Monday, May 11, 2009


The first reviews for THEMS are hitting the wire, kids!

TimeOut Chicago
On Saturday 9, the Playground Theater debuted THEMS, a simultaneously creepy and goofy improvised play that lovingly spoofs the sci-fi/horror genre Ripley Scott mastered with Alien, the film that began an enduring (if not eventually lame) franchise and countless knockoffs.

THEMS takes place in 2156, in a post-earth society in which humans have now colonized Mars and are attempting to do the same with Venus. But in order to make the planet inhabitable, they must secure a rare element known as Carbon9. A crew of futuristic 49ers have landed on an uncharted asteroid and culled the largest concentration of the element in recorded history—a feat which will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams—if they can survive the journey home. A mysterious bacteria is latching onto crew members and zombifying them all—one poor bastard at a time.

In order to more fully immerse the audience into this premise, show producers John Eiberger and Ross Foti along with director Rebecca Langguth, have done something improvised shows rarely do, ratchet up the production values, and they’ve done it successfully. THEMS admirably transports the audience into outer space with painted canvass backgrounds that recreate the inner bowels of a spaceship, spacesuits for crew members, a crafty mainframe computer named VOX (played with deadpan earnest by Chris O. Biddle) who spits out commands and ship details and who we sense, like Ian Holm’s nefarious android Ash in Alien, has an agenda of its own, and face masks for the audience (a gratuitous, if not funny addition). There’s even a flamethrower!

But the real attention to detail is in character archetypes. THEMS‘ motley crew of greedy, booze-swilling space cowboys each maintains his own position aboard the ship—the veteran space engineer, the dutiful captain, the company man, etc.—and like in Alien (or even more accurately, Alien Resurrection), this grizzled band of galactic pirates each has an ulterior motive; they’re more devoid of humanity then the monster they’re warding off. THEMS is a wink-filled tribute to the characters and situations that fill the sci-fi genre and the ensemble plays this to the hilt. The pleasure in THEMS is watching these guys improvise their way out of stock sci-fi conundrums (the ship is self-destructing!, there’s not enough room in the escape pod for everyone!, there’s a stowaway on board!) and do so within the constraints of the genre. Although these feats were pulled off with only partial aplomb on opening night (a lot of plot lines ended up unresolved), as the ensemble continues to experiment week after week, it will be interesting to see how they’ll play with sci-fi’s unlimited possibilities.

THEMS probably won’t appeal to anyone who greeted the release of J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek with a yawn. But if you can name the actor and film in which the line “Game over, man! Game Over!” is uttered, then the Playground has a nice alternative to Sigourney Weaver duking it out with an angry alien bitch.

Then there's Don, who was less impressed with our efforts.

And since Don taught me the "art" of the "pick" when it comes to reviews, I'd like to thank him for writing the following in his review: "...unique...", "truly inspired", "sincerely busting their asses" , and "a real bitch."

Here's the deal. You don't create theater for reviews. You create it because you get an idea in your head that gets under your skin until you have to pull the trigger and manifest it on a stage.

(Good reviews can be helpful in getting asses in the seats, though, so I'm not looking any gift horse in the mouth. Nobody attached to THEMS is getting paid for their work - the main goal is to recoup production costs. Sounds kinda familiar, huh...?)

For me, the only opinions that truly matter are the folks who are working on the show. The ones who put the sweat in. When they are satifisfied with the performance they have given...that's the success. That's the worth.

That said, I really want the folks who lay down their dime to enjoy the show. Because I enjoyed my part in putting it there for their amusement.

Rooty toot.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

open for business

THEMS is finally open.

Opening night was...bumpy. It had it's moments, but overall, it was a bit rougher around the edges than it should have been.

Normally, prior to opening, a show will have a rough rehearsal where wrong turns are made. We never had that bad rehearsal...and I feel that, in a way...last night, it happened.

The thing about a rough rehearsal is that by going through it, like any time you make a misstep, you learn so much and benefit from it more, than when things go smoothly. Last night wasn't awful, by any means, but it was rough in more places than we've encountered in the past month plus.

We learned a lot last night.

