went to their maker impeccably shaved

8/29/06

This is going to be another chapter in my lifelong treatise on Dorks, but a trip to New York City in the middle of a Los Angeles summer can throw the subject into stark relief. We saw a number of great shows in Manhattan this trip, namely Sweeney Todd, Air Guitar and The Further Cuteness of Hank and Lucy.

Except for the latter, a true current of dorkdom, in all its fabulousness, runs through the work. “Sweeney Todd,” which is basically about a barber who kills everyone who comes into his shop, was a revelatory experience: the entire musical was orchestrated by the actors themselves, dragging around cellos, tubas, violins and oboes depending on the song. And this music is no walk in the park – littered with key changes, time-signature craziness, and a touch of opera, it was a tour de force on behalf of everyone in it.

Times may be changing, but I don’t think LA would appreciate the show because it’s a town that doesn’t particularly value its dorks. In order to play Tobias in “Sweeney Todd,” you would need to take violin for at least twenty years, piano for ten, voice lessons for a decade, be an accomplished actor, LOOK like an actor, and then make people cry eight performances a week. That limits your potential cast down to a handful of people, and I guarantee all of them come from attic rooms and basements and vast stretches of childhood without friends.

Across town, “Air Guitar” is a much more complicated play than it would seem. It concerns the story of a schlub named Drew who wants to be a famous solo guitarist, but only comes into his own when he picks up an invisible instrument and starts winning Air Guitar competitions around the country.

What’s fascinating about this show is that Drew is a dork, whiddling around with his own turgid, navel-gazing music in the darkness of his YouTube-like bedroom, and is only accepted when he parrots the adulatory shredding of his alter ego Ulrich and another guy named, of course, Jammin’ Bread.

But there’s several levels of dork going on here: Drew himself, and then the actual band Gods of Fire playing the actual music right behind the actors on stage. Further behind them is my brother Sean himself, lyricist Jordana and playwright Mac, all of whom (I don’t think they’d mind me saying) are dorks themselves, having sacrificed good portions of their upbringing in order to wow you. It’s a meta-meta-experience that was not lost on me, and getting 24 good laughs in was only gravy.

Why do I mention all this? I guess because in an age of irony, an age of parody, of tangential references and constant nostalgia, our generation has done a pretty piss poor job of coming up with something original to say. The fact that hipsters have now fully embraced nerdism in every aspect of culture means that the actual dork is harder and harder to come by. Which is infinitely sad, because they are the ones that will provide the creative fuel to get us through the first half of this century. They will be Lucy’s heroes, they will make her friends laugh, they will write the songs that make the whole world sing.

So I say a HUZZAH to the cast of “Sweeney Todd,” to Sean, Mac and Jordana, to everyone who is still hellbent on creating new work, discontent to rest on laurels, not satisfied with the easy joke or lazy sarcasm. I hope I’m keeping up my end of the bargain too, and may we never grow complacent.

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Sean and I pose in front of the Playwright’s Sidewalk plaque in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre

0 thoughts on “went to their maker impeccably shaved

  1. GFWD

    There are still 20 stars left in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Assuming David Mamet gets his place out front, that still leaves Sean and Jordana 19 chances to earn a star.

    Reply
  2. Sean Williams

    You’re the first and only person so far to mention the meta-meta-ideals in the play, and I can’t tell you how awesome that is. The whole play was supposed to be, partially, a look at the levels of creation, and the levels of commitment to a craft. Thanks for seeing it, as it didn’t seem to be all that obvious.

    Reply
  3. Rebecca from OC

    It sounds like an awesome weekend. Wait, I was there, it was awesome! Clearly, I deserve some sort of dedicated blog reader award, since it appears that I was the only reader not falling into the category of friends and family to actually attend.
    And just to reiterate, so as not to seem to be a total wacko, my attendance was purely a crime of opportunity. I was in NY, my in-laws were watching the kids, my brother-in-laws apartment on Broadway was within walking distance of both the theaters, and most importantly, my husband was willing.
    So yes, fellow readers, I met Ian and Tessa, and saw many others in the Williams clan. Contrary to what you may read here on occasion, they are not fat! Tessa and Ian were gracious and warm in the few moments I spoke to them. I was actually too embarrassed to speak to anyone else, but I did see Mom, Steve, Michelle Jordana, Sean (on stage) and Bud.
    Matt and I had a wonderful weekend away in the city, which we probably would not have done had we not had these events to attend. He has a brother and 3 cousins in the city and they were all shocked to hear we were attending some Fringe Festival events. How hip of us! And we’re over 35!
    So thanks again for the invitation. And don’t worry, if you ever invite us to an event in LA, we probably wouldn’t attend. You know, babysitting issues.
    The kids and I are leaving NY for LA tomorrow. This rain has been driving us crazy!

    Reply
  4. CL

    Lucy gets so much love and support that it’s quite possible that she may become…popular! How will you ensure that she’s a dork? She might not want to study violin or see sci-fi flicks. Just make sure she’s nice to little red-haired boys with glasses.

    Reply
  5. hilary

    i was so completely humbled by the talent onstage during sweeney todd, which i saw a few months ago. i actually can’t believe that it’s made it this far in new york (in this fluffball broadway climate), i think it’s hugely due to the star power and genius of patty lupone. great, now i have that joanna song in my head, which is haunting. and air guitar ROCKED. i am so glad i went to it–sound issues aside, the lyrics were clever indeed and the performances were all tip top.

    Reply
  6. NOLAcathie

    I’m also a dedicated blog reader not fitting into the “friends and family” category who attended both plays on Saturday, and I can safely say that I was probably one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) fan of Ian’s writing and Williams family artistic talents there!
    The cool gray weather, superb theater, excellent time spent with my daughters (we were busted by hotel security at 1 a.m. with a noise complaint!), and meeting many of the Williams family, all made for one of those extraordinarily rare weekends, perfect in every sense, but way, way too short.
    Thanks Ian for your kind invitation to join you all in your after theater celebrating, but from the photo yesterday I can clearly see that I would have been way out of my league. My drinking days are long gone!

    Reply
  7. Ian

    It was awesome to meet NOLAcathie and her daughters – now we HAVE to find a way back to New Orleans in the next few months. And I think you would have been fine at the bar, our drinking was relatively tame until midnight or so.
    Also, Rebecca and her husband rock for coming into the city! I hope we provided a break from the kids and you got around swimmingly. Thank you so much for coming.
    And need I say that hilary’s daughter Stella, the same age as Lucy, is unbelievably cute with a 400-watt smile?

    Reply
  8. NOLAcathie

    Our doors are always open and we would love to have you all here anytime!
    We’re two blocks from Audubon Park and the zoo, and have a built-in playmate for Lucy…my granddaughter Lucy who spends everyday with me from noon until 6 pm..
    Lots of great restaurants have re-opened, and despite the ultra-negative national media reports, it’s still an awesome place to visit.
    Hope you will find your way down here again too!

    Reply

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