Friday, May 31, 2013

Divas in Training Take Broadway

It is the year of the child on Broadway and this week I saw two of the leading ladies: Annie and Matilda. Two shows about mistreated girls. Two shows with nasty women blowing whistles. One girl smiles with hope through her adversity. One scowls and doesn't let us in. And lots of children.

Annie” was the last musical I did in Texas in 1987 before I moved to NYC. I was Bert Healy and I have fond memories of that. I actually didn’t think I’d ever want or need to see it on stage again, but decided to give the Broadway revival a try.

Let me start by saying that I love Lilla Crawford as Annie. The girl has a wonderful voice that never seems to strain. She approaches the role in a much more ‘laid back’ way instead of the constant wide-eyed look we get from previous Annies. I appreciated that realness and loved her relationship with Daddy Warbucks. What I do not like in this production is the accent the director has chosen to make her use. I realize it’s supposed to be a Brooklyn, NY accent, but it sounds more cockney and it’s a shame she has to be impeded with the silly thing. (As a matter of fact, the director has many accents in this show – Bert Healy sounds German, Lily St. Regis is an over the top Asian, Texans in the White House…it was a show all about accents!)

Merwin Foard (who usually plays FDR) went on as Daddy Warbucks and I loved his performance. A big man with a beautiful voice, but such heart and warmth shines through when he sings about Annie.

Jane Lynch (of TV’s Glee) has taken over as Miss Hannigan and she really has made the role her own. Sometimes ‘stunt casting’ on Broadway doesn’t work – but this one got me to the theater with her smart comic timing, totally serviceable voice for the role and it seems to be enjoying herself greatly.

The show looks good. Nice sets (especially in the mansion when they turn huge pages of a book to create different rooms). It has held up well over the years. But something seems to be ‘missing’ from this production. The scenes with Rooster and Lily should send us into overdrive and the choreography and relationships were lackluster. I’m sure young audiences seeing it for the first time won’t even notice any of this, but there’s a sense of going through the motions – a trap in which many shows can fall. Still, it was nice to return to the songs by Strouse and Charnin.

And then we have “Matilda”. The British import that has won over every critic touting it as the biggest thing since…EVER.

I have never read the book. I never saw the entire Americanized movie version. So I went in cold. The show is very ingenious. The direction, staging, choreography, the score by Tim Minchin – all of that is pretty wonderful. (You will want to be a kid again and will go out singing “When I Grow Up”.) The energy on that stage is incredible – and much of that comes from the ensemble. The kids and adults in the ensemble work their rears off! And I was super impressed with what they did. Four girls share the title role and I saw Sophia Gennusa who was adorable. Great voice. Good actress. If only they would allow her to relax and pull us into her world.

If you ever saw the movie Lemony Snicket’s with Jim Carey – that is what I felt I was witnessing on stage. That movie had such a unique look with quirky, dark, odd qualities and Matilda offers all of those (even with shadow puppets at times). It’s a never ending wild ride of ‘what can we throw in next to be strange?’ type of feel. Even in the casting of a man in the role of Miss Trunchbull the headmistress of the school. I can’t find any other reason why a man must play the role. And Bertie Carvel as a mix between Riff-Raff in Rocky Horror and the child catcher in Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang has created a very creepy/odd/wonderful woman. (Though I’d still prefer to see Rob McClure take the Tony award for Best Actor.) Matilda’s parents are completely insane over the top comical performances (probably to take away from the fact they are so dreadful to her) that one would see in old Benny Hill sketches. (I’m completely dating myself with that reference.) And Lauren Ward gives a beautiful and moving performance as Miss Honey, Matilda’s teacher that seems to be one of the few people in her young life that actually cares about her.   

When people compare this to “The Lion King” – I tend to disagree. That show continued to top itself throughout the performance. This one, we walk into a world of this cool set of blocks and books, but we continue to go back to the same scenes over and over. I also felt it needed to be cut. It runs a little long, especially for a kid’s show and I found myself looking for the end.

