For the past three weeks, I've been house-sitting for David Grimm. Sound familiar? The DC reading audience should remember his name from a curious little spat at Studio Theatre in November 2001 when Mr. Grimm hopped down the coast to catch Second Stage's production of his play, Kit Marlowe.
A brief history. Kit Marlowe was my very first professional job. After a long audition process that involved no less than four rounds of callbacks, director Mike Chamberlain gave me the part of Henry Percy -- a small, two-scene role with perhaps four lines. John Cohn was Kit, Carlos Bustamante was Thomas Walsingham. I also met Tim Getman, Dan Via and Hugh Owen through this production. We often speak of this show with the kind of boyish pride normally reserved for bar-fight scars.
Kit Marlowe remains memorable for other reasons. There was the night the set caught on fire, for example. Looking back, most of the cast-mates agree: the production would have met a more dignified end had it simply burnt to the ground that night. No one would have been hurt, and the building would have been instantly razed for the $3million condos that have been built over Studio's Church Street space since then.
But instead, we were shut down by lawyers and publicists. Mr. Grimm left at intermission (before my scene!) and somewhere around Thanksgiving, I got a call from Studio asking if I was available to hop back in to a Grimm-approved version of the show.
What does that mean, exactly? Well, for anyone unfamiliar with the play, Kit Marlowe chronicles the rise and fall of the playwright Kit Marlowe -- using a style and structure that could be described best as ... yes ... Marlovian. Our director made several modifications to the script -- modifications that probably would be celebrated or at least encouraged if the playwright were dead. I think Grimm's scrupulous formalism triggered the "re-imagining" lobe in Mr. Chamberlain's brain. So we had characters that were split into separate parts. We had a collision of modern and Elizabethan dress. We had one character speaking Spanish (even though he was an Englishman in France). We had excessive fight choreography that spilled on top of dialogue. We had a wonderful mess: critical failure and commercial success.
When Grimm had the production shut down, most of the actors were relieved. As a novice, I just assumed that this was the way things worked in professional theatre. You know ... actors getting respiratory infection from dank, dusty performance spaces ... playwrights issuing cease and desist orders ... spontaneous set fires ... all that. I had a great time.
Fast forward to 2006. I meet David through cast-mate Nicole Lowrance. I needed a place to stay rent-free and David needed someone to feed his cats while he was off at Sundance developing Steve & Idi. So before he took off for Utah, we got to sit down and patch together the Kit-tastrophe.
I guess I mention all this because it's a handy historical marker for me. Absent a permanent home or job in NYC, I cling to anything that gives me a sense of when/where I am. So reminiscing about Kit Marlowe (my intro to DC theatre) with the playwright (shortly after my intro to NYC theatre) gave me some much-needed perspective on where I am and what I've done with my life these past five years. A neat, little chapterizing bow, I guess.
I have another story about Small World playwright encounters, which I'll share tomorrow. It's less rueful and more embarrassing than this one.