Saturday, March 17, 2018

Queer Eye (TV show)

"If you can't change the world, change yourself.
And if you can't change yourself, change your world."
- The The, "Lonely Planet"
Footloose (1984) was the original makeover show for men.

Through the travails of Ren MacCormack, boys all over America learned the importance of grooming, fashion, attitude and most of all, dancing. Kevin Bacon gave the straight guy permission to dance.

The first incarnation of the reality-show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered on Bravo in July 2003. My daughter was not yet six months old, I was turning thirty-five, and precisely the right age dynamic for this new makeover show for men.

I was a big fan of that first season. I found it mildly subversive, though even at the time I, like a lot of people, thought it played into some unhappy stereotypes about gay men (and female queer eyes need not apply.)

But as a maturing Gen Xer I had fallen into a lot of comfortable habits and this was a playful guide to gentle self-improvement. I watched the show, I bought the album, I got the book for Christmas.

Even today, there are tips each of the original “Fab Five” had given me which I still employ.
  • Food & Drink: Ted taught me to reheat pizza on a skillet, and to always serve in glass.
  • Style: Carson gave permission to mix patterns.
  • Design: Thom showed me how to clear and own the home space.
  • Grooming: Kyan taught me how to keep my scalp clean.
  • Culture: Jai showed us all how to easily get the wrapper off a CD case.
Okay, the “culture” guy has always been a problem. Four dudes guide us through an adventure of self-discovery, and Jai is there with tickets for a play.

By the second season I started to lose interest, and the main culprit was branding. This show has been scorned -- then and now -- for the suggestion that if a guy buys enough things, he’ll be happy. And that is a legitimate reason for criticism. But what about me? The show did not make me go out and purchase a load of skin care products, I learned how to properly use the products that are already in my house!

But the show had become popular enough that more time was spent showing off logos than providing helpful advice. It truly did become a show that was all about buying stuff.

When Netflix announced a reboot I was skeptical. Fifteen years ago, it felt cheeky. Yes, the idea that gay men are neat and clean and stylish and bitchy are long-held stereotypes -- but 2003 was also the year before Ohio voters decided to approve an amendment banning “gay marriage.” The pros of seeing these men making life better for heterosexual men outweighed the cons of reinforcing relatively innocuous impressions of the homosexual lifestyle.

But this 2018. In the intervening time, so many more of our friends and family have come out to us, and have shown themselves to be just like us, or us like them, or really, are there us and them anymore? Most of the gay men I know are like me; middle-aged, unshaven, soft around the middle, average taste in music, with an unfortunate tendency to make stupid jokes.

You know. Normal.

For this Millennial version of Queer Eye they dropped the “Straight Guy” from the title, because one of the eight episodes is actually about cleaning up a gay man and encouraging him to come out to his step-mom.

However this is still a show all about guys. Frankly, I am surprised they did not include any women on the team. Surely, if we are playing with gender stereotypes they could have at least included a lesbian as the designer or something, right? They did, thankfully, tilt the percentage of people of color. How is it that there were no African-American men in the original Fab Five?

Karamo makes up for Jai’s meager contributions to the previous series by not only providing theater tickets (he actually does this is in one episode) and how walk tall and and look a person in the eye, yadda yadda, but also curating one’s professional online persona, how to fund-raise, and even opening a dialogue on race with the police.

Much has already been said about the unfair distribution of labor on the program with Bobby (design) re-imagining people’s entire houses while Antoni (food & drink) teaches you how to pit an avocado.

I was concerned Jonathan (grooming) was trying too hard to be the Carson of the group, with an over-the-top sassiness which felt a bit put on. The difference is Carson Kressley is a cutting quip-machine where Jonathan mostly says, “Yaas, queen.” He says it a lot. I think I was also prejudiced against his man-bun. However, by the end of the second episode I had accepted that he is adorable, that this is really him, and isn’t acceptance what they tell us right off the bat is what this show is all about?

In fact, it’s Jonathan’s grooming aesthetic that won me over. Whereas Kyan had a one-size-fits all approach to men’s hair -- clean shaven, no beard, no way -- Jonathan knows it’s the 21st century. Guys have beards. Your beard can be better, though. And though product is still the thing, he describes what it is, what it’s for, how to use it, and I didn’t see a single brand name. Because this is Netflix, I hope it stays that way.

