Archive for August, 2014

Reading IS Fundamental!

Posted: August 29, 2014 in Uncategorized
Steve Bluestein

Steve Bluestein

Sometimes, when you’re an actor, you get an invitation to appear in what’s known as “a reading.” This is where a playwright arranges for a space for a new script of theirs to be performed in front of a crowd (usually a hundred or slightly less) just to see how it flies with an actual cast speaking the words, hear how an audience enjoys it and, hopefully, end up with some prospects for it to eventually be produced in a theater. There are two types of readings; one is a “staged reading,” where it’s actually directed as a play on stage, and the other is a “script-in-hand reading,” where the actors actually read right from the script. I’ve done dozens of both over the last thirty-seven years since I’ve been in this business of show (for my sins), and I pretty much always enjoy myself when I’m asked (mostly because I don’t need to audition). But nothing prepared me for how much I would love taking part in the reading of How To Kill Your Mother Without Really Trying (a comedy by a resentful son), a wonderful script by my pal Steve Bluestein, at Chelsea Studios in mid-August.

Now, let me start by saying a couple of things about Steve (or Blue, as I call him affectionately and which I have no idea whether he likes or not because I don’t recall him ever acknowledging it one way or the other, but I hope he doesn’t mind). This man is not only a legend of comedy (he started at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles when he was fresh out of college, became a founding member of the Comedy Store Players which eventually morphed into The Groundlings, plus has opened for so many major concerts all over the world that it would be impossible to list them all, and has written two incredible books, It’s So Hard to Type With a Gun In My Mouth and 49 Shades of Blue-STEIN). Blue may well be the most neurotic, desperate, brilliant genius I have ever known, and for me that’s saying a lot. Here’s the other thing; I already knew the play because Blue and I had an idea to try to get it into the Fringe Festival in the summer of ’13, and we had some great ideas, but they turned us down. Which made neither of us particularly happy. On the other hand, I knew that this play was as prodigious as anything that Neil Simon or Paul Rudnick or Woody Allen or Charles Busch ever wrote.  So I held my breath and hoped for the best.

Carole Ita White

Carole Ita White

Which is why it was rather surprising, back in May, to hear from Blue and have him ask, “I want to bring How To Kill Your Mother… into the city this summer for a script-in-hand reading, and I’d like you to play the nerdy blind paramedic who gets the girl at the end. Will you be available?”  I said that I’m sure I would, but I wasn’t sure how he’d like me to play it;  since it has a gay theme, should I play it gay? He replied, “Absolutely not. I want you to play it like Arnold Stang.”  And this is embarrassing to admit, but even with my encyclopaedic knowledge of culture and entertainment, I didn’t know much of Arnold Stang. So I did some research, looked up a couple of sketches Stang did with Milton Berle, and said, “OK, I know exactly what he wants from me. I can do this.”

THEN I found out who I’d be appearing with. They included Carole Ita White, the daughter of Jesse White (aka The Maytag Repairman), who made her mark as the evil Big Rosie Greenbaum in a recurring role on “Laverne and Shirley” for several seasons; Isabel West, who’s guest-starred on a million sitcoms including a memorable episode of “Mama’s Family” when Mama competes as a contestant on Jeopardy; Mark Boyett, who’s worked on every TV show under the sun; Ferrell Marshall,  who also has a ton of credits under her belt, and Ivy Austin, who’s done oceans of voice-over work on “Sesame Street” and other Muppet productions. I don’t even have an IMdB listing, for God’s sakes. So it was instantly a case of, “What the hell am I DOING here with these people? I don’t even have a freakin’ UNION card!”

Ivy Austin

Ivy Austin

But I swallowed the fear and said, “OK, you know this role. You know what to do. So just do it, hopefully everyone will appreciate your work, especially Blue, and if he doesn’t, and if they don’t, they’ll tell you how to do it better.” I should add that it’s the smallest part in the play, which is fine, because it’s a great part no matter what, even if he’s only in one scene in the first act and one later on in the second. So we got to the top of fifth scene in Act One, where the audience sees me for the first time. I said the opening line, “Name of the deceased?” in my very best Arnold Stang, and the entire crew at the table completely burst out laughing. That’s when I knew this would be smooth sailing. Interestingly enough, after that rehearsal, Blue gave us all a general note which was, “I would like most of you to try to belt a little more, because some of the lines are getting swallowed and the audience needs to hear them. This doesn’t apply to Andrew.”

Mark Boyett

Mark Boyett

We had a great second rehearsal the next day, and what struck me was how very complimentary and ego-free everybody was besides being so talented. I don’t know if I’ve ever had this experience before in the theater, to be truthful, and I’ve been doing this for nearly four decades. This was a total and complete team effort; each of us wanted to be the best we could be and were cheering each other on at every turn. And I’m not much of an athlete, so it was really spectacular. There was just such an absence of, “Look at me! I’m the BEST one!” and we were all just so supportive of one another.

Ferrell Marshall

Ferrell Marshall

Then came the reading. Two readings, actually. One at 3 PM and one at 6. I still can’t believe how many friends showed up, or the fact that we were packed to the rafters. Afterwards, Blue came up and said to me, “You were fifty times funnier than I ever could have imagined. It was perfect. I didn’t know you were capable of this kind of performance.” I said, in all honesty, “I’m just so happy you gave me the opportunity.”

So…anyone want to back an Off-Broadway run? Just don’t replace me in the role, please.