That was the week that was, was it?
Wednesday night the cast is burning extra electricity for the opening of Essential Self Defense, the excited energy goosing certain moments of the performance. The audience applauds us the minute we take the stage, and cheers the karaoke singers before they sing a note. Dad and Millie are there. Traci. Rob and Jessica. Kev and Ali. Anthony Rapp, Lili Taylor, Sam Rockwell. Through Traci's eyes the moment of walking into West Bank Cafe and taking pictures for the (press?) was pretty sweet. My favorite part of the evening was Dad meeting everyone, including Paul's girlfriend Annie, whom Dad is particularly fond of from her year on Law and Order. At the bar, the bartender gives me two Makers on the house and says "Great show". I turn, two fisted and Carolyn and Tim are posing the question : what about a cast recording? Well...lets see if we can't talk about that sometime next week, K? Things are looking good.
The next day Mike and Amy are in town. They, me, Dad and Millie are at Mud coffee talking about what other shows they might see while in town. I spot a Times on an empty table and excuse myself to the bathroom to dig through the pages. Sitting on the pooper could not have been a more appropriate position from which to discover the Times' review of Essential Self Defense. A man by the name of Isherwood spent no amount of economy to TRASH the play, and in particular, Adam and Paul's performance. Artifice! Artifice! Artifice! he yelled from the tower, making sure that any plausible response he had to the play would be easily dismissed by his thorough and complete refusal to consider the mind of the piece. He hated it, pure and simple. It was not his idea of what a good play is, and it was easier for him to speak from the conventions of theater that the production is very purposely driving against than to consider what new ground the work is striving for.
For a few good moments of reading, you could look the review up online and then go to Lucas' My Space site (myspace/lpfunk) where his e-mail to Isherwood (and Isherwood's rebuttal) are posted in his blog section.
As for my response, later that night I would mourn for the greater group of us the fact that Isherwood's review killed any real chance of the play extending. But in those moments on the pooper I found my artistic sanity restored - what I had been so nervous about was someone saying we failed at what we were attempting. THAT would have stung, but ultimately, such criticism belongs to me and my collaborators. It has been our joy to take a risk on what for us has been new territory in staged art. We will, in time, have great wisdom from this experience that will carry us to the next endeavor. In the meantime, reading the words of a critic who invested no time in actually starting a dialogue about our work but simply wanted to shut it down is not gonna make me lose any sleep. It even made me a little proud that we'd affected him so. It made me consider the play as one of Yul's Easter Eggs (for those of you who have yet to see the show, sorry for the inside reference.) I did feel a little more protective of Adam and Paul - if either of them didn't already have a career, this review could have killed them, too. But they both showed up to Less practice the next day with no signs of bruising. Adam was a little upset at how Isherwood attacked his character, but he shrugged it off.
And then the kicker: the next night we had a transcendent performance of the play to a sold out house of under 30 year olds. Afterwards, Less, LP Funk, and Run Run Riot played in the lobby of the theater. There was beer, hot dogs, corn, and mac and cheese. The night ended shortly before 2 a.m. It was the way the whole live experience should feel. "You guys are saving theater," one person said to me, and I felt that he might be right. At least I knew that for me, while still so new to NYC theater, a struggle had been identified and I knew where I stood.