The Year in Theater

The best and worst of 150 nights spent in a dark room. Plus: Dramatic hypotheses, and thespians speak out.

MAYBE THEY WERE just fishing for tips. But Luverne Seifert and Nathan Keepers played a wonderful little game in Theatre de la Jeune Lune's production of Chez Pierre. As Boo Boo and Gio, two busboys with high, halting voices and impossibly garish hair colors, they would disappear from the stage for a moment. Then one would materialize--Boo Boo, let's say--behind the bar, his head appearing furtively. He would peer toward some object at the other end of the bar--a glass, let's say--and his hand would sneak up on it. Despite the impossible distance to the glass, the hand would somehow traverse that space and snatch it up--his arm seeming to enjoy hidden elastic properties obscured by the bar. Then, Gio would rise and reveal himself as the true owner of the mysteriously wandering hand. The trick exposed, the two impish busboys would giggle at each other and look bashful.

Moments such as these are inherently theatrical: This blend of clowning and sleight of hand originated on the stage, after all, and remains a pleasure to see when performed by live actors before a live audience. One of the great pleasures of being a theatergoer is watching for these moments, sometimes a fraction of a second long, that are blessedly unique to the theater. Consider improvisational comedy, which Twin Cities audiences can sample in abundance. There is nothing quite like the creative peril of somebody stepping out onto a bare stage with nothing prepared in advance, then spontaneously creating something entirely new--a process that, due to its high failure rate, would be unendurable in other media. Who would pay to watch a film in which two actors stared at each other blankly, mumbling in confusion? What advertiser would buy time on a television show where the programming is nonsensical at best?

But in the theater, the performance is thrilling. Often reviewers compare the experience of viewing improv to that of watching a tightrope walker, another essentially theatrical tradition. There is, ultimately, the very real possibility of seeing somebody fail onstage--an experience Greta Grosch explored in her most recent installment of Greta! Still Becoming! at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, a show that was itself partially improvised.

Looking back on a year in theater--more than a hundred companies and thousands of performances--one begins to see the entirety of the Twin Cities scene as an act of bold invention. There is no director guiding which companies will try out a droll new playwright, no civic official deciding how many people will traipse around Loring Park on an August afternoon in search of the experimental stagecraft of the Fringe Festival. Unlike individual shows, the theater scene never opens and never closes. And so this year-end summary, by necessity, is a review of something that is still evolving. Who knows what script will be playing tomorrow?

 

The Lists:
The Best and the Definitely Not Best of A.D. 2000

The Cream:

1. The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol,
Ten Thousand Things

Featuring a grizzled, ill-tempered lead performance from Jodi Kellogg, this adaptation of a John Berger story proved the maxim that if the performers and the script are good enough, you need little else. Using minimal props and no set whatsoever (the production toured prisons and homeless shelters), director Michelle Hensley nonetheless created a complex, vivid world. Actors climbed mountain ranges simply by scurrying across several small stools, and they visited heaven by raising a canopy, playing music, and dancing.

2. The Adventures of Herculina,
Frank Theatre

Playwright Kira Obolensky's unusual fantasia is less about gender than it might seem at first. While the Herculina of the title swaps sexes midway through the production, acting the first half of the play as a woman and the second half as a man, Frank Theatre director Wendy Knox correctly recognized that Obolensky's use of gender was somewhat metaphorical. The real themes hiding in the play deal with the mutability of those things that are supposed to be permanent--most important, the shifting nature of love. The resulting production was less a clinical examination of hermaphroditism than a love song that was at once giddy and mournful.

3. Chez Pierre, Theatre de la Jeune Lune

There are times when the Theatre de la Jeune Lune threatens to become the Steven Epp show--which can be marvelous, as when the sardonic actor presided over The Magic Flute and completely ran away with The Government Inspector in this past year. But sometimes we need a break from the hysteria he creates, and mercifully Epp was not in Chez Pierre, although his guiding hand revealed itself in some unexpected moments of stage magic. Instead, this production seemed democratic: Every performer enjoyed an opportunity to seize the spotlight, from Vincent Gracieux's gruff, befuddled chef to Luvurne Seifert and Nathan Keepers's playful busboys. In the meantime, Jeune Lune artistic director Barbra Berlovitz literally danced through her scenes as a bewildered diner, showcasing her considerable talents for physical comedy.

