Christopher Durang

Christopher Durang

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 15 1996 3:30 AM

Christopher Durang

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       Gosh, it's the crack of dawn. Or before: It's still dark out. I have to be ready to leave for a bus to New York by 8:45 this morning, so I had to get up early to write this.
       The handyman (and his assistant) were fine. And lots of little things got repaired, although the bigger things (like replacing glass doors) turned out not to be immediately doable.
       Much of the work in this house has been somewhat homemade and slipshod--the glass doors don't really fit, they've been jammed into place, for instance. I know the person who did a lot of the work on the house in the past, and he is very un-thorough. So, some of the repairs need to be approached by scrapping things and starting over.
       I called video places in New York yesterday, and found out where to take my video gift today to get it copied. And happily, it can be ready by the weekend, for the play's closing.
       I have, by now, a pile of letters from strangers and acquaintances, triggered by my play Sex and Longing; and last night, I focused on answering some of them.
       One was from my actress friend Lizbeth Mackay, who starred in my one-act plays two years ago at the Manhattan Theatre Club, including playing Amanda in my cracked The Glass Menagerie parody, For Whom the Southern Bell Tolls.
       Liz sent a funny picture of some ferrets, claiming they were critics; and then sent me a sweet note of encouragement in the face of critical discouragement. She also wondered (I assume jokingly) whether, in a past life, I was a critic, and all the present critics, playwrights; and whether that was an explanation for their negative response.
       I have to admit that when I learned that the reviews of my play were across-the-board dismissive and/or negative, the notion of karma came up very strongly for me. I thought, "This feels familiar," and then I thought, "I'm supposed to get something from this. I've been supposed to get something the earlier times too, but I haven't. What is it?"
       I kind of suspect that I'm supposed to get to a place of not caring about outside acclaim, to do things because I believe in them, and not require affirmation from the outside. Unfortunately, I also wonder sometimes if it means I'm meant not to keep struggling in the arena of theater. But that's probably child anger, along the lines of, "I don't like the rules, I'm going to take my marbles and go home."
       But I really appreciated hearing from Liz, and from other people who wrote or left phone messages. It's really awkward to know what to say to someone who has gotten bad reviews, and I appreciated the people who reached out with sympathy or humor.
       The second person I wrote to is this porno star who wrote me after seeing Sex and Longing. I guess it's all right to say his name--it's Gino Colbert; he was a performer in porno films (mostly gay, some straight), and now he directs them. And weeks ago, on the same day I had a screaming fit with my elderly aunt after she kept heaping moral disapproval on me regarding what she heard about my play, I got this package at the theater marked "personal."
       I opened it up, and discovered it was a porno tape (directed by Colbert) and a very friendly letter, saying how he had had one day left in New York and decided to see a matinee; that it was between Sex and Longing and Master Class, and he decided to try my play; that in line, he ran into another porno star, Rex Chandler, and they went to the play together; and that he found the play hilarious, and was sending me this tape as a "thank you."
       I then wrote him a "thank you," and sent him a copy of my recent Twenty-Seven Short Plays (since he mentioned being interested in knowing others of my plays), and I drew his attention particularly to Titanic, which is my craziest and most sexually obsessive play.
       Actually, Sigourney was in the New York premiere, back in 1976. Titanic is very surreal; the characters keep wanting the boat to sink, and it doesn't. Sigourney played Lidia, the captain's daughter. Seemingly innocent, she prattles on at dinner to young Teddy about how she used to keep a hedgehog up her vagina, but has now replaced it with two hamsters; she then starts feeding them lettuce at the table. "My gynecologist runs the other way when he sees me coming," she says. Teddy finds her alarming.
       Off-off Broadway we got mixed reviews, with one kind of nice one from Mel Gussow in the New York Times. Then an actor friend from Yale, John Rothman, put up money to move us to off-Broadway, where the play got just hideous reviews, really hideous. At the time I asked my agent Helen Merrill (whom I had just hooked up with) if anyone would ever do a play of mine again, after those reviews. She said "yes."
       But in 1982, I had a collection of plays put out, and I went out of my way to include Titanic because I realized that, bad reviews or not, I found it very funny. And still do.
       So I hope I'll come to some kind of similar clarity about Sex and Longing as time goes by.
       (A side thought: When Charles Busch's Vampire Lesbians of Sodom was accepted and praised off-Broadway several years later, I realized that Titanic needed to have been presented that way, as a cult event, not as a straightforward "here's-a-new-nice-play" event. Plus, Busch's funny title helped set the stage for its being perceived as a cult comedy, and my title just made the critics salivate, thinking up headlines like "Titanic Sinks," and "Durang Goes Down With His Ship.")
       So anyway, I got a second letter (and a second video) from Mr. Colbert, in which he tells me how much he roared at Titanic, and that he met a porno performer buddy for breakfast, and read him sections aloud.
       Somehow the contrasting realities--of my spinster aunt being disapproving and horrified, critics being dismissive, and porno stars reading me aloud over breakfast--reverberate for me. If only we were running longer, we might put a banner outside the theater: "Acclaimed by Porno Stars Everywhere."
       So I wrote Colbert back last night, thanking him for the second video and for liking Titanic.
       Now it's time to go take a shower, and get ready for the bus. I teach at Juilliard today. (Marsha Norman and I are co-chairs of the play-writing program there, though maybe I shouldn't say this when I've been mentioning porno; forget the previous several paragraphs. Marsha and I teach Chekhov and Beckett, and it's all very distinguished and appropriate.)
       And I see my therapist. (Are you glad?)
       And I'm going to say "hello" to the cast tonight, since the closing is upon us. And if the audience is chipper, I may watch the show tonight; though in any case, I'll definitely watch the Sunday matinee, which is the closing.
       Well, it's light out now. Time to go.

Christopher Durang is a playwright and actor, whose plays include Sister Mary Ignatius ... and Beyond Therapy.