There are few people in any industry, much less the American stage, with whom I’d willingly have a conversation while standing beside a subway turnstile at rush hour. Playwright Matthew Freeman is one of them. Who knows if Freeman himself recalls the scene (it was about 14 months ago), but in an industry where skullduggery, treachery, lies and backbiting are currencies of kindness, Freeman is not just beloved by his colleagues but a fine conversationalist and, most important, an exceptionally fine play-maker. If you didn’t see, for example, When Is a Clock, you’re unconscious of the rising currents in American drama.
Freeman’s latest play has a title that unintentionally resonates in the zeitgeist: Glee Club. Directed by Kyle Ancowitz and with all apologies to that Fox show, it concerns eight adult men in a Vermont glee club one can only describe as cut-throat. Who knew Vermont was such a bastion of skullduggery, treachery, lies and backbiting? Maybe it’s true that playwrights write about what they know.
Freeman also knows how to write so that audiences swallow dark flavors of his characters with spoonful of sugar — a potent combination. In the case of the one-act Glee Club, it was originally composed for the Anti-Depressant Festival at the Brick Theatre last summer, and is here remounted by Blue Coyote Theater Group, which serves as a kind of artistic home for the playwright.
Glee Club runs through Apr. 3 at the Access Theater (380 Broadway); tickets are available by calling 212-868-4444 or visiting www.smarttix.com.
And now, 5 questions Matthew Freeman has never been asked — and a bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I was in therapy, briefly, about six years ago. It was one of those sliding scale places where a person in grad school treats you as a part of her plea deal or something. My therapist was a totally nice woman who isn’t much older than I am. I would come in, tell stories that made her laugh out loud, and walk out vaguely satisfied.
Eventually she just asked me point blank if I was trying to be her favorite patient.
I don’t know if that actually answers your question directly, but I feel like it’s related.
As a side note: I went because I was concerned that I couldn’t have longstanding relationships with women. One day, that therapist called me to tell me she was leaving the program and couldn’t see me anymore. That was terrific.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked a markedly idiotic question about my work. Most of the questions I’ve been asked in a press setting, like this one, are fairly straightforward. And socially, I get the occasional piece of advice that I instantly forget. But that’s about it.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
I subjected friends to a reading last year, and it was of a very long abstract piece without characters, and thematic repetition and all sorts of other stuff. It had about 10 minutes of total silence in the middle.
I had a good friend and a fine actor who attended, ask me if I hated the audience. I told him No. I hope that settled it.
4) Obviously you wrote Glee Club before Fox launched a certain hour-long show. Do the inevitable comparisons bother you at all? Or do you think Glee Club is benefiting from some name recognition in the marketplace?
It’s honestly frustrating, because my play has exactly nothing in common with Glee. I wrote the play because the Brick Theater (that wonderful troupe) was doing another of their nutso theme festivals: The Anti-Depressant Festival. I decided a play about grown men who miserably try to sing a song would be funny. Glee, the TV show, is about high school kids or some shit. I can’t watch it. Even though Jane Lynch is on it and I want to just stand next to her and hold her hand and look up at a rainbow.
5) A dark theme of blind ambition courses through Glee Club. But then, the eight adults in this loser-laden Vermont glee club aren’t exactly winners in their daily lives. What does this sad-sack glee club tell us about how emasculated men have become in our society?
I think it’s not so much about men being emasculated. In fact, I’m sort of a big believer in all that Robert Bly stuff about positive male energy. I have tons of really good guys who have been my friends for years, and have a bunch of brothers, and a sister who could beat your sister up.
I do think, though, that men, in particular, come together to accomplish goals in this very almost military way. Team based. Band of Brothers. “We’re in this together.” I think that same mentality can be infected by groupthink. We stop thinking objectively about the goal. We just know that you’re either on the team, or you’re not, you’re either for the team, or you’re on your own. No one wants to be alone. It’s not philosophically complex, but it’s true.
6) Did you ever sing in a glee club? What do you remember about it most fondly? If not, why not? Did you hate the kids in your glee club? Also, what’s less annoying: glee club and theater geeks or stupid high school sports jocks?
I did not. My father was in one, though, in South Orange, NJ. In something like 1986. He seemed to enjoy it. That’s why I never viewed a glee club as remotely high school-related. There are university glee clubs and amateur glee clubs for adults, in my world. I always knew high school singers as being in chorus, or members of show choir or whatever.
Jocks? Singers? We can all be annoying in our own special way. We are equal in that respect, without a doubt.