 This show will probably run forever. People will not be able to get enough of it and I know I’m in the minority on this one. I like a show with heart – where that shines through. (Probably why I loved “Once” so much.) This is about the magic and clever way of telling a story – yet the poor child playing Matilda didn’t smile until curtain call. That made it difficult for me to care about her journey to right the wrongs of the world…all at five years old. And while much has been said about four girls playing the role – I don’t see it necessary. One girl played Mary in “The Secret Garden” on Broadway and won a Tony. One boy played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” and carried that show. One girl sings her lungs out in “Annie” and rarely leaves the stage. All of those had alternates that may have to go on now and again (I actually saw the alternate in "A Christmas Story" and loved him), but the producers didn’t see the need to quad cast it so each does two shows a week. Personally, I think that was just one more thing on a very long list to make Matilda different, quirky and get audiences to return to compare each girl so that groupies can decide their favorites.

Have you seen these shows? Leave your comments and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Moonlight & Love Songs at GayFest NYC

Gerald McCullouch and Nick Bailey
One of the great things about New York is when you stumble upon something unexpected. Not sure of what it is you are going to find when you attend an event and then discovering just how wonderful it is. That is how I felt this past Sunday attending a performance at GayFest NYC. Not knowing much about the organization, I quickly learned from producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman that it is their seventh season and 5th year of presenting the festival of gay-themed plays. One of the wonderful things about this festival is that all proceeds benefit The Harvey Milk High School - from ticket sales to purchases at the concession stand. The organization has presented 40 scholarships to graduating seniors and established an accredited elective Playwriting program at the school.

I attended the first play at the festival "Moonlight & Love Songs" by Scott C. Sickles after interviewing one of the leads for a BroadwayWorld interview. Mr. Sickles has written a moving love story about a 45 year old man who falls for a 20 year old college student. The two bond on their love of film which gives a foundation for this May/December romance.

I was very drawn to the piece because when I first moved to NYC at the young age of 18, I was in a relationship with a man many years my senior. I saw the relationship one way then and see it through different eyes with age. Now in my forties and in a long, loving relationship with someone my own age, I feel like Joni Mitchell and have 'looked at love from both sides now'. Sickles nails the complexities in this relationship in such a powerful way without alienating an audience or making them judge the older man and director Steven Petrillo has assembled a wonderful cast and worked out each nuance of this incredible story.

The two amazing actors playing Harry (the 45 year old) and Jim (the 20 year old) deserve much of the kudos in how they are portrayed. Television and film actor Gerald McCullouch shows Harry as a man who has not been able to find the right man. He is not looking for someone when Jim enters his life, but circumstances come into play. McCullouch's performance is rich with many levels. He appears shy and introverted as the show begins and the aggressive and self-assured performance of Nick Bailey causes Jim to seize the challenge. Both actors show a wide range as we witness the shift in their relationship. McCullouch literally brought me to tears; sometimes by what Harry chooses not to say to Jim and what this fine actor can portray in a look, a pause, or a catch in his voice. Bailey transforms in front of our eyes; an impressive feat for an actor of his age. They are but two in this wonderful ensemble piece of seven fine actors with a special mention going to the two women that play the sister of one and the mother of the other. Kathryn Markey and Christine Verleny both bring vibrancy to their scenes and great insight into the 'lost in love' couple. (Plus I had a wonderful discussion with talented cast member Robert Meksin afterwards as we left the theater and I swear we've crossed paths in NJ Theater at some point in our lives.) 

The cast of Moonlight & Love Songs
Thank you to GAYFEST NYC for presenting such powerful pieces and allowing writers like Scott C. Sickles to take chances with subject matters in front of your audiences.

If you find yourself in New York celebrating gay pride this coming month, make sure you treat yourself to the shows at GAYFEST NYC. "Moonlight & Love Songs" runs through June 2, 2013. "The Loves of Mr. Lincoln" (about the love letters between Lincoln and his longtime friend Joshua Speed) by David Brendan Hopes runs June 6 - June 16, 2013. They are also running in rep "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" by Mois├ęs Kaufman May 30 - June 16, 2013 presented by The BASiC Theatre Project. 

Photo Credit: Carlos Gustavo Monroy

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Assembling Near Heaven with One Author

I witnessed two very different shows from the pen of the same writer in one week.

When I was in the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, we learned that in a musical you learn what the main character wants by the second song. Think about it with a musical now - you'll get a sense of what they long for in the show. (In that workshop, they actually call it the "I Want" song.)

Plays are very different. And in some cases, plays do not even have a huge conflict written into them.

