I have exiled myself to the kitchen. First oat-bran, banana, raspberry muffins for the week’s breakfasts. Then split pea soup for the lunches. Then homemade pizza for dinner tonight, and then chicken–currently marinating in caper juice (an experiment)–for random meals.
I am trying not to think about theater because I broke one of my rules this morning. One of my favorite rules. One of those rules you hold close to your heart because you think it makes you a better, more enlightened person.
There is a myth about Edward Albee, probably true: a theater had the interesting idea to cast Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with an all African-American ensemble. Sounds pretty great. Most people who are going to see the play have seen it . . . well that’s not true BUT, arguably most people who would have seen this production would have already seen it OR they would never have seen it and were only seeing it for the novelty of the all black cast. Regardless, it sounded like a good idea to me (who had already seen it).
Not so much to Mr. Albee, however. He shut down the show.
From that point on, I vowed that I would stay out of the way if a director ever decided to get creative with casting one of my shows. This is easy enough when you’re a half-assed playwright who writes infrequently and is produced only when a blue moon rises in the east. But when I got the email last night with the cast list for an upcoming script-in-hand staging of a show I had written as part of the writing pool for PlayGround, my resolve started to shake and then this morning it broke.
This is my first year in PlayGround as one of 36 writers who gets a monthly assignment for a ten-page play. The six most successful plays are chosen for presentation on a Monday night, an event which an impressive number of patrons subscribe to. This month’s assignment was “The Hairy Ape” with the added optional directive, “While there is no prescription on the types of works we hope to see generated from this month’s topic, we do encourage adaptations of the O’Neill work or plays that tie in with O’Neill.”
An adaptation of The Hairy Ape? Why not? I’d never done anything like that before and sounded like a fun challenge. What I love about PlayGround, and the reason I applied, is that it doesn’t matter to me what the assignment is or, even, how successful I am at executing it. It is making me write. That is the most important thing I need right now: a good old fashioned kick in the ass.
I found myself in the unfamiliar world of computer tech-speak as Yank the hairy ape, who worked in the bowels of a ship shoveling coal, evolved into Blemie the very smart dog, who works in the bowels of Google in the company’s own IT department. Lucky for me I befriended a number of computer geniuses in college and my sister happens to be dating one. Also fortunate is the amount of tech talk on the web just waiting to be tapped. Whole monologues were adapted from help chat-rooms about Outlook and IE8.
As this is a play about Google, Founder Larry Page makes an appearance:
LARRY: I understand what you want to do. I just don’t understand why you want to do it.
MILLIE: I want to visit my roots.
LARRY: If you want to visit your roots, go become a non-practicing Jew in Lansing, Michigan.
I figured, it’s the Bay Area. People know who Larry Page is. It’ll be a good laugh. But the casting director didn’t catch the reference, or maybe she did and had other plans. Larry Page became a handsome black man. His daughter, Millie, who I had imagined as a girl in her teens, was cast as a woman in her 30s, who happens not to be black.
Confused, I wrote an email. “Larry Page is not a handsome black man. He’s a real guy. This guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Larry_Page_laughs.jpg. The play is about the IT department of google. This guy’s the founder of google. And his daughter would thus be younger than this actress . . . ” An hour later I am on the phone with the casting director. She spoke the magic words, “Since this is, like The Hairy Ape, an expressionistic play . . . ” It is? Blemie walks around a bar growling like a dog. Some old guy won’t stop singing Johnny Cash songs. Actors personify Norton Anti Virus blocking a dangerous virus right before transforming into dogs who maul a man while he is urinating on Larry Page’s house . . . Yes, yes. That does sound a bit expressionistic now that you mention it.
So what the crap was I worrying about the casting for?
Shamefaced, I return to my kitchen to take the first batch of muffins out of the oven in hopes they will leave a better taste in my mouth than my performance this morning.