Monday, July 27, 2009

I Interview Playwrights Part 28: Michael Puzzo

Michael Puzzo

Hometown: Old Bridge, New Jersey

Current Town: East Village, NYC

Q: Tell me about this play you have going up.

A: It’s called Lyric is Waiting and we open at Irish Rep on July 30th. Of all my plays this is the one that has always been my not so secret favorite. Mostly because it is so mysteriously odd to me, that it even exists at all. Being a member of LAByrinth Theater Co. I have been lucky enough to be able to have all my plays presented up at our Summer Intensive. I have always found that the safety and support you get from the folks in LAB, gives me more artistic balls than I would ever be able to muster on my own. So about five years ago I decided to take a risk and try something that really scared me. Up until that point I had just written comedies. And just like all those hackneyed sad clown clichés I was always more interested in what I thought was the super serious subtext in my plays then making people laugh. I mean I still to this day can’t tell if Woody Allen’s Interiors sucks or not, but I sure as Hell understand it need to exist. So I set out to write about a very painful codependent relationship I had been in and tried to tell the story in a serious and true way that would not feel like pretentious bullshit. Dunno if I succeeded or not, but people seem to dig it………

Q: Now, you're not in this show, are you? I know you primarily as an actor. (you've been in three readings of two of my plays.) Have you been in your plays? When you're not in it do you wish you were and vice-versa?

A: No, I don’t act in my any of my plays. I mean I feel like there is plenty of me up there already I don’t need to be in the damn thing too. I learn so much about the play from just watching the actors. I would never trade that part of the experience for some bullshit chance for me to show the world how good I am at crying or playing a serial killer or whatever. I have always felt like becoming a playwright was a weirdly natural progression for me. I mean at some point even The Monkees started playing their own instruments and writing songs, right? But I will say, that as soon as I finish rehearsals for one of my plays I always immediately start jonesing to be on stage. With each play I have finished I feel like my acting improves and with each acting gig my writing gets bumped up a notch. But recently I have broken the No Puzzo in his own plays rule. I have been working on an autobiographical solo piece called Guaranteed Second Base that I perform myself. And I have found the writing and acting of it, is so so different than anything I have ever attempted before that I am really digging exploring the possibilities of it.

 Q: You and I have the same agent. Don't you love Seth?

A: I am in the processes of having a statue of Seth built in my backyard

Q: How did you get hooked up with LAByrinth Theater? How long have you been hanging around them?

A: I have been in LAByrinth for 12 years now but I have been loitering on the periphery since they began. In the early nineties my roommate was Elisabeth Canavan who I knew from Jersey. She joined LAB at the very beginning and so I would check out the plays and go to their epic parties. I am not ashamed to admit that the parties were what drew me to them at first. Cuz anyone who has ever hung with the LAB folks, know they can really throw down. So after I finished my two year acting program with Maggie Flanigan, Liz got me and audition for the LAB and I got in. I must point out, that LAB no longer holds auditions, and I have always secretly felt it was because they never wanted someone like me to get in under the wire again. A few summer intensives into my membership Stephen Guirgis suggested I might try writing a play or something and so I did, they put it on and that was that. So much like so many LAB actor/playwrights, I had a new hat!

Q: Tell me a childhood story that is either funny or sad that will explain who you are as a person and how you go through the world.

A: When I was a kid my Dad wanted to be a tough guy. So he was always encouraging me to get into fights play and play contact sports, neither of which I had even the remotest interest in and it drove my Dad bananas. I was forced to play almost everything, and sucked equally and profoundly at all of them. Then I discovered soccer and realized that I could at least fake it. Cuz let’s face it, if you keep running and running at some point you will at least bang into the ball. So I’m eleven and I’m on the second worst teams in the league. The team was filled with the kinda kids who would get their head stuck in the desk or who wore retainers that looked like medieval torture devices. . Jesus, I was the second best player on the team, that’s how bad we were. But what kept us outta last place was Mark Eckert, who was not only our best player, but maybe the best player in the whole league. Now Mark Eckert can best be described as a wiry little bully prick. He was one of those kids who always had a sun burn, and I don’t know why, but kids who always have a sun burn are always so fucking mean, mean, mean. And the target of his harassment was always me. And in a way I brought it on myself, see at that time my idol like every other geeky bookworm was The Amazing Spider-Man. So everything I owned celebrated this. Spider-Man pajamas, belt buckle, socks and of course the focus of Mark Eckert’s constant ridicule my 8,000 Spider-Man tee shirts. Which I wore in rotation to every single practice, despite the fact that this punk would inevitably call me Spider Fag. Which made no sense to me cause I didn’t wanna fuck Spider-Man, I wanted to be Spider-Man! Yet I continued to wear the shirts, until one day I decided to wear two. So I show up to practice rocking the jewel in my collection a classic John Romita, web spinning pose. And on schedule Mark hits me with a barrage of Gaylord, Gaywad and Queer-baits. And so I say “What you don’t like this shirt, well maybe you’ll like this one better!?“ and by this time all the retainered misfits have surrounded us, waiting to see what I’ll do. So I take off my shirt and underneath it I have on a plain white Hanes, that I have taken a red magic marker and written the words : I HATE MARK ECKERT! Now I am fully aware that this is neither clever or original. But it did have the desired effect cuz for the first time every asthmatic, lazy eyed kid became the laugher and not the laughee. And it was deafening, all the sunburn drained out Mark’s smug face. And he began to wail, Tears flying off his face like a lawn sprinkler. And then something amazing happened. He just up and ran away. And we never saw him ever again. Now I pinpoint that as the moment that I became me. Wits over fists. And admittedly it wasn’t all that witty, Like I had finally manned up on my own terms. But that was it. No more, henceforth I will always use my powers for good like a Samurai, like Spider-Man. Now of course the coach and my Father were not too happy, we lost our only good player and we immediately sucked. But I did not have to hit anybody….and hey now I was the number one player on the last place team….which was some sort of distinction, at least in Jersey.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?

A: A couple of years ago I read this article about some indie music star (Sufjan Stevens, I think) and he was asked what kind of music he dug and he said “Friend Rock” meaning that he was into going out and listening to his buddies bands. And so, I guess I like whatever the friend rock equivalent for theater is. And not just because you usually can get comps or because you have to go see it anyway. I get such a visceral thrill from watching my friends practice their art that I just don’t get anywhere else. It always reminds me how fucking lucky I am to be able to get to do this, and so I get inspired. For example last night at the intensive I saw a new play by both Stephen Adly Guirgis and John Patrick Shanley and my first inclination was to go back to my room and write, write, write. I am also looking forward to Cusi Cram’s new play A Lifetime Burning, which is going up in a couple of days. I saw it last summer and it rocks. But my most important theatrical moment happened when I was just starting out. I will never forget seeing John Malkovitch in Burn This, back in 88’. It was a Monday night and I had money from my first real New York City acting job to burn. I went in, knowing nothing about the play or the actor and came out realizing that I knew nothing about the thing I wanted to do with my life. Thank God, Burn This was the only show available on that Monday, or I might be like a Game Show Host today.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A: Grab some actors and have what you have written read out loud as soon as you can. What good is writing a recipe if nobody ever bakes the cake? And do it in front of an audience if you can. It doesn’t matter if it’s your girlfriend and her Grandmother or three strangers in the back of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but it needs to be somebody. Shanley told me once “the audience is a genius” and he’s right, they will tell you everything you need to know. Oh, take an acting class….a good one. You will be surprised how your feelings about actors change when you find out that as much work goes into crafting a character as does crafting a script.

 Link for Michael's show: http://kefproductions.com/current.html

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