Everything Under the Sun 3: Favorite Productions

Everything Under the Sun

 is a short series of posts we'll be doing here at the Aviary, motivated by a potential collaboration on a project that might end up being sort-of/kind-of personal. I have what amount to assignments of exploration of my own interests in particular areas, so I thought I'd put them out there to provoke any responses that you may find irresistible.

Favorite Productions

(With, it must be said, some apologies. Loving certain shows more than others does not decrease my love for said others. I love you both, all, in part and sum, uniquely, whoever you may be. If my choices here enrage you, you may want to evaluate the weight you give to my opinion, rather than my opinion itself.)

HIGH SCHOOL

Ten Little Indians

As my first show approaching any kind of production value, it's hard not to choose this one. However, I believe it ranks for more than just the thrill of beginning. With all the tumult and confusion of becoming a teenager, I still manage to understand that I found something thrilling and fulfilling about theatre with this show. Maybe the first hints at how a show and a role can be believed, rather than just enacted.

The Dining Room

Great play, to begin with. The production I was in was an abbreviated version and student-directed. I had given up theatre for a couple of years in high school (apart from an almost stunt-trick audition for 

Midsummer Night's Dream

) and this production of 

Dining Room

 was something of a return. Because it was student-directed, I could engage in a real dialogue with the director about ideas and process. I remember it as a wonderful experience of how simple effective theatre can be (mar it as I'm sure I did with over-performing).

Illustration cropped from a work by Ted Michalowski.

COLLEGE

The Three Musketeers

This was only my second main-stage role in college, and I played d'Artagnon. If you'd asked me at the time, I never would have guessed this would be among my favorites. The production seemed to me to be plagued with indecision, uninspired writing and unbalanced trickery, plus I was naturally insecure about playing someone supposedly dashing and a fencer to boot when I hadn't even touched a foil before. Yet it set a lot in motion for me and introduced me to conventions I love to use to this day: live music, transforming set pieces and 3/4 staging. If it weren't for this production, I might not have ever gotten involved with physical theatre.

The Bacchae

Another student-directed production, this one was a graduate student assignment, and for about a month in our program just about every grad student was directing some undergrads in a Greek tragedy. Fun month, let me tell you. I played Pentheus, and had some good incentive at the time to explore unrepentant rage. The production was a relatively colloquial translation economized into a fluid one-act, and featured the gods Apollo and Dionysus seated on either side of the stage at the start. My destruction at the Bacchanalia was portrayed in a dance in which I was stripped just shy of naked and the women smeared stage blood all over my body. Later, when my mother awakes from her trance to realize she isn't holding a lion's head, but her sons, I walked slowly up behind her, stopping just at the point she sees that she's killed her son. It was an abstract, visceral and I think 

very

 effective production.

Hotel Paradiso

And now for something completely different. 

Hotel Paradiso

 was something of an adaptation of a translation of a French farce, directed by my favorite acting teacher. I'd previously played a lead role in a contemporary tragedy under his direction, but 

Hotel Paradiso

's Maxime turned out to be a better fit for me. Essentially, I learned from this production that my sense of comedy had roots in traditional farce, and that the physical comedy I started with as a little kid could carry me into a great adult work. I simply had a blast feeling the symphony of a well-coordinated comic play.

Cropped from a photo by Jimmi Kilduff.

PROFESSIONAL

The Hatfields and the McCoys

Ridiculous. So ridiculous. Theatre West Virginia was my first professional contract, and it is a classic, outdoor, summer-stock theatre. They produce two standard shows every summer, and one change-up. The historically obligated show is 

Honey in the Rock

, the story of West Virginia's 

secession

 from Virginia, and the real crowd-pleaser is 

The Hatfields and the McCoys

. It's violent and sprawling and sad and funny by turns. In addition to running around a huge space, firing guns and wielding knives, I got to play dual roles as a McCoy in act one and a Hatfield in two and make them as physically broad as I liked. It was ridiculous fun.

The Glass Menagerie

For a little while, David Zarko wasn't sure if he hadn't miscast between myself and the actor playing Tom. In fact, I remember the common response I got when I mentioned I'd be appearing in 

The Glass Menagerie

 was, "Oh, you're perfect for Tom." It wasn't too long before David realized it was the best way to go, however, and I definitively agree. "The gentleman caller" surprised me with his depth, and his earnest insecurity. This show began my long collaboration with David and Electric Theatre Company (née The Northeast Theatre ["TNT/ETC"]), and was a beautifully simple and sensitive production.