Finally, the walkaway star of the program is Tan (style) not only because of his early 80s pop star British accent and his supernaturally styled salt-and-pepper hair. He’s the most self-confident of the team, he owns himself and every room he steps into, and the recommendations he makes for his charges are always spot-on and impeccable.

The questions linger; does this program continue to perpetuate the stereotype that gay men have superficial interests, that it’s all about being neat and clean and coiffed and organized and also catty?

The proof may be in that last, as this version has far-less mockery that its predecessor. Yes, there is still that part of the show where the guys invade their subject’s home, comment on its state and try on all his clothes. But they used to be downright mean, even making cruel asides to the camera. The cruelty is gone and with it comes this desire to form a connection.

I don’t remember learning anything at all about the original team’s personal lives. Off the top of my head I can think of Bobby’s religious upbringing, that Tan is married, and that Antoni has a thing about smelling everybody's stuff. I was impressed by the original Fab Five. But I like these guys more.

Most of all, in an era of divisiveness, to watch a so-called "reality" show where the goal is to bring people together and to love each other is a breath of fresh air. And when things seem entirely out of control, where do you start to reassert control but with yourself?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

On Royalties

(Pay for the) Work!
One high school in Indonesia did what every high school in America is waiting patiently to do until rights are available, they mounted a fully-realized production of Hamilton.

It might be easy to throw up your hands and say, what are ya gonna do? The creators of Hamilton have made their nut many times over, and anyway it can be challenging to enforce copyright in a foreign land and besides, it's done.

Dismissing an outright crime aside, this happens all the time to the less-know writers of less-known works, all across this country. I am constantly amazed by drama directors in American schools who believe they can cut corners from their admittedly meager budgets by cheating the playwright -- either by not paying royalties at all, or lying about how many performances are being produced.

Perhaps they believe they are cheating a non-person, like a faceless publishing company, unaware of the fact that with many rights management agencies the performance fee goes in large part to the playwright. The person who is being cheated is the writer whose name is on the script.

Perhaps they believe if they do not charge admission, they shouldn't have to pay royalties. That's like saying because I'm giving away the cookies, I can just steal the ingredients.

For the non-Lin-Manuel Mirandas of the world, the royalties from every performance are important. That's our income. I support the arts in schools, it's my life's work. But everyone must be paid.

Secure the rights. Pay the royalties. All the royalties.

An Indonesian School Produced 'Hamilton' Last Year and No One Noticed Until Now, by Chris Peterson, OnStage Blog (3/7/2018)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

On Technology

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1711)
The X-Files revolutionized the procedural drama by introducing the use of cellphones, utilizing them as a necessary tool of communication. That two detectives could be in two different places but still be in touch, it changed the game.

“Mulder, it’s me,” was catchphrase, a device for pushing the boundaries of storytelling, and an touching suggestion of intimacy.

The existence of technology has always had an effect on the way we tell stories. Baz Luhrman’s film Romeo + Juliet (1996) with its contemporary Miami Beach as a stand-in for Verona is dated in a manner in which Franco Zeffirelli’s Renaissance-era Romeo and Juliet (1968) is not. A 15th century R&J just makes sense, presented as it was more or less intended. But watching a “modern” version is no longer modern without cellphones, the internet and all the rest.

I didn’t even have a smartphone yet when I directed Henry VIII six years ago, but I understood their ubiquity, and creating a contemporary governmental regime, I thought they should be present. So every character had a phone and we played with them throughout rehearsal to figure out how they could be incorporated. They were used for music, to take and share photos, and in one amazing circumstance dictated by Shakespeare's actual plot, to send the wrong email to the right guy.

Today, it is far too easy to look up someone you knew so long ago, perhaps briefly, get their contact info and, you know, contact them. Of course, just because you can do this doesn’t mean you should, Depending how you knew them, and how briefly, perhaps you shouldn’t.

I actually wrote a play about doing just that. And, as you might expect, it's short. Screen Play is a ten-minute play, available for reading at New Play Exchange, and it will make you uncomfortable. A little learning is, indeed, a dangerous thing.

In the past, we just lost people. They went away, they were gone. And we didn’t think there was anything strange about it, because that’s the way things were. It might hurt, might make you wistful, might even make you sad, but that was life. That’s one reason people actually showed up to high school reunions, to see, meet, and speak with those with whom you’d shared so much when you were a younger person.

