Friday, August 25, 2006

Now that the 2006 NYC Fringe Festival is just a sweaty Henry Street Settlement memory, Handan and I are trying to cope with the emptiness of being without theater by staying home and watching old reruns of Seventh Heaven.

Opening night was a staggering success considering the actors and tech crew had all of about two hours of rehearsal time at the space, and the domineering venue director was making actors nervous by using her two weeks of unpaid power to spit out rules and regulations as she simultaneously stuffed a mayonnaise drenched tuna sandwich into her pasty face. Miguel(Carlos) and I had made some vague plans to get her back at some point during the festival, but outside of putting a couple drops of Visine in her Vitamin Water (which I never did) I couldn't come up with anything creative, so this mere mention turns out to be the only juvenile revenge I can extract. As you can see I was quite focused on studiously deconstructing the play Handan and I had written. I really was.

Prior to each show I was responsible for sectioning off the stage with long strips of yellow caution tape to complete Handan's "Do Not Cross" vision. The first performance the tape had ripped away from the floor, where there had been quite a lot of Christmas tree related activities.

"I wanted it to look like soccer field," she said with a sad shake of her head, clearly disappointed with my lackadaisical effort.

Opening night also brought out the sickly reviewer with a rumpled baseball hat who sat next to me on the top row of the bleachers as I was making small talk with my friend Safi about the Turkish army (don't ask).

"This is a horrible space," the man said, "the last time I was here, I saw the worst play I ever saw in my life." I suddenly pictured the length and tone of his future review, and could see the web page being added to the top of the favorites list on all of the people who I had ever mistreated in my life.

"That was not Chai," Handan said.
"But it is golden, sparkling Chai," I said, proudly displaying a plastic cup of apple juice in the air.
"No Chai is dark. Chai is definitely darker,"
I once again walked away dejected, having shirked by responsibilities as Production Assistant.

For the last three performances I was up in the booth doing the sound. Stage manager Jenn helped to offset my delayed reactions by giving the sound cues a couple beats earlier then they actually needed to be heard.

This is a typical profound comment I would make as Jenn and I were watching the audience members roll in before the play.

"I think he is Turkish."


The actors were wonderful, but aren't actors always wonderful, and I'm not being facetious, you might think that I am, but it was great to watch these actors bring so much to our little house party. Handan and I are excited with the development of House and can hardly wait to see the next installment on its legs. Having done House-- a Christmas story in August, we’ve now decided to put on these plays during the opposite seasons (it’s our gimmick), look for Yard in December; a pair of pregnant woman, Carmen and Grace navigate a sticky Fourth of July picnic as their husbands, John and Carlos protect the party from a suburban boar(boar as in pig).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

This past Sunday night following our first and last tech rehearsal for HOUSE, there was a Fringe Festival “meet and greet party” at a club in Chelsea called HOME. Did you get that? Our play is HOUSE, but the Fringe Festival party was at HOME. The other bizarre coincidence was the sign outside HOME, not HOUSE, was identical to our postcard logo (title in the middle of a line-drawing of a house).

So it was Handan and I, and two of the sparkling actors and Canta Entertainment partners, Mercedes and Jessica, who carried the stump of a Christmas tree and twelve dollar-store flashlights across the projects on 27th to HOME. Now Chelsea confuses me a bit, due to the towering projects on one side of 10th avenue, across the street from glossy art people and their text messages and short imported cigarettes.

At the door of the club, Jessica did an excellent job of remaining composed before a puffy bodyguard, who claimed he had given us proper directions for entrance, when in fact he had actually only grunted. But the party was better then I expected. Everyone in HOME was looking to hawk their play, give away a postcard, and drink their way through a crowded hour of open bar. Their was no pretense, people just went up to each other, and said, “This is what we’re doing, we need people to come see it”. Although there was a couple of people that I will not name specifically who turned me off by their transparent salespitch.
“This is some of the best writing around” a PR Sarah Jessica Parker type told me. I just nodded my head politely and wondered if there was enough time to get some more Finlandia down my throat.

