I saw a show last night at The Public Theater. “How Theater Failed America.” It’s a monologue by Mike Daisey. I liked it a lot but I wouldn’t recommend it to too many people. The scope of the subject matter is very narrow. He tells some pretty compelling stories about how acting and the performing arts saved his depressed, suicidal ass, but the core of the show was about how regional theater in America is deteriorating. Repertory companies are becoming extinct. They are an economic impossibility. You’d enjoy the show if you were an actor, and you’d REALLY enjoy it if you were an actor in a repertory company. (Actually, I’m neither, and I enjoyed it very much. I don’t know what I’m saying half the time. It’s a fact!)
I have a tremendous amount of respect for monologists and, believe it or not, stand up comedians. It’s hard enough to walk out on a stage armed with a script and surrounded by your fellow actors. Imagine the terror of standing alone on a stage with only your words to save you. It’s a crazy notion and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do it.
I love The Public. It’s a beautiful building in my favorite neighborhood. Plus, they take risks. I’ve see some terrible theater there. Last month, CB and I saw a play by noted British playwright Caryl Chruchill that was so dull, a man in the first row fell asleep and started to snore. The entire show was a measly :45 minutes long but he couldn’t tough it out like the rest of us. He started to snore about :30 minutes in. It was one of the smaller theaters in The Public and since he was in the first row, the stage was only about 15 feet in front of him. Imagine that! Trying to remember your lines with a patron of the arts fast asleep and snoring right in your face! Finally, someone in the second row showed some mercy (for the actors), leaned forward and gave him a good, hard poke in the back of his head.
One evening, many years ago, I was waiting outside The Public for a habitually late friend and a pretty girl walked up to me, took a sandwich out of her purse, asked me if I was hungry and offered it to me. I’m not kidding! This really happened! And I didn’t look homeless. The sandwich was wrapped in a baggie. It wasn’t from a deli—she made it at home. I politely declined the sandwich, but she and I became good friends. Only in New York, folks! Mrs. Wife and I had our first date at The Public. We saw…a monologue, of course! The Public has been very good to me, although not in the way that Joseph Papp intended.