With the advent of social media, it hardly seems necessary. You don’t need to bring pictures of the kids, they’ve already watched your kids grow up on Facebook from their homes in Texas, Nepal, or Bay Village.

Yes, I know one person from my graduating class who lives in Texas, one in Nepal, and the rest still live in Bay Village.

Back in the day, in order to find someone you needed to do some actual detective work. I recently read Celeste Ng’s novel Little Fires Everywhere, which takes place in the mid-late-90s. Old-fashioned legwork is a major element of the story; a character must make phone calls and travel real physical distances to find the information she seeks.

This is also the case in my new play The Way I Danced With You, which will be performed one weekend as part of the Blank Canvas Factory Series. It is a strange thing for a young man going through an emotional low-point to drive past an exit on the highway day after day and think, “All of my answers lie right over there.”

But that’s the thing, right? You have to take that exit.

Blank Canvas Theatre presents “The Way I Danced With You” at 78th Street Studios, March 22 - 24, 2017.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Pretty In Pink (film)

Last fall my mother and I traveled to England together for my niece’s graduation. Flying east is never an issue, but flying west for any significant duration can give me a terrible migraine. One technique I have is that if I watch movies, one after another, then I have something focus on and am less affected by the buffeting headwinds, and also by the time.

These days, thankfully, most long-range airlines provide in-flight entertainment of your choice for no additional charge. It’s probably best to keep all the passengers distracted as it keeps the rage to a minimum. Choosing what to watch, however, can be a trial. There are so many choices! But not enough choices!

I decided to view the 1986 John Hughes film Pretty In Pink. You may be surprised to learn I have never actually watched Pretty In Pink. Not one second of it. Yes, I am a devoted fan of the 1980s. Yes, I have seen most of John Hughes films (at least from Vacation through Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and like many my age, straight, gay, or other, I have a thing for Molly Ringwald.

When the soundtrack was released early that year, I noticed at the time that it was the first record I purchased which had a "1986" copyright notice. This was significant to me because I was to graduate that spring, the number 1986 was magical, the two digits, 8 and 6, that I had on my sleeve since getting my “Bay jacket” in junior high. The future was finally now.

So I had the soundtrack, but never saw the movie. And it is an amazing soundtrack, solidifying my love for New Order and The Smiths (which I had only recently discovered) and introducing me to Suzanne Vega and Echo and the Bunnymen. It also had a track from INXS which my friend Scott was quick to dismiss as sounding something they had decided not to include on Listen Like Thieves, and a rather tepid cover of the previous year’s hit single “Wouldn’t It Be Good.”

I have this on cassette. It is useless.
I knew the basics about the story, Molly Ringwald’s character, who lives on “the wrong side of the tracks,” is being courted by a rich kid (Andrew McCarthy) and this dweeb named Duckie. What I also knew was that the original ending, which takes place during Prom, because so many teen films end at Prom (did that start with Valley Girl?) in which she chooses Duckie, did not go over well with test audiences. In the final cut she chooses the Andrew McCarthy character.

Blaine. His name is Blaine.

Anyway, flash forward to fall 2017, and I’m finally watching this movie in a plane for the very first time. I learned several things:
  • Molly Ringwald is hands-down adorable in every single frame of this movie and if she were my daughter I would be so proud of her for being smart, artistic, resilient, good-hearted, and quick-witted. To put it another way, she is exactly like my actual daughter. 
  • Harry Dean Stanton as her depressed father is also adorable, and I was particularly touched by his performance because the actor had only recently passed away. I was also happy for him because it was obvious they shot all of his scenes in one day on two sets, so he probably got a fat check for very little work.
  • Duckie (Jon Cryer) is not the adorable, pompadoured dweeb I was led to believe him to be, but an aggressively toxic young man, one of those assholes who in common parlance use terms like “friendzone,” believing women should surrender to him by virtue of merely existing and being omnipresent.
  • Andrew McCarthy, whom I really enjoyed as a shell-shocked, morphine-addicted World War One veteran in Alan Parker’s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, employed the same vacant, thousand-mile stare eight years earlier in this film. I kept asking myself if Blaine was supposed to be high all of the time, or if that’s just that thing McCarthy does.
In general, I was disappointed and underwhelmed. I don’t think Hughes’s work has weathered well, and that future generations may not understand their appeal at all. His films are not merely lily-white, but in the case of Ferris Bueller and Sixteen Candles blatantly racist.

