Given how much "toxic" masculinity there is around these days - just this morning, some jerk in Northern Cali joined the growing list of lethal shooters, at a children's elementary school, no less - well, I thought I'd begin with a memoir from a non-toxic Hollywood male.
BORN STANDING UP: a comic's life by Steve Martin, published by Scribner's
"I was not naturally talented - I didn't sing, dance or act - though working around that minor detail made me inventive. I was not self-destructive, though I almost destroyed myself. In the end, I turned away from standup with a tired swivel of my head, until now," writes Steve Martin, in the first chapter of this fascinating self-analysis of his 18 year career as a standup comic. Martin adds: "I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product."
This is not a new book - it's been out 10 years already - but it has sat on my shelf for some-time now, unread. I am suspicious of celebrity culture of any kind, and self-analysis is usually of the most superficial variety with such folk. But Steve Martin has been more unpredictable than most, branching out to playwriting, literary fiction, painting, musicals. And I found his book to be unexpectedly and delightfully insightful, both into the formation of "Steve Martin, standup" who became the first comedian to play stadiums, and into the art of standup comedy itself. Steve Martin spent years as a standup failure, bombing hard and often. He lost managerss, he lost lovers, he had no money. His father never believed in him and was clearly hoping he would call it quits. Even the months before his stardom were filled with gigs with small audiences and loud hecklers. How and why did it change? Read the book and find out. I was deeply impressed with the honesty and humility with which Martin was able to view his own development as an entertainer and creative force. He comes across as a flawed but genuinely good guy, a private person from Orange County who is well aware of the demands of celebrity, keeping it at as great a distance as he can afford to.
STUPID KID by Sharr White, Directed by Cameron Watson
There are sometimes when the opening scene of a new play is so original and mind-blowing that I worry about how the rest of the play is going to be able to continue on this level, much less top it. Such was the case with Sharr White's Stupid Kid at the Road. The play opens with a knock on a door - suddenly Chick (Ben Theobald), a wayward man in his late 20s, is facing his father Eddie (Joe Hart) on the threshold of the run-down family home. "Who are you?" Eddie keeps asking, and he seems unable to comprehend that this stranger at his door is actually his son. Soon mother Gigi (Taylor Gilbert) joins the fray, and things only get more wildly out of control. What's so winning about this opening scene, from a playwright's point of view, is that the three major characters are established and we begin to get a glimpse of the terrible tragedy/media event 14 years earlier that changed their lives - all without ever slowing down the play or compromising its reality to give us any exposition. The play has raised several intriguing questions without giving away any crucial information. Soon after this, the "toxic masculinity" in the play is introduced in the character of Uncle Mike (Rob Nagle). Uncle Mike was the town sheriff, until he was unceremoniously removed. Now he's running for town judge to get his revenge. Uncle Mike has moments of greatness, but his character ends up raising more questions than the play is able to answer, chief among them: why would a man so concerned with power and domination rent a boy's room in his sister's run-down house for the last 14 years? Given the depth of sadism, maybe he needs people to dominate; but other questions emerge that simply prove to be too big for this play to deal with. Still, it's a terrific production, with great costumes by Kate Bergh and a wonderfully-detailed set by Jeff McLaughlin. It has six more performances and is worth catching.
LES LIASON DANGEREUSES by Christopher Hampton, from the novel by Choderlos de Laclos, directed by Robin Larson
This would seem to be the perfect play for right now, dealing as it does with the sexual misdeeds of two 18th Century aristocrats, La Marquise de Merteuil and Le Vicomte de Valmont, who conspire together to pray upon the more vulnerable members of their society. There's even this quote from a mother to her teenage daughter in the early moments of the play, regarding why Valmont continues to be received in polite homes, despite his tawdry history: "You'll soon find that society is riddled with such inconsistencies, we're all aware of them, we all deplore them, and in the end, we all accommodate them." As Jenny Lower pointed out in her Stage Raw review, this could be a description of how Harvey Weinstein's uncouth behavior and violations went unpunished for so long.
Antaeus is famous for having two separate casts for each show - in this case, The Libertines and The Lovers. I saw The Libertines cast, with Reiko Aylesworth and Henry Lubatti in the lead roles, and the production simply didn't work for me, because Mr Lubatti didn't make me feel the emotional devestation that Valmont causes by rejecting his true love, La Presidente de Tourvel. In her Stage Raw review, Jenny Lower raves about how well this worked with the actors in The Lovers cast. Something to think about.
REDLINE by Christian Durso, directed by Eli Gonda, presented by IAMA Theatre at the Lounge
This father-son play about the consequences of a 5 second outburst of toxic masculinity has all the emotional devestation I found missing from Liason Dangereuse, and much more. It is the culmination of a two year development process in which playwright Christian Durso continued to work on his play with director Eli Gonda and actors James Eckhouse and Graham Sibley, having readings, making changes. The play is still finding its levels and filling in a few details, and the ending still feels a bit tentative, but this is an example of what small theaters can do that major institutional theaters rarely can. The collaborative elements here are outstanding, and IAMA Theatre deserves huge kudos for helping to bring about such a powerful theatrical experience. Every family will be able to relate to the central event in the play - an argument between mom and dad on a skiing field trip that gets out of hand and ignites a moment of chaos that results in a tragedy for many people. Further, the play shows how the emotional damage is compounded and passed along from father to son, resulting in another heartrending and entirely preventable tragedy. Eckhouse and Sibley are two of SoCal's best actors, and both are at the top of their games here. But, again, the brilliance here is the result of a great collaboration between all aspects of theater, including the flexible steel set by Rachel Myers and the excellent lighting by Josh Epstein. Kudos also to producers Tom DeTrinis and Jen Hoguet for their contribution. There are only 3 performances left with available tickets: this Saturday at 2 and 8 pm and this Sunday at 2. Grab one fast.