Blue kicking Bobby Fischer's ass all around the board.

Same thing happened coming home. As soon as I was out there doing the broken-field, cross-town, jay-walking, full-stride Rat City Hustle, my mind started whirring.

It's been a weird, fragmented fall for all of us at the Museum, with funerals and flights and long periods of sitting out in the woods camouflaged as regular Americans.

You forget, when you live in a large city, how that city conditions you and how much you give up just by living there. Lawns, quiet, stars at night, etc.

But you also forget, until you taste the rush and almost feel the blade, like I did last night, that the City is a whetstone and it sharpens you every day.

I could practically hear the snick, snick inside my head coming home from that meeting.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

home again, home again

Jiggity jig.

Tuesday night goes down in my personal All-Time Surreal Moments record book:

Singing The Star Spangled Banner, full-throated and proud in a pub in Belfast in front of a bunch of cheering Irishmen, waiting for Pennsylvania to come in.

Later that night, 3:00 AM, alone with a bottle of Famous Grouse in my bedroom in a bedsit on the other side of town, standing in front of the little TV mounted on the wall, holding on to the television with both hands, rocking back and forth and whispering to the screen,

"Come on. Come on, Florida. Come on Ohio. Come on."

And then waking to find we won, hallelujah, and I had hugely overslept and was about to miss my flight to London.

Thanks to a fearless and possibly unhinged taxi-driver I made the flight and then spent the day in Heathrow buying every paper they sold, reading the first two pages, weeping quietly to myself, a strange, unshaven figure stalking Terminal 3, the American abroad, just wanting to get back home.

Swing State Cabaret rocked, well done to all.

And well done, Mr. President-elect.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

new day


That was something.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

it's here

Well, it's all over now except the vote fraud.

If you're in Belfast tonight, come see me at Sally McCracken's Pub, political humor galore.

If you're in America, you know what to do.

Please Jesus, let it be a happy ending.

Carl and Ann correctly identified Van as George Ivan and thus are moondancing together on a cyber dancefloor in my mind.

I'm up all night tonight, Pennsylvania doesn't close until 1:00 AM over here, and then traveling back home tomorrow, so you may not hear from me until Thursday.

Come on, Virginia. Let's go, Florida.

I'm just a wreck, man.

Let it end right.

Monday, November 03, 2008

dateline belfast

Landed in this troubled town last night, the plane from Heathrow filled with men and women all carrying Irish babies, ginger-haired, dark-eyed round-faced Irish girls and boys, all strangely quiet, staring at the American.

Michael Duke and his wife (also carrying an Irish child, their daughter Nora) picked me up and then Mick and I toured the city. Standing in front of the Hotel Europa, which has the dubious distinction of being the most bombed hotel in Europe, I felt a shiver. Could have been the travel catching up with me, could have been the northern Irish wind.

Haven't been here long enough to know if the ghosts still walk, but there's no doubt that it's an English city.

Meeting up with the other writers in about an hour and then the actors join us this afternoon. Tomorrow night, election night, we put up Swing State Cabaret at McCracken's Pub, downtown Belfast, and then gather around a television with our rosary beads and whiskey.

Strange to be away, but good to have a job to do.

Our MMMQ honors the great rock and roll mystic and son of Belfast, Van Morrison. Van is too cool a name to be handed down, it had to be crafted out of what the boy had been given. So, was the wee lad christened:

1. Ivan Dmitri Morrison

2. Evan George Morrison

3. George Ivan Morrison

4. Grigori Ivan Dmitri Morrison


5. Ivan Dmitri Dmitronovich Dmitrivonovonovich Morrison?

Winners get a Moondance with a partner of their choice, losers fall like a Domino.

Friday, October 31, 2008


I'm amazed at what I've taken for granted the last twenty years or so.

Here on the East Coast, the autumn days are stunning, in the actual sense that you stare at a tree with no thoughts buzzing and yapping in your feverish head for a few blessed seconds, just gawking at the branches and the leaves.


Deep blue sky, red and yellow and pink (I swear, pink) leaves drifting down.

I've got to get a rake, but man it's pretty.

Four days before the madness ends and then I don't know what I'm going to do with myself.

Have to start writing about the theater again, I suppose.

The theater.


Now, that's something we're going to have to fix.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

back to it

On the road all day today, make base camp in the Poconos tonight, Gob willing, and then Rat City Saturday morning, catch a flight to Belfast, Ireland Saturday night.

No rest for the wicked, as my father used to say.

Caught the Obama infomercial thing last night.

Didn't change my mind much, but I did switch my insurance to Prudential and went out and bought a Chevy.


That's something.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Had the funeral mass for Mary this morning, a full church at 9 AM on a weekday, not bad for an old lady who didn't get out much towards the end.

Been to too many of these the last few years, but there's a real comfort in the tradition and the same words and a lot of the same faces as well.

The family is doing well, holding fast to each other.

This from the Gospel of St. Lyle:

What makes those little ones grow old
To find enternity?
And what takes the wise and leaves behind
A foolish one like me?

Back home tomorrow, Belfast on Saturday, a winding road ahead.

So long, Mary.

Now you know the answer to every question you ever asked.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

rainy day in New England

Up here in Massachusetts for the next few days with Nancy's family. Visiting hours at the funeral home tonight and Mary's funeral in the morning tomorrow.

Stayed up late last night finishing John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. I found his collected works down in the basement a few months back, originally bought by Mary's father, John Hugh Reilly, back around 1925.

Mary got a huge kick out of the fact that I wanted the books, calling me "the only man in America reading Galsworthy".