His masterpiece, The Breakfast Club, remains a sincere, downright eloquent expression of teen angst, with a far more nuanced attitude toward gender relations, and the entire screenplay is packed with memorable turns of phrase. I cannot for the life of me recall a single thing anyone in Pretty In Pink says. In fact, I was stunned by how nothing anyone said made any sense at all.

This was written to be a cutting rejoinder.
The one exception was James Spader, who cannot create a forgettable performance. He has a keen ability to say things, even horrible dialogue, like he is the smartest fucking person to draw breath. Spader and Stanley Tucci need to make a heist movie, where all they steal is scenes from each other.

Heading out from seeing Lady Bird last night (the wife is on a tear to watch all of the Oscar-nominated films over the course of this weekend) she observed the obvious nods to Pretty In Pink in that film. They even toy with the phrase “wrong side of the tracks” in literal, devastating fashion.

The difference between these two movies, as I saw it, was that unlike so many Hollywood films, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird has a roster of well-developed female characters, and a trio of one-dimensional male tropes (the closeted love interest, the hipster douchebag love interest, the pathetic, depressed father) as obstacles in the protagonist’s journey toward adulthood. Unlike Ringwald’s Andie, who seems to have entirely bought into the idea that she must end up with somebody at the end of the film, Saoirse Ronan’s Christine realizes friends are more important than boys, and that the most important person to end up with is yourself.

The past week, we began rehearsals for a weekend of performances of my new play script The Way I Danced With You, which will be presented at Blank Canvas Theatre on the near west side later this month. Lara Mielcarek directs, and the piece features Sarah Blubaugh and Michael Johnson as Dani and Charles.

I am not crying. It is you who is crying.
Writing this piece, I tried very hard to put myself back in that place in the mid-80s, a tie when we tried a little too hard to play dress-up and pretend we were adults. Like James Spader's Steff, sitting at his father’s desk in his father’s home office, in his father’s bathrobe, smoking cigarettes and, doing what? Working? He’s a rich, hungover high school student, putting on his daddy’s armor and pretending to be a Master of the Universe (the Bonfire of the Vanities kind, not the action figure.)

While my character Charles is nowhere near as hot and self-possessed as Steff, he does try in his own way to be that thing. And without all the whining, he reflects a slight degree of Duckie’s self-righteous insistence that staying power justifies deserts.

That may have been the most disturbing part of watching Pretty In Pink for the first time ever, at this point in my life. It was like stepping through a time machine into a moment I know and feel so well and so deeply, and I was surprised and even moved by what I found there.

Blank Canvas Theatre presents “The Way I Danced With You” at 78th Street Studios, March 22 - 24, 2017.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Fire and Fury (book)

Light (before) reading.
I was sitting at breakfast in Orlando, on the third day of the new year, when I discovered and then read those first, tantalizing excerpts from Michael Wolff’s now-notorious book on the first few months of the Trump presidency, Fire and Fury.

Wolff has had the advantage of being first, if not the most accurate, chronicler of the current unpleasantness. Like many who are appalled by the current occupier of the White House and his entire cast of unsavory characters, I looked forward to buying the book when it was released, if only as another sign that the status quo was unacceptable and that we will never stop making it clear that it is.

Interesting that Wikileaks would release a PDF of the entire book the day before its release. I remember when Assange pretended to promote transparency in all governments, instead of transparency only for those he has decided are his enemies. Violating the copyright for an entire written work is not the same as releasing the Pentagon Papers, it’s just a crime, and one obviously intended to drive down sales.

Why am I writing about this now, when Fire and Fury is last month’s news? Well, the fact is, I hoped to read the entire thing in just a few day and write about it then, but I got through a few chapters and it just languished on the pile.

The fact is, it’s a bit dry. The book succeeds primarily for being first. It made the President very angry, but he’ll be angry again, and many times over, as each subsequent book is written, by journalists, his former colleagues, and his countless accusers.

Following the initial “Oh, boy!!!” factor of reading about Election Night, and how terrified the Trump camp was coming to terms with that fact that they had actually won, I realized something very basic about this book which has also tamped down my interest in reading to the end.

