In the hierarchy of skanky social-meeting spots, airless backrooms seem as quintessentially old-school as phone-sex lines, answering machines, pocket calculators and punch-card dating services, and just as memorable. It takes a play on the order of Daniel Reitz’s Afterclap to remind us that backrooms are ideal sites for drama — post-alcohol drama.
Rising Phoenix Repertory commissioned Afterclap for the “extremely intimate close quarters in the basement space of downtown restaurant Jimmy’s No. 43” in the East Village, as the press materials aptly put it. Put differently, and speaking from experience, the backroom at hand is tighter than a woman’s womb in the midst of contractions while the midwife is on vacation. Yet that is the counter-intuitive elegance of the space: there’s nowhere to go or look. You can try to think beyond the action before, but theater in this space is a focusing exercise for both actors and audience. With the right piece, it can be the opening of a limitless world.
Very often it’s also a sad, disorienting world. In the case of Afterclap, Reitz sets the play at 4am in the backroom of a bar; a naked dude on the floor, played by Haskell King, is not only unsure how he came to be there but is deeply reluctant to remember. There was an “afterclap” in his recent past — that is, “the unexpected damage that follows the end of an affair.” What he doesn’t know is if the damage is permanent.
Reitz is a highly accomplished playwright and screenwriter, a member of New Dramatists, and possesses, among other qualities, a sardonic, serrated-edge approach to character. His bio is one not to be dishonored with this summary:
Recent productions include Studies for a Portrait (London: White Bear Theatre and Oval House Theatre). Recent New York productions of his plays include Self-Portrait in a Blue Room, which was part of the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 2007 Marathon; Fall Forward, commissioned by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and produced in the LMCC Sitelines/River-to-River Festival with Rising Phoenix Repertory; and Rules of the Universe, which received the 2007 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Short Play. Other plays include his adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Urban Folk Tales, Lowlife, The Pleasure Principle, Everything I Do I Do for You, Chat, and Perfect Evening. His work has been developed and/or produced at theatres including the Mark Taper Forum’s New Work Festival, Coast Playhouse (Los Angeles), Ensemble Studio Theatre, Manhattan Class Company, Naked Angels, New Dramatists, New York Stage and Film, Playwrights Horizons, Primary Stages and the Joseph Papp Public Theater. He has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Drama-Logue Award, and residency fellowships from the Edward Albee Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, The Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Scotland, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Yaddo Corporation. His plays have been published by Smith and Kraus, New York Theatre Experience, United Stages and Playscripts, Inc. His screenwriting work includes Urbania, his feature film adaptation of his play Urban Folk Tales, which was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, was an official selection of the Seattle and Toronto film festivals, and was voted “Best Film” at festivals in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Provincetown prior to its release by Lionsgate Films in 2000. He has also written and directed several short films, including, most recently, Room Service, which have been screened in festivals in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia. He is a member of New Dramatists and Rising Phoenix Repertory.
Directed by RJR artistic director Daniel Talbott, Afterclap runs Feb. 8 through Feb. 22 in the backroom of Jimmy’s No. 43 — officially called the Seventh Street Small Stage (43 E. 7th St.) — with performances Sundays through Fridays at 6pm, and a special performance on Sun., Feb. 21, at 9pm. The running time is 40 minutes (if you’re naked and don’t know why after 40 minutes, why bother?). For tickets, call 646-510-2235 or visit www.risingphoenix.org.
And now, 5 questions Daniel Reitz has never been asked — and a bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
It wasn’t a question someone asked but an observation made: that as a writer I have a cold, passionate eye, and to have both a cold and passionate eye was not oxymoronic.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I was once asked if I became a writer because my last name is Reitz. It wasn’t specifically about my work, but it was the most idiotic writing-related question I think I’ve ever been asked. That was just plain moronic.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I was once asked if I was molested as a kid. That was put to me in regard to a short play I wrote about a teenager and a priest, and it was automatically assumed I could only be writing from life experience. It was the most flagrant example of flabby thinking people have about writers: that we only write autobiography, as if we can only transcribe, not imagine.
4) Afterclap has a great conceit: a man awakening at 4am, naked on the floor of a bar. In writing it specifically for the basement space at Jimmy’s No. 43, how often did you visit? What did you do to focus your imagination on the limitations of the performance area?
I know the space very well because I’ve actually done two other site-specific plays there with director Daniel Talbott and our company Rising Phoenix Repertory, one of which, Rules of the Universe, was staged in the two adjoining restrooms — which was Daniel’s brilliant idea, and he did a thrilling job of staging in them. (He’s the visionary behind all the site-specific pieces we do in this space — he’s a genius at utilizing every inch of the place.) Because the space is so familiar to me, I could easily picture it while I was writing the play. Limitations are liberating. The tiny playing space lends an intimacy that I’ve always found to be very effective, and works better than a set. It’s authentic and it’s exciting to the audience. There’s a nice blend of reality and theatricality. You can’t fake anything. Only about 12 people will be able to see Afterclap per performance. Given the claustrophobic, intensely internal nature of the play, I don’t think we’d want to have more than 12 people in the room. Haskell King plays the man in Afterclap. He’s a beautifully adventurous, totally honest, meticulous actor, who’s being called upon to dig very deeply into himself and dredge up, with an audience five feet away. A play like this relies on an actor with Haskell’s depth and bravery, which is why it was written specifically for him.
5) Have you ever awakened at 4am, naked on a bar floor? How would your own reaction or experience be the same or different from the character in Afterclap? The character’s journey sounds almost like a very boozy, ballsy Beckett.
I have never awakened at 4 am naked on a bar floor. Not that I would admit it if I had, but no, I never have. If I ever did, my reaction (though not the experience) would, I imagine, be similar to the character in Afterclap: disorientation, self-disgust, and a desire to get dressed and forget, and yet there would be the urge to masochistically replay the chronology of events that led to such a sorry state. As for the Beckett analogy, I guess if Krapp had a grandson, he might be my character. The despair, delusion, self-loathing and black humor make him a kindred spirit to Krapp, looking back on his recklessness with the kind of pained regret that Krapp has. The man in Afterclap isn’t old but feels as old as Krapp. I also have a bit with a condom and a crotch pad that’s my humble homage to Krapp and his banana.
6) Since Afterclap is a site-specific play, and the title refers to “the unexpected damage that follows the end of an affair,” what kind of play would make audiences want to have sex in the basement of Jimmy No. 43? Is it one you’d write? Could it be this one?
Technically, it’s not a basement but a backroom. Sex and backrooms often go together, I guess. If it were a play of mine to inspire sex in Jimmy’s backroom, it wouldn’t be Afterclap, which, apart from the fact that a man is naked in it, is not erotic, being an exploration of the hollow existence of someone for whom sex is something to blindly pursue and women are meat meant to be consumed. That might turn on some men — ones who don’t see they are this man. I might have already written the play that would inspire sex in Jimmy’s backroom: Rules of the Universe, which takes place in the restrooms. In one of those restrooms a young student and his professor are having an assignation, and the student takes out his penis to be serviced by his teacher as the lights go out. That’s how that play ends. That might have had a certain stimulating effect for some.