I recently directed a one-act play for my theater group, Rogue Machine, one of four shorts offered at 10:30 PM for late nite viewing. We opened this past weekend and today a review appeared on-line. It acknowledged the fine work of my talented cast as well as the other company members in their productions. And it included an affirming mention of my own contribution.
My professional life began in 1967 as a director for WBAL-TV, Baltimore’s NBC affiliate. Later that summer, I received my draft notice and eventually left the Real World for one best described as surreal, Vietnam. I’d never considered acting until years later, during months of recovery at Walter Reed Hospital. And I fell in love with the actor’s process.
So this is likely the first review I’ve ever received as a director. I felt a glow of pride, both for my company members…and for myself. I think most of us fundamentally want to merit and gain approval, particularly those in the performing arts.
I was trained to be my own harshest critic. Accolades are nice but each of us requires an inner arbiter of taste; and that judgment should trump whatever strokes or blows the outside world sends our way. The human tendency to respond to positive external perceptions suggests that we may also respond to negative external perceptions…and therein lies the rub;)
If I buy into someone else’s opinions, I empower them to affect my innate guidance system…and that must never be. Stella said, “To survive as an artist, you need the soul of a butterfly…and the hide of an elephant.” I’ve received countless reviews as an actor, over the years, invariably positive (and with all due modesty, I’d say “deservedly so.” 😉
But a few years ago, in this new age of Google, I wandered thru the web references to my work and came upon a NY Times review of a play I’d done more than 25 years ago, a challenging stage adaptation of a Rod Serling script called “The Strike” Briefly, I was the senior surviving officer to a few hundred GI’s in Korea, overrun and now behind enemy lines, completely surrounded by Chinese Communists. My Major had to authorize an airstrike to break out of the encirclement…and doing so meant endangering a smaller patrol, sent out on a recon and out of radio contact. In order to save the main body, I had to sacrifice the patrol. It was a rare examination of the consequences for combat commanders; such men bear for life the emotional scars of such decisions. My character each night had an onstage mental breakdown. It was thrilling, demanding work. My director asked, “Can you do this, eight times a week?” I said, “Yeah, Tom. But I don’t think I can do it three or four times a day…so please bear that in mind as we rehearse.”
There was one performance, early in the run, that followed a traumatic event in my personal life…and as luck would have it, this show was the performance reviewed. It’s a valuable reminder of the uniqueness of theater, we must be brilliant every night, every show; that is the theatrical challenge – and it scares the living shit out of a lot of actors;)
I wasn’t very focused that nite. I wasn’t centered. I was fragmented,
distracted and I struggled to access the preparation and emotional life my role required. Ultimately, it was a technical performance rather than the lived, passionate, fully realized work I expected of myself and had prepared. I remember leaving the stage, hollow, aching with self-loathing. There were friends there, some of whom tried to praise the work (and I then had to do that wretched little ‘dance’ we must do when work we know is less than our best is affirmed by others.) Any resistance suggests, “Hell, clearly, you don’t even know what good work is…” So we smile and cringe inside and seek the solace of our dressing room…and more personal recrimination. (at least, some of us do;)
“Damned with faint praise”. That’s what comes to mind as I read the review and remembered that night. And I was crushed! Absolutely devastated, for several days. The review was accurate and fair; it described me as curiously aloof, more affecting early in the piece than during the critical sequence of disintegration. I could read a hundred positive reviews of my work…but a single critical notice had the power to reduce me to ashes.
So, while it can be fun to accept the accolades, that willingness is a two-edged sword. Better to graciously receive the good…but hold to your inner truth of what was sought and what was achieved. And strive to make it more. (And keep working on that thick skin;)
13 August 2009
“SHORTS AND SWEETS” – LATE NIGHT SNACKS @ THEATRE THEATER
By Mike Buzzelli 08/12/2009
With Half of Plenty, Bingo with the Indians, Stop Kiss and Treefall, Rogue Machine is having a spectacular season. Their newest production, Shorts and Sweets, doesn’t quite match the genius level of some of their other works (See Stop Kiss and Treefall), but the four short one act plays in Shorts and Sweets is a heck of a good time.
They are little amuse bouche plays, just a morsel but very pleasant.
Two New York actors compete for money, love and decent roles in Keeping Pace by Robin Rothstein. It’s a quick no-frills bit of fluff superbly performed by actors, John Pollono and Rob Dodd. It’s a bittersweet chocolate cupcake of fun.
Weedwhacker Tuesday by Amanda Mauer is a about a young woman, Julie (Jen Riley) going through a series of unfortunate events that would make Lemony Snicket lose his lunch. Riley is a sitcom waiting to happen. She handles the unusual events with aplomb. The one act is light and airy Angel’s Food cake.
After intermission, a marvelous chance to sample sweet delights Sugar and Vice Bakery, things get better. Maybe it’s the sugar rush.
Free by Craig Pospisil is about all the stuff that weighs us down. It’s a cute three-hander with terrific actors, another Mauer, David this time, Jenny D. Martin and David Paluck. Mauer is fantastic, and Martin and Paluck match him. It’s easy to sympathize with these strangers on the A train. Paluck’s plays a rage-aholic, who is a convincing, hilarious and sad-when-you-really-think-about-it everyman. He is strong, confident and full of machismo.
Tucker Smallwood deftly directed this naughty slice of devil’s food cake.
The tastiest of the four plays is John Pollono’s I Hate LA. It is a delightful rant about all the crazies in the weird but wonderful Los Angeles.
Velvet is the new Ivy. Paparazzi stand guard and wait for the famous and infamous to enter. A beleaguered server, Reggie (Ron Bottitta), is harassed by his nemesis, the Maitre D, Dominic (Cameron Jappe), on Valentine’s Day, the busiest day of the year in the restaurant business.
A bewildered Jeff (Michael McBride) takes his wild L.A. woman, Sasha (Becky Wu) to the auspicious eatery. Superstar director Kent (David Paluck) and his date, Monica (Kate Hollinshead) avoid the hoi polloi to dine at the same hoity toity bistro.
When Reggie spouts off, longtime Angelinos will want to stand up and cheer. Bottitta anger is laugh out loud funny. Pollono even pops the piece with a surprise punch line. It’s a tart lemon meringue pie in the face.
If heavy drama fills you up, pop in to the theatre for the late night delights of Shorts and Sweets.
Image courtesy of Rogue Machine
(Shorts and Sweets runs Friday and Saturday nights at 10:30 pm ($15) at Theatre Theater on 5041 Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019).