Even after running the play four times during the day, Jessica and Mercedes were blazing with HOUSE energy. I figured they gave out 1000 postcards to our fellow Fringe Festival soakers. As Jessica said, “I think our mothers just taught us to do, what we’re told to do.”

Opening night is this Friday—Handan has been using the last rehearsals to work on the final blocking (blocking is a fancy theater word for where the actors stand).

“Make sure you don’t do traffic jam,” she said.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It is maybe two hundred degrees in NYC today. As I was walking to the Key Food to get a carton of eggs at 9:30 this morning, I was looking around, expecting to see exploding birds and insects get cooked instantly in the obscene Astoria concrete heat. Right now, I am hunched over in front of a computer screen in my green boxers in the one air-conditioned corner of my one-bedroom apartment. On the wooden floor is a hulking cardboard box, we have maybe 4,000 more postcards that I need to distribute for our little playlet House. Not sure if that is going to quite happen today. Probably not.

The Fringe Festival is coming up on us fast and Handan is having four rehearsals this week to get the kids whipped into shape. Yesterday she worked with a stage fight choreographer so the actors wouldn’t hurt themselves when they reach that terrifying moment when they have to explode on the stage. Up until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t even know that stage fight person was a job. I knew about the movies and stunt doubles and John Wayne and Rocky Balboa but stage fight choreographer. Wow. I hope you choose not to boycott our play now that you know there is a fight scene. Or perhaps you are angry with me for ruining the threat of violence, for telling you the violence will actually exist, with as Americans, we all love to hold until a moment of ultimate stress. It’s called repression.

Handan told me yesterday.

“The play is almost ready”

“Really,” I said.

“Yes, I just need to find gun”

Oops, I guess I gave away more violence.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tonight Handan is having rehearsal with our two male leads, Carlos and Cumhur (in their NYC life, Miquel and Luis) at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center. I will go as a mostly silent observer to see if the words I have strung together sound decent enough, and when the situation is perfect I will drop cool theater lingo like “Off the Book” and “Emote”.

Neil Simon said during an interview that he was of little use for the actors. Not that he didn’t have use for actors, I think he loves actors, but he was unable to help them on their journey to inhabiting that other person. I am not comparing myself to Neil Simon, but I tend to be solely interested in the words or the pacing of the dialogue. The direction comes from Handan. She answers such important questions like, “Should I put my hat on now?” or the always popular one “How will the audience see me if the garment rack is in front of me?” No, I am interested in the words, the language, the story I am trying to tell. I understand their characters motivation but I prefer not to get into the sensitive business of acting--that’s what Handan is for.

HOUSE is set in suburban America a few days after Christmas. I am a nice Jewish boy who grew up in suburban Wisconsin. The playlet follows the plight of a young Turkish couple and a Nuyorican pair from the Bronx. Obviously, I have a better grasp on the suburban squalor then I do on the colorful nonwhite characters, because after all, estoy gringo. But I think with the help of Handan we have created some real people who do quirky things; Ruya spends most of the play guarding the family Christmas tree and it’s singular sad ornament like a hockey goalie. Carlos is a man with vision and has color coded his tool box to assure proper organization in his basement work area. Carmen, well Carmen is the conductor. And my personal favorite character tick belongs to Cumhur, who has a working knowledge on the migration pattern of rats as they traveled west.

If anybody out there has a roll of yellow caution tape— please contact Handan.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"I am the guardian of the WALL".

These are the dates "HOUSE" is being performed at the Fringe Festival in August. You must go, trust me it's much better then a back massage, well, it’s at least better then Yoga. If you want tixx, go to Fringe, or see if you can work something out with the impoverished playwright.

