'Plaint of the Playwright

'Plaint of the Playwright

[ Monday, January 28, 2002 ]

October, 1996.

Still rehearsing NaziBoy at Broom Street theater.

Getting bolder.

Getting cockier.

Getting an idea.

I tell Joel that I can do a neat blood effect for the show.

Joel gives no answer that could be considered a postive comment.

With Joel Gersmann, you can't talk in concepts. He's got to see it, or it doesn't exist, and he forgets quickly.

I tell Bob Mocerro, who tells me, "just do it. He'll never even consider it unless you do it. That's the only way he'll belive it's real."

Will you help me show him, Bob?

"Oh, sure. This is gonna be fun."

The next day, Bob gets Joel's attention before the rehearsal.

Joel is cranky (like he's ever anything else), but the rest of the cast is interested, so he sits on the bleachers, and says:

"Okay, show me."


Bob walks over to me.

Kneel, Bob, I say.

He does.

Bob: Tongue.

Bob sticks out his tongue as far as he can.

I pull out a straight razor.

I slice open Bob's tongue.

Blood sprays in a yard long stream, as Bob winces--there's so much fake blood coming out of the pump that Bob is surprised by it. His wince sells the bit even further.

This is a moment I will treasure forever.

The look on everyone's faces: Grossed out, yelling, applauding, laughing, screaming.

Joel is the most grossed out of them all.

He runs up to me, laughing.

"Can you get me eight of those knives?"

A week later he cuts the scene.

Rock On, Sisterfriend.

Part 4: That's Not A Fatal Wound.

Well, okay, he doesn't really cut the scene so much as he just never discusses it again.

This is another way things happen in a Joel Gersmann show.

You just sort of do or don't do things.

I have already improvised one more gunshot in the show than he has told me to do--I'm just sort of in the moment and it happens--but I figure he'll just tell me not to do it.

He never does.

This is often how you find out when Joel likes things you do. When he doesn't tell you.

The rehearsal goes on. Some general incidents:

One night there is an arguement between one member of the cast and the rest of us, in regard to the jewish dance we're all doing, or trying to do. I suggest that instead of jumping up and down as we dance in a circle, that it should be more of a walk.

The actor in question throws a hissy fit over this, and we have to take a break.

I show up late to one rehearsal, to discover that Joel has kept everybody from rehearsing until I get there--just so he can send them home when I finally arrive.

I invite a friend to the rehearsal, Rebecca Rosenak, and Joel responds back with, "It's okay for now, but if anyone else comes through that door that I don't know, they're red meat!"

Joel tells us that we will all be playing furniture in one scene. I offer to be the bear rug, thinking that this will be the easiest job. As I lie on my back, Joel tells me that that is not how bear rug lie. He changes it to me laying face down. With my eyes and mouth open.

Joel has a problem with Dan Konar's performance as Pastor Wessel, Horst Wessel's father. He has Konar do the scene repeatedly, forcing him to go offstage and come back on each time. One of the times, I have him throw me out the curtain, like in a western. Joel is not amused.

After taking a day to think about it, Joel decides the solution to Konar's performance is to cut all of the verbs out of all of his lines, so a typical line sounds like this: "Hitler. Germany. Now! I! Prayer!"

One rehearsal, Joel never shows up. He instead sends Konar to the theater with a note, telling us that the previous rehearsal "demoralized" him. We decide to rehearse anyway. Rick Vorndran tells me that this is standard operating procedure for Joel: he always refuses to come to at least one rehearsal. And things always go much smoother on the night when he's not there.

We open.

It's a show that hits audiences--for Gersmann, this is The Old Stuff. The heat is back, I tell people.

Callen Harty (who I don't really know all that well at this point) comes up to me and hugs me after the show, saying, "Ohhhh...beautiful."

One night, I have a sore throat so bad that I can barely talk--my bartender character sounds suspiciously like Moe The Bartender from The Simpsons. My lines end up being divided up amongst the cast. Rick Vorndran tells me that with hard work, we can completely erase any cast member.

Another night, my cousin Takeo comes into town all the way from New Jersey. Because of the flight schedule, I can't meet him at the airport, so the first time he sees me is when I come on stage.

He hasn't seen my hair yet.

I treasure that look on Takeo's face in my darkest hours.

Dan Konar and I start a before-show tradition: A freestyle human beatbox riff, loud enough for the audience to hear, which we call The Hitler Rap. Konar starts calling me "MC Sheeta." My new album, he says, will be called "Sheeta Ice."

During a car ride to Joel's house, Joel tells me that he never wants to do another Nazi show again. He later adds that he wants to do a show called "A Very Nazi Christmas." I react by telling him that I stand a better chance of not using guns in my writing than he does of not writing another Nazi play.

Think of your Japanese audience, man, I say. You should do other shows about other fascism in World War II.

"Like what?"

How about "Yoshi's Heroes?" Or "Leave It Toshiba?"

Joel laughs so hard he's near tears as I continue to crack him up.

On closing night, I get a little trigger happy. Joel's paying for the blanks--and he loves them. For the first time, I'm getting to fire my own guns on stage.

An actor--the same one who threw the hissy fit--tell me not to shoot so much, since the shell casings get all over and it's very loud when I shoot him.

I respond by popping two Beretta replicas off 22 times in under three seconds. I time it.

Another scene, where I'm supposed to shoot Konar offstage, goes something like this:

"Please! Don't kill me! No--"


"Ow, my kneecap!"


"Ow, my other kneecap!"


"Ow, that's not a fatal wound!"


"That'll do it!"

It gets a laugh.

Our last form of defiance comes at the end of the show, when we come out for a curtain call. Joel never does curtain calls. He doesn't believe in them.

We do ours singing "Deutschland, Uber Alles" to the tune of "On, Wisconsin." The lyrics fit better than you'd think.

After the show closes, Joel comes up to me.

"I want to do your show."

My show?

"Yoshi's Heroes! I can't do it. But you can! Do you want to direct during the 1998 season?"


"We'll talk. It'll be like one of those mobster movies where we sit in a hot tub, smoking cigars! Do you want to do it?"

Yes. Yeah!

"Since you're our first minority director, do you mind if I play the race card?"

Vroom, vroom, baby.

Vroom, vroom.

To Be Continued...

(and for a special bonus prize, click here.)

posted by Rob on 8:22 AM | link



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