4. The Beauty Queen of Leenane,
Eye of the Storm

Martin McDonagh's plays are shallower than they seem. The London-born Irishman has a talent for writing complex, engrossing Irish characters, but he relies on disappointingly simple plot twists and nasty, often unnecessary acts of violence to push his plays forward. The Ireland of McDonagh's plays is a foul place filled with foul people--they quietly launch petty attacks, heaping bile upon one another. Handled poorly, a play such as Beauty Queen could have seemed like the work of an Irishman who has watched too much Tarantino (which McDonagh has all but confessed to). Through intelligent casting, Eye of the Storm avoided such a pitfall. As the ill-tempered, elderly mother at the center of the story, Claudia Wilkens turned her performance into an essay in deviousness, making the violence that followed seem inevitable rather than gratuitous.

5. Talk to Me Like the Rain,
the Jungle Theater

This small collection of one-act plays by Tennessee Williams showed the playwright in a distinctly odd mood: His characters include a drunk who tells a rambling tale about waking up packed in ice, and two very young children who can quite fairly be described as utterly bonkers. As if that weren't enough of a theatrical pleasure, director Bain Boehlke gathered a cast capable of providing these characters with extraordinary depth: Barbara Kingsley, Buffy Sedlachek, and Charles Schuminski (who has demonstrated a special genius for eccentric roles). Boehlke's dank, cinematic set--with its collection of brightly lit, empty liquor bottles--lent an atmosphere of somberness to the whole production, which seems appropriate to a playwright who made a career of blending high weirdness with profound sadness.

6. Z.A.P.! Künst, the Theatre Gallery

Performers Paul Herwig and Jennifer Ilse offered up a feat of comic inventiveness in their parody of performance art, following two hapless and supremely untalented German artists in their misbegotten attempts to create something beautiful. This was joyous and occasionally transcendent comedy, made all the more surprising by the fact that it seemed to be created entirely out of children's toys, cardboard, and frenetic movement. At the end of a performance, one got the sense that Herwig and Ilse could pack their entire act in a suitcase and toss it in back of one of those tiny European three-wheeled cars. Which would have been appropriate: After all, this play was likewise a miniature, absurd wonder.

7. A Piece of the Rope,
Great American History Theatre

If a dramatist must steal from something, he couldn't do much better than stealing from history. With an ingenious script by Jeffrey Hatcher and a completely engaging performance by Julian Bailey in multiple roles, this story of the first white woman executed in the Twin Cities was full of high drama: An abusive husband, all sorts of courtroom shenanigans, and a pitched last-minute escape attempt before the trap door sprung and the murderess dropped to her death. If history class were more like this, few would have to repeat it.

8. Freewheeling in the Attic of Whim, Bedlam Theater

Maren Waard, Jon Cole, and Julian McFaul, the rollicking cast of this play, danced, battled, and leapt about on a stage that was so severely raked that a few more degrees of slope would have made it a slide. Come to think of it, the Attic of Whim set may have been steeper than the set for Jeune Lune's Magic Flute, and that is a slide. The script by John F. Beuche, detailing the relationship and weird obsessions of three supremely peculiar roommates, was at once poetic, silly, and freewheeling--appropriate, given its West Bank setting.

9. Ladies and Gentlemen, Outward Spiral Theatre Company

There is nothing particularly masculine about performer Jodi Kellogg, who played a vaudeville-era male impersonator in this drama--but that didn't matter. Kellogg tied her hair up under a top hat and rolled around on the stage on the balls of her feet like a punchy boxer, warbling out old popular songs. She performed with the air of an aging dandy, while casually seducing anyone who attracted her attention, regardless of gender. This production had an atmosphere so thick with melancholy that it could have been produced entirely in the sepia tones of photographs of dead loved ones.

10. Uncle Ed's Toucan World, Ari Hoptman

For some reason, Ari Hoptman is often referred to as a standup comic, but his most recent performance at the Acadia Café and Cabaret showed him to be something grander than merely a jukebox of unconnected bons mots. Instead, Hoptman is a storyteller, and his short humorous sketches display an astonishingly broad imagination. Who else would dare lecture his audience about Europe's slow transition from paganism to Christianity, all in the service of explaining why Christmas causes heartburn for the performer? And who else could make it so damn funny?

