The Clyde Fitch Report hearts actor-playwright-director Daniel Talbott. Not just because he’s one of the most talented and fundamentally decent dudes cruising through the Off-, Off-Off-Broadway and regional theater scenes, but because his attitude and outlook are so securely, enviably zen. You just can’t rattle the guy. Not that he’s devoid of passions or opinions — he’s got both, sure — but he isn’t jazzed by immersing himself in the raging, negative, counterproductive mentality of the theater so much as intrigued by the idea that when you have a genre with multiple approaches, ideas, aesthetics and beliefs, it might be smart to spread one’s respect around.
Anyone who has been treated to Talbott’s writing style — particularly his stream-of-consciousness emails, with funky spelling and a punctuation shorthand best characterizedas unique — will be fascinated be Slipping, Talbott’s new play. It is being mounted at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, where Talbott as serves as literary manager, by Rising Phoenix Productions, his acclaimed company, and Piece by Piece Productions, a nonprofit founded in 1999 by actor-producer Wendy venden Heuvel. (She is, by the by, scion of a famous liberal family: sister Katrina co-owns and edits The Nation; dad William is a former ambassador and distinguished American diplomat.)
Talbott’s bio is worth a read:
Daniel Talbott has most recently worked as an actor in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis), Master Builder (Irish Rep), Rocket City (Alabama Shakespeare Festival), Tartuffe (McCarter Theatre/Yale Rep), Marat/Sade (Classical Theatre of Harlem) and the feature film Pretty Bird. Recent directing work includes Birthday and Nobody, both by Crystal Skillman (Rising Phoenix Rep at the Seventh Street Small Stage at Jimmy’s No. 43), The Umbrella Plays (the teacup company/FringeNYC – Overall Excellence Award: Outstanding Play), Fall Forward (Sitelines/River to River Festival produced by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council), and The Reaching (Rising Phoenix Rep). His play Slipping was produced by The Side Project in Chicago in 2008 and was also part of the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, and his play What Happened When was produced at HERE Arts Center and The Side Project this past winter, and was published as part of the Plays and Playwrights 2008 anthology. He received a 2007 New York Innovative Theatre Award for directing, a Drama-Logue Award and two Dean Goodman Choice Awards for acting and was also named one of the 15 People of the Year 2006 by nytheatre.com. He is a graduate of Juilliard and of Solano College Theatre’s ATP, and is a literary manager of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and the artistic director of Rising Phoenix Rep (recipient of the 2007 NYIT Caffe Cino Fellowship Award).
Directed by Kirsten Kelly, Slipping is described in press materials this way:
Alone, numb and friendless after the violent death of his father, high school senior Eli moves with his mom from San Francisco to a fresh start in Iowa. There he develops an interest in a star high school athlete named Jake. A friendship becomes an obsession that slowly leads to Eli’s disintegration and finally to a possible future together.
Currently in previews, Slipping runs Aug. 4 to Aug. 15. For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com. For more information Daniel Talbott and Rising Phoenix Rep, visit www.risingphoenixrep.org.
And now, 5 questions Daniel Talbott has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I wish I had a better answer to this one but I honestly can’t remember, which bums me out. So I’ll say for now that it’s your bonus question. I love what’s going on in Iowa
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I hate the “what’s the best” and “what’s the worst” type of questions in general — someone once asked me which theater company I thought was the best indie theatre company out there. He was very insistent that I only could choose one, and I was like, man, it really doesn’t work that way. Or at least I hope it doesn’t.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I thought it was pretty funny when someone asked me once, “What type of work gets your dick hard and what type keeps it hard?” or something like that. They were very serious when they asked it.
4) Slipping is about a high school senior who “develops an interest in a star high school athlete.” You’re heterosexual. Huh?
Come on, LJ, maybe he just likes the guy’s shoes or his PS3 or something. Why’s it got to be gay? Guys have man-crushes on shoes all the time.
Hee hee, and I wouldn’t say I’m the straightest straight dude on earth. I mean, I don’t drink beer or hang out in bars, my favorite sport is tennis, and I love shopping for clothes and shit, but I’m very much happily married and I never screwed any of my high school’s star athletes, I promise. So writing about a gay character felt totally cool and natural and made just as much sense to me as writing about a straight character or a character who happens to be French or African-American or Asian or Indian or someone who has no arms and legs and likes to suck off dogs. I don’t really think anything is off-limits, or at least I hope it’s not, and most importantly I hope it’s honest or at least tries to be true to Eli and the rest of the characters. I love human sexuality and think there’s so much more to it than straight or gay and all of the fear that surrounds it. It’s not black or white, or at least it shouldn’t be, I think.
5) Why do you think a theater critic might care that you’re heterosexual and have written a play that concerns homosexuality?
I hope they’re cool with it and that I’ve written something that’s strong and small and simple and that honors a lot of the people in my life who are gay and bisexual. I didn’t really set out to write a gay play. I just loved Eli’s struggle and part of that was not a struggle with his sexuality so much as with finding someone who he could love and would be there for him so he could break open after being in such an abusive relationship and feeling lost and alienated by his mom and dad. I was trying to write a lot about family and mental illness and being a teenager and how getting what you want can often be the catalyst for opening up or breaking down and having to face your life. Eli and the play are based on a lot of people in my life, gay and straight, and I love that he’s pretty chill and open about his sexuality and his love of guys. I hope if my son grows up to be gay that he’ll be able to be really chill and at ease with it and never feel like he has to hide who he is or be ashamed of sex or his sexuality in any way.
6) As Slipping takes place in a suburb in Iowa — a state where your two central characters could someday theoretically marry — how much time have you spent in that state? What does Iowa know about love that much of the rest of the U.S. hasn’t a clue about?
My wife Addie’s uncle Paul, who is a minister and married us, is gay and recently married his longtime partner Dave. They’ve lived in Iowa for many years and are both very open and “out and loud and proud,” as they’d put it. Also, one of my best friends, Sarah Wilson, grew up in Iowa, so I wanted a place that I knew people from so the play would hopefully feel authentic in some way; at the same time, I wanted it to be very foreign to Eli and his mother Jan so that in moving from San Francisco they were both entering into a strange land that would challenge them and force them to think and fight to change and begin to grow beyond themselves. I also have always loved how political Iowa gets and how diverse its politics can be. What a wonderful statement for that state to make and how extraordinary to have a place that’s fighting for everybody to be legally equal in some way. I really hope it sticks and that other states get some balls and start picking up on what Iowa’s putting out there. I really can’t believe that it’s 2009 and we’re all still fighting over whether two men or two women or whatever can legally marry each other and work to spend their lives together. When I think about it, it makes me laugh how obsessed some people are with other people’s relationships, as if they for some reason think they have a right to dictate what a real marriage should be. It’s pretty sick and needs to come to an end, especially on a legal level. Love and relationships are very complicated, and should be embraced and honored from every angle.