Published by Cune Press and subtitled How The Theater Saved My Life and Has Been Killing Me Ever Since, Fife's book recaps his career as a playwright and screenwriter still waiting for his big break. The native New Yorker (who lives in Los Angeles) talks about his adaptation of Sholem Asch's 1907 Yiddish melodrama God of Vengeance. Innovative theater director Joseph Chaikin directed the play's Southeastern premiere for a 7 Stages / Jewish Theatre of the South co-production in 1998, and Fife chronicles his involvement with the show.
Chaikin frequently collaborated with 7 Stages up until his death last year, and Fife focuses on the thrills and disappointments of working with one of his artistic idols. But after multiple strokes and open-heart surgeries, Chaikin's frail health left him a shell of his former self, according to Fife, who finds the director friendly but inattentive to the creative needs of his play.
By his own admission, Fife is an unreliable reporter who contradicts himself and admits to fuzzy memories. 7 Stages' Del Hamilton and Jewish Theatre of the South's Mira Hirsch both dispute some of Fife's facts. For instance, Fife says "rehearsals were limited to three to four hours a day due to Joe's infirmity," but Hamilton refutes that, saying they were the theater's standard five to six hours.
In Best Revenge Fife labors to make a virtue of his own subjectivity, offering a dirty-thoughts-and-all self-portrait in extreme close-up, in the model of early Philip Roth. He amusingly mentions his resentment of more successful playwrights and moments when he angles for more respect. But Fife proves so touchy and self-absorbed that he comes off sounding shrill and whiny, and he relies on weak jokes, like the fact that "Buckhead" rhymes with "fuckhead." When he sees Nazi influences in everything from God of Vengeance's promotional flyer to the Alliance Theatre's production of Aida, you can't tell if his ire is meant to be self-parody.
He gets a grip on himself in a few chapters. When Chaikin permits Fife to direct the play's famous scene of sapphic tension, Best Revenge calmly explores the craft of blocking and directing stage plays. But Fife shows little interest in the ideas or opinions of anyone except Chaikin, and while he finds plenty to complain about (like the presence of only two Jewish actors in the production), Best Revenge provides few insights into Atlanta theater.
Solo act In Best Revenge, Fife attempts a prose style reminiscent of autobiographical monologist Spalding Gray -- a form the silver-haired actor called "creative narcissism." In live productions and films of his one-man shows like Swimming to Cambodia and It's a Slippery Slope, which he performed at Atlanta's Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in 1996, Gray described his neuroses and phobias in stylish, hilarious and moving terms -- but the performer may never do so again. Gray has been missing since Jan. 10, and circumstantial evidence indicates that he may have leapt off the Staten Island Ferry. He suffered from dark depression following a 2001 car accident, which he'd been describing in a new monologue called Life Interrupted -- a title with retrospective irony.
Gray popularized a low-tech but engaging form of theater as confessional storytelling. Atlanta's Kt Kilborn, author of the monologue Underground TRANSit, suggests that Gray found mainstream popularity by being less political than other monologists such as Tim Miller. Locally, you can find Gray's influence in spoken-word artists like Karen Wurl and Daniel Meredith's Flying Through Life in a Fetal Position, a monologue about growing up gay in Alabama that plays Essential Theatre's Festival of New American Theatre Feb. 22, Feb. 29 and March 7 at the Top Shelf space at Dad's Garage.
Concerns of youth Atlanta's newest theater company, Relativity Theatre Concern, will take its first steps March 15-31 with Neil LaBute's art-world drama The Shape of Things. Producing artistic director (and former Creative Loafing intern) Gabriel Dean, managing director Jessie Dougherty and director of new works Chadwick Yarborough founded the company targeting young artists and audiences.
Relativity's first season includes a newly commissioned translation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's head-spinning comedy The Physicists (July 12-28), Dean's own translation of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba in October and an original musical in early 2005. The company will stage Shape and Physicists Monday-Wednesday at Actor's Express, with other dates and locations to be announced.
Off Script is a biweekly column on the Atlanta theater scene.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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