 

Top five touring productions:

1. Shockheaded Peter, Cultural Industries;

2. Máquina Hamlet, El Periférico de Objetos;

3. Dralion, Cirque du Soleil;

4. Dame Edna

5. North Atlantic, the Wooster Group

 

The Dregs:

1. Adventures in Love, Ordway Center for the Performing Arts

Forgive me if I found the minor passions of the wealthy to be less than engrossing in this syrupy musical. Watching cheerful, pretty creatures flop around singing about their unrequited crushes and unsatisfying relationships had me ready to throw my chair onto the stage in protest. Better to hear these folks complain about the troubles with their stock portfolios.

2. The Leitmotif, the Original Theatre Company

Even a wonderful cast that included two of the Twin Cities' best performers, Jodi Kellogg and Stephen D'Ambrose, couldn't uncover the point of this meandering work of contemporary noir. Amid a tangle of senseless plot lines, the performers wandered from one puzzling situation to another. The final declaration of a minor character's pregnancy brought about vocal bewilderment from the audience. No one, I would guess, came back the next night to try to figure it out.

3. Silver Lake, the Jungle Theater

A play that proposed to savage Hollywood instead fell prey to the same failings as the town it mocked. While Silver Lake took potshots at studios, the script itself seemed like a studio remake of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by a consortium of shady businessmen who didn't want to pay for the rights to the original.

4. Dracula, Park Square Theatre

Playwright Steven Dietz found very little that is new in Bram Stoker's classic horror story, and he decided to rely on the book's epistolary format to retell it. This meant that characters tended to talk about events as though they had already happened, which doesn't do too much for creating dramatic tension. Director Richard Cook, apparently inspired by Japanese theater, decided to dress his stagehands in rags, and as a result every set change was performed by creatures who seemed to have wandered over from a nearby mummy movie. Ooooh...scary!

5. Seduced, Cockpit and Rhombus theaters

I feel a bit like I'm picking on the little guy here: Companies this small seem to be working with budgets so low they must have been fished out of the pockets of old suits. But the Cockpit and Rhombus theaters' joint production of this weak Sam Shepard script resulted in one of the few shows this year that had me wondering if I could crawl up the aisle unnoticed to the safety of the exit. Sitting through bad Shepard is typically like having a tooth extracted; this production was root canal.

 

New Directions
Gender swapping, comfy chairs, and breaking into song: The trends of the year

DAMN THE STATE Legislature for ruining what otherwise was a perfectly lovely year for theater. Our public officials behaved in a miserly fashion toward the Guthrie Theater, giving the company a fraction of the money it needed to begin financing its new building. The Guthrie, with its powerful donor base and strong political support, will survive this slight. More catastrophic, the Legislature actually stripped away $1 million that had already been allotted to the Penumbra Theatre for its new-building campaign--leaving that company to forge onward in producing nationally important art in a uniquely substandard space.

Although the quest for new real estate may continue to be the headline story for the local scene--theater, like everything else, has a way of following the money--a handful of dramatic trends from the past year can be found lingering in the back pages.

1. Masculine/Feminine

While two of the best plays of the season dealt explicitly with questions of gender confusion (Frank Theatre's The Adventures of Herculina and Outward Spiral's Ladies and Gentlemen), a notable number of Cities theaters decided to put genderfuck theory into practice and cast their plays without regard to what sex played what character. A small sampling: The Theatre de la Jeune Lune cast Sarah Agnew and Barbra Berlovitz in the two lead male roles (a sociopathic freeloader and a corrupt town mayor), while saving the most outrageous female role for a hammy, mordant Steven Epp. With a simple change of posture and vocal tone, Stephen D'Ambrose played a dizzying array of characters, both male and female, in the Jungle's production of The Pavilion. Green T.'s production of Kabuki! 47 Samurai featured women in all but a few of the male roles, which certainly added a new dimension to this hoary Japanese classic.

Both Janelle Ranek and Kevin Pearson played characters opposite their own genders in Yard Sale 2000 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. Matthew Bennet depicted a young woman in Ten Years Apart at the Ordway. Tod Petersen continued his career-making turn as his own mother in the revival of Oh S#!% I'm Turning Into My Mother, and his new holiday show A Christmas Carol Petersen. Finally, actor Charles Schuminski took on female roles in both Talk to Me Like the Rain at the Jungle Theater and in the Hidden Theatre's production Pride's Crossing; both performances put him in the running for the best actress in the Twin Cities. The latter play, by the way, also featured Ann Milligan as an athletic young man. Whew.

