Bourgeois Pretensions, or Biscuits and Gravy
Timothy Braun, Editor-In-Chief of New and Social Media for The Fusebox Festival, reporting from Austin, TX.
Three days before he arrived in Austin, I sent Mac Wellman an email. I wondered if he remembered me. I met Wellman in the summer on 1998 in Northern Ireland. He was the playwriting instructor in a fellowship program I was attending that jammed together a collection of college-aged students from across the States, England, Ireland, and Germany. There, Wellman showed me his ideas on bad theatre, how to salvage a corked bottle of wine, and the importance of find the right collaborator. Wellman emphasized I could work as hard as I wanted on a play, but I needed to find the right collaborators for my plays to work the way I wanted. That summer he introduced to director David Levine. We worked on an adaptation of “Alice In Wonderland” set at the Oklahoma City bombing.” I’ve collaborated with Levine a few times since, but he lives in Berlin now and we just don’t get see each other anymore. However, he is still the first person I think of when I finish a play.
Wellman came to Austin for the 9th annual Fusebox Festival. He brought “Muazzez” a play derived from a collection of short stories entitled “A Chronicle Of The Madness Of Small Worlds.” All of the stories in the book take place on various asteroids, and Muazzez is an asteroid that is home to an abandoned cigar factory. This cigar factory is in an existential crisis, this “twelve acres of crumbling brick and mortar” has always assumed he is human, or at least humanoid, but now isn’t certain. He has dug too deep, and “what I had taken for bedrock now seemed sand.” By the way, I’m not missing a word in there. That is the actual line, and in the hands of the wrong collaborator I can see how it would sound like a mistake, but it didn’t.
“Muazzez” features Steve Mellor, Wellman’s longtime collaborator, as the concerned cigar factory, sitting at a table, drinking water, simply talking with the audience. Wellman’s work is unique and precise in language, more than other writers I’ve come across, and his work goes in two different directions; either extremely good, or extremely odd, depending on the production. The result of Mellor on the asteroid is an intimate story, a good collaboration between a writer, an actor, and their audience.
When Wellman and Mellor came to Austin, Fusebox Artistic Director Ron Berry, TCG’s Eliza Bent (a current student of Wellman’s), and I had lunch for what we thought was going to be an interview about the piece, but over mushroom sandwiches, bloody marys, and biscuits and gravy the afternoon quickly dissipated into watching two friends, two long time collaborators, tell stories of their adventures in the theater world. Wellman started with talking about BACA, the short lived but legendary Brooklyn site known for producing three of Erik Ehn’s Saint Plays, and how there just aren’t many places like BACA anymore, but the afternoon was mostly spent with Mellor telling stories of their adventures in London and Italy where “Terminally Hip” did well, and musing over a New York City that has changed over the years. Things are much more expensive now. It is harder to produce work in the Big Apple. My favorite story involved a site-specific piece in Central Park in which a passer-by yelped “Bourgeois Pretensions” at their show as Jeff Jones of The Little Theater barked on a blow horn. I hope I’m getting this story right. I was laughing rather hard.
As the lunch went on I began to think that collaboration for these two is less a way of looking at work, and more a way of looking at life and all the adventures they’ve had, a way of looking at “things”. Collaborating on work is a lens through which we see ourselves, our own places together, and our own time together. I wonder if Wellman and Mellor see themselves in each other, in the words the write and speak. As the lunch ended I stopped worrying if Wellman remembered me, and I thought about texting Levine. I have an idea for an adaptation of “The Cherry Orchard” with robots and toasters. It would work well in Berlin, and I wanted to tell my old friend watching Wellman and Mellor musing over bourgeois pretension was as nice a combination as biscuits and gravy.
This performance was part of Fusebox’s 2013 Featured Projects series.