That's how I felt about the much nominated and critic loved The Assembled Parties on
The Assembled Parties
Broadway. I found it more of a character study and less of a fully structured show that gives us conflict, resolve, etc. Some reviewers have said that nothing happens in the show, and yet they still adore it for it's language and themes. Actually, a dear friend of mine feels the same way and has seen it numerous times.

Don't get me wrong, I love good character development in a story. And I especially love flawed characters. But I also want to know there is a reason I'm supposed to care about the plight of those characters. Richard Greenberg is a well loved playwright and obviously knows what he is doing - but this particular piece did not grab me.

Four days later I saw the limited run of the musical version of Far From Heaven for which Greenberg wrote the book. Here he was not writing an original piece, he was adapting a film written by Todd Haynes. A film that had conflict and plot already embedded in it. With music & lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (the men that wrote the musical Grey Gardens) this piece had a completely different feel from Greenberg's other piece in NY. I loved the movie when it came out and was so excited I was able to get tickets to the Sold Out limited run at Playwrights Horizons - believing it would be the next 'big thing' to see.

In the current incarnation, I'm not certain it is.

Far From Heaven
Don't get me wrong. It is beautiful and an enjoyable night at the theater. The writers and director Michael Greif have chosen to keep us in the feel of the movie. One of theme, color, tone and a true throwback to the old 50s movies that border on melodramatic. And all of that is on stage. 

ALL of it - sticking too closely to the source material instead of allowing songs to soar to another level. 

Unlike most musicals when a character sings to share their inner monologue of what they are feeling - these characters sing their dialogue like an opera (but to music that fits perfectly to the period). There is a never-ending sense of a sheer facade in this Connecticut town where letting people inside to know what is really happening in one's life seems forbidden. That is fine as the setting, except the audience isn't granted that right either. In keeping up that wall of pretense, the audience is never allowed to know how these people feel about what is happening in their lives - the very things pulling them 'away' from heaven. We never applaud one single moment in the show; it's moving at that cinematic pace and no time is given to stop the flow to give appreciation for a song. So I assumed people would jump to their feet at the brilliance of the amazing voices of Kelli O'Hara, Steven Pasquale and Isaiah Johnson when the final lights went off. But that didn't happen. 

Greenberg spent so much time on The Assembled Parties giving us a character study, that I wished he would have done a little more of that on Heaven.  I wanted the musical to rip down those upper class walls and allow us to peer into the insides of these characters going through such strong circumstances (in a certain historical period).  Instead of getting a sense of how these major decisions are affecting the lives of these characters, one leaves feeling that Hartford, CT has beautiful seasons shown through falling leaves, falling snow, and falling cherry blossoms.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Subway, Screenplays & Tom Hanks

I had a dream I was on the New York City subway and couldn't find my way back into the city. This is odd because I know the system pretty well and can usually get my way around any city when I travel.

But even I didn't need to go to a dream interpreter to understand this one.

I'm trying something new in my life right now. As I often do, Greg thinks "what can I do next?" and usually attack it in as fearless a way as possible. Well, let's be honest and say the fear is there - I just don't usually show it to those around me. I'm writing a screenplay to the first book I ever published: Proud Pants. I thought it was a new idea, but I recently read an interview I did in 2011 and said then that I thought it might make a good short film. 

I'd love to see some of my books turned into film, but like most things I do in life - I jump in and think "how can I do this on my own?" and then go for it. I can see creating this story as a small film as another way to tell the story. And that's what I do: I'm a storyteller. Who knows, perhaps at one point I could turn one of the others that I can see as a film into a full length movie, but baby steps. That's the smart way to go.

And that takes me back to that dream. I'm in uncharted territory and not sure I can find my way around it, but in the dream I asked others how to get back to my destination and in life - I'm asking and learning from others that have already done it. And I really appreciate the kindness of those people who can point me in the right direction.

A few nights later, Tom Hanks shows up.

No, not at my house - in another dream. 

It's not at his Broadway show, but more like he is headlining on a floating city with a captive audience. We start to chat, he asks what I do and I have to play Sophie's Choice really fast and decide which book to share with him. Knowing he is a producer of films, I pitch the one I think that would most interest him and he tells me to get it to him.

What does THAT mean? Who the heck knows. But I'd be more than happy if Mr. Hanks wants to read any of my works to turn into something for the screen.

Maybe dreams are simply ways that the universe continues to push you towards a goal.

