A Little Bit of Elation – Why Not?

Here’s some good news: Finally finished work on round #1 of THE SEAGULL (ON 16th STREET) last night. I knew it was time to draw this first fully worked through draft to a close when I had Masha warbling “Blue Moon” at the very end after Dr. Dorn announces that Konstanin Gavrilovich has just… Well, why give away the evening for the two people who don’t know this most-frequently of produced plays? The “Blue Moon” coda felt incredibly right and seemed to tie up all the anachronistic songs from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that get hummed at discreet intervals through the play. There’s Neil Sadaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard To Do,” Joni Mitchell’s “I Was a Free Man in Paris,” and The Marcells’ “Blue Moon.” And that, believe me, has almost nothing to do with the overall approach to this “Jewish Seagull,” but maybe that’s why I love it the most and find it, well, just the right kind of touch. In the original SEAGULL, Chekhov calls for several of the characters to hum some throw-away popular songs of the time.
For example in Act I: SORIN: I’ll do it, that’s all. Right away. (Goes off singing.) “In France, two grenadiers!…” (Looks around.)
Or later in the act, DORN: (Singing.) “Don’t say that our youth has been wasted…” and DORN: (Sings.) “Again, before you, I stand…”
What to do with all this warbling?

Well, taking our cue from the guiding principle of this adaptation–that we bring ourselves and our world into the realm of Chekhov’s Russia–we bring not only our modern Jewish cultural dialectic into Turn of the Century Rissa, but also the romantic pop music ditties that feel so resonant. So I chose a few goodies. And last night’s late night whimsy: Close the show with it… And so I did! And so it might really work too. At least the way Masha chooses to deliver it. And then suspend it.
So we’ll see when we read it with the cast. But for now, I’m very happy. And very pyched to be finally done with this round of writing. And onto the next big assignments!

Also want to mention three other good piece of news (you know what? There’s more than three!) Continue reading

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SPEED Closing, SHLEMIEL Beginning, and Flying Off to IsraDrama (schedule included!)!

So very quickly, some really good news:  We done good at the box office.

Speed-The-Plow closes tonight and will do so bringing in well over $44,00, exact figures dependent on walk-up sales for these final two shows.  And the walk-up (including sales from Ticketplace and Goldstar; day-of discount tix) — has been really strong.  So we’re gonna come in right close to budget despite two incredibly sluggish weeks right in the middle of the run, which had us all worrying. Isn’t it funny?  To go from $9,000 a week the week the first reviews came out, and then to sink to $5,550 a week for the next two weeks (as downer notices came in from The City Paper and Washington Times) only to rebound to $9,000 weeks to close out the run.  We benefited from more ads, good word-of-mouth, some free press in last week’s Weekend section in the Post.  And it all ends up with a first show doing exactly what it was supposed to do.   

We played to more audience members than we’ve ever played to before in a fall slot.  That’s right.  The October-November-Thanksgiving slot — generally our season opening slot — has always been one of limited appeal.  Last year’s $38,000 for Spring Forward, Fall Back broke our fall box office record and it’s good news that we’ll break that fall record quite easily again this season.  Since the fall is usually our smallest grossing show of the season, history tells us that our biggest opportunities are ahead of us.  And so we’re optimistic about everything coming down the pike, including rehearsals for Shlemiel the First which will begin right after another round of auditions for our season-ending musical, David in Shadow and Light, for which we’re 8/10ths cast.  More on all this shortly.

But finally to share this.  I’m going off to Israel on Tuesday to see an ungodly number of really strong plays.  Wanna see the schedule?     Continue reading

Danton Blogs (with a call to respond!)

I am the actor, Danton (Danny) Stone who plays Bobby Gould in David Mamet’s Speed The Plow at Theater J. I have few things to say about this gig – but first, a little background on my history:

In thirty years as a professional (paid) actor, I have been on the road (away from home, wife, kid, cat) at least twenty five times. Anywhere from three days to six months, everywhere from New Jersey to London, and throw in Manzanillo, Mexico, too. Basically, I wish I could stay in one place, but the newness of it all is a lure, too. This has been a very fine line, you see; I live on this line all the time. The line is this: I am secure with what is familiar to me, but I also crave the knowledge of, and the experience of, something totally new. I am also kind of a physical coward, as well as a homeboy of sorts, so acting, playing new roles, getting to know a writer I’ve never done before, or just doing a different kind of role, is a good M.O. for me. In other words: I love fiction because it’s safe, and unfamiliar at the same time. I can’t write, but I can act, so I do some deep pretending and if it all goes poorly, I can always lay the blame on the writer. Continue reading

They’re Not All Good Reviews – They Never Are

And it’s important to remember that; our biggest hits, our consensus critical darlings, have always had a detractor, or two, or three; the literature attracts contrarians as does the nature of evaluating both live performance and modern text — there’s all that much more to critique! And with our current playwright, “everyone’s an expert on Mamet,” director Jerry Whiddon told me last night as he stopped by our Thursday night performance (which started at 8:15, a special time, after the 6:30 NEXTBOOK lecture by New Yorker author Adam Gopnik, riffing for an hour on the history of Jewish comedy.)

So let’s be honest with ourselves, as I was with students last night, in discussing the decidedly mixed reception that’s emerged after new reviews have trickled in; unimpressed musings from the City Paper’s Bob Mondello who mourns the fact that “the Baldwin brothers — a couple of them anyway” who as he was told, apparently (incorrectly) “were contemplated as a casting option for Theater J’s Speed-the-Plow” — weren’t cast. “Might’ve been interesting in a voyeuristic sort of way. David Mamet’s Tinseltown satire about the machinations of sixth-tier producer-wannabes who get a shot at moving up a tier or two can use a little extra frisson these days.” Well, we’re pretty excited about the frission of superb actors Birkenhead and Stone, but much of the commentary has centered around the fact that Stone’s Gould is, well, just too eager to be liked; too humane; too “nice?” “Dulls the satire. Mellows the melodrama. Slows the Plow.” Shall we live with that? Continue reading