We know all this. We have known all of this. There is nothing in this supposedly explosive book that is a revelation. I have been saying for the better part of a year that everything that has happened makes complete sense when you consider that absolutely no one in Trump's campaign, including the man himself, thought he would win.

That’s why they were unprepared to govern. That’s why they front-ended accusations that the election was rigged -- to slander the presumptive victor, Hillary Clinton. And that’s why they blithely committed crimes against the state which would pay staggeringly great dividends -- political and financial -- after their loss, and go entirely uninvestigated. It all makes sense, and this book simply corroborates what was and is clearly evident.

It is all obvious, it has always been obvious, and it is all true. Doesn’t matter how the author presented himself to his subjects. They told him their version of the truth, and it was the same stuff  that was coming through their official channels, their constant leaking, and the president’s uncontrollable need to tweet.

As a preemptive defense, Wolff restates, again and again, how everyone in the White House desperately wanted to talk. And not just to him, every member of the staff -- not the White House staff, not underlings, but Trump’s own advisors, his inner-circle, even adjunct members of his own family -- talked, all the time, to everyone, about everything. Wolff is not presenting himself as some kind of insider with exclusive knowledge. He was just smart enough to be there and to make sure everyone had his cell number.

One of the most satisfying pleasures (if you can call it that) of reading Fire and Fury is knowing what happened immediately after its release, and that was the humiliation of Steve Bannon. A reprehensible turdshirt whose photographic image emits a discomfiting pong, his name is all over this book, his quotes are most-attributed. This man, who delighted in his own ability to send liberals to the fainting couch, proved himself to be an over-confident clown whose belief in his own magnitude left him confident enough to speak on the record, and at length, about absolutely everything.

Either that or he's so insecure he needs to constantly let everyone at the party know that he's someone. The most intimidating villains are the quietest. It's the difference between Bob ("Twin Peaks" reference) and Windhom Earle. One is scary, the other isn't. You talk too much, Windom. You never shut up.

Bannon lost his position, he lost the president’s confidence, he lost his job at Breitbart, and he lost his sugar mommy. He made a comic mistake and has paid a steep price. We feared him when he was in the Oval Office, and justifiably so. Bannon is an embittered, creepy, right-wing opportunist with angry, racist tunnel vision, and he had the ear of the President of the United States. It was awful.

Now, we can’t hope he’ll go to prison, because he's probably the only person associated with Trump who hasn't actually broken a law. But he's out, out of everything. Who can trust him? He’s a joke.

There’s one thing he did say, however, it’s a quote from the book, and it gave me a great deal of clarity and hope in this difficult time.

So Bannon’s at this dinner party (yes, thrown by Michael Wolff himself, very clever) going on about what he, or rather Trump, needs to do to roll back the tide of international American permissiveness. Halting immigration, pulling out of treaties, abandoning influence in the Middle East -- letting them just kill each other. More walls, stronger borders, America first. Yadda yadda. He mocks Obama. A lightweight, a fool.

"I don't know what Obama does," Bannon said. "What has he accomplished, what does he do?"

What does Obama do. This man, Bannon, who had a hand in electing the new president, admits ignorance as to what Obama did, what Obama does, about who Obama is, about what Obama represents.

It's not that he dismisses Barack Obama and that sizable percentage of Americans who admire him and were and are affected by Obama's Presidency. It's that Bannon doesn’t get it. He doesn't see it. He sees an America he wants to create, but he has absolutely no idea what America actually is.

Steve Bannon and his kind fear a future they cannot fathom nor comprehend and are certainly incapable of altering or controlling. That is why they are dangerous. It is also why they are doomed to failure.

Happy President's Day.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Venice Diaries (1991)

First floor apartment on Elkgrove Circle

For two months in spring, 1991, I lived in Los Angeles. That’s it, that’s the longest I have ever lived anywhere that is not in Ohio. I was basically a squatter, sleeping on a couch in Venice. My best friend from college and his best friend from high school had an apartment on a cul-de-sac, and my best friend’s best friend was supposedly moving out soon and I’d take his room but I didn’t even last that long.

In spite of the fact that I never found a job, and in spite of the fact that I never made any new acquaintances, and in spite of the fact that I was only there, as I said, for two months, I managed to keep very busy. Early on I determined that if I was to survive, in a mental-health sense, I would not eat fast food, I would not drink before sunset, and I would not watch any television alone.