FRI 8/11 @ 9 – 10
SUN 8/13 @ 2 – 3
THUR 8/17 @ 6:15 – 7:15
SUN 8/20 @ 7:15 – 8:15
THUR 8/24 @ 4:45 – 5:45

For those of you who have simply heard of this “WALL-HOUSE-YARD trilogy” but know nothing about us, or what it is Handan and I are trying to do, here goes; Handan wrote and directed a play called “1001 NYC nights”--inspired by a short story in “1001 Arabian nights” (Little Hunchback). I shared duties on “1001” as story editor and enthusiastic video projectionist. We had so much fun hanging out with these bizarre characters in “1001”, that Handan and I discussed giving them a little more stage time; “1001” became “WALL”, and the trilogy was born. It could have been halfway between a Margarita on some July night (oh no that was last night), or the subway tunnel underneath the East River, actually I can’t remember the exact moment that we gave birth to our monosyllabic babies, but it was definitely in 2004.

“WALL” is all about the dance of the dead body. An American couple, John and Grace, find a dead body at the doorstep of their LES apartment. Instead of calling the police like what happens in the real world when someone finds a dead body on their door step (trust me I know), John decides to stick the body on his Turkish neighbors, Cumhur and Ruya. “WALL” is not a normal world; there are Genies, secret peepholes, and characters straight out of the “Matrix”. You know, it is very similar to Queens. But that is “WALL”, I need to get back to “HOUSE”, and where I belong. “HOUSE” is set in suburban America a few days after Christmas. Our Turkish couple is once again having bad luck on the domestic front.

(Cumhur picks up the phone and dials 911, and waits for the operator to pick up.)

Someone broke into my house.(Listening to operator)
Yes. My house was broken into. They came in through the front door. They just walked right in-like they lived here. The woman-she-she is playing with our tree. We have a Christmas tree. Now will you come? 1003 forest lane. They look dangerous, please...(listening to operator)

Look dangerous—you think I look dangerous. Why is that?

No. I did not let them in my house. They broke in. They had their own key...(listening to operator)

Yes, a key... (Listening to operator)

No I did not give it to them. Why would I do that? Don’t you understand this is my house? My name is Cumhur Mutlu, 1003 forest lane, look it up, I am in your big yellow book. My house has been broken into. Someone has stolen my house...(operator is speaking)

People believe Handan and I wrote the “WALL-HOUSE-YARD trilogy” in an effort to capture the strange times that exist post 911. No, we’re selfish, we write plays because we want to see ourselves on stage. In “HOUSE”, two couples claim to be living the same life. The conflict is surreal but the humanity is not. As playwrights we don’t want to see some pseudo intellectual babble about Descartes eating a cheeseburger. We want to see our tragically funny lives. This is “HOUSE”; a response to life.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

“No, the exchange rate on an American husband was much better five years ago.”

I like watching Handan work. When she is inside the world of her plays there is nothing else, she forgets about all of her obvious physical needs and becomes obsessed with creating the show. With that in mind these are a couple of my journal entries from the days and weeks leading up to Istanbul. It was originally nonfiction material, but I like to fiddle with things, so it is truth, but my truth, which is fudged.

---First there was the giant hatbox purchased from T.J. Maxx on Avenue of Americas.

“It is really damaged on the bottom,” I said.

The cashier was looking for the UPC on one of the two decorative hatboxes that Handan and I lugged up to the counter.

“$2.99,” she said quickly.

“It should be big,” I unwittingly suggested, not realizing that I would be going through customs at JFK with a hatbox inside of a blue nylon laundry bag.

“Can you go any lower?” Handan said. The cashier gave us a hard look and cocked her head.

“$2.99 is what I can do,”

Both hat boxes were appropriately decorative, flowery and romantic. But one box was larger and thus more “visually striking”. As Handan was making a crucial decision on the aesthetic status of WALL, the veteran cashier took the opportunity to rest her hand on the computer scanner. Handan worried the larger damaged box would not be sturdy enough to actually hold the head. And then I reminded Handan who wrote and conceived of WALL,

”It is just a play--there will not actually be a head in there.”

Handan was now hugging the giant box.

“I like this one.”

"What type of discount can you give us?” I said to the cashier who was thinking to herself we just opened up and these sad, poor people are not listening to me.

“Like I said before, $2.99.”

We must have wanted it for free because we couldn’t decide.

“You have to decide,” I said, secretly hoping for the smaller box which would be far easier to jam into the overhead compartment.

