Friday, October 28, 2011

Glorious Eccentricity

Right after acting school, I got a job as a waiter. Of course. But, after a couple of years of slinging tostada salads and  #2 combos (one taco, one cheese enchilada, rice and beans) I got tired of my clothes smelling like lard and my fingers like parsley. That and the fact that memorizing celebrity cocktail preferences was never my bucket of ice. (Dean Jagger did like his Ramos Fizz, though.) One day, after the perfect service of a very complicated special order, Dustin Hoffman stiffed me. Well, his wife stiffed me. Ratso Rizzo sat there and let her. That was the last burrito.

Lucky for me, I got a job at the Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica. The Mayfair was beautiful old girl. A delightfully garish old relic straight out of the Hollywood history books. Smelled like mold and old books. It sat boarded up for years after the Northridge quake and was finally razed a year or so ago. Very sad, indeed. My wife and I went by one day to try a swipe a brick out of the ruins but couldn't get over the fence.

The new owners at the time were trying to make a go of turning it into a legit house. Alvin Epstein directed Bud Cort in "Endgame," Phillip King performed his one-man "A Dicken's Christmas," the brilliant Jasper Carrott and the legendary Charles Piece both came in for special one-offs to pay homage to the music hall roots of the place. (If you don't know who either of these performers are, Google them. You're missing out.) And then..."Sherlock's Last Case." It was directed by the play's author, the irascible and eccentrically brilliant, or rather brilliantly eccentric, Charles Marowitz.

Charles is a critic, a director and a playwright. He is known for his outrageously, sub-text oriented, collage adaptations of Shakespeare, for his collaborations with Peter Brook, and for being one of the founders, along with Thelma Holt, of the Open Space Theatre. "Sherlock's Last Case" is easily his most successful and most well-known work. Beginning with it's world premiere at the Los Angeles Actor's Theatre in 1984 to it's re-staging in 1985 at the Mayfair and through to it's Broadway run with Frank Langella as the aquiline sleuth, the play has become a regional and community theatre stalwart. Not a brilliant play, but an entertaining couple of hours.The small cast and, basically, single set makes it possible for the most technically challenged regional groups. Doyle purists hate it, regular folk love it. Bonus points to Charles for the highly entertaining "A Background Note" in the acting script.

Regarding his approach to Shakespeare, he was once quoted as saying, "Imagine that Shakespeare's play [Hamlet in the case] is a precious old vase, and someone comes along and smashes that vase into a thousand pieces. If one were to take those pieces and put them back together, the arrangement would be new. That is, I suppose, what this (production) is. Shakespeare provides the vase and I provide the glue."  The problem with this construction method is that you take a perfectly good vase, smash it to bits and hope it holds water, or even flowers, when you are done putting it back together. Of course, with Marowitz, what he ends up with isn't Shakespeare. It's Marowitz. No matter what you think of the process or the product, he has created something new and done it with flair, panache, daring and confidence.

Love him or hate him, Marowitz is one of those guys that makes the Theatre entertaining. (emphasis intentional). For a couple of years, he wrote an immensely enjoyable blog entitled, An Actor Prepares. I haven't seen a new post for over a year now, but I hope he returns to it if he is able. He is witty, sarcastic, stern, intelligent and more  than a little opinionated. Anyone remotely interested in the stage should read a little Marowitz every once in awhile. He will help remind you why you were drawn to it in the first place. Of course, if you are like me, you may also think that he's absolutely full out it occasionally, but so what? Aren't we all?.  One of my favorite entries is one of the earliest: APHORISMS FOR THE YOUNG (AND NOT SO YOUNG) ACTOR. (I'll be stealing some of these for my Facebook updates.)

Now, Charles Marowitz wouldn't remember me from a ham sandwich (figurative and literally), but I have remembered him, followed his work and enjoyed his writings lo these many years later. The world needs more Charles Marowitz's. Those glorious eccentrics who actually have something to say and say it in their own unique way. If we don't get it, that's our problem.

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