Call it irony, coincidence, or the latest reminder that this life is not only unfair, but also has no heart: The day before a crowd of mostly teetering and tottering white people filled STAGEStheatre to capacity for a Sunday matinee of a rotten play by someone who as a playwright makes a very funny comedian, Erica Bennett died.
There’s no logical connection between comedian Lewis Black’s One Slight Hitch and the passing of Bennett, an Orange County-based writer who struggled for years with health problems that finally claimed her May 4, except Black’s play is at one of the many Orange County theaters that Bennett—whose job was a librarian but whose work was acting and, more important, writing, including God knows how many plays—worked with over the past 25 or so years.
Oh, there is one other connection: Black’s persona—featured most prominently on The Daily Show, as well as in standup, TV and film appearances—is the angry white guy driven to the brink of insanity by the ridiculousness of modern life and the sheer stupidity of so many of the people occupying the same sad mote of dust in an equally stupid universe. That’s not too far removed from that of the person typing these words. And since we all know that feeling genuine grief and sorrow at the death of a friend and kind, compassionate soul who possessed the kind of strength, fortitude, courage and dedication to her writing that, if any of us did, could make us move a fucking mountain (not to mention trying to wrap our minds around yet another reminder that none of us who truly get this life need: that all the highs and lows and interminable in-betweens mean as much in the cosmic scheme as anything else, which is nothing), is far less rewarding (and attention-grabbing) than anger, bitterness and caustic rants, we’ll dispense with any sort of professional remoteness and just let it fly.
Plus, Erica loved me (as a writer) and probably praised my shitty attempts at trying to eff the ineffable through the pointless exercise of transmitting thoughts into words more than anyone I’ve ever stumbled across.
She would love this. So, fuck it.
Black’s play is a lousy piece of shit that has no business being performed on any stage, anywhere for any reason other than the obvious: He’s got a name; he’s a very, very funny comedian whose finger is as close to the ragged, jagged pulse of modern life as any; and as Sunday’s matinee showed, he can bring asses in. And there is nothing wrong with that. But since Erica was a person who, among her many talents and interests, worked harder and cared more about doing the work of writing than anyone I have ever met, the focus here is on the work, not the person who typed the words.
And that work, at least based on this production, is utterly forgettable. There are flashes of Black’s trademark acerbity in this play (he does have some rather eye-raising theater credentials, including an MFA in playrighting from Yale and working on “hundreds of one-act plays,” or so sayeth Wikipedia, during the 1980s at a Manhattan theater), but for the most part, it is a painfully inept piece of crap set in 1982 about a self-absorbed woman and a self-absorbed dude who broke up because they’re both self-absorbed, and on the day of her wedding to a perfectly nice and boring schmuck, he shows up and all hell breaks loose. That’s about it. There are other equally forgettable characters—a boozy dad, a shrieking mother, an impetuous younger sister and a horny older one—but none is interesting enough to give a shit about, and neither is this play. Jason Sutton wants to direct it as a madcap farce, but mostly, everyone runs around in a flurry and drinks and screams a lot (although Cameron Patrick Murray as the spurned boyfriend does as much as he can with the cheap and dumb material as possible) and that’s enough of that.
Meanwhile, Erica is dead. There will be a time and space for a more thoughtful and far less self-indulgent remembrance of her and what most mattered to her: her work. But right now, it’s kind of hard to string anything thoughtful together. If you want to honor not her memory, because what good is that, but rather her life, then do what she did even when she barely had the strength to hold a pen in her shaking hand: Write something. Even if it’s just a fucking grocery list.
Write something. It’ll get us all in the end, some sooner than later, some in far worse ways than others. But until then, what else can we do?
One Slight Hitch at STAGEStheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through April 19. $22-$24.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???