Thursday, June 10, 2010

Diverting Devotion (Fall: 2006)

Larry Clarke had begun dating a very talented writer/actress, Fielding Edlow. They'd done a production of "Miss Julie" together and had fallen in love. She was looking around for another play to do when she read "Diverting Devotion" by Mike O'Malley.

This play is why Larry is in the O'Malley universe...he'd played Henry opposite my cousin Kerry in the inaugural production at the Irish Arts Center in New York City. Kerry's performance as the foul-mouthed elementary school teacher on a date with the Larry's shell-shocked Henry ranks extremely high on my all-time big-laugh scale. He was so good he made me forget I had desperately wanted to play the part. She was so good she may have deterred any audience members who were considering a career in education.

In any case, Fielding flipped over the play. They approached Mike, he decided to re-write it and re-publish it as a new, different version. Larry would direct, Fielding would play Janice. Mike suggested that Melody would be a good choice to play the part of Nicole.

At the time Melody still lived in New York City and we were doing the long-distance thing. As I've alluded to in the past, hindsight allows me to see the many ways in which I was unable to truly perceive my own deep-seated issues. I was in desperate need of anger management training, diligent therapy in pursuit of that goal and wholesale changes in my body life (i.e. quitting smoking, eating right, working out, etc.).

Not being able to take any steps towards any kind of health, I was continually lashing out at Melody. I kept it from the public at large (until an opening night diva fit, unfortunately) but my rage was eroding any chance Melody and I had of being happy.

In spite of her misgivings on these counts, Melody took the leap and quit her job in New York to come to LA to do the play.

Larry filled out the rest of the cast as follows. An old friend of his who I'd only briefly met before, Michael Hurley, would play Sully. Terry Maratos would take on Henry, the part that Larry had played in NY. Jen DeMartino would play the foul-mouthed teacher Nancy, and Dee Ann Newkirk would play Carol.

I would give you a plot summary but the truth is that I hope you read it, read the updated version that Mike published through Samuel French. I am very proud to have my name on it, to have played a part in helping Mike rewrite it.

I am not proud, however, of how I acted during the play. I have come to a place of self-forgiveness about it so I'm not even going to go into detail. Suffice it to say that the stress of a production forced what had remained secret and reserved for Melody out into the open. I yelled. I raged. I behaved very badly.

I am lucky to have friends and family who have deep capacity for forgiveness and understanding.

Now, all that aside, this play is like a joyride from hell. The inexorability of the heartbreak is excruciating. Mike peppers laughter throughout at such an astonishing rate that once things start to turn sour it is like a sucker punch.

The final trilogy of scenes play out like a microcosm of every love story gone awry. Much like when we did "Certainty" the audience comments weren't specifically about the performances or play but about THEMSELVES. As in, "Oh my god, I was PETE in college. I was dating this girl..." Or "I was CAROL! I freaked out on this guy I was dating and etc. etc."

There is something in the way Mike unfolds relationship trauma that is universal. You watch his plays and look at each character and think, "That was me. That is me."

Now that a few years have passed and I've been able to leave a lot of my self-destructive behavior behind, I am able to look fondly on this production. I can forgive myself for my faults which threatened to derail everything. Everyone poured their heart and souls into it and left everything they had on the stage.

It just goes to show you that you can reach an audience with a great play and a great cast even if the behind-the-scenes stuff is fraught with tension and strife. And you can even keep your girlfriend and friends after you act like a total jackass and yell at everyone on opening night.

How lucky am I???

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