Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bloody Corsets/Body Count (Spring: 2005)

One of the major offshoots that came about due to "Searching For Certainty" in Los Angeles was my new friendship with Larry Clarke. Now, I'd known Larry since 1996 when he originated the role of Henry in Mike's play "Diverting Devotion" in New York. We'd done all the readings of "Certainty" together and had also both fled a disastrous staged-reading we'd been roped into. But we were not friends.

"Certainty" changed all that. Larry had moved to LA a little bit earlier and he was determined to show me around town. He took me to the 101 Diner, he took me hiking in Runyon Canyon, he took me to the monstrous steps in Santa Monica. It was a little while into the rehearsal process that I realized: I had a new friend! I hadn't made a new friend the entire time I'd been in New York City for chrissakes.

The friendship deepened from there as I moved in with Larry and Jeff at the now infamous Rossmore Apartment complex. I slept in a nook between the living room and kitchen. It was in this apartment where Larry, in a fit of fevered creativity, wrote the bookend one-act plays "Bloody Corsets" and "Body Count".

He would stagger out of his room, sweaty and disheveled, clutching his laptop like it was a battered old notebook, and he would read aloud to me, doing all of the characters. These performances are burned onto my brain. I remember howling with laughter, clutching my stomach, telling him that he needed to STOP.

He was determined to mount a production immediately.

That apartment is where we rehearsed both plays. "Bloody Corsets" has four characters and "Body Count" nine.

Plot summaries of both plays are as follows:

"Bloody Corsets" is the title of a one-woman show that is being rehearsed in a black box theater. The director of the piece is married to the actress playing the main role. Their dynamic is the true story of the play, but we also get the play-within-a-play and the twisted nature of the theater company itself, which is basically this married couple and their sycophantic stage manager. The only outsider is the hired hand running the light and sound boards.

"Body Count" is the story of one disastrous night for a restaurant staff. In essence it is a war movie. A new staff member rubs everyone the wrong way as he tries to quickly assimilate himself into the deeply stratified levels of hierarchy and personality quirks that make up the pecking order in this high quality joint.

Back to back the two pieces lasted just over an hour.

I wound up playing the stage manager in the first piece by default. Larry and I were having a hard time figuring out how we could schedule full rehearsal for two casts at once. The only cast member who was not in both shows was the light/sound board operator in "Bloody Corsets". If I played the stage manager our rehearsal problem became much easier to manage. This wound up being quite a fortuitous shortcut because I have never had more fun than I did playing that brainwashed doormat.

We would all cram into our apartment and go to work. Talk about a labor of love. Larry would rewrite as he saw fit, solving problems as we went. He had very specific bits in mind for both shows...the comedy was quite often physical in nature and had to be choreographed to the limit. There were wine bottles being thrown, pratfalls, fake explosions (remember, it was a war movie!), glasses, plates and pepper grinders to be dealt with, and in the case of "Bloody Corsets", humor that came directly from ill timed light and sound cues.

These shows, while short, were extremely intricate.

But Larry literally had a flawless blueprint in his mind of how it all ought to go. We simply let him conduct us around the stage. His attention to detail, his determination to wring every ounce of humor and drama out of these stories was inspiring.

The audience reacted as if they were being tickled. It had a squirmy, "oh-my-god-if-you-don't-stop-that-i'm-going-to-pee-my-pants" feel to it. "Bloody Corsets" is a packed 15 minutes but somehow seems epic and insane. "Body Count" is about 45 or so and starts out casually enough but builds to a feverish climax much like a cliche ridden war movie.

No one made any money. In fact, everyone probably lost money on this thing, what with minor expenses. Larry most certainly did. He designed and built the set. He bought the costumes and props. He put together a program.

At the center of it all was Larry. These two plays hadn't existed just a few months earlier. Now they were whipping audiences into a frenzy. Thank god for new friends!

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