some micro reviews (really micro)

I’ve been in going-to-The Manor-movie-mode lately and have seen some good ones. Here are the micro reviews:

Mud:  Odd story. A bit of suspense and the ending delivers. It works.

Frances Ha: Loved the way it was shot. Very inventive, pleasing sense of place. Cool characters. The premise was a bit weak for my taste. Not enough at stake.

Much Ada About Nothing:  A total treat. Shot in black and white. Beautiful people speaking beautiful language in beautiful surroundings. No big stars. It’s all shot at director Joss Wheden’s house in 12 days — amazing.

Review: Paolino and his gang are great in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

Want to be in a play?

You don’t have to audition, get the part, or rehearse.

Just go to “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” playing through March 23 at CAST in Charlotte. It’s very theatrical, and you’ll be in it.

As a member of the audience, you get to play the part of a wrestling fan. In this bizarre piece of engaging, high energy theater, the characters interact with the audience more than they do with each other.

When they speak, it’s mostly to us, the audience, with a collection of soliloquies, or side talking as they sit among us, or having conversation as they move through the house.

When they connect with each other, it’s less words and more physical — with body slams, power bombs, and kicks.

Bob Paolino, Michael Smallwood, and J.R. Jones in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety.”

Yes, you’re watching something — and you’re inside the experience of a scripted show with people performing around you.

It’s done in the round. The entire set is a wrestling ring. The play, written by Kristoffer Diaz, was a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in drama.

Bob Paolino, of Salisbury, plays EKO, the sleazy mastermind behind all this fakery. For him, diversity in America is an opportunity to create bad guys, attract fans, and cash in on America vs. Everybody Else. With a cigar in his mouth and a wad of money in his fist, he gives a dynamic, comic performance that fills the room. When you step into to the ringside space, Paolino, who plays the owner of THE Wrestling, becomes your Maitre ‘D. You may even experience a swell of Salisbury pride.

Occasionally, the microphone descends from the ceiling and into the ring, and we get a booming announcement from EKO or one of these colorful wrestling personalities..

Michael Smallwood plays MACE, the lead narrator and sole authentic voice in this cartoony bunch. He’s the human glue, given by reluctant generosity, that gives life to this play and this production. MACE  gives us a peek into the world of a guy who wins by losing, the one with superior skill. His job is to lose to the American superstar Chad Deity, played by J.R. Jones. That takes humility and teamwork. He gets paid not with glory, but with the fulfillment of getting to do the thing he loves.

The smoke and lighting create glamour and thrill, but it would take film editing to make Chad Deity’s tooth emit a sparkle when he smiles and preens his biceps.  Jones is brave and corny enough to have you imagine it. Deity is the inferior athlete who revels in getting to win every time. He’s the lucky winner, a complete fake — and he brags about it.

Denny Valentin plays VP, the smaller but tougher “Fundamentalist” with an unusual set of charismatic gifts. He’s got an attitude that turns out to be a double edged sword — one moment the hero, the next moment the foil.

Amid all this charisma, farce, and humor, it’s easy to forget how physically amazing these performances are — and I almost did. Director Michael R. Simmons creates a swirl of words and drama and stage fighting (or wrestling) that’s more complicated than your basic stage play. It’s continuous motion, a choreographic achievement that’s so integral to the show that it’s easy to take for granted. These guys are not only telling us the stories of their lives, but they’re throwing each other around while they do it. Even Paolino, the old guy in the group, gets hammered to the mat.

So here we have a hundred people gathered around a wrestling ring at CAST — Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, for a bright, flamboyant evening of theatre. We have a superb show. It’s fun, real, and intimate — an example of excellent actors doing excellent work. In terms of numbers, that’s nothing compared to the millions who watch professional wrestling. Which is also theatre.

So why is one so much more popular than the other? With theatre, we know it’s not real. We’re told it’s not real. And we tell ourselves that, for a couple of hours, it is.

