Friday, June 11, 2010

Sick (Spring: 2010)

Wow. A lifetime of plays and I've already reached the present. I just finished a run playing the role of Dr. Brown in the World Premiere of Erik Patterson's fantastic play "Sick" at the Los Angeles Theater Center.

Turns out that I would take the longest break between full productions ever in my life. Almost three and a half years passed between "Devotion" and the opening of "Sick".

Now, I kept as busy as I could during this time. Projects included a short spoof of movie review shows that I shot with Larry, several evenings of short plays from the Yo-Yo Theater company, several different evenings of sketch comedy through the infamous "Slap & Tickle" group and one offshoot of that "Saturn & Vine" in which Larry and I premiered our High-Talkin' Detectives in "The Finishers", and a lead role in a sweet sitcom pilot from the creator of Kate & Allie called "Little Women, Big Cars".

Plus I recorded and sold my song "Always Leaving Providence" to the Showtime series "Brotherhood" and recorded and released "Good Bye, New York" as a single on iTunes, accompanying that with an evening of songs about New York at the Bootleg Theater. Oh, yeah, and I performed in two evenings of music for charity, one using all Fugazi songs, one using all Pixies songs.

All this while parenting, dealing with the terrible illness and subsequent passing away of my wonderful father, and desperately trying to wrestle myself into some sort of acceptable shape, both physically and mentally.

Yikes. It has been a rough couple of years. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, got pneumonia and pleurisy, and discovered that I suffered from a chronic condition called "carotydina" which is an inflammation of the carotid artery.

I was rather overtaxed and did not feel like I could take on a full production.

That is, until Erik asked me to do "Sick".

I'd met Erik several years earlier at Tuesdays at 9, another creative outlet that I pursued fanatically in the intervening years. Naked Angels sponsors a cold reading series every Tuesday night at 9PM at St. Nick's Pub on 3rd St. near the Beverly Center. If you live in LA and haven't checked this out, I strongly urge you to do so.

Each week writers preview ten pages of whatever they are working on. Actors are handed the scripts almost at random before the night and then they read them cold. No rehearsal, no familiarization with the material, just instant show. There is also a musical guest each week that performs two songs. Which I also did a few times over the past couple of years.

This evening was my creative lifeline in the down time between all the aforementioned projects. It gave me the sense that I was pursuing my craft even if I had no professional proof of such. It was a weekly oasis of creativity in the desert of day jobs, mental struggle and financial worry.

Every time Erik showed up with material to be read something special would happen. His work is constantly surprising without being overtly so, deep without being ponderous, funny without resorting to shallow jokes and well-crafted without being predictable. Plus his subject matter varied wildly from piece to piece, something that I really responded to. I loved that you never knew what to expect.

But he never asked me to read for him! We were friendly enough, more so than I was with any of the other writers. He'd become a fan of my sister Sheila's blog so it always felt like he knew everything that was going on in my life!

In any case, Melody and I went to see a production of "He Asked For It" in West Hollywood. I'd seen excerpts of this play at Tuesdays and even so was not prepared for the emotional wallop he inflicted on us. There really was no part in it that I could have played but I joked with Erik afterward that he better put me in his next play, or at least let me do a reading of his stuff at Tuesdays.

Lo and behold, several months ago, Erik asked me to do a reading of "Sick" at the Los Angeles Theater Center. They'd chosen it to be a part of their season through Playwright's Arena. Playwright's Arena is dedicated to work written by Los Angeles writers that are set in Los Angeles as well. "Sick" fit that bill to a t.

The reading went well and Erik and the director Diane Rodriguez asked me to do the production. I felt as if the lag time between my last play and this one was worth it because I could unreservedly say that the play was worth it. I'd turned down other stuff over the years because of time commitments or laziness but in looking back I just must not have responded to the material. I wanted this part.

"Sick" tells the story of Pamela, a very young mom who is convinced she is dying. Her long suffering husband David has had it up to here with her delusions and has developed a crush on his sister-in-law, Carla. Carla is married to Pamela's brother Gary and she has just embarked on the 12-Step Program and kicked Gary out of the house in an effort to stay clean. Gary comes to stay with Pamela and David and their ten year old son Michael. I played Michael's pediatrician, Dr. Tim Brown.

I am not going to give too much of the plot away, seeing as this play has only been performed once in full production on the planet. Suffice it to say that Pamela's hypochondria sets in motion a series of events that threaten the family to its core.

Ironically enough I got really sick during rehearsal and was a veritable shell of myself for almost three of the five weeks of rehearsal that we had. But even this setback was something of an eye-opener for me. In the past I would have raged against this unfair development, why me? Why now? Why couldn't I catch a break when I needed it?

Instead I just hunkered down, conserved as much of my energy as I possibly could, and constantly reassured myself that I would be ready to go on opening night. And you know what? That's just what happened. I kicked the illness and caught up to the rest of the cast.

There were challenges as there are in any production. But overall it was one of the most relaxed enjoyable rehearsal periods I've ever encountered. Erik's play is so finely constructed that a lot of the work is done for you. All you have to do is say the words and everything unfolds.

I met some great new people, got to work with a playwright whose work I had admired from up close for over half a decade and performed a breast exam right on stage.

Could not ask for more.

Well, an agent would be nice but ten percent of nothing is nothing anyway. Who needs 'em?

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