Great stuff, actually.

We're all just puttering around the house, staying quiet and being nice to each other.

Outside the weather is playing its part well, soft rain and grey skies.

A good day to hold on to someone you love.

Monday, October 27, 2008

r.i.p. mary ellen reilly walsh

And may perpetual light shine upon you.

Nancy's mom and my beloved mother-in-law died peacefully Sunday morning, holding the hand of her husband of near 59 years. We arrived at the hospital moments later and while it was inexpressibly sad and quiet in her room, it was good to see her finally at rest.

A child of the Great Depression, born in 1923, Mary was a true daughter of New England, a fierce and funny Yankee, an old-school Irish-American Roman Catholic Democrat who proudly filled out her absentee ballot days ago while in her hospital bed. She worked for Navy Intelligence during World War II and had her children convinced she was America's own Mata Hari. She raised those children, Tom, Jane and my own Nancy, to work hard, buck up and expect the best in people.

She was rare and I'll miss her greatly. She somehow combined an unshakeable faith with an open and questioning mind, a life-long curiousity and hunger for other viewpoints and new information. We'd sit at the dining room table, the two of us, talking about God and evil and the Church and tradition and the inability of a finite thing to grasp the infinite and I don't think one of us ever convinced the other of a thing, but that never seemed the point.

The funeral mass is Wednesday morning at nine, in the church Nancy and I were married in seventeen years ago, Holy Trinity in downtown Greenfield.

We'll be back in the city over the weekend, I suppose.

We're all MMMQ winners today. The question is:

What is the song that will remind me always of the mother-in-law?

And the answer is:

1. Ave Maria

Thanks all for the good wishes and support over the last week, they mean the world to Nancy and her family.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

send good thoughts

Your target area is Greenfield, MA, where Nancy's mom is struggling.

We're all up here with her, sitting around the hospital room, staring at her and generally getting in the way of the nurses.

Mary was diagnosed with lymphoma a little while back and while she's the toughest old Yankee I know, the doctors said we should all be here now.

More when I know more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

just let it be over

I'm as nervous as a nun in a whorehouse, just let it be November 4th and let's count the votes and be done with it.

Nun in a whorehouse?

That should be whore in a nunhouse.

Whore in a hen-house.

Hen in a crack house?

Don't worry, I'll edit this all out.

Got some solid work in on The Postmen yesterday, first time in weeks I've sat down and really worked on it. Great feeling when you're writing something new, chasing it down the page, half of the brain whispering to the other half, other half just scribbling it all down.

Found our musical elves, Clay Adams and Jeff Gurner join our Holiday Crew. We're having an invited reading of The Truth About Santa on Sunday, October 26th at 3:00 down at the Ohio Theater's 6th Floor Studio on Wooster Street, everyone's invited, come if you're in town.

Beautiful fall day out there in Rat City, might have to run around out there and get into some trouble.

I'm as restless as a cat in a funhouse.

Nun in a cathouse.

Cat in a henhouse?

That one almost means something.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

late october itch

Always get to feeling this way around this time of year.

Another year starting to slide away, projects piled up on the desk, plans half-made, half-completed, calendar crowded with meetings, calls to return and me sitting here restless, revved up, a little bit tired and ornery, scrapping with myself.

Maybe it's something I learned in school, this being about the time in the semester when I'd realize, once again, I was going to have to hustle my ass off to squeak out a passing grade in all of those classes I had dreamed through.

Maybe it's just the season, summer well and truly gone, leaves falling, the natural, larger reminder that things end and there is very little anyone can do about it.

Maybe I caught a touch of the Whooping Mountain Fever, I hear it makes a man think all kinds of things and gibber and gnash his teeth.

Don't know.

Just kind of itchy inside.

All's right with the MMMQ, though, Ann and Rose are reinstated as the Mistresses of Quiz. Ann knew that Mr. Headon went by "Topper", for some obscure reason, and Rose knows that he should have gone by "Smilin' Jim the Washboard Man".

Ann and Rose face the Phillies on Wednesday for a best of seven series.

Good luck, ladies.

It's all about the pitching.

Monday, October 20, 2008

no joy in mudville

Besides being the name of a very fine south Jersey band of my acquaintance, it is the emotional weather forecast for Red Sox Nation.

Didn't have enough in the end to get past the shockingly young Tampa Bay Rays, heading to their first World Series on Wednesday.

One arena America still dominates in is the World Series. Do you realize an American baseball team has won the World Series every year since the game began?

Every year. Extraordinary.

Going back to the salt mines this week, starting up The Truth About Santa rehearsals, working on my piece for the Belfast Swing State Cabaret and so on.

Our MMMQ this fine fall Monday goes out to the Lampshade Queen Herself, proof that bitching and moaning will get you anything around here.

In 1976, with the great rock and roll masters of the 60s and 70s lurching into Dinosaur Territory or gingerly gimping out onto the disco dance floor, one band arose and kept the flame alive for the next generation. The essential, the inimitable, the righteous, The Clash placed a collect call from London to the rest of the world, free and otherwise, and invited us all to become Clash City Rockers.

From 1976 to 1982 the line-up was Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and:

1. Nicky "Diablo" Headon

2. Nicky "Hopper" Headon

3. Nicky "Topsy" Headon

4. Nicky "Topper" Headon


5. Nicky "Smilin' Jim the Washboard Man" Headon.

Winners get to face the Phillies on Wednesday, losers go home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

do me a favor

I'm not usually one to ask, but some friends of the Museum over at The New York Innovative Theater Awards are trying to pull some numbers together about the Off-Off Broadway world, so if you're part of that world, go to:

and fill out the survey, takes about a minute.

