Gloriously funny, magnificent—the usual.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a review of the the 11th annual Pacific Playwrights Festival in Costa Mesa, CA. The article winds up with an enthusiastic, four-paragraph mention of You, Nero, a play by Amy Freed (who wrote Restoration Comedy, a huge hit for us in 2006) which had a staged reading at the festival. One of the readers—deemed “magnificent” by the Times—was our very own Danny Scheie, who appeared in Restoration Comedy and who is in the rehearsal hall as I type this preparing for his Pericles roles (Helicanus, Simonides, and Boult).

In case you don’t feel like reading through the whole review, here are the paragraphs regarding You, Nero:

“…the festival drew to a close with a reading of Amy Freed’s You, Nero, an uproarious comedy set during the declining years of the Roman Empire. Even in a bare-bones staged reading—a format hardly congenial to a broad, bawdy gagfest—Ms. Freed’s play delighted almost from start to finish.

A spoof of theater through the ages—from Sophocles to A Chorus LineYou, Nero makes lively sport of contemporary American culture, as Ms. Freed imagines the mincing Nero (a magnificent Danny Scheie—but Nathan Lane might want to call his agent now) commissioning an image-primping pageant from a down-on-his-luck dramatist. Nero has banished tragedy, preferring fancy spectacles and saliva-generating gore-fests.

The slams at the puerile appeal of popular movies and television are predictable but still enjoyable, the theatrical in-jokes silly but inspired. Indeed, Ms. Freed’s gloriously funny play is its own argument for the continued viability of an endangered species, the stage comedy. I’m tempted to quote at length, but the play’s delirious charm would surely fizzle in sober newsprint.

For evidence of its irresistible appeal I’ll just report that the audience staggered out into the sunny spring afternoon with stomachs sore from laughter, and that I await a New York production with unusual relish.”

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Based on a Totally True Theatrical Experience

Back in 2006, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa helmed Cal Shakes’ second NewWorks /New Communities project, King of Shadows (originally known as Sweet Thunder), creating and developing a new take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the help of MFA students at American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) and community organizations working with homeless LGBT youth in San Francisco. This was before my time here at Cal Shakes, but this summer, I had the pleasure of going to see a workshop performance of Aquirre-Sarcasa’s Good Boys and True at the Marin Theatre Company. The tense, funny tale of how a private school’s legacy of secrets unravel–revealing the uneven seams of class and sexuality–really lept to life in the hands of the five actors (including Man and Superman‘s Hector Malone, Sr., Steve Irish, and Restoration Comedy‘s Berinthia, Marcia Pizzo), even though they remained seated on stools in a straight line at all times.

We went for drinks afterward, the actors and crew, Joy Meads, me, and some other assorted folks. And Aguirre-Sacasa struck me as a sweet and down-to-earth guy with a pretty deadly wit. It wasn’t till after we’d left the 2AM Club in Mill Valley that Joy told me the playwright also writes comics–like, big ones. X-Men. This may not impress you, but it does me. Superhero comics ain’t my bag, but underground comics are, as is certain strains of sci-fi. I’ve even been trying, off and on this year, to write a script for a comic book series of my own. So I was ticked off that I didn’t get to pick the brain of a pro, especially since, at the time, that brain had been addled slightly by alcohol!

Lucky for me, Aguirre-Sacasa’s got a show running now at San Francisco’s New Conservatory Theater. And that play, Based on a Totally True Story, features a comic book writer who (and maybe I’m being too literal here) could definitely be based on a totally true playwright.

At least I can pick the actor’s brain, right?

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