Or maybe I ate something really funky the night before.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Indie Authors and the Great Editor Debate

One of the hardest moments for me as a writer was almost 5 years ago when an author friend read my manuscript and said "I know you are proud of this and it's a good story, but it's not ready for others to see." 

What a punch in the gut.

But she did more for me than I ever knew. She first taught me about POV. I always told stories in third person point-of-view, but she suggested first. What a challenge for a writer! All those chapters that happened away from the main character had to be rewritten as he had to experience it. This helped me clarify what was important to the story and stop me from head-hopping from character to character. Indie authors beware: shifting from first person POV to third in the same novel is a dead giveaway of a new writer.
 After going through that long process of rewriting an entire novel in a different POV, I realized how much I love writing in first person. It pulls the reader in and allows one to get inside the head of the main protagonist; keeping it immediate and personal.
I've worked with so many editors since then and have seen very different styles from each. Editors can be your best friends and allies- even when you want to smack them. You think they are ruining your story or telling the story THEY want: but they really are helping you find the important points and make each chapter move the story along. I've had pages covered in red marks and comments - even when certain reviewers may think some of my books were never edited. Trust me: they all were. 
As important as it is to work with a great, qualified editor – there are things authors can do to help put their best foot forward when submitting that manuscript to the editor: certain rules that apply across the board that can allow your editor to do his/her best job. Here are a few I’ve picked up from different editors and wanted to pass along to my writer friends.
  1.  Check the tense of your story. Don’t jump from past tense to present tense within the same manuscript.
  2. Set that POV and stick with it! If you are writing in first person POV (using “I said”) – you can’t have that chapter where Sally is at the bank cashing her check because I am not there to witness it. In first person POV – your protagonist must be privy to everything going on.
  3. Help your editor’s and reader’s eyes by paying attention to formatting rules:
  • Narrative and dialogue should be split.
  • If a new person speaks, they get their own line. (No need to crowd your page.)
  • If there is a page of dialogue – add some modifiers throughout to assist the reader in keeping up with who is talking. A simple “he said/she said” will suffice.
  • If the character thinks it – use italics. If they speak it out loud to themselves, you need to use the quotes.
  • Add ‘easy beats’ by breaking up a dialogue with a descriptive phrase in the middle. Even if that is “So-in-so said” between two sentences they are speaking.
Some of my personal flaws are: writing in a passive voice. Telling more than I show. Starting too many sentences with “I” when writing in first POV.  Not using enough description at times to paint the entire picture. Double check your own work on these before sending to an editor – they are going to get you for these!

And if you've worked with an editor before submitting to a publisher (which I have been known to do simply because I want to submit the best possible thing to a publisher), be sure and clean up that manuscript before submitting! If an editor has written notes to you in the manuscript itself and not as a comment – by all means – ERASE it! Why should a potential publisher see notes another editor has written to you?

And lastly: don’t be upset when that publisher decides to edit it in a different way. After all, they are the ones investing time and money into you and may have other great ideas for you.
Hope these things help my author friends reading this. I’ve made these mistakes and think it’s great to share so someone else doesn’t have to make them too.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Forget Chekhov and Laugh Through Depression

I have been a fan of Christopher Durang since I directed a workshop of "Betty's Summer Vacation" about 14 years ago. He knows how to push comedy to a place where at times you laugh from a sheer "what just happened?" moment. I've heard friends talking about "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" since it ran at The McCarter Theatre Center in NJ and then off-Broadway at Lincoln Center. I'm so glad I finally caught it on Broadway before the Tonys occur and tickets are completely gone. 

This show is hysterical.

I will admit, I was fearful. I'm not a huge fan of Chekhov and I wondered if I would get all the inside jokes in this new play. Set in a weekend home (beautifully designed by David Korins) in Bucks County, PA Vanya lives with his sister Sonia when their sister Masha shows up with a young boyfriend Spike and a crazy weekend occurs.

So I really didn't have to love Chekhov in order to LOVE this show. And I did. I could not stop laughing from the moment it started. The actors volley back and forth like a perfect game of tennis. Tony nominated Kristine Nielsen as Sonia KNOWS Durang and absolutely knows how to deliver. I was mesmerized by her pacing and delivery. Not only her comic chops, but a few moments where truth and realness shine through as well. When I see that occur in the middle of a comedy, I consider it a gift from a talented performer. Working opposite David Hyde Pierce (also nominated for a Tony) as her brother Vanya - the two are comic genius. He has such an amazing background in stage and television and knows how to make a moment fresh. Even when doing broad comedy, the two of them are so in sync that we are witnessing a beautifully choreographed piece. 

