George Burns once lamented the death of vaudeville because, according to him, “Now young comedians have no place to go and be lousy.”
Substitute “play readings” for “vaudeville”, and “playwrights” for “young comedians” and I have to agree. Happily, unlike vaudeville, play readings are alive and well.
I love readings, both as a playwright and an audience member. As an audience member I enjoy just wallowing in THE PLAY. No costumes, sets, lighting or sound to distract me. It’s actors and words. Maybe some chairs and music stands. That’s it. No frills. Just the play.
And as a playwright it’s like vaudeville. The place to go to be lousy. It’s the place to make your mistakes in public – which is one of the maddening things about being a playwright. I have no idea what works until that many-eyed creature the audience tells me. (Noted dramaturg and bar room philosopher Michele Volansky calls me an “audience whore.” Guilty as charged.)
The Theatre Exile reading of North of the Boulevard is actually the second one, but the first with a “real” audience. (I hope. With my luck we’ll have a blizzard that night. It’s hard enough to get my director here since the Phils are in the playoffs that evening.) We had a very tiny “invited only” reading at the Arden which was…lousy. (The writing, not the acting.) I repeated myself endlessly and had a second act that was weak. The climax of the play happened suddenly and then disappeared. And, as always, some of the jokes didn’t work.
Of course when I printed out the first copy I thought it was perfect. The audience corrected me.
Theatre Exile is a very appropriate place for the reading of this play. For one thing, it’s really dirty. Okay, maybe “dirty” is the wrong word. Let’s try “edgy.” (No nudity though. When you write a part for Harry Philibosian you try and avoid stuff like that.) A lot of theatres might be afraid of a politically incorrect play like North of the Boulevard. Don’t expect to see it at the Walnut next season. At least until I add songs and a chorus of thirty.
Exile’s pretty fearless like that.
There’s also the fact that…well, if you’re at the reading look around. The play takes place in a garage and we’re sitting in…sort of a garage. For a reading it’s a helluva set.
I wrote this play because I liked the characters, knew the setting well, and was pissed off at the way the middle class – especially the “lower” middle class – are treated in this country. I write a lot of things because I’m pissed off. If I wasn’t a playwright I’d probably be a serial killer or a…Republican or something.
That may not be the most “artistic” reason to write plays but – so far – it has kept me out of therapy. And jail.