5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Michael Puzzo

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#113NoNameAn unnatural obsession with a Nirvana song. A sexy librarian. A special appearance by none other than Bigfoot. A little bit of Catholicism, food issues, mental breakdowns, awful breakups — yes, yes, this reads like a soap opera starring the Blue Dog Democrats.

But, in fact, it’s not. It’s some of the many ingredients going into Lyric Is Waiting, a new play by Michael Puzzo that is running Aug. 2 through 22 at Irish Rep (132 W. 22nd St.) — previews began July 30. Adam Fitzgerald directs.

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Puzzo, pictured above, is rather a fascinating dude. Fascinating, sure, due to the hat. It’s pretty fascinating. But more than that, Puzzo has been a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company for 12 years — almost back to the very start of the group that calls people like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Stephen Adly Guirgis “friends” as opposed to rock stars or the equivalent in theater terms.

For more information on Lyric Is Waiting — which is being co-produced by Rhoda Herrick’s South Ark Stage and the delightfully laconic Kef Productions, and features, among others, actors Lori Prince, Kelly McAndrew and Brit Whittle — visit www.kefproductions.com or call 212-727-2737.

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And now, 5 questions Michael Puzzo has never been asked — and a bonus question.

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
When you rehearse a play, it is all about perceptive questions. There is something exciting about being in a room where everybody is trying to get on the same artistic page. And the best way to do that is to ask each other a million and a half questions: “What am I really trying to ask her here?”; “Do you think it makes more sense if I just don’t look at him during the whole fight?”; “Don’t you think the suit should look like he’s never worn it before?” Seemingly benign, but all help tell the story. These are the questions I love most about my work….the ones from the actors, director, designers. The questions that transform my play into ours.

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I think it would be fair to say that the dumbest questions are usually asked at talkbacks by the person who either has the most plastic bags under their seat or is covered with the most cat hair.

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
My parents, Pat and Peggy Puzzo, seem to always have a lotta odd questions. A couple of years ago I was acting in a play and when I asked my Dad what he thought, he said, “What I wanna know is, how can you learn all those lines but you can’t remember your Act of Contrition!” And my Mom pretty much has the same two questions about all of the plays I have written: “Is your father gonna like this one?” and “Is there parking?”

4) Lyric is Waiting is described as a “mysterious and tragic tale” in which a couple, ostensibly passionate for one another, encounters odd situations-like meeting Bigfoot. When you were writing the play, did you just awaken one day and think, Hm, I’ll insert Bigfoot into the play? Or was it somehow organic to your writing process?
Out of context, the Bigfoot character always seems to freak people out a little bit. To me he represents the mystery of my youth. Growing up in the late 70s, Bigfoot was kinda like Greta Garbo in my little mind…yeah, occasionally he made appearances on In Search of… or The Six Million Dollar Man, but mostly it seemed like he just wanted to be alone. He had replaced Santa Claus for me as the big guy I most wanted to exist. But for Lyric, he represents much much more. But you will have to see the play to find out what.

When I first started writing the play, I decided to read the first few pages to a girl I was dating at the time (always a bad idea). I had stopped writing right at the scene where a mysterious figure is about to step out of the shadows and reveal himself to Lyric. The woman immediately asked me, “So who is it gonna be?,” and I told her I thought it was going to be some sort of alien being thing. She said, “Oh, you can’t do that because in the play Proof, the girl talks to aliens.” And so I thought I better come up with something else. And after much thought I settled on Bigfoot, which was waaaaaaay better anyway. A couple years later I read Proof and I am pretty sure there are no aliens.

5) You’re an actor as well as a playwright, and you’ve enjoyed a long association with the LAByrinth Theater Company-12 years. How has working with LAByrinth as an actor influenced your work as a playwright? Has some of that Stephen Adly Guirgis-ness seeped into your style?
As far as how my acting influenced my playwriting, I have always felt like they were the same…you use the same muscles. The only difference is writers put it on the page instead of standing up on the stage.

The only reason I exist as a playwright is ‘cuz of LAByrinth. And it is funny that you mention Stephen because he pretty much challenged me to try my hand, like playwriting was a game of one on one. LAByrinth goes away every summer for a couple of weeks for our summer intensive and workshops a ton of new plays. I wrote my very first script, The Dirty Talk, while the LAB was away at one of those. And before I had a chance to really think about what was happening, I was told I had a slot to present it to the group in a few days. The actors in it were Stephen and David Zayas and so it went real well. I was hooked.

I am so damn lucky because I have had the opportunity to have all the plays I have written so far read out loud by some of our greatest actors in front some our greatest playwrights. The bar is high and I just try and get as close to it as I can.

Stephen always amazes me — it’s like his heart is directly connected to his pen. I think his influence is felt by all of us who try and not be afraid to tell the truth.

Bonus Question:

6) As an actor, what’s the most challenging part of watching a play of yours performed?
Not mouthing the lines along with the actors!