Thank goodness, this was before the internet.

Also, shortly after I arrived, a small cohort of Cleveland expats took to driving to the Santa Monica Mountains every single day at 6:30 AM to hike and run in the hills. After, those of us without regular work would get coffee at the Rose and spy on stars and other writers.

This is what I thought worth writing down.

April 5, 1991 Within an hour of moving into Rich and Adam's place I visited an L.A. emergency room after popping the nail off my left big toe in what can only be described as a freak domestic accident.

April 10, 1991 I spotted Christopher Mulkey from "Twin Peaks" at the Rose Cafe!

April 11, 1991 Apparently Chris Mulkey stops in at the Rose every morning.

April 17, 1991 I applied for work at three different places today; two restaurants and a strip mall bookstore.

April 19, 1991 We went to the apartment of some friend of Adam’s to watch the Holyfield vs. Foreman fight.

April 20, 1991 Betsy, Rich and I went to see "American Splendor" at Theatre Theater, starring Dan Castellaneta and Siobhan Fallon. Understudies went on for both Dan Castellaneta and Siobhan Fallon.

April 21, 1991 A couple of us went see "The Object of Desire." We’ve seen three movies this week and they all have that song by Enya.

April 22, 1991 Elvis Costello is going on tour, and we waited in line at Tower Records to get tickets for the show at the Wiltern on May 26th. Betsy convinced me to buy a half-dozen tickets, that we'll be able to convince more people to come with us.

April 23, 1991 I had a dinner date with a friend from high school at some chain Mexican restaurant.

April 25, 1991 I had a mad impulse to return home to visit my ex-girlfriend because I heard she was seeing someone else. I found round-trip tickets to Cleveland in the L.A. Times and bought them with cash from some guy in El Segundo.

April 27, 1991 Rich and I stalked a site where Aidan Quinn and Isabella Rossellini are making a movie. Quinn paced the parking lot, smoking constantly. He’s not very tall. Rossellini stayed in her trailer until it was time for the shoot, and then walked past us very fast.

April 28, 1991 We headed to the Third Street Promenade for a date with that same high school friend and her roommate. We met at a bar that only sells frozen alcoholic beverages, a “squishy” bar. After, we all went back to our apartment for a couple hours of small talk when I finally said, "Ok, it's late. If you're not staying we need to walk you back to your car.” We walked them back to their car.

May 8, 1991 One of Rich’s co-workers attends Santa Monica College and needed assistance with an in-class performance that takes place in a max museum. I stood in one place for 10 minutes, with a mask on my face, dressed as a Canadian Mountie, in a Mountie's hat and a wool Mountie coat, while she ran her hands over my motionless body. I sweat a lot and almost fell over.

May 11, 1991 Rich, Adam and I created a short film on video in which he prepared to ask a woman out on a date, only he really was asking a woman out on a date, someone he’s met at the local video store. Where the film went depended on whether she says yes or no. She said no, so the film ended with Rich taking off all of his clothes while walking down Fourth Street.

May 12, 1991 We discovered the porn flick, "Still the Brat," which is hysterical.

May 13, 1991 Pete works in a record store, and after work he brought over "Mighty Like A Rose" which will be released tomorrow. About four songs in I started to doze off.

May 14, 1991 We’re thinking of starting a newsletter to send to our friends back home called "Notes from L.A." I completed an article called "The Nowhere Generation," my first Gen X manifesto. I showed it to Rich but he says he doesn't see the point.

May 15, 1991 Tomorrow, Rich is supposed to take his final exam to be a server at T.G.I.Friday’s. Apparently, everyone cheats on the exam but he doesn’t think that’s right. Unfortunately, he doesn’t drink and doesn’t know or much care how different alcohols are different, which makes the drinks part of the test impossible.

May 16, 1991 Rich failed his final exam at T.G.I.Friday's.

May 17, 1991 We went out with some friends from Athens who came back to our place and wouldn’t leave. I have totally not gotten used to the time change and always feel like it’s three hours later than it actually is. Of course, I also got up at six o’clock this morning.

May 18, 1991 We went to this place at the beach for framed posters. Rich got Béatrice Dalle, I got Isabella Rossellini.

May 20, 1991 Rich and I moved furniture for Victoria Williams. She is a folk musician who was on Carson a few weeks ago, and Rich had met her when she last passed through Cleveland.