I personally make a rookie mistake that was a big lesson for me as a director and which I believe set the tone which started the show.

We also added a bunch of elements that the crew had not played with (due to various reasons) to the show last the crew (what I call the cast), were juggling knives while spinnning brand new plates.

There were some hits and misses.

Our biggest hurdle with this format is getting too caught up in plot and not focusing on the relationships. We got plot heavy. Plot is a nowhere road, my friends.

Overall, I gave it a C.

Of course, I'm an asshole with really high expectations of myself and these folks. The show was only firing on about half of the cylinders we've constructed. Enough cylinders to make it fun for the audience...but not enough to make it satisfying for the crew.

That said, I was really proud of everyone. They've all put a lot of work into this peice and good work will out.

Yes. It was bumpy. We basically had an unplanned dress tech in front of an opening night audience. We set an amazingly high bar and fell a bit short of it last night.

I know what these folks can do. I've seen it and it's phenomenal.

I sprained both ankles last night (long story) by tripping twice on the same stair.

It's kind of an odd mirror, because I think we tripped the show up - got in our own way, instead of doing the work and embracing the joy that we normally bring to the floor.

I think last night they tripped...but now that they know where that fucking stair is, I have no doubt they will jump it and bring the bar back to the place where they want to play.

Next week, I expect our cylinders to be fully functional and I can't wait to watch them create that world and play in it. I think the world of those folks and can't wait for more audiences to see what they can create.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Olive woke me up early, and I needed to make a run to the store, so after a walk, we jumped in the car and I hit the Jewel.

On the drive home, with the window down, the pooch with her nose out the window, I channel surfed onto this song. And then I cranked that motha.

The very first album I ever bought (which technically was an 8-track), was back in 1977. I was 8 and my parents had just joined one of those new fangled music clubs (I think it was Columbia House) and they let each of us pick a couple out.

I have little doubt that, as much as BOSTON FREAKING ROCKS, in the age of glorious 70's cover art I'm sure that I was more than swayed by the spaceship. (I find it more than slightly amusing that, in a few short hours, we open a show set on a spaceship. Hmmm...beshert.)

While I don't have that 8-track anymore and never got around to replacing it on vinyl, cassette or CD over the years, I still can't help but crank a Boston song when I hear one on the radio.

As I put together the pre-show music for THEMS, I was focused on late 70's and early 80's rock that would have been playing at the same time the movies we used as inspiration were released.

Of course, Don't Look Back jumped right out at me...which got me playing more and more of Boston's discography...and wondering why I never replaced that 8-track.

Maybe I just like the way songs like that always take me by surprise when I hear them after not hearing them for a bit.

I have to say, when asked "What was your first album?"
I think 8-year old me nailed it.

Way to go, 8-year old me. Way to go.
[high fivin' my 8 year old self.]

Now if youre feelin kinda low bout the dues youve been paying
Futures coming much too slow
And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin
Can't decide on which way to go
Yeah, yeah, yeah

I understand about indecision
But I dont care if I get behind
People livin in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Now youre climbin to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesnt take too long
Can't cha you see there'll come a day when it wont matter
Come a day when youll be gone

I understand about indecision
But I dont care if I get behind
People livin in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead,
yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

Now everybodys got advice they just keep on givin
Doesn't mean too much to me
Lots of people out to make-believe they're livin
Can't decide who they should be.

I understand about indecision
But I dont care if I get behind
People livin in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead. look ahead.

Words to live by...which still hold up 30 years later.


This has been a week full of me thinking about aspects of family.
The ones you were born into...and the ones you make for yourself.

When I heard about this, I had to laugh.

Monday, May 4, 2009

t-minus five

Okay. I know said I wasn't going to blog this week, but I changed my mind. I am, however, putting a moratorium on my brand new format this week, because my brain can only process show-related stuff.

Random thoughts swirling:

1. It's been a while since I've directed improv. I am so utterly excited and proud of this show and at the same time, I'm in fear that I will be the one to fuck it up. Or rather, keep it from being as utterly awesome as it already is.

