When the ball got rolling on turning my memoir into a play, I knew it would be complicated. Depicting a sexual fetish in dramatic terms is tricky. Cutting hair on stage even tricker. My life has been very complicated and I wanted an adaptation that was as thought provoking and complicated as my reality.
I had a discussion with my editor at Coffeetown after opening night that I felt my book would make an excellent playwrighting festival. Give my book to ten different playwrights and tell them to adapt it. Could you imagine Tony Kushner, Edward Albee, Larry Kramer, Gore Vidal, Terrence McNally, Charles Busch, Mart Crowley, and Lanford Wilson all taking a stab at Shorn: Toys to Men? I am seeing a gay theatre version of Sundance with a killer after hours party (maybe more so twenty years ago).
The truth is I was scared of a gay man tackling the adaptation of my book for the stage at first. I have since realized that it was fear that made me think that way. I had detailed discussions with three playwrights before I got the right one. However, I was naively shopping for playwrights with as much thought as I would shop for a bottle of shampoo. Remember: I usually work backstage. It all could have been a disaster.
The first playwright I gave the nod to was a smart, young straight man right out of college. He was very enthusiastic and asked me all the right questions. Playwright number two was a very sweet African-American woman who was just shooting out of the gate with a few nationially recognized pieces. I was fascinated to see what a black woman would do with my book. Number three was a white, heterosexual woman whose work had gotten some great recognition in Seattle. I asked a few friends of mine who had acted in her plays and they gave her the thumbs up. None of these writers ever showed me a line of work done on an adaptation.
My last hope was (homosexual!) Dustin Engstrom. He came highly recommended by at least three people, but I was scared of him. We had worked together for years at Intiman Theatre. I didn’t exactly want my sexual misconduct aired at work until I knew a project would potentially take place. I also was scared to be judged by one of my own kind. Very few people had read my draft at that point and my skin was still pretty thin. He gave me a wonderful unproduced play of his to read entitled George and I knew immediately he could adapt my book. It clicked in my gut and I knew it was a good fit.
A year and a half later, the reviews are out. I got my complicated play! The reviewers don’t seem to agree on anything (except the magnificent dual-role peformance of Scott Shoemaker as my roommate and my dad). Dustin’s script has been analyzed and sparks great comments both good and bad. The play has been both liked and disliked. I don’t pay a whole of attention to reviews, but I marvel at how strongly different they are. To me …that is good art.
I never in a million years wanted my life to be too commerical. I don’t see how it ever would be. I am the opposite of Eat, Pray, Love. I am too edgy for that world. To my knowledge, I am the first person to ever write and publish a memoir about a haircutting obsession. I am Cut, Weep, Renew. I wanted to be honest …to emotionally yank the dark and seedy edges of life and weave them into goodness. I was imprisoned by my seedy obsession, yet I know I could not have been the only prisoner.
Dustin’s play is Dustin’s esthetic. Mr. Kushner or Mr. Albee could take a stab at my book and come up valuable interpretations that I might like. I doubt Neil Simon or David Mamet would be a good fit …but you never know. If only Tennessee Williams were still alive.
I applaud Dustin Engstrom for sticking to his style and creating an imperfect, complicated play based on my imperfect, complicated story. Let the discussions continue.
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