I have always been a huge fan of Sigourney Weaver. (Even met her when working at my old video store in the late 80s on the upper west side in NYC.) She has recaptured the fun of her character in "Working Girl" and layered that with an even more over the top performance that she must maintain as her energy starts at 120 and just keeps going higher and higher. I find her role to be the most difficult, because in a way - she has to comment on her own career: playing a movie star. Billy Magnussen rounds out the title characters as Weaver's young love interest and he plays 'young, dumb stud' brilliantly!  Shalita Grant is a voodoo, future-seeing house keeper that exudes exuberance whenever she is on stage. And the night I went, Amelia McClain went on as Nina and fit in wonderfully with this well-oiled machine of a cast. She was perky and fun and everything that Masha hated.

Kudos to Nicholas Martin for directing this fun romp of a play in such a manner that an audience barely gets a chance to recover from a previous laugh. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Trip To Wonderful

There are certain moments you sit in a theater and you realize you are in the presence of greatness.  That was how I felt watching Cicely Tyson in "The Trip to Bountiful". This acting icon hasn't been on Broadway in 30 years, but those acting chops are well-oiled and in top form. Watching her, you can't help but recall all her amazing films from Miss Jane Pitman to Roots to Sounder to even Fried Green Tomatoes and recently The Help. Whatever movie she does - she gives her all in a role. And that was what she does every night on stage playing Carrie Watts in Horton Foote's fifty year old play. The truly amazing part is that at 79 (or 88) years old (depending on which online source you believe) - she carries this show! All those lines, dancing and singing hymns, constantly moving, and acting that can convey powerful emotion in one line.

The play follows an elderly woman's plight to return to the small Texas town she grew up in. She lives with her son and his wife in a cramped apartment and wants nothing more than to sit on the porch of that home in Bountiful. What is wonderful about it is that it shows what so many older people think and feel: they are still young on the inside even though their bodies are giving out. I hear that from so many people. And while some reviewers have criticized the production directed by Michael Wilson as being uneven and not as sentimental as the 1985 film starring Geraldine Page, I think the uplifting final moments portrayed by Tyson are in line with what many elderly feel. They don't sit around being sad about aging: they live life and recall memories that bring them peace and give them a sense of accomplishment in the world: and why CAN'T that be a positive moment instead of sad?

Vanessa Williams knows how to play a 'bad character' without having an audience hate her. And as the daughter-in-law that is at odds with Ms. Watts, she gives a wonderful performance as a self-centered, Hollywood loving woman. Cuba Gooding, Jr. makes his Broadway debut and I only wished he would saved the 'little boy act' for later in the show. A man caught between his mother and wife, his character has a tough time and Mr. Gooding seemed to be lost between two fine actresses. Tony nominated Condola Rashad is another wonderful actress in this production as a woman that befriends Ms. Watts on her bus trip to Bountiful.

The music, lighting and especially the sets by Jeff Cowie (who should have been Tony
nominated) all evoke the perfect setting and time for this piece. This production does something that has been tried before by turning a play usually played by white actors into an African-American story. I think that casting worked very well because while a period piece, racial issues are never addressed, but alluded to by the characters sitting on the back of the bus and having a whites/coloreds line at the bus station. At times it felt as if Mr. Foote had written this play specifically about a black experience that is also universal. (Such smart writing!)

Lastly, there is nothing like watching a show with a predominantly African-American audience. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church and I know when people agree with a minister; you let him know. So does this audience. They groan approvals and discontent with what happens on stage. And yes, they join in singing as Ms. Tyson 'leads us' in a few old-time hymns. (I'll admit, I was caught up in the moment and was humming right along.)

A wonderful piece that I am so glad I got to witness. The joy on Ms. Tyson's face is infectious and I left the theater in such a great mood. Thinking of my own childhood in Texas, my family - those still around and those that have already left us. And I loved it so much that I turned around and purchased tickets for this summer when my mother will be visiting. She's not as elderly as Carrie Watts in this play, but she (like so many other retired people) does think about her history, her parents and her own 'Bountiful'. 

