Sunday, February 10, 2008

the author makes an unwise and public statement

I've been going around and around on this inside my own tiny mind for a few weeks, ever since I saw the Chicago production of Fatboy.

The problem is that there is no proscribed, generally understood ethical code in our field. Our fellow professionals, say, the attorneys and doctors out there, have guidelines, actually printed up, and boards of doctors and lawyers that regularly sit and decide on what you can and cannot do when you're out there working the legal or the medical beat.

And the theater and the law and medicine have in common that once the thing starts, you just hold on and get through it. Once you're in court, you just try the case and someone wins and someone doesn't. Once you cut into the patient, you just keep working until she's stable or she dies. Once you open a show, you run it until it closes.

You don't step outside the act and comment on it, explain something or defend yourself. You fix it or you shut up.

All of that being true (or at least relevant to what's been bothering me since I saw the excellent A Red Orchid's production of my play Fatboy,) I have to say this publicly:

They're doing the 2004 version of the text. Before I fixed it. The published version, the version we did in 2006 at the Ohio Theater, is measurably better.

This is no one's fault. They got the script from Scott Morfee, who optioned it back in 2004. I just never checked. If I had an agent, I guess this wouldn't have happened. The reason this bothers me a little bit, is that this is my first production in Chicago. And I like Chicago and want to work there again. Sure, they talk funny and pretend that they don't live in Ice Station Fucking Zebra for three months out of the year, but they seem like good people and they've got a lot of great theaters.

The show did pretty well, by my standards, with the mainstream critics. I never expect the first-stringers to like or even understand what I'm doing and that's cool, I'm not doing it for them. But even the Tribune and the Sun-Times had good pull-quotes. They liked everything except the play, which is fine. Great performances, great direction and design, just that the play was a little long and incredibly repetitive and stupid. Smaller papers and most of the blogs dug it to various degrees, some most deeply.

Here's what Fatboy is:

The Ramones Greatest Hits played very, very loud. For about an hour and ten minutes.

Now, if you don't like early American punk rock, that hour and ten minutes is excruciating. It's the same three chords over and over, they're not even pretending to be able to sing and the lyrics range from "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" to "I'm a Teenage Lobotomy". That second one doesn't even make grammatical sense. Loud, stupid, obvious, repetitive. It ain't Bach, folks.

If, however, you like that sound, you're in hog heaven while Fatboy is thrashing around in front of you.

So I'm reading reviews like:

"(Fatboy) is the intellectual equivalent of slinging animal dung across the stage." Nina Metz, www.newcitychicago.com

and

"Fatboy is confusing, disturbing and so fast-paced it makes your head spin..." Ruth Smerling, www.steadystylechicago.com

Love the animal dung quote and am amazed that a critic would find the production fast-paced, since they're running at about 95 minutes, 20 more than we ever used.

All I'm saying, I guess, is that the general take on the play out in Chicago is that it's all right, pretty funny, but it kind of falls apart at the end. Which is exactly right, which is why I fixed the third act after the initial production in Edinburgh in 2004. But the script that Guy and the excellent actors worked on for a month is the old version, which is great, just not as tight as it could be.

So if you go see the show in Chicago, which you absolutely should, since I'm getting royalties on the thing, just enjoy the astounding performances and know that you're watching a very good first draft.

Ah. Fuck. Shouldn't have said anything. Now people can't just watch it.

See? Now I feel weirdly defensive and kind of like a big pussy for even bringing it up.

But it's good to get it off my chest.

Let's just move on, shall we?

3 comments:

Rose said...

All I gotz to add to that very interesting soliloquy is that I saw Fatboy in New York, somewhere in SoHo I think, awhiles back. It was the best piece of theatre I'd ever seen. Which for a young one like me, is saying less than I wish it could be saying. But still. Light years above all the crap regional theatres and most of off broadway have been putting out for decades. Yes, decades. I do read plays so even if I haven't seen many I know a lot of them suck. So I guess that means I like the Ramones.

John said...

Thanks, Rosie. It's a lot of fun to do and that has got to start being more of a requisite in this bidness or we're all toast.

Ken said...

John,
Very interesting post. Must ask this, though: You say you have no agent. How then did you get the production in Chicago? And who is keeping track of the royalty payments you are owed? The unrepresented out here need to know! Well, however you did it, congratulations.