Do this now, please.

Saw some exceptionally musical elves yesterday, thanks to all who showed.

I haven't watched Letterman in years, but caught the McCain interview last night.


You don't usually see a friendship break up right there on national T.V.

Up to Greenfield this weekend to see the in-laws, Spitfire has the car, so I'm riding the Hound.

Good weekend to all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

three zip

Obama sweeps, McCain jabs, a spooked and jittery nation blinks and stares at the screen, praying for a miracle.

Nineteen days out, the debates over, nothing to do now on either side but shout, lie, smear and spend your last penny hammering home two or three simple phrases.

Democracy as a rugby match, welcome to the scrum.

In other news, Nancy Reagan is in the hospital with a broken pelvis. Apparently she was reaching down to strangle an orphan and she slipped.

Wait. That can't be right.

She was throwing some mentally ill people out into the street (god bless her, she still pitches in) and she slipped.


What is it with us that we forgive someone as soon as they begin to dodder about?

Villains only get worse as they age, more fragile and self-justifying, surrounding themselves with acolytes and slavish supporters.

I don't care if she's 100, smells of lavender and bakes a mean ginger cake, the woman is a harpy and when she finally drops they better put a stake through her tiny heart if they don't want her rising back up.

She couldn't look into a camera without arrogance, self-satisfaction and contempt flooding the frame and cracking the lens.

A horrible woman.

I'm off to the Free Night festivities in Union Square, then an afternoon of auditions for The Truth About Santa.

We're looking for musical elves.

But, then again, aren't we all?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the arizona wildcat's last stand

Johnny Mac has got 'em right where he wants 'em.

Twenty days out, fourteen points down, not a single friend he can count on.

He's a wily one, let there be no doubt.

A maverick.

One rumor out there is that he'll endorse Obama tonight, divorce Cindy and announce his plans to move to Connecticut and marry Joe Lieberman.

Another rumor is that he'll use some old ju-jitsu on Obama during the ritual handshake at the top of the debate, wrestle him to the floor and make a citizen's arrest right there.

And then divorce Cindy, move to Connecticut and marry Joe Lieberman.

You see? He's got everyone guessing.


I'll watch tonight with expectations lowered down to the floor. It's a little dispiriting to watch Senator O pull away like your grandmother driving a trailer down the highway: cautious, looking in every direction, smiling and waving back at you, not entirely sure where she's going as she disappears around the bend.

But when you're up, you just try to run out the clock, that's Politics 101.

Ann brought down young Rose/Adam yesterday, proving that the Tuesday Morning Music Quiz is twice as tough as the old MMMQ.

Papa Lacy shouts out to the Texas crowd at the top of the very strange and unsatisfying "Lynyrd Skynyrd Live". It actually ends with Lonnie or Donnie or Johnnie telling the audience that only one man can sing Freebird, and as he's dead, no one is going to sing it tonight. Then he tells the crowd to sing it, and they play every note, with the Dallas mob howling in the background.

I'm listening to this, flying down the dark road a few nights ago, and I say to McGee,

"Y'know, this is kind of cool to listen to."

And she pauses, eyes the road, eases into the passing lane and says,

"Yeah. Once."

No prizes, booby or otherwise were promised yesterday, so Ann and Rose get a free pass and a strong admonition to bone up on their Southern rock, classic or otherwise.

I grew up in St. Louis, after all.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

on the road

Been driving through New England the last three days, some of the trips unexpected, all of them in the tireless Car 220 with Spitfire at the wheel. Got caught just west of a huge propane spill on interstate 84 yesterday afternoon, forced off the road and into Middletown, New York.

Holy Gob on High, that's a hellish little town. Every other sad shack of a house for sale or rent, liquor stores and cash-checking joints doing the only noticeable business.

We drove right through the town at a funeral pace with all the rest of the highway traffic, the residents of Middletown staring at us all in incurious resentment and dull hate. We stared back in pity and wonder.

Some towns are dead and some towns are dying and then there are the Zombie Lands of sprawl-ridden, chain-store devoured middle America.

Lay down, Middletown. Have the sense to know you're dead.

Our Tuesday Morning Music Quiz this holiday week comes from an impulse purchase at a rest area food mart out on the New York State Thruway just south of Albany. I saw "Lynyrd Skynyrd Live" and bought the thing for 9.99. Forty miles later I realized I had picked up a copy of the 1987 Tribute Tour. Charlie Daniels is on it and his fiddle is on fire, but it just ain't the same.

Who greets the crowd from the stage in Dallas, Texas at the top of the album?

Is it:

1. Brother Donnie Van Zandt

2. Sister Connie Van Zandt

3. Mother Macy Van Zandt

4. Father Lacy Van Zandt


5. Dick Van Patten from the wonderful family comedy/drama "Eight is Enough"?

Friday, October 10, 2008

a carousel of time

This is FDR, from his first inaugural address, March 4, 1933:

"...Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow-men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to the conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance: without them it cannot live."

The opposition couldn't afford rotten fruit to throw at him, so they just muttered "Commie rat bastard" and stumbled home to the poorhouse to die of consumption and yellow fever.

Roosevelt wrapped up the speech by saying:

"And so, my fellow Americans, I can't seem to feel my legs. Oh god. God! Falling!"

And he pitched right off the the platform, crushing an apple-vendor's cart and startling a young Helen Thomas on her first day on the White House beat as a second-stringer for the New York Tribune-Post-Republican-Democrat-Banner-Journal, a fine paper of the day.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

on building a wall

One thing we're rich in out here in the Poconos is rocks.