Circus of Vices and Virtues

A raw space in a former bathhouse in Brooklyn. Self-generated work. Allegory and agit-prop. Clown and monsters, and lots of aerial acts. Pieter Bruegel the Elder and the second Bush era in government. I was young and passionately committed to any work, and the dark imagery and new, dance-like world of this most abstract show impressed me so much that I worked on it off and on over a course of two years.

Summertree

A Vietnam-War-era drama that plays loose with time, I got to play a young man at various stages in his life in 

Summertree

 until he ultimately dies, in the war and on stage. I loved the way this play had a clearer emotional through-line and cause-and-effect than a chronological approach, and though I know that ultimately I could've turned in a better performance I'm still proud of where I and the rest of the cast got with the material.

Plus they built a climbable tree with a swinging rope and an actual swing on stage, so you know I had some fun with all that.

One Perfect Rose

Pictured, clockwise: Melissa Riker, Leah Abel, Bronwyn Sims, Jen Colasuonno & yours truly.

Ah, 

One Perfect Rose

! This was ostensibly a children's show, created by Kirkos - the circus-theatre troupe of which I was a founding member - and performed at the old Chashama home of The Bindlestiff Family Circus, on 42nd Street. It was a "fractured fairy-tales" story, with a different act/routine for each tale, hung on a somewhat chaotic framework that involved Snow White and Rose Red, Mother Goose and my character, a rather anal fellow named Phineas Grimm. I got to use direct address, do a bit of circus in a severe-yet-clownish sort of way, and even fell in love in the end (an ending I actually wrote myself). Bliss.

Silent Lives

Photo by Sally Wiener Grotta.

Some common themes here: self-generated work in a raw space, highly physical, and more than a little melancholy in-between moments of manic hilarity. This was also undeniably one of the most successful original shows created by my commedia dell'arte troupe, Zuppa del Giorno. The silent-film informed show was performed to live music and entirely without dialogue, and introduced me to two very influential mediums: clown work and the great silent comedy tradition.

Over the River and Through the Woods...

Compared with the rest of these productions, this probably wasn't as formative to my aesthetic, but it couldn't be more dear to me. An crowd-pleaser, we performed it every year for three years at TNT/ETC,  and it was in the third year that I reached the exact age of the character. It got to be hard not to think of  my fellow actors as my grandparents. It's strange to think I almost turned down this role - it had been suggested to the theatre by my Laura from 

Glass Menagerie

 for she and I, and they subsequently didn't cast her, plus I initially saw my character as a frustrating exercise in playing the frustrated straight man again. I was, of course, wrong. The show is hilarious, and there are moments I only have to think of playing that bring me to tears. And I'm still considering the final thoughts Nick shares with the audience.

The Very Nearly Perfect Comedy of Romeo and Juliet

Heather Stuart as Juliet Capulet.

At some point, actors have to begin letting go of famous roles they didn't get to play before aging, and I had begrudgingly released Romeo before Zuppa del Giorno came up with this concept for tackling Shakespeare. In a world full of commedia-masked and grotesque characters, Romeo and Juliet are two red-nosed clowns who find one another. Somewhat amazingly, our concept worked quite well, I thought. It was a far-from-flawless production, but every piece of it found something profoundly good. And for me, there was something magical about playing young lovers once again with my long-time collaborator Heather Stuart, both of us older with the youthful permission of the clown nose.

The Spectacular Scrantonian Spectacular

8oclock.JPG

Well, gosh. This wasn't even theatre, and I hardly performed in it. Somewhere between cabaret and vaudeville, 

TSSS

 was a little second-stage pet project of mine wherein I gathered some of my favorite performers from New York and Scranton to create a weird evening of variety in the same smaller ballroom in which 

Silent Lives

 was performed. It was all brought together over about 48 hours from start to finish, and was fun, pretty, and pretty funny.

I feel like I've gotten a lot of clarity about my tastes and influences by going through my resume like this. Please keep in mind both that there are shows I've participated and loved that didn't make it on to this list, and that this list is by no means about which ones have been influential. If either were qualifications, I'd have included shows such as

 As Far As We Know

 and 

Noble Aspirations

. No, these are just favorites, and in spite of how much importance we place on that word growing up, it implies some malleability and prejudice. Perspective, in other words.