Saturday, April 26, 2008

Clown Under a Truck

Old habits die hard. In the midst of directing the play I’m currently involved with I was also desperately trying to finish my cd in time for the May 6 benefit and also flying down to LA for a couple of benefits organized by the patron saint of off-beat performers, Jeannine Frank. Now this may not seem like a ridiculous amount to do but don’t forget that fatal illnesses are – among other things – huge time sucks. I returned from LA spent and wondering if I could continue directing the show.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The benefits were amazing. It featured artists that most people have never heard of but who have racked up impressive bona fides over the years and who I’d go see over famous people any day. As I belly-laughed over the musings of people like Bob Duvak, Betsy Salkind and Ray Jessel or marveled over the beautiful voice of Marie Cain or the brilliant mind of Kres Mersky and all the other wonderful artists I couldn’t help but think what a miracle it is to create works of art. I completely forgot why I was there and just thoroughly enjoyed myself. I feel the same way in rehearsal sometimes. Life will not be ignored. It goes on in all it’s clumsiness, hilarity and absurdity despite our little tragedies and that’s a marvelous thing.

I was trying to explain comic tragedy to my students. We have a new recruit in our play ( in the war movies they always call them “Cherry”) who wears a giant cherry costume with a stem coming from his pith helmet ( or pit helmet – get it?) and who explodes in his foxhole leaving only a bunch of cherry pulp. Another recruit tastes it and says “Fuckin’ Cherry.” It was hard to explain to them that tightrope that we dance on between absurdity and tragedy. I likened it to running over a clown. It’s horrifying and unbearable to have killed the clown and yet …peering over the hood of your car all you see are giant shoes. The paramedic tries CPR and is squirted with a flower. Or maybe a horn honks. Unfortunately as I tried to explain this I went into an uncontrollable laughing fit until tears flowed. I feel like that clown sometimes because this shit is so funny and so tragic.

But back to the benefit. So many beautiful people were there to offer support and love. Jeannine put together two great shows and Danna Hyams ( who is mentioned in 2006 blogs on this site) hosted the second night and made it her 50th birthday party! What a cheery birthday event – an ALS fundraiser. Only Danna is loveable enough to have people show up for a party theme that makes Mary Tyler Moore’s parties look like a laugh riot. I was so deeply moved and had such a great time. The highlight for me was Betsy Salkind doing a joke by a fellow comic that may have horrified other audience members but had me in stitches. It went something like this: Can you imagine how surprised Lou Gherig was when the doctors told him what he had?

That’s funny. I’m going to adapt it and steal it for Yoshis.

It was tremendously difficult to perform the second night – maybe fatigue, maybe being back at a theater in which I’d performed, who knows? Yet despite my challenges, the whole evening was funny and beautiful and deeply moving – Chuckles under the wheels of a hybrid suv – his tiny little bicycle crushed. Jeannine was amazing, loving and indefatigable in her mission to create this wonderful event. It shouldn’t surprise me that she would be like that – this is a woman who works tirelessly for wonderful and talented artists who are unlikely to ever make her any money – Broadway Danny Rose with more discerning tastes or as she puts it “ a cross between Mel and Murray in Flight of the Conchords”. You all love her now too, don’t you?

The work of entertaining has become so difficult for me and yet I’m still good at it. I can still make people laugh and cry – in the same set! I can still come up with arresting visual images and hilarious/horrifying sight gags ( Osama in an I love NY t-shirt). I can still occasionally sing the hell out of a song. It’s work that I believe is valuable and where I believe I can contribute to the world. It’s work that fulfills me. It’s hard work and it’s getting harder and harder. Time to pull out the giant shoes and the squirting flower.

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