If the economy really shifts and we revert to a rock-based system, McGee and I are going to be freaking Rockefellers out here.

I will be Thurston Howell the IV.

What with all the rocks lying around and me with some time on my monkey hands, I've started a stone wall that will, in time, ring around the property and protect us from bears, Jehovah Witnesses and Mountain Witches and Ju-Ju Men.

I'm rolling boulders, digging stones out of the ground, staggering around with rocks the size of small suitcases, stacking, stacking, building a wall.

It's tremendously satisfying in a quiet, slightly mad way.

I've felt the obsession grow over the last week. I stare at the wall from every window of the house, walk out to it whenever I get a minute and dedicate at least an hour a day to full-on Wall Work. I'm noticing stone walls everywhere, envying other people's piles of rocks, sneaking over to the neighbor's property when he leaves and rolling some rocks closer to our place.

It's the pure flame of private property burning me, I suppose. The simplicity of a line drawn, marking Mine and Not-Mine.

It's frankly all I think about these days.

The theater, Nancy, politics, my family, writing, all of these I see now were just preparation for the Great Work, my true purpose on this earth.

I shall build the Wall and Dwell inside it's Shadow for all my Days.

Or at least until we run out of groceries.

Back to the city tonight, praise Jebus. Going mad, pleasantly, out here in the mountains. Need some hustle and some bustle if I'm going to stay sharp.

But now, to the wall.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

johnny mac needs a nap

Or to get back on his meds or something.

Craziest thing about last night's exhibition is that McCain pushed for the town hall format, wanted to do like twenty of them or something.

What's the thought process there?

"Y'see, if we're standing there side by side, the people can see, without doubt, that I'm an old, cranky, kind of weird guy and that my opponent, that one, is young, graceful, warm and much more human than my old creaky ass. Maybe we should run some kind of obstacle course at the end, you know, jump over things and climb a wall or something? Then I could be lying on the ground at the end, unable to catch my breath or move while he dances around with his hands in the air. Y'see?"

What we got here is a critical, near fatal gap between self-image and reality.

Johnny thinks he's a fun-loving ex-Navy pilot going up against the Establishment.

But the world looks at him and sees... the Establishment.

Anyway, Obama took the night, giving me a very nice birthday present.

Thanks to all for the good wishes.

Now to work. Scribbling away on the Postmen and much League of Independent Theater bidness to get done.

Back in Rat City on Friday, a man can only take so much peace and quiet.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

natal day

I'm sitting here in a birthday hat, wearing nothing else except my birthday suit.

Many years ago, on this very day, my mother was in great pain.

But then I arrived and have been giving her solace and comfort ever since.

Except for a couple of years back in high school, of course, but I blame Christian Saller, Dave Weems, Al Barclay and the rest of those hooligans.

It's a good day to have been born, a good day to be alive, a good day all around.

Ann's Jim and Carl split the Cabin in the Sky. Lester and Earl stood in that big front hall with Jed and Granny and Jethro and the luscious Ellie Mae and they fiddled their fingers off. Buddy Ebsen even kicked his legs and showed the old moves, chorus boy that he was.

Well done, gentlemen.

And now...


Monday, October 06, 2008

becoming an american

I spent the weekend taking care of the lawn.

Bought a lawnmower, fired that boy up, mowed like a maniac.

Borrowed my father-in-law's weed-whacker, whacked the hell out of many a weed.

Then stood there, downed a cold Budweiser, and considered what I had done.

Stood there nodding in appreciation and self-regard, the primitive American male mantra rising unbidden to the front of my mind.

"Good lawn. Good work. Me hungry."

Holy Gob and all of the saints, I need to get back to the city.

I need some random shouting and ear-splitting sirens and packs of young tattooed bohos jaywalking and jabbering self-importantly about their retro-punk ska band.

Need that sweet-sour smell of the Chinatown garbage rising in the morning sun.

But, man. Seriously.

You should see that lawn.

Our MMMQ stays in the hills and tests your redneck I.Q. and/or your encyclopedic knowledge of late 60s prime-time televised entertainment.

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, acknowledged masters of Country and Western, appeared on what T.V. show as "Cousin" Lester and "Cousin" Earl?

Was it

1. Petticoat Junction

2. The Beverly Hillbillies

3. The Andy Griffith Show

4. Hootenanny


5. Dragnet

Winners get a Cabin in the Sky, losers have to sleep outside with the dogs.

Friday, October 03, 2008

palin survives to the next round

All right, I admit I was deeply disappointed the governor didn't freeze up and vomit all over the podium or run shrieking off the stage, but that was a less than stellar performance last night.

Here's my big-city, 21st century bias:

Any adult who says "doggone it" is either

A. a class A moron


B. hustling you

When you say "doggone it" you mean "goddamnit" so say that or don't say anything at all.

End of the day, it changed no minds either way, so we move on to the heavyweight card on Tuesday.

I'm hustling New Zealand and other points down under for a screwmachine/eyecandy tour in the spring, maybe some Fatboy action as well. We've been offered a deal in Adelaide, trying to pick up extra dates in other cities to make it work.

Anyone got a venue and a stack of cash down there?

Do let me know.

And in heavy pre-production and scheduling for The Truth About Santa. My least favorite part of this carnival ride. It never makes any sense or feels like it will ever possibly happen until you're in rehearsal and it starts singing.

The L.A. Times liked Fatboy, so we like those sunburnt, smooth-talking bastards.