2. I totally have a crush on every member of my cast. It's not a "dude, I wanna mack on you" crush. It's the kind of crush you get about a person's inner attributes. I'm crushing on their smarts, ability to be giddy with each other, commitment to the material, sense of timing and play, willingness to go there and the fact that they let me get away with using my vagina as both a reference point and a threat.

I recall something about refering to my vagina as a "control patch."

It seemed to make sense at the time. I'm sure the actual humilation of that moment will hit me in about a week, when they respectfully throw it back in my face.

3. My brain is tired due to an immense lack of sleep. All weekend I had trouble finding my words to express myself (which, hey, when you're directing folks? Being specific and using your words, is really the main requirement.) Here's the weird thing. I came in 2nd in a Spelling Bee on Saturday night. While drinking 3 beers.

I'm still shocked that I spelled bouillon correctly in the first round.

4. Yes. I shouldn't be drinking beers while on my meds. So noted. But, do I get points for not eating any chocolate cake or like a Whopper at 2am after getting drunk? People! I think I should get points!

5. As a rule, once a show is up (in the regular theater world) the director doesn't come to every single performance. There was a brief time when I thought, "Hey, I might miss a couple shows during the run for WNEP related stuff."

That day is over. I will not miss one minute of these shows and a part of me is already aching with the knowing that it will be over in just 8 performances.

6. Did I mention that Ross and John are assholes? They totally are. More people should have assholes like these in their periphery. You can't have them, though. They are my assholes. Get your own.

7. Getting emails from the cast that read, "I'm fucking excited." And, "effing out of my mind happy we open Saturday!" make me effing out of my mind happy and fucking excited that we open on Saturday.

8. Did I mention, starting May 16th, Don Hall is going to make me workout at 8am every freaking Saturday morning? I already hate him. And, I hate him. In the best way possible! Woot!

9. Our s***ies are the best s***ies in all the land! [You will never cypher this out...unless you see THEMS. Sorry. Dems da breaks.]

10. You'll be delighted to know that "Eat a bag of dicks," has dropped from the forefront of my brain. It was, instead, replaced by a new catch phrase that is both family-friendly, while still conveying the message and intent of "Eat a bag..."

I present to you, "Simmer down, pot roast!"

Okay. I admit, it's kinda in the delivery, but man?
If you could hear it in my head? You might just do a spit take.


Okay. I've got a list of shit I need to suss out tonight.
I've got to get to sussin'!

Friday, May 1, 2009

rock paper scissors lizard spock

Next week, I'm taking a sabbatical from blogging as we enter the final phase of getting the show up on its feet.

We have one week left to take the training wheels off this bad boy.

Did I's a comedy?

This weekend is going to be non-stop production and rehearsal pandemonium. I just hope I'm not scratching myself in an inappropriate manner in front of the cast. Nothing undermines your authority like hopping around like you're an extra from the "itching powder in the sleeping bags" episode of The Brady Bunch.

Yesterday was plain awful. (Yeah. I'm quoting a singing redhead. Sue me.) Today is just as itchy and bumpy and annoying as yesterday. I'm counting the minutes until I can pop another Claritin (don't tell, I'm going to take it a little sooner than 24 hours!)

For someone who's really never had a lot of medical problems, this last month has been a roller coaster I would like a refund on. And yet, it's been supremely enjoyable in terms of working on the show.

Every day brings a new and glorious prop/costume peice or (even better) a fantastic choice by a performer to move the story along. Sitting watching smart people play smart people? It's the bee's knees, brother!

I wonder if I've ever said thank you to John and Ross?
Ah. Fuck 'em.
Those assholes can eat a bag of dicks.

In other afraid, be very afraid.

And since I don't want to leave you entirely in the lurch for something to keep you occupied while I'm "offline", here's an upgrade on a classic.

Don't say I never did nuthin' for ya.

Note: I read "eat a bag of dicks" on a news blog today and it cracked me up and made me think of Mike Powers, who had that line in a play some years back. Nobody, and I mean nobody can deliver the line "eat a bag of dicks" like Powers.

Unfortunately, now, I can't stop repeating "eat a bag of dicks" in my head. I'm sure the meds are causing this along with the vertigo and the allergy. Stupid meds.