You Countin’ At Me?

As customary, this year’s Valdez Theatre Conference concluded with the annual Monologue Fest, in which about a third of the conference’s actors take turns getting up on stage and presenting one-minute monologues written by that year’s attending playwrights.  Given that it’s only possible to see a fraction of the full plays being presented at the conference, this unruly kaleidoscope provides a marvelous opportunity to check in with and support all of the writers who’ve made the journey to Valdez to workshop their materials.  For this reason – and because I’m a ham who’ll get up and start emoting at the drop of a proverbial hat – I make it a point to participate in the Festival as an actor, as well as a playwright.

This year, I worked on a piece by Sacramento-based playwright Timothy Foley.  It’s a fun, pungent piece, featuring a cab company member showing a young new hire the ropes.  It’s explicitly set in New York City, in the grimy blue-collar milieu of such works as Taxi Driver.  That’s a large part of what drew me to the piece – not that I thought I was staking a claim for myself as the next DeNiro (the part in Tim’s monologue is more the Peter Boyle part anyway), but that I wanted to represent my hometown.

It’s something I’m conscious of all the time anyway, given the high percentage of New York arts professionals who come to the city of my birth from other places to attempt to make a living at their craft.  It’s even more pronounced when I’m in Alaska, working with a high percentage of West Coast and Pacific Northwest artists.  The rhythm is just a bit different, you see.  And the world of Tim’s monologue might seem exotic to them – with its punchy, casually suggested violence in staccato phrases, its confidences made in a syncopated sort of shorthand slang, all the things that come across as “edgy” or “pushy” or whatever people think about New Yorkers – but to me, that’s normal.  I wanted to be sure I was the voice delivering these words precisely because it feels normal to me.  It’s the world outside my apartment window, after all.

Except it isn’t.

Because the monologue is taken from a piece called Hacks: 1974, and as the title might suggest, it’s a period piece.  Set exactly fifty years ago.  Which means that what I think of as my New York – of blue collar stivers pitched against a grimy, impersonal landscape that you can’t help but love anyway – is something that has been gone for half a century.  I don’t want to believe this; if I squint hard enough, I can pretend that the New York city of my childhood is somehow unchanged and still the world my neighbors and I navigate today.  But of course, it’s not; the math simply doesn’t lie.

Oh well.  At least I’ve got acting – getting up and emoting for a minute, even if I have to travel across the continent to do it – to keep me warm.

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