2. Soon to Be a Soundtrack

While the Twin Cities have virtually no indigenous musical-theater scene (save the rather highbrow Nautilus Music-Theater), reflecting a national decline in the form, that does not mean that our stages are free of music--in fact, quite the opposite, as an amazing variety of songs pour forth in the form of revues. These collections of songs, often connected only by the loosest of threads, have made up half the schedule for the new Pterodactyl Theater Company and have anchored numerous cabaret shows, such as A Christmas Carol Petersen and the Bryant-Lake Bowl's bizarre drag-artist-in-sheep's-clothing comedy All About Ewe. Outward Spiral's Ladies and Gentlemen was also, secretly, a revue show, featuring a handful of forgotten melodies from vaudeville and the music hall, while Djola Branner's Mighty Real was both a biography of disco superstar Sylvester and a revue of the performer's classics.

Most recently, Mrs. MacKenzie's Beginner's Guide to the Blues at the Illusion Theatre built a tragic romantic fable around a collection of classic Chicago blues, while Meet Me at the Fair at the Great American History Theater used the music of Irving Berlin to frame a tale of lost love. A few theaters have taken the additional step of moving beyond the revue format into developing full-length original musicals, such as the Illusion's Two Weeks with the Queen and the Great American History Theater's The Gangster Musical--a welcome development for local songwriters.

3. Masters of Puppets

It is bad form to declare a golden age when you're in the thick of it (really, such declarations should be left for posterity), but good form be damned: Puppetry has never been better in the Twin Cities, and if this is not a golden age, I don't know what is. This past year the Walker Art Center brought in such wild touring productions as the grimly comic Shockheaded Peter and the visceral Máquina Hamlet, both of which did perfectly cruel things to puppets. We are also blessed with massive local spectacles at the Heart of the Beast's May Day Parade and the Bare Bones Halloween show, in which enormous papier-mâché beasties roam the streets of this city as if they owned them--which is fitting. After all, puppetry has started to threaten to do in the Twin Cities what it did in ancient Japan: Supersede non-puppet theater as the most popular and artistically challenging form of performance.

Puppets have swept onto the stage of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune, where they have always been welcome. Most recently, a giant dragon head appeared in The Magic Flute. Both the Walker and 3-Legged Race have programs dedicated to the development of this form: The two-year-old Adventures in New Puppetry series and the Hand Driven series, respectively. And such local favorites as In the Heart of the Beast and Michael Sommers are working at the peak of their creative talents, as proven by Sommer's complex, elegiac A Prelude to Faust. Sommers's play retold the story of a contract with the devil, mixing traditional marionettes with rhymed couplets and droll humor, demonstrating that a good puppet show can be as thematically dense as a fine novel.

4. The Chaise Longue

It seems that there cannot be a costume drama without these antique furnishings making a cameo--and why not? Their half-chair, half-bed construction makes them ideal for fainting maidens and lazy, foppish villains. (Both these groups worked the upholstery in Frontier Theatre's production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.) One complaint, however (aside from the envy an audience member feels crammed upright into a seat with scant legroom while an actor rests, recumbent): Please pay attention to pronunciation. It is "shaz long," not "chaize lounge." These little details are important for establishing historical authenticity.

5. Sketchy Characters

Something volatile is forming in the world of comedy, but at this point the trend still hasn't reached critical mass. The Cities are now home to dozens of newly formed comedy troupes, such as improv-based gangs like the Velvet Elvises and the Impossibles, who can both be found on the single block of Nicollet Avenue that houses the Acadia and the Phoenix Playhouse. In the meanwhile, more seasoned performers such as the darkly comic Scrimshaw Brothers, monologist Greta Grosch, television parodists Idiot Box, and the object-based Garage Sale improv team of Janelle Ranek and Matthew Vaky have developed strong followings. And the iconoclastic Ministry of Cultural Warfare have planned a complete season of full-length productions drawing from their background in sketch and improv comedy, continuing with the sort of intellectually demanding work they debuted at this year's Fringe Festival with The Last Cherry Pit. Previously, sketch and improv comedy seemed limited mostly to cruise ships and boardrooms, and the works of the Brave New Workshop and Stevie Ray's. Now, we can expect the next few years to bring expansion of both troupes and venues that should mirror the ascent of standup comedy in the 1980s.

 

Dramatis Personae
MUCH TO THEIR chagrin, no doubt, actors, playwrights, and directors rarely get the chance to review their own plays. Here, we give a handful of local theater artists the opportunity to deliver one last soliloquy before the curtains close on the year in theater.