Here's some of what they said:

Fatboy succeeds as sheer satire

"Fatboy" commences with a barked expletive -- an "m" word not uttered in polite company. It's a fitting opening for John Clancy's playful take on Alfred Jarry's "Ubu Roi," which also opens with a verboten French "m" word of a more scatological variety.

Legendarily, that single opening word of "Ubu Roi" so shocked playgoers at its 1896 Paris premiere that they erupted in screaming riot. The opening night patrons at Clancy's play, now in its West Coast nod at the Imagined Life Theater (formerly 2100 Square Feet), merely guffawed appreciatively during a blue streak of crudity that would make Lenny Bruce flip in his grave...Clancy delivers his message with a refreshing lack of pretension that sets him apart from the typically self-righteous agitprop crowd.

Clancy's eponymous hero Fatboy (née Ubu), played by the amply padded Alexander Wells, is a deceptively comical cartoon. Punch to his shrewish Judy of a wife (Rebecca Jordan), Fatboy demands pancakes. When they are not forthcoming, he devours chairs -- courtesy of prop designer Renee Peffer's marshmallow inserts.

Don't let the gaudy trappings of Mark Mendelson's sideshow set and Vandy Scoates' vaudevillian costumes fool you. It's no accident that Fatboy's name is an amalgam of the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Paradoxically, on-stage anarchy requires dictatorial direction and pinpoint pacing to come to a point. Director Ian Forester is bracingly cheeky, as is his engaging cast.

I'll take that.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

looking ahead

Trying to figure out the rest of the year here in the wild mountains of the Poconos.

Julie McMurchie, a Western friend of the Museum's, pointed out unhelpfully that the Poconos aren't proper mountains. Forced me to consult Wikipedia, which names the area a "mountainous region".

Good enough for me.

Besides the mounting writing projects, the rest of 2008 holds another showing of The Event at Williams College, complete with a workshop led by myself; a very random and strange appearance by me and Spitfire in Belfast on Election Day as part of Tinderbox Theater's Swing State Cabaret and the world premiere of Greg Kotis' The Truth About Santa, an apocalyptic holiday tale, opening December 3rd at the Kraine Theater on E. 4th Street, directed by me, featuring many Clancy Production regulars.

Should keep us dancing to the beat.

Trying to keep myself calm and my expectations low for the big debate tonight. Most of me is praying for the Big Meltdown, of course, but remember, it's a very low bar.

Back in 2000, when asked to name a political hero, the Idiot, simpering, responded with:

"Jesus Christ. Because he changed my heart."

And no hooks appeared to drag him offstage. In fact, his numbers went up.

I love the scene: Christ in the smoke-filled back room, puffing on a fat cigar, leaning over the table and laying it out to the boys:

"Here's how we're going to play it, boys. I'll rile up the people, see? Miracles, trash-talking the Pharisees, the whole magilla, right? Then you betray me, I get arrested, dragged around, you deny me, especially you, Pete, they crucify me, I die, and then three days later we meet up at the tomb. What do you say?"

Very radical, yes, but doesn't win you Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

october dawn

A new month, summer truly gone, all things turning autumnal.

Best time of year, with the leaves falling and the nights turning cold. Makes you grateful for a roof over your head and a hand to hold when the lights go out.

Much work to be done, finishing Postmen, pre-production for The Truth About Santa, lots of League business. Came across this in John Banville's Birchwood, a good reminder that although there's always plenty of things to get done, the heart of what we do is something other than work:

"...It was a game that we played, enchanters and enchanted, tossing a bright golden ball back and forth across the footlights, a game that meant nothing, was a wisp of smoke, and yet, and yet, on the tight steel cord of their careful lives we struck a dark rapturous note that left their tidy town tingling behind us."

Happy Day today to Elizabeth Williams nee Clancy and happy days to us all.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

we're wired in the woods

I see no reason to ever return to Civilization.

Fatboy is the L.A. Weekly's pick of the week, check it out at:

Ann and Rose win again, John Phillips wrote the song and Johnny Walker Red is always the right answer regardless of the question.

I've got to start coming up with harder questions, but that would require thinking about it before I sit down, which sort of violates the blog's Prime Directive.


No. False alarm, we're cool. It was Nan bringing me a drink.

Good thing this Winchester has a safety.



Big spider.

We're cool.

Monday, September 29, 2008

red-eyed, foul-mouthed...

and ready to rumble.

Touched down in Rat City at 5:25 A.M. this morning, just like the pilot said we would back in California.

Few can be trusted these days but pilots remain an honest throw-back. If your man says you're flying at 10,000 feet, by god, he's got a needle that can prove it. And when he says there "may be a few bumps up ahead", strap your ass in because you're going on a ride.

Uneventful flight, best kind.

The L.A. Fatboy crew did themselves and me proud on Friday night with the L.A. Times and the Weekly both in the house. It was messy as hell, but they delivered, like watching a team run broken play after broken play, but score on every possession. Great bunch of artists out there at needtheater, very proud to be working with them.

Spent the weekend catching up with old Cali friends, Cass and David and Melissa and Jeff and Mary and John and Morgan and all of their beautiful, mostly blonde, kids.

We're staggering a bit from the weight of the many miles, but the plan is to re-pack, load up Car 220 and high-tail it out to the Poconos hide-out for a couple of weeks. Internet guy comes tomorrow, so I may be posting from the compound, just imagine me all done up in flannel, a Winchester rifle resting casually in my lap, ears alert for any sign of approaching marauding bears.

Oh, we got bear.

And all kind of mountain vermin. Deer the size of tractor trailers, chipmunks like bull terriers. Mountain life, man. It's crazy up there.

Our MMMQ reaches back to the days of Hippie Heaven on the West Coast, when all seemed possible and everyone sang, or at least recorded, in glorious harmony.

California Dreamin', sung by the Mamas and the Papas, was written by which hugely talented John?

Was it the pen of:

1. John Phillips

2. John Entwistle

3. John Bonham

4. John Lennon


5. John Philip Sousa?

Winners get a three-picture deal with Universal, losers shoot a Western in Guadalajara, six months on location, no running water.

To the Poconos!

Bears be damned.

Friday, September 26, 2008

friday in the promised land

I'd like to sit here and post away, but there's an orange tree in the backyard and rumors of an ocean to the West of here.

I'm going to the beach.

Me and Matt D. and George and Leo and Spitfire will be on the shore discussing Ocean's 14, in which a group of Hollywood A-listers hang on the Lower East Side and meet up with a bunch of Rat City theater-types.

It's going to be huge.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

when bold crosses over to bizarre

For the good of the country, I'm going to suspend this blog until the financial crisis is solved or... something.

What the hell is going on inside of Johnny Mac's mind?

I make a living imagining things and I'm drawing a blank.

Panic? Embarrassment? Sleep-deprivation resulting in some sort of psychotic break?

Curiouser and curiouser, my friends.

McGee and I are off to L.A. to watch the fat man, home Monday morning.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

free night

Circle October 16th in your calendars, me droogs.

That's Free Night here in the New York theater world, an event that the League of Independent Theater is behind, along with ART/NY, TDF, the Arts and Business Council and the Off Broadway League.

If you're a League member, let us know what you're doing that night and we'll throw some publicity your way.

We're about to get cooking on the League again, our Managing Director, the lovely Abby Marcus, had to take some time off to get married, but now she's back, wed and ready to rock. Congrats, Abby and Qui.

This is my last full day in Rat City for about three weeks and it looks gorgeous outside. Need to walk around and soak it up, the sirens and the construction debris, the swerving, honking taxis and the screaming packs of children swarming outside the schools. Not a lot of that in L.A. and none at all in the Pocono Mountains.

Going to see The Invitation tonight, haven't seen it since opening weekend. They close this Saturday, see it if you haven't yet.

What else?

Democrats in Congress are showing a little backbone, which is what they usually do before they cave and give the White House whatever it wants.

Big news the last few days is that someone ran a poll that shows that race may be a factor in some voters' decision. I am shocked, shocked that there is gambling on these premises.

Big debate Friday. I'm predicting Obama winning with a TKO, third round. Just hammer away, hit all the buttons that make Johnny crazy, keep hitting them and then step back and let him self-detonate.

Johnny's wrapped so tight these days he's begging to blow, just give him the opportunity.

I heard that Palin's handlers have asked that the Palin-Biden debate be modified to exclude any actual questions being asked and that no reporters, photographers or audience of any kind be allowed into the debate hall. Just her and Joe and some private time.

Sounds reasonable.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

a great night

Doped my way over to the Haft Auditorium last night up on 27th Street for the fourth annual New York Innovative Theater Awards.

It's the only award show in the city dedicated to the pure Off-Off or Indie theater world and it's always a party.

Martin and Rochelle Denton, the tireless advocates at New York Theater Experience, were awarded the Stewardship Award and rarely have I seen something so right.

Boomerang Theater took home the Cafe Cino Fellowship, good on you, Tim.

And then I'm listening to Judith Malina and Edward Albee and Olympia Dukakis and Tina Howe all just overjoyed to "come back home", as I think they all said at least twice.

Very moving. It was fifty years ago that Joe Cino opened up his cafe, sixty-one years ago that the Living Theater formed.

And we're still here. Despite landlords, Reagan, AIDS, Guiliani, podcasts, karaoke, zoning laws, institutional indifference and our own foolishness and lack of common purpose, we're still here.

I'm so very grateful that a large part of my life has happened here, in the small theaters of New York, in the same spaces where Genet and Ionesco and Brecht and Shepard and Albee were first heard in this country, in the dressing rooms where Hoffman and Hackmen and Clayburgh and Freeman once shivered.

Off-Off is not a way station and it's not an audition for anything else. It's the thing itself. It's where you're going to see what's next. It's still the most vibrant and entertaining and surprising sector of New York theater.

And it's cheaper and a whole lot friendlier than uptown.

We have three correct answers to the MMMQ, a Museum record, I believe.

Ann is right because, as usual, she supplied the correct answer. "It says here the unions will never learn" sang Mr. Bragg.

Rose is right because she's Rose and that's the way it goes around here. No one ever said life is fair.

And my little sister Mern a la Mern is right, because I haven't thought of Dina Suggs in a long time and that memory deserves something.

Full day of doing what I do today. Trying to clear the decks so's I can go to L.A. on Thursday with nothing hanging over me and then when we get back we can drive out to the Poconos with nothing waiting back here for us but a fat, sleeping cat and clean laundry.

Congrats again to Martin and Rochelle and Tim and all the other winners last night and thanks to Shay, Nick and Jason for putting that thing together. It's a joy to watch.

Monday, September 22, 2008

first day of the paulson administration

Stole that line from George Will, but an honest thief doesn't care who he steals from.

I'm starting to think my mother-in-law is right.

Mary is an old-school Yankee Democrat and she's seen it all from Hoover on. A few years back she started saying, half-jokingly, that George W. Bush must be an enemy agent, sent by his masters to destroy America from within. It was the only explanation she could come up with for the comprehensive and unrelenting disaster of his time behind the Desk. I'd tell her no, he's just a garden-variety Idiot with angry, selfish advisers, but now I don't know.

We now live in a socialist state. And I'm all for socialism, I just prefer the kind that takes care of the young and the sick and the old over the kind that emphasizes state control of the economic sector.

But that's just me.

Milton Friedman's policies (popularly know around here as Reaganomics or trickle-down theory), have, once again, when strictly applied in a real market-place, failed spectacularly. Just as they did in Chile, in Poland, in Russia and everywhere else they've been tried. They call for complete deregulation of industry, destruction of the unions, elimination of the minimum wage, etc.

And they don't work.

It's not a credible theory anymore. It's not something that anyone can honestly and with any intellectual integrity argue for anymore. It has to go sit in the corner with the Flat Earth theory and get laughed at whenever the class wants to feel better about itself.

So, the GOP has to go out and find itself a brand-new domestic policy real quick and the rest of us have to get used to calling each other "comrade", or at least "citizen".

"Brother and sister"?

We killed in Beacon, comrades. America the Beautiful sang up there, had ourselves two packed houses. Learned a lot about the piece, most of all that it works. Need to find a way to produce it.

Our MMMQ on this first day of the New Order reaches back to the work of that English one-man revolutionary party, Billy Bragg. The opening line of his great "It Says Here" is:

1. We should be proud that we are free.

2. The economy is on the upturn.

3. The unions will never learn.

4. We have nothing to fear.


5. My legal name is Declan Suggs.

Winners get a dascha, losers go off to a re-education camp, so choose wisely my brothers and sisters.

Friday, September 19, 2008

traveling man

I spent all of yesterday on Virgin Flight 318, crossing this great country from California to the New York islands.

Big country. Mountains out there in the middle of it, forgot about those.

Saw a stumble-through of the L.A. Fatboy on Wednesday night. Once they learn their lines, that's going to be a great production. Excellent cast, beautiful design and a really good bunch of people working on it. We're going back on Thursday the 25th to see the opening on the 26th and then hang a few days in Los Angeles.

But first we head up to Beacon, NY for a reading of C.J. Hopkins' America the Beautiful. Actually, two readings, tonight and tomorrow.

Papa was a rolling stone, man.

Feel like I've been on a forced march since early August, working on at least two shows at a time, changing time zones every other week, hustling and juking and waking up and doing it again.

No complaints, good to be busy.

But when we get back from L.A. next week, I'm going to hide out in the woods for a few days.

If you're in New York, come on down to the Ohio Theater for The Invitation. If you're in Beacon, NY, come on down for America the Beautiful. If you're in L.A., get your tickets for Fatboy.

And if you're anywhere else, god bless you and keep you safe.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the wilds of los feliz

I write to you hunkered down at the needtheater's compound off of Santa Monica Boulevard. Outside someone is attacking a lawn with a very large and loud machine. Palm trees watch him from above. There's an orange tree in the back yard.

This must be the promised land.

Met the L.A. Fatboy cast and crew last night at an Indian restaurant in Los Feliz. Great bunch of people. Watching a run-through tonight and then tomorrow back to Rat City.

Ended up at the Dresden last night and stayed well into this morning, some kind of Los Angeles institution, watching Marty and Elaine do a jazz routine that a young Dean Martin wouldn't have blinked at. Hugely, earnestly retro and a lot of fun.

Out to the sunshine now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

heading westerly

Jumping on a big old jet airliner this morning, plans are to be in Los Angeles this afternoon. Checking out the Fatboy rehearsals, maybe stare at the Pacific Ocean for a change.

I lived in L.A. for awhile back in the late 80s, down in the Echo Park area.

Loved it.

Great place to be poor, always warm.

Saw a reading of Don Nigro's Traitors last night at Urban Stages. Excellent work. It's all about the Alger Hiss case and I'm usually not a fan of historical drama, but this was fascinating.

Ann and Rose have won again.

When life looks easy street, there is danger at your door.

And so, logically, you would pack your bags and run.


And that's my cue.

We lost Richard Wright, founding member of Pink Floyd.

Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Glorious sunrise coming up over the East River outside my window, think I'll get on a plane and see what's on the other side of it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

monday, monday

Can't trust that day.

Actually, I look out the window this morning with complete confidence and acceptance, assuming nothing.

I look at my day-runner and see that it has slowed to a crawl.

Have to go see a reading of a new Nigro play tonight, that's it.

Tomorrow it just says "Fly to L.A.".

By gob, my race has been run for this month and I see a little break opening up.

Matt Oberg delivered The Event last night at Barrow Street Theater, thanks all for showing up. Good buzz in the bar afterwards, the show should have some kind of life in the near future.

The Invitation is up and running down at the Ohio in Soho. Always a great feeling as a director when you can walk away from a show, knowing that the actors and the stage manager and the running crew have everything in hand and are making the show better every night without your meddling presence.

I've got some writing to finish up and a lot of LIT work to start in on, but other than that, your faithful correspondent is going to be lying about on the couch listening to the stereo and watching the stock market crash today.

Our MMMQ consults the oracle of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. In the opening lines of Uncle John's Band (to be played at my funeral, over and over, by the way) we are all instructed that "when life looks like Easy Street"...

1. ...don't you worry anymore.

2. better pack your bags and run.

3. ... there is danger at your door.

4. ...a hard rain's gonna fall.


5. ...let's go surfin' now, everybody's learning how, come on a safari with me.

