Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book 26: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

This slight book has no right to pack the punch that it does. It has the feel of a drunken confessional from a self-obsessed theater student who has just fallen in love with his leading lady and male director all at once. Half the time you want to slap the kid and tell him to suck it up and the other half you ENJOY wanting to slap the kid and tell him to suck it up.

During the most turbulent of my college years my life somehow slid from intensity into a kind of dramatic self-parody. I had half-heartedly declared a History major which was a joke because I glaze over at the mention of anything that didn't happen today and have trouble remembering even the most earth-shattering moments in my own life. A first semester role in Noel Coward's 'Hay Fever' plunged me directly into the heart of the fantastic URI Theater Department and I never looked back.

And what did that immersion entail? A commitment at least as grueling as scholarship athletics. Each main stage production rehearsed for four weeks and ran for two. There were four main stage shows each year, which meant that for roughly four months you were either rehearsing or performing a play. Rehearsals were five or six times a week for up to four hours. Twenty hours a week which adds up to four hundred hours of rehearsal time per year.

And none of that includes the off-stage drama that exploded year round. Here are some snapshots.

An amoral ingenue who claimed she was pregnant by a friend. She claimed to have a Planned Parenthood appointment at a certain time. Since she had already proven herself not to be trusted we staked her apartment out and followed her throughout the day skulking like bad ass movie private eyes and smoking and drinking coffee. She went nowhere near the Planned Parenthood clinic. No child ever materialized.

That same ingenue (and I use that term very loosely) called 911 and reported a rape. Randomly another theater student was walking his dog in the general vicinity and was picked up for questioning. She was later charged with filing a false report. Our poor friend was very shook up because the cops truly believed he was the perp.

The girlfriend of the non-rapist incurred his wrath one night when she claimed that John Lennon was a liar. Now, you have to understand that the Non-Rapist was such a huge Beatles fan that this would be akin to telling Jerry Falwell that you believed that Christ liked little boys.

Parties at the house I rented down by the beach would not officially begin until everyone did a shot and jumped off the porch. We had roughly 40 shot glasses in our cupboards and we would line them up. The porch was pretty high too. But people jumped.

You could also get up on our roof and see the ocean. It was a gorgeous view. The girl I was circling came over early before a party in a minuscule black dress. She wanted to see the roof but the dress was so short that to climb up meant certain revelation of underpants. She paused, hiked the already teensy skirt up and over her hips and mounted the house.

She wound up sleeping that night in my roommate's bed with another guy.

These dramas constantly unfolded around all of us but were still somehow contained by the term "Theater Department". We would stumble out of a rehearsal for 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' having struggled to master some intricate group dance step and we would stagger down to Tony's Pizza for late night beers and improv. Legs were rubbed under tables, man on man, girl on girl, guy on girl, girl and girl on guy, et cetera.

Pitchers of beer disappeared in blinks of eyes and some sort of group tension carried us through the evenings.

'The Mysteries of Pittsburgh' is like that. It thinks it contains some nugget of tragedy, some kernel of human truth that exposes a vulnerability in our existence. But really it's just a boatload of fun.

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