Friday, January 24, 2014

Now or Never!

written by Charles Paolino, for Asbury Park Press

The name of the play is “Your Biggest Fan,” but it could be called “It’s Now or Never.’’

That’s because the playwrights – Winnie Holzman and her husband, Paul Dooley – began the comedy-drama in 1985 and finished it 25 years later when, as they put it, they literally had nothing else to do.

Now “Your Biggest Fan” is to have a run at the George Street Playhouse from Jan. 28 to Feb. 23 with the couple portraying all four of the characters they created.

The play concerns Frank Maxwell, who has played a doctor on a TV soap opera for decades and now believes that he is being written out of the show. Emily, his longtime girlfriend, reassuring him that he has a future, tries to make him answer fan mail he has been ignoring. One of the letters is from Heather, an overweight, socially isolated woman, who loves “Dr. Dan” but gets no love in her own life, not even from her irascible father, Edgar.

The story explores the unforeseeable impact these four lives have on each other.
This play emerged from an experience Dooley and Holzman had shortly before they married.
“I had a pile of fan mail,’’ Dooley recalled. “I’m not a soap opera star, so I had about 15 letters, but I had them for about six months. They were on my desk.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you throw those out?’ I said, ‘Well, they’re from fans.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you answer them?’ I said, ‘There’s no deadline.’ ’’

“It was like he couldn’t do either,’’ Holzman interjected. “He couldn’t throw them away, and he couldn’t answer them. I thought it was an interesting beginning for something.’’
They answered the mail together and found themselves making fun of some of the fans who were unintentionally amusing.

That found its way into the play, as Frank dismisses the folks who wrote to him.
This reaction, Dooley believes, is a symptom of self-loathing.

“He diminishes the people who wrote to him because he thinks, ‘Ahhh, they’re stupid. If they knew me, they’d hate me, like I do.’ … And the dichotomy is that actors go into it because they need love, and then, when they get too much of it, they ask themselves, ‘Am I really that good?’ ’’

And, Holzman added, “even though we’re writing about an actor, I maintain that it doesn’t have to do with an actor so much as what it’s like for anyone. Can you accept the love that’s being offered in your life? Can you really feel it, or is it something you don’t want to open, so to speak – a letter you don’t want to open.’’
So, motivated by a pile of mail and their dream of creating a play they could perform together, the couple began to write, but that’s all – they began.

“It was just a few pages,’’ Dooley said, “and it was on onion skin – with Wite-Out. That’s how long ago it was.’’

And then what?

“Well, let’s put it this way,’’ Holzman said. “When you’re married, and you’re not retired, a project that you’re doing together gets short shrift. Everything else becomes more important.’’
“Because,” Dooley added, “they’re paying you.”

Fast forward to October 2012. Holzman and Dooley, who live in Los Angeles, were in Manhattan when superstorm Sandy struck the city and they were stuck indoors.

“So there was this feeling,” Holzman said, “that … if we can’t work on it now, we’re never going to do this. … I recommend to anyone that if they’re having a problem getting a project done, being stranded in a hotel room is very helpful.’’

Holzman and Dooley both said that the passage of time probably contributed to the quality of the play since both matured as writers while the play was dormant.

Dooley has an extensive acting and writing resume; among his achievements was creating and writing for the children’s television series “The Electric Company.” In 2007, he appeared at the George Street Playhouse with Jack Klugman in “The Sunshine Boys.” In 2000, he was nominated for an Emmy for a role on “The Practice.”

Holzman created the television series “My So-Called Life,” and her writing for the show got her an Emmy nomination in 1995. She has written for many television shows and for the stage – including the book for the Broadway musical “Wicked.”

Holzman and Dooley performed their new play for six weeks at a theater in Los Angeles, and they have continued to refine it during rehearsals for the George Street run.
The engagement brings them a sense of satisfaction.

“It’s a part of getting older,” Holzman said, “that you start to look at the things you promised yourself you would do. Now, you’re not going to do all of them, but some of them are important. I think we both felt that it would be a loss if we didn’t do this, if we didn’t at least try.”

No comments: