Etiquette & Benefits
Meet & Greet
The Wooster Group (TWG) has come to San Diego CA to rehearse a new work. The Woosters have not visited before, so why now? I am responsible. A former playwright, a nobody in the theater world, without financial resources or even a car, yet I seem to have persuaded them that I can help them!
The rehearsal space is in the great outdoors. Platforms of different sizes and at different levels offer a set designer many possibilities. Partitions are raised to form hallways and are draped with fabric to create interiors. During construction of the set, Zach Galifianakis, who is not a Wooster Group associate, pokes his head around a corner to say hi. Zach, a stagehand (and perhaps eventual performer), is on his literal hands and knees, laboring to get some exacting detail ordered by director Elizabeth “Liz” LeCompte exactly right.
Zach must be present because I saw him the other day in a CNN documentary about comedy in which he, hosting his show Between Two Ferns, interviews former U.S. president Barack Obama
Next, Woosters past and present gather on the main platform and break off into small groups to rehearse an ensemble piece, a wordless dance. This dream company has more members than TWG has ever had in reality. Although I must be in charge because it’s my dream, I am not pleased by the proceedings. The Woosters go about their business as if I were invisible.
Eventually (and surprisingly to anyone familiar with my repressed nature), I express my frustration (I can’t recall the details), whereupon a man unknown to me, who proves to be an unrepressed person and is holding hard copies of my plays (let’s call him a dramaturge), acknowledges my presence by giving a candid opinion of them. He announces for all to hear that he dislikes my work. I say nothing in my defense.
Now comes a static exterior image of the Church Lofts in downtown San Diego, where my partner Suzanne Daniels and I used to have a loft (2000-2002). The setting bears no similarity to the previous one, but we have not changed locations. The Church Lofts must be on a tv monitor, a regular prop in Wooster productions.
The Church Lofts are cool, worthy of TWG. The loft conversion preserved some of the church. The unit across from us, at least two stories high, was notable for its choir loft. The baptismal font may have been there too. Other artists lived in the building as well during our idyll.
Back at the main stage, an alcove is revealed: It is a designated place for Liz to take breaks and even nap. As the rehearsal ends, I try to return something (?) to her which she has left in the alcove. She and her charges, her people, unconcerned, don’t pause to accept it as they depart.
Fade to consciousness.
Elizabeth LeCompte and anonymous groupie (the necklace was a conversation starter)
In 2007, Suzanne and I could not afford a subscription to The New Yorker. Either our neighbor Robert Stadge (RIP), who left his copies at our door once he was done with them, or my aunt Ruth Hennessy (see Prologue), who mails care packages from NYC, gets credit for the October 8, 2007 issue. After reading its Onward and Upward With The Arts story featuring Elizabeth LeCompte, I rushed to view three Wooster Group DVDs at two local universities. The company’s work has occupied my thoughts ever since, so it is not unnatural that I should turn into a (friendly) s/talker in return. My viewing and s/talking history are at the bottom of the page.
Yours truly has made a pilgrimage to The Performing Garage in Soho, without daring to knock or ring. He has attempted to enter the sanctum as an intern like a Trojan horse, but could commit to weeks rather than months. Shoutouts go to Clay Hapaz (archivist), Jamie Poskin (assistant director) and Kaneza Schaal (performer) for responding to his occasional emails. He put an ad in a San Diego newspaper inviting fellow groupies to a screening of a Wooster DVD. Nobody answered the ad.
I dream of TWG’s travel to San Diego. Money is not an obstacle in dreams, nor are other people’s own desires. Suzanne and I soften up Liz & Co. in the mineral pool at Warner Springs Resort. Kate Valk was suffering from a cold during our post-Vieux Carré chat (we ran into her by chance in her hotel while she waited for the elevator), so I am especially watchful that she is comfortable as we walk across the street in the night to the golf course for a run-through of my rendering of their double dose of Hamlet as a monologue.
It is not lost on any of us that roles have been reversed here: the home team (Suzanne is my prompter) is unknown and untrained, the visitors are famous virtuosos. But Suzanne and I have not just fallen off the turnip truck and (sotto voce) Cry, Trojans! was nothing to write home about, unless the letter’s recipient is receptive to criticism.
It is getting late. Flashlights, substituting for Performing Garage technology, will not deter coyotes or other wild creatures. They could strike at any moment. Nevertheless the show must go on, whether in dreams, reality or somewhere in between. Showings on paper or as electronic text are both better than nothing.