Winners get the peace of mind of being right, losers get a fifty-eight percent ownership of Lehman Brothers.

Friday, September 12, 2008

nice words

Got some good notices for The Invitation from Martin Denton and Aaron Riccio, check out and

Show is humming right along.

I'm focused on The Event now, we do one night only at Barrow Street Theater this Sunday, 5 PM. Just show up, it's 15 bucks and you get a free beer. Matt and I did a podcast on the show last week, also up at

Then next week I'm California-bound, flying to L.A. on Tuesday to look in on Fatboy rehearsals. The show opens on the 26th, plays for awhile, so if you're out there in the Golden State, come on down and watch the fat man rage.

Good to be busy.

Walking home from the theater last night through Chinatown and I thought about how I could use a jacket.

Ah, the fall.

My favorite season and the best time to be in Rat City with the hard blue sky and the leaves swirling down.

Out in the Poconos it's already cold in the mornings, me and Spitfire were shivering and rubbing our ice-block feet against each other a few days back.

Come out and see the shows, or don't and spend some time walking around holding onto someone else's hand watching the leaves fall and thinking on your Halloween costume.

This year I'm going as Samantabhadra, the primordial lord, the unchanging buddha-body of light, the Buddah Body of Reality.

He's blue in color.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

finish line, memories, sadness

Official opening of The Invitation last night with the New York Times sitting there in the house, incarnated in the person of Neil Genzingler. It was our best show yet, so we'll see what they say.

We did our job now he has to do his.

It's the anniversary of that terrible day and I'm sitting right where I was sitting seven years ago, about a mile and a half east of where the towers used to stand.

This from the journal:

Manhattan shut down south of 14th Street. No planes in sky except for occasional jet fighter. Streets deserted. Death toll still unreported, guesses range start in low thousands. Tired, unable to sleep. The ghosts of the dead drift by the window, invisible and in infinitesimal tiny fragments. We breathe them in; we wipe them from our sills. Or are we the ghosts, still walking, lost, looking at each other questioningly and silent?

Gallows humor arrived today. Someone blames Peter Vallone in a last-minute bid to suspend the election. The happiest man in America? Gary Condit. Bush openly and deeply mocked, of course. All the officials on CNN seem red-faced, drunk. Endless replay of the planes plowing into the towers, fireballs blooming, gray smoke billowing, covering the view like a window shade drawn over a private act. And even seeing it the second time I know it will join the greatest hits clip with the Roman candle Challenger corkscrewing through the sky and Reagan being pushed to the ground by thick men in suits.

Today in a gesture of resilience and an admission of exhaustion I mute CNN and put on Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Sessions. Nancy and I eat breakfast, eggs, waffles, coffee.
No newspapers. No school kids in the yard across the street. No death toll. No words, of course, but there are always words. Incomplete, embarrassing, mawkish, but necessary as oxygen. They are arresting people in Boston and southern Florida. They are digging through mountains of rubble in lower Manhattan. They are driving trucks of blood into New York City. German shepards are patrolling empty airports, stock markets are shivering and sliding in Asia, gas prices are spiking in St. Louis, people are weeping with no hope of comfort, children are dancing in the streets of foreign capitals, lawmakers are being briefed, the Cowboy Junkies are singing on my stereo. I am writing this. We are all moving on. The dust of the dead coats my tongue as I light another cigarette.
The wife of an old friend, a veteran of the 93 bombing, works in the second tower, 97th floor. She hears the impact of the first plane, sees the opposite tower burning...

Old friends, lost by time and geography, call, some reaching our parents. We speak. Our language consists of "We're OK. We’re OK. Is everyone OK? Yeah. Yeah, we're OK”. And we are. Dazed. Shaky. But OK.
First words from the politician’s mouths are vengeance. Retribution. All the carefully-coiffed melonheads of power directing the world to "make no mistake" "Don't doubt our resolve". When at anytime in the last 25 years has any individual or nation on this earth doubted American resolve? We were the ones who invaded Grenada, remember? We invaded the Philippines. We blew up the Chinese embassy and refused to apologize. Is our resolve in doubt? Bush, blinking, round-eyed, assures us that the foundation of our resolve is secure. Repeats "we're at war", so many times it's as though he's trying to convince himself that this is really happening.

Journalists and politicians join in the indelicate but unavoidable dance, blood and money.

6:51 PM No milk in either bodega. Have to show ID to policeman at all cross streets on Houston and Delancey. City is strange; I realize there is no rhythm. Usually the city's beat is as hypnotic and intrusive as house music. We are adrift. I hear a recorded message. "Due to the events of Sept. 11th.”

Mom gets "due to a tornado in the area of your call.” As we hang up she says, “Oh, and watch out for that tornado, kiddo.” CNN scrolls, "Across the nation Americans gather around televisions at stores, bars, airport lounges." It occurs to me that you could run this banner underneath any news story at any time, this being a consistent activity of Americans.

Last night I drink over half a liter of Johnny Walker Red. No buzz.

Wednesday night: We got to Amy's birthday party at a restaurant in the West Village. The wind is blowing north and the smoke is bad. Run into Bree and friends. At the bar we're in Belfast. Meet a cardiologist who has been called down twice, done nothing. I ask him what it's like. He grins, shakes his head, and says nothing. We drink. Bomb scare at the Empire State building. We drink. Buy soy milk on Ave A on the way home.
Walk by vigil at Washington Square Park. In the darkness lit by hundreds of candles we hear a crowd singing God Bless America. The smoke hangs above the park.

A bad day, made bearable by the love and support of a lot of friends.