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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Last Play

So there's this new play, "My Last Play," that been getting a fair amount of publicity due to an intriguing article in the NY Times.

I'm completely sold on this piece; I cannot wait to see it.

As one who has spent, well, a lot of time recently pondering my place in the theater world and theater's place in mine, taking part this rumination on how a person could come to their last play is more than interesting to me - it seems necessary.

Of course, there's also the speculation that this might not actually be his last play, rather a gimmick or a complicated form of subversion. The NY Times article says that,

If this all sounds overly self-referential (and it should) and maybe a little self-pitying and overwrought — Mr. Schmidt confesses in the play that his sister-in-law, a therapist, is fearful that he’s suicidal — well, hold on. A sly boots of a playwright and a gifted dissembler, Mr. Schmidt has been known to subvert traditional theater forms.

Which says-without-saying that this miiiiiiight not be as truthful as it's purported by its author to be.

And then, later, his brother comes right out and says it:

“I don’t necessarily buy that this is his last play,” Steve Schmidt said. “I see it as of a piece with the direction his career has gone. He’s playing very creatively with what is fiction and what isn’t and with ways of manipulating the audience.”

There have also been some grumblings, some general cynycism about the veracity of the piece across my twitter-feed. Someone likened it to a Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary type hoax.

Me? I really don't care.

I don't think it matters whether or not he ever writes a play again. The point is, he was there. Somewhere, at some point, for some reason, he sat down and looked at himself in the mirror and said, I don't have it in me to do this anymore.

And at the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, that rocks you. It changes who you thought you were and what you thought you were capable of. Everything you ever believed about humanity, love, faith, life, is twisted up somehow in that passion for the art and when it leaves you, well, that means all the other stuff leaves as well. And what do you do when you come to that point? What do you believe in, who are you at all when nothing you understood about the world seems relevant?

In the end it doesn't matter whether you come back from that edge, just standing over it leaves you a kind of bereft that doesn't heal over too quickly. I know, because I've been there. And, what's more, I'm pretty sure almost everyone else in theater who's been around long enough has too.

It reminds me a pair of short stories in Tim O'Brien's astounding meditation on Vietnam, The Things They Carried. In the first, he recalls a memory of a soldier he killed, of the guilt and fear and horror he felt staring into the young enemy's dead face - no more than a boy, really.

Later, he confesses that the story was made up. He never actually killed a man while serving in Vietnam. But he might have. He would have. And he is left with "faceless responsibility and faceless grief." To imagine the man, to evoke the story wherein he pulls the trigger, is only to give substance to a truth he already feels.

"'Daddy, tell the truth,' Kathleen can say. 'Did you ever kill anybody?' And I can say, honestly, 'Of course not,'" says O'Brien. "But I can also say, honestly, 'Yes.'"

I would imagine if anybody were to ask Ed Schmidt if he's really done his last play, he might very well be able to honestly answer, "No, of course not." But he can also honestly answer, "Yes." And so can I.


  1. You forgot to say that the play is performed in the playwright's apartment and that there are only 12 seats AND that he encourages the audience to take a book from his shelves before parting at the end...the play will run as long as the books last.

  2. Yes, which is why I'm SO happy I made sure to get tix! There are still some available, but for only 4 shows in March...