 

Joe Meichsner, actor

Working at the Mall of America in the Halloween Haunt maze, I was the mad doctor. I had my whole laboratory set up behind me--a cadaver with a little heart, and a pump that would shoot blood. People would come down the Hall of Clowns, so they were already freaked out: Clowns are frickin' scary. They'd get to me, and I had this little severed finger in a jar filled with red liquid. I came up to this girl--she was obviously a little tipsy--and she said, "Ha ha, I thought it was a penis!" And I turned to her boyfriend and I said, "Sir, I'm sorry." It wasn't a very big finger.

 

Jack Reuler, artistic director,
Mixed Blood Theatre

Zaraawar Mistry had worked for nine years on seeing his vision of an adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories come to life. Three minutes before the house opened for the first performance he gathered the cast of 18 and quietly told a tale of his father, a military man in India, who (when Zaraawar was eight) followed his dreams and flew off into a dangerous situation, never to return. For 30 years Zaraawar had misgivings about a man who could do such a thing, leaving a wife and three young children behind. This culmination of his hard work--the opening of Haroun--was an epiphany for this author/director and he suddenly understood his father's choices and honored his memory, which led to one of the most inspired performances--making quantum leaps over the last rehearsal--that I have ever seen.

 

Kari Margolis,
Margolis Brown Company

Once again Tony [Brown] and I set out to write a "small" show, one that would be easy to tour and could actually make some money! What started as a solo performance mushroomed to a show that pulled up to Red Eye with an 18-foot truck, a cast and crew of nine, and a miniature '57 Chevy that had to be taken apart to fit through the theater doors! Oh well, we never got into this for the money anyway.

 

Wendy Knox, artistic director,
Frank Theatre

One blizzardy evening last winter, amid a sparsely attended run of Naomi Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, one of the actors called during the afternoon to say he was ill. Not knowing an actor who won't go onstage if given the chance, and not having the luxury of understudies, I assumed that this call was informational and that surely he would be onstage that night; in 11 years, only one obstacle, a plane that couldn't leave an airport, has prevented an actor from making a Frank curtain. This particular night, we had two large student groups who were required to see the show for course work. The under-the-weather actor refused to say definitively that he was too ill to go on. I picked him up, delivered him to the theater, and went about solving minor front-of-house crises, like how to get the coffeepot working.

At 7:45 I went backstage, only to see the actor, head in hands, not yet in costume. Finally, as the audience was filing in, I told him that only he could make the call: I would not cancel the show unless he told me that he couldn't do it. At which point, he finally said he didn't see how he could. After a 15-second flash of rage at allowing myself to have such short notice to solve this crisis, I took a moment to think about what my options were. We had a fairly full house of students who had to see the show. We had no understudies (we never need them). We've never canceled a show with people in the house. Did I have any alternative?

A moment of fantasy: If we had understudies, who would it have been? NICK! Nick O'Donnell, who had appeared in Frank's Threepenny Opera, had desperately wanted to be in the show. He had read the play many times, he was a good and game actor, he had been sorely disappointed at not being cast, and he had seen the show. I whipped out the cell phone and dialed his number. His girlfriend, my assistant, answered the phone.

"Hey, Syd, is Nick in?" She answered that he was but that she was on a long-distance call right now and could he call me back? I told her that it was kind of important (it was now 7:50) but it would be short. Nick came to the phone and I asked him, "Hey Nick, you wanna do a play?" He said sure. I asked him if he was busy tonight. He said no. I asked him if he could get down to the theater right away. He said sure, followed by a brief pause, then, "You're not serious." I told him I was dead serious, to which he responded, "I'll be right there."

An announcement was made to the audience, informing them that the show would be held about ten minutes, that an understudy was going on, and if they wanted a refund or a voucher to come back later, they were welcome to it. Nick was at the theater in seven minutes. A script was shoved in his hand, on which we had scrawled staging instructions, and actors were directed to push him in the direction he needed to go. Each of the other cast members added critical notes.

Then suddenly we remembered that the character needed to drop trou onstage. Would those white comfort-pouch undies work? With not a moment to spare, the show began, infused with an energy and a tension. Those in the audience who didn't have the jaded eyes of theater professionals were totally engaged in the act--not just in seeing a play, but in seeing the crisis solved, in seeing an actor, with script in hand, jump into the deep end of the pool. If anything, the added layer of real theater engaged them even more. For this act, a Frank Medal of Bravery was issued, a hot-glue-and-gold-spray-paint medallion of a hot dog, which now hangs on the wall of Nick's new home in Seattle.