I can't wait to share the experience with her.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Author Spotlight: Phil Taylor

We never know how or where we will come across a new writer. A while back, someone shared a blog on Facebook of Phil Taylor and I found myself heading to his site and reading some great blogs he has written. And then I did what I always hope people do when they end up on my blog: I looked up the novel WHITE PICKET PRISONS he had written and downloaded it to read. Most indie authors use social media to communicate with their readers and before you knew it we were both tweeting how we had picked up the other's book. 

I started the book while sitting in my dermatologist office and was pulled into the story of
Phil Taylor
four childhood friends who are brought back together as adults because of certain circumstances and discover how age has changed them. (It happens to us all.) Even while pulled into the story, I will admit I was having difficulty because of the formatting and editing in the book. And then out of the blue, Mr. Taylor sent me a private message that his book is being re-edited and I was blown away by the honesty of this author instead of doing what too many indies out there do - leave unedited work for the public to find. So I decided I had to interview him for my blog (even though I haven't completed his novel) so please welcome Phil Taylor to my page!

GGA: Phil, I meant what I said above. I'm really impressed with an author noticing that perhaps their work didn't go out with the best foot forward and decided to change it. Let's start there. What made you decide to rework your debut novel?

PT: The most important thing to know is what you don’t know. We never get blindsided by the stuff we know. It’s the stuff in life that we don’t know that usually upsets our best laid plans. Like most writers I have a blind spot when it comes to my writing. When I published White Picket Prisons I was fortunate to have many wonderful friends who told me that my writing was good and just as fortunate to have a few who said, “your writing is good, but…”  Who doesn’t love a good but?

GGA: If people reading this now find the first edition of the book, are you telling people to hold off (as I know it's not always easy to pull the first edition from all the places it can be found online)?

PT: Absolutely not! It may be about two months before the second edition is published and I plan to leave the flawed version out there until then. In the meantime maybe my book can be a fun Where’s Waldo kind of game where readers try to spot the mistakes and e-mail or tweet me every time they find one. In fact, I’ll announce it here: Who ever finds the most mistakes and lists them in an e-mail to me ( wins a free copy of my second book that’s coming out this summer. 

GGA: That's awesome! A giveaway on my blog! You can be totally honest here…do you read all your reviews written across the internet?

PT: Of course! If my writing is good enough or bad enough to motivate someone to write a review I’m tremendously appreciative. Time is the most significant finite resource each of us has. For someone to use some of their valuable time reading my writing and in turn writing about it humbles me.

GGA: (I'm such a glutton for punishment that I get google alerts!) Indie authors are slammed all the time for not taking the time to get an editor, yet I have to say…I really like what I've read of the story so far - even with you editing it yourself! So let's get away from the first edition and let readers know what they can expect this summer from the 2nd edition. Where did the premise for White Picket Prisons come from?

PT: One thing readers can expect from the second edition of White Picket Prisons is commas. Apparently commas are the key to everything. The editor that helped polish the new version of WPP must have deleted a thousand commas and added a thousand more. The premise for the novel came about several years ago. I do have a close group of friends like the characters in the story. In the course of about eight months three of us lost a parent. Although none of their deaths were suspicious, the tragic coincidence set the wheels in my mind spinning. I think writing the story may have been my own self-administered therapy. 

GGA: Do you have a set of male friends from high school you are still in touch with (or like many of us…is it all a Facebook only thing)?

PT: I do have a close group of friends very similar to The Golden Boys in my story and although we all live in different cities, we talk regularly and try to get together once a year. If we all do get to have The Five People You Meet in Heaven, I want three of mine to be these friends. 

GGA: That's awesome to still have those guys in your life. Since this is a murder mystery. What was your favorite mystery when you were growing up?

PT: Embarrassingly, I have to admit that as a young kid I read and enjoyed the Hardy Boys mystery stories. 

GGA: Nothing to be embarrassed of! (Many of us did!) You have a great blog presence online - with an awesome sarcastic wit. When did you start blogging?

PT: I began The Phil Factor in April 2005. 

GGA: Was there a certain topic you knew you wanted to blog on?

PT: Again, I’m a little embarrassed, but I’ll answer honestly. I first started blogging about fantasy football. I know, cool right? One day at work I was making jokes about something and a co-worker said, “You ought to blog about that.”  I had dabbled in stand-up comedy in the 90’s but when life got busy I gave it up. That’s when Al Gore invented the internet and I started blogging.