May 23, 1991 I stayed up late to watch “The Moderns” for the first time. I didn’t like it as much as I thought I was going to based on the soundtrack. In the morning I’m flying home to spend the weekend with my ex-girlfriend. I'm going to miss the Elvis show. No one wanted those extra tickets.

June 2, 1991 Back in L.A. Drew a nude portrait of my ex-girlfriend from memory. I think it's really good. Actually, we're dating again.

June 4, 1991 Rich and I are driving back home tomorrow. Tonight, Adam and I met Gary Marshall. He was hosting the final exam films of the Masters class in Film making at USC. Adam and I had a bet as to whether Penny Marshall was his sister or his daughter, and we walked with him to the parking garage asked him about it. I lost the bet.

SNL Oct. 8, 2016

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Mysterious Affair at Styles @ Chattanooga Theatre Centre

Poirot (Patrick Brady) & Hastings (Evans Jarnefeldt)
Chattanooga Theatre Centre
Photo by Brad Cansler
My stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles was first produced as an outreach tour six years ago, and published by Playscripts, Inc. a short time later. Since then it has been produced at a few high schools, college and community theaters, and most recently in a production at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

An interview on WUTC 88.1 FM (Chattanooga's NPR affiliate) was broadcast yesterday, a conversation between host Richard Winham and Steve Ray, head of the Theatre and Speech Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the production’s director. I am not so widely produced as to be in any way accustomed or even prepared to listen to people with whom I am entirely unfamiliar discuss my writing thoughtfully.

One element of interest during their ten-minute discussion, one point which makes this book -- Christie’s first book -- different from the rest, is that it is her "Great War" mystery. It takes place during the war, not after, which required me, when writing it, to have a crash-course in history of that period, and the many ways the war affected all aspects of British life.

In particular, the character of Hastings -- the narrator of the novel and my adaptation -- is an outsider. Not only is he new to Styles, but he is also a soldier, the only one in the story who has witnessed the horrors of the trenches first-hand, and for him very recently.

In the WUTC interview, the director Steve Ray comments:
“There’s a couple of moments that ... you see that this family in the manor do not get what Hastings is going through … And one moment where it’s kind of up-front, where a character makes a kind of off-hand comment about the war and it just takes Hastings off-guard.”
Thought I haven’t read the play in years, I knew exactly the moment he was referring to. What I could not remember was whether it was an exchange taken directly from the novel, or one I had created on my own. I discovered to my delight that it was the latter.

Mary (Courtenay Clovich) & Evelyn (Dana Cole)
Chattanooga Theatre Centre
Photo by Brad Cansler
Here is the passage from the novel which inspired that moment:
“The papers, of course, had been full of the tragedy. Glaring headlines, sandwiched biographies of every member of the household, subtle innuendoes, the usual familiar tag about the police having a clue. Nothing was spared us. It was a slack time. The war was momentarily inactive, and the newspapers seized with avidity on this crime in fashionable life: 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles' was the topic of the moment." 
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Chapter VIII: Fresh Suspicions
And here is how I represented that moment in the script:
JOHN: ...Ghastly though, the papers. Headlines glaring, “Mysterious Affair at Styles” and all that. Rubbish. Makes you wish the war would pick up.
HASTINGS: No. Not really.
JOHN: Hmn? Anyway.
Not to pat myself on the back too hard, I am also aware that I stole Hasting’s reaction from the first episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
FORD: Six pints of bitter, and quickly, please. The world's about to end.
BARMAN: Oh, yes, sir? Nice weather for it. Going to the match today, sir?
FORD: No. No point.
BARMAN: Foregone conclusion, then? Arsenal without a chance?
FORD: No, it’s just that the world's about to end.
BARMAN: Oh, yes, sir. So you said. Lucky escape for Arsenal if it did.
FORD: No, not really.
What Douglas Adams wrote as an affectless observation I reinterpreted as an understated reaction to a thoughtless remark, and I am totally cool with that.

Listen to the complete interview, "Chattanooga Theatre Centre Presents Christie's 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles'" by Richard Winham, WUTC 88.1 FM (1/31/2018)

"The Mysterious Affair at Styles" continues at Chattanooga Theatre Centre through February 16, 2018.

My stage adaptation of "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" is available through Playscripts, Inc.