 

Ari Hoptman, comic

In these, the last days of the year 2000, I am reminded of my first performance ever at a German cabaret, which took place in Berlin in February of this year. I had hurriedly but, I was hoping, accurately translated some of my sketches into German, and was also using some material I had actually written in the tongue of the Federal Republic. I was nervous about how I would be received in this strange country, but was more nervous that I would forget a line onstage and that the pressure of performing in another language would then throw me off to the extent that I would end up standing there in stunned silence, like a turtle, before I could get back on track--if back on track indeed I ever could get.

Watching the "star attraction" from backstage, I felt a little as if I had stepped out of my own time (i.e., the late 20th Century) into the Twenties (i.e., an earlier part of the 20th Century): He was a young man in a sharp vintage suit and haircut who played the violin much like a ukulele and sang amusing yet bitingly satirical songs about the world around him.

I, it occurred to me, didn't have anything poignant to say about my surroundings--I just had shtick. Just some funny pieces I had come up with over time. Could such humor, I asked myself, "play" in a town where almost no one ever smiled? Where jokes about the weather made to shopkeepers were, at best, tolerated with grim stares? Where little children responded to friendly waves from elders by rolling their eyes in irritation?

As it turned out, I was worried for nothing. The pieces all went fine. The audience laughed appropriately and honestly, the other performers were supportive, and the now-smiling host asked me to come back and perform again. I was satisfied with my Berlin premiere, and went home dancing a wee little dance.

I returned to the cabaret a couple of times, and would have even made a habit out of it, had a certain jail experience not interfered, one which shall not be dealt with here, or probably anywhere else publicly, for that matter.

 

Bill Corbett, playwright

I would love to be able to provide an amusing, telling anecdote from the Minneapolis theater scene of the last year. Ideally that would be something like, "I remember that time when the howler monkey escaped from the zoo, and somehow found his way onstage during that solemn production of King Lear, and started shrieking and throwing orange peels at the Duke of Cornwall..." That did not happen, though I can still dream, can't I?

No, I'm afraid I'm going to get mushy instead. For me, the most memorable things are distillations of what I love about theater, though I often forget them, moments that totally absorb and delight. Here's a random list from what I saw this year (which was less than I would have liked): Steve Yoakam and Laila Robins giving humor and life to Hedda Gabler, a play I went to go see like a kid goes to take his cough syrup, but which proved a pleasant surprise; Ari Hoptman waking up a tired crowd with his particular combination of intelligence, humor, and charm; a very talented group of young actors, most of whom I'd never seen before, mastering the art of the multi-character quick-change in Jeff Hatcher's hilarious Good and Plenty at the Illusion; the elegance of the Jungle's set for Silver Lake, which evidenced loving care beyond the call of duty; the stunning, visual end of Penumbra's The Trial; Kira Obolensky's rich, funny language in Frank's The Adventures of Herculina; an unexpected gem of a play and production in the Minnesota Jewish Theater's Never the Sinner; the great ensemble acting work in Eye of the Storm's Stop Kiss; and Margolis Brown's wonderfully playful direction in the Children Theater's Starry Messenger.

For those and many other reasons--like the number of young, energetic companies--there's a lot of reasons to be proud of Twin Cities theater. (Forgive the civic boosterism.)

 

Zach Curtis, artistic director, Fifty Foot Penguin Theater

Backstage during The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told (Outward Spiral), I was getting ready to make an entrance into Egypt as the Pharaoh, whom we had conceived of as this obscenely grotesque caricature of Paul Lynde (I know, redundant). I was pondering the other characters that were in the show: a horny rhino, Minnesotan Bible thumpers, an acerbic drunken Santa, a wheelchair-bound lesbian rabbi...the usual.

As Julie Ann Nevill helped me onto my little rolling platform, where I would be pulled onstage by my "fierce, lesbian warriors" and close the scene with a dance number from A Chorus Line, I adjusted my headpiece (sequin-drenched, as was my entire body at that point), turned to Julie, and said, "Can you believe people pay money to watch us do this?" We both smiled. And as we entered to music from Ben-Hur, I thought, "I have the best job in the world." I think that every time I walk onstage now. &

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