“I like big box”


“Could you just step over to the side,” the homeland security agent directed me over to the table where they search your belongings if there is some type of signal flare that the screeners catch on the video images such as nail clippers, or a kitchen fork, or a head in a hat box.

I had been expecting the box inside the nylon laundry bag to be the issue with the Homeland security personnel, and in fact I had told Handan as much when we were getting herded around like cows through the security labyrinth.

“Do you think they will choose me for the random check?” I said sarcastically as I pushed the box along the floor with my shoe.

But the strange looking bag was not the object that alarmed the crack homeland security officers. It was an object inside of the box, Handan’s giant flashlight. The hatbox had been packed for traveling; it was stuffed with crucial props and costumes and musical instruments and flashlights, oh yes--Handan’s famous blue flashlight was in the hatbox. I had seen this flashlight in use in her productions of Rider’s to the Sea, Rumi’s Math(1&2), multiple productions of WALL, and two staged readings of HOUSE. This was a legendary flashlight.

The clean shaven man held up Handan’s giant space ship of a flashlight with two hands for his partners at the video screen. Handan who had been standing behind me the whole time after already passing through with her small green purse was shaking her head. I still hadn’t put my shoes back on.

“Can you believe that?”



--There was the all day rehearsal at a Long Island University gymnasium in downtown Brooklyn.

…Cem or Cumhur (one of the lead actors in the trilogy) works at LIU Brooklyn and arranged for a free rehearsal space for us. Free is the key word. It is a particularly important word when you are trying to put on avant garde theater shows in NYC. So on a Sunday morning Handan and I, and Sinem (who lives in Astoria like us) took the W train from Queens to Brooklyn. Unfortunately there are no successful trains that travel directly between Brooklyn and Queens. It takes approximately three days. Cem wasn’t around to meet us at the campus gate when we finally arrived at the LIU campus so Handan and Sinem decided to run lines on a sunny bench next to the bored security guard and his tiny security shack. On the next bench, I was reading a New Yorker feature on the Dog Whisperer.

“Do you want my sunglasses” Handan asked.

“No thanks” I said.

The Dog Whisper is this Mexican immigrant who has become a celebrity dog psychologist with his own TV show and cult following. I was pretty into it. The Dog Whisperer uses movement instead of verbal commands to change dog behavior. But anyway I was reading about the Dog Whisperer, Sinem and Handan were running lines in Turkish, and Cem was just running late.

…The Long Island University gymnasium in downtown Brooklyn turned out to be a unique place to rehearse.

“It used to be an old jazz hall.” Cem said.

I was more interested in getting a slice of cheese cake from Juniors across the street from the university then listening to actors get off the book. The juxtaposition of the LIU gymnasium didn’t make any sense, an ugly basketball scoreboard hanging from a towering cathedral ceiling. The space was a historic institution and now instead of music wafting up to the ornate wood moldings on a Friday or Saturday night there were sweaty kids throwing around a ball and slapping each other in the ass.

We had our garment rack and a couple of other props (stolen chairs and tables) set up in between two smaller basketball hoops off to the side of the main court. Handan made adjustments to her play while sitting on a blue wrestling match. I waved to the security guards as they passed behind the actors. I wanted to say something about the rhythm and the words being slow, but I didn’t have too, Handan was on it.

“I want doom, doom, doom” she said and clapped her hands together.

“Doom, doom, doom, “

The actors nodded their head and repeated the lines faster.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Handan and I are back from the Istanbul Theater festival where WALL had a successful two night run. It was a tremendous experience for us to participate in such a high profile international theater festival. The subtitles worked surprisingly well, the Turkish production crew was top rate, and our stars; Grace, John, Ruya, Cumhur, Neo, Genie, and particularly the dead body, did a fantastic job of fighting off jetlag.

During the week in Istanbul, Handan and Umut ran from one Turkish TV interview to the next. I am happy to report that Handan is still having breakfast with me despite her new status as a celebrity director.

The unveiling of HOUSE at the 10th annual NYC Fringe Festival is just months away. We are excited to premiere the play at the Henry St. Experimental Theater on the LES.