The next day, our group regroups for a farewell picnic in the sun (after the marine layer has lifted) at Torrey Pines Golf Course. To make us all feel at home, replicas of familiar props are in situ: Shaded by Tree Lamps, bubbly chills on the Table while we take turns sitting in the Chair/Throne. Every tee time has been bought, so no golfer mars the ocean and canyon vistas. Wooster luminaries Kate, Scott Shepherd and Ari Fliakos want to play. They have given ample proof of their athleticism over the years, witness Kate in House/Lights and Scott and Ari’s game of badminton in To You, The Birdie!. Scott has a photographic memory, so posterity won’t miss a thing.
Hallways of fabric—outdoors—maybe origin is Cristo. Zach is not part of the group either, he is a friendly presence who acknowledges you, not a Wooster.
More members than in reality—your head (stage) is crowded with Wooster, its impact on you, its significance communicates in multiplied images of presence—but wordlessly. Also, the nightmare is part physical (v. verbal)—it is visceral. Re “I am not pleased…”: What are the underlying feelings? Betrayal, for example?
Your life has become a static exterior image, part of the play—which shows how deeply you have internalized the concept of “Woosters,” allowing “it” to judge you, as you strive to please “it” → HER (Liz).
The scene on the main stage represents pure, painful rejection. The “alcove” is a very private feminine space revealed—but withheld. The language of the paragraph is of abandonment and endings.
Language of translation, e.g. turn into, in return, shows movement of your thoughts as they revolve around your insecurities/neuroses embedded within “Wooster Group,” whose very name carries rejection inside—group (excludes, rejects). At the bottom of the page = at the bottom of my unconscious, some private alcove or sanctum.
Third person emphasizes a written entity. It mitigates “his” enumerated attempts to trespass, transgress; there is danger inside. Calling out for group, fellow groupies. No one, no body, answers.
Transgression of s/talking at most aggressive thus far. An obstacle, “nor are other people’s desires,” seems not imbued with shame. Time has been bought, by dreams. Soften up v. the critic with hard copies, the hard truth. By chance, par hazard in French, protests against trespass. Potent liquid metaphor: double dose. But also to transform/distill essence. Your rendering also takes apart, destroys. Monologue v. converse/chat.
The written is emphasized again—also weakened (sotte voce, solo verbalization). Note of aggression stronger, yet always against self and a paradox of no communication (“nothing to write home about”). At the same time, your gaze perceives actively and passively. Viewing/seeing/imaging (active) one’s own story. “History” repeats with s/talking. Is s/talking (active) forbidden, discouraged? (He) is talking. S/talking contains thwarted desire—to talk/communicate, an attempt to force one’s way into the alcove, the (inner) sanctum, The Performing Garage, Liz’s vagina. Perhaps your therapist’s too.
Life seems shorter (“It is getting late”). Panic over perceived lack.
Last paragraph: synthesis/acceptance of different parts of you—your writing/staging, golf, social persona, it is hinted, via successful Wooster Group (re)group, s/talking encounter. However, the happy ending is dependent upon a total fantasy, albeit one that reintegrates your desires, lost and part objects. Perhaps the wild animals that could strike at any time serve as a warning to and from the unconscious: Beware of what you demarcate as necessary to your “happiness,” i.e. fulfillment. Can it bear the (flash)light?
Approved: Suzanne Carol Daniels
La Didone, 2009
North Atlantic, 2010
Vieux Carré, 2010
Early Plays, 2013 (collaboration with New York City Players)
Cry, Trojans!, 2014
The Town Hall Affair, 2017
House/Lights (San Diego State University), 2007
The Emperor Jones and White Homeland Commando (University of California, San Diego), 2007
Brace Up!, 2017
To You, The Birdie!, 2017
Rumstick Road and The B-Side, 2020
Frank Dell’s The Temptation of St. Antony (New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center), 2014
Flaubert Dreams of Travel But the Illness of His Mother Prevents It (Electronic Arts Intermix, West 22nd Street, NYC), 2019
Elizabeth LeCompte, La Didone, LA, 2009
Kate Valk, Vieux Carré, LA 2010
Ari Fliakos, Cry, Trojans!, LA, 2014
Scott Shepherd, The Town Hall Affair, LA, 2017
Teresa Hartmann (stage manager)
Cynthia Hedstrom (producer)