With professional wrestling, we’re asked to believe that it is real. We know it’s not. But nobody comes out of character in the end and takes a bow. If we want to pretend the whole thing is legit, we can. And some people do.

It’s reality television. We’re told it’s real and we love watching it, thinking it is, knowing it’s not.

So I’m here to say that there’s something about an actor being a human being first, and then a character, and then breaking with character and being him or herself again, that creates a new dimension and requires more from the audience. It’s all theatre, but when it’s on stage, it takes shape, and we, the audience, are asked to bring our own thought and creativity to the experience. We have to. Watching sport is awesome entertainment. Great theatre is that too, plus the chance to think, create, and transform ourselves.

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through March 23 at the theater, 2424 North Davidson St. in Charlotte. Tickets cost between $18 and $28. They are available online at or by calling 704-455-8542. No late seating. This performance contains profanity, body slams, head locks, power-bombs, super-kicks and some sweet chin music. For more information, visit

3 Plays in North Carolina Literary Review

The 2009 issue of the North Carolina Literary Review just came out and three of my short plays are in it: Love Poem, Responsibility, and Ignition Switch.

I’m guessing most libraries in NC subscribe to this journal. They did such a nice job with layout and art.

Also included in the NCLR is an essay called Recovering “moral and sexual chaos” in Tennessee Williams’s Clothes for a Summer Hotel, by Annette J. Saddik.

This brings me to my point (stretching it, though the backdoor):

Like Blanche, who “always depended on the kindness of strangers,” I’m also much indebted, honored, and completely grateful to the editor, Dr. Margaret D. Bauer, and the other editors and staff — all strangers — who somehow picked these three plays. Obviously, this is a fine journal and an enormous project, and they made my little scribbles look really nice in print.

Nicotine Gum

Nicotine gum

Ah, another piece of nicotine gum.

By the time you see this particular piece, it’s been chewed and discarded — along with many others.

I buy the Walmart generic in quantity and chew it all the time.

I ranted against smoking as a child and then took up the habit in college, during a semester in Venice. Everybody did. And we all thought we could quit.

I did quit.  Many times.  Sometimes for years at a time.  I used the patch, the gum, hypnosis, and Smokenders.  Between 1976 and 1996, I probably smoked about ten of those twenty years.

In February of 1997, I quit for good.  The motivation was coughing, bronchitis, and the fear of pneumonia. Said motivation occurred on closing night of a play, Slient Visit.

Silent visit had a barely decent reception as dinner theatre at The Wrenn House, in Salisbury, NC.  Prior to the Charlotte production, one of the actors fell off a horse and injured herself.  The director simply cut her scenes from the show.

The ten year old kid who had the most lines got the flue a couple of weeks before the show.  Then he got behind in school and decided not to rehearse anymore.  He couldn’t remember his lines anyway, when the show was in Salisbury — so he really didn’t remember them in Charlotte.

It was a fairly bad play already, and this made it perhaps one of the worst plays to ever grace a stage in Charlotte, NC.  It ran for two weeks and the audience size ranged from two to ten.  It got two of the most negative reviews I’ve ever read about any play.  Both reviews singled-out the author as the primary problem.  The author of the play was me.

At one point, during rehearsal, someone asked me what kind of play Silent Visit was.  I said it was a “comedy.”   One of the actors responded that she thought it was a “dark drama.”

At a cast party, an audience member asked me what kind of weed I was smoking when I wrote it.

During the excruciating two week run, I smoked myself silly.  When the play closed, I couldn’t stop coughing and could hardly breath.  The next morning I started chewing nicotine gum and have done so every day since.

Nine years.

People often ask if I’ve tried to quit the gum.  Not really.

I’m a drug addict and content to be one.

Often, during intermission of a show, I walk outside, pop a piece of gum in my mouth, and join the smokers.

I’ve made gum runs to Walmart in the middle of the night.

[Note:  With some heavy revision — such that it’s clearly a comedy and makes sense — I think Silent Visit is a weird enough to actually be a decent play.  One day, I may re-visit Silent Visit.]