GGA: So tell me this…how does someone with a Psychology background 
working in the mental health industry move into sarcastic ball-buster online?

PT: We all have our own coping style in life. Some people are extroverts, some are introverts, some confront and some withdraw. I chose to make fun of stuff. 

GGA: I think you had me with the "Facebook National No Re-Post Day" blog. Can you share a little of that?

PT: The idea for “Facebook National No Re-Post Day” came on a Sunday morning when I sat down with my coffee to watch the news and browse Facebook. I opened Facebook and was subjected to an endless stream of ads, game progress reports and re-posts of cartoons from George Takei (who wouldn’t re-post the Facebook National No Re-Post Day. What gives? That guy re-posts everything!) Facebook used to be like the world’s best cocktail party where we met old friends, talked about our kids and shared vacation photos. I just wanted to try and create a day where people got back to just talking to each other on Facebook. 

GGA: I like that you describe your debut novel as 'humorous murder mystery' (as I'm one that always mixes up genres too). Do you think that book will set the tone of who you are as an author, or do you plan on mixing it up as you move forward?

PT: I think that regardless of what genre I choose to write in the word ‘humorous’ will always precede it. It’s part of who I am, much to my wife’s chagrin.

GGA: What is next for The Phil Factor (yes…I dig that title on the blog)?

PT: In my dream scenario some news editor somewhere reads this interview, checks out The Phil Factor and offers me the opportunity to write a weekly syndicated humor column for a much larger audience. 

GGA: Cheers to that editor reading this interview & discovering you! I look forward to following your career to see where it goes next and really look forward to finishing your book! Check out Phil on his website The Phil Factor, Facebook or follow him on twitter @ThePhilFactor! (He needs some more twitter love!)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Building a Family With Orphans

It's a shame that Shia LaBeouf added so much drama around the revival of the Broadway play Orphans by Lyle Kessler, because seeing it the night it was nominated for a Tony award for Best Revival - I was very taken with it. I had seen the movie, but really couldn't recall anything about the family drama. Two adult brothers living parentless in a house as the older Treat attempts to care for the younger Philip who is mentally challenged. Treat is a bubbling cauldron of anger and brings home an older gentleman from a bar and attempts to hold him for ransom. But even the older gentleman Harold isn't as it seems.

This is a theme throughout Kessler's work: each character is different from what we first think of them - all three having some sort of dysfunction that challenges who they are and how they interact with the world. I love to write about families: those we are born into and those we choose - and this play fits right into that genre.

I think one of the best things that may have come out of Shia LaBeouf not getting along with Alec Baldwin who plays Harold is that Ben Foster gives such a natural, yet layered approach to Treat. Some reviewers have felt he lacks a killer instinct, but there is something in his downplaying of the role...holding that rage underneath that I loved. He shows a great range of emotions throughout the show and I say kudos to him for walking in later than the others and taking this on.

The breakout of the night is Tony nominated Tom Sturridge. In a performance that reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", he flies around the room jumping from furniture piece to stairs; almost climbing the walls at times. He is gentle, heartwarming and never breaks character. I found myself watching him when he wasn't the focus and he was always in his 'world' as someone with a disability would be. 

The two brothers have a great connection on stage and I found myself rooting for them and feeling the strain that Treat has for caring for his brother; even if it means lying to him.

And then Alec Baldwin enters the stage. I'm a huge fan of Baldwin. I'm even a fan with the
media tears him a part for his real life drama played out in tabloids. I love when he is on SNL and I think he is very funny. But this play shouldn't be a sitcom. Yes, there should be humor in life - but Baldwin's delivery always reads like an SNL sketch and has no heart or truth to it. The only thing I recall from the movie version of this play was Albert Finney: Baldwin was missing that fatherly feel the two brothers desperate need to give this piece it's heart. He also never got to a place of danger that is also needed to keep Treat on edge. As the character that needs to drive so much of the story along, it just felt flat to me. We could simply blame an actor or we could question if director Daniel Sullivan had decided on the tone of the piece prior to the offstage fireworks and thought how to place these three actors in the same play.

Still, the two younger men rise above and manage to pull out some pretty moving moments. The huge set of John Lee Beatty adds to the melancholy the brothers share in this mammoth home and the lighting and sound also greatly added to the evening. 

If nothing else, it definitely made me want to look up the film and watch it again.