“The Play’s The Thing”

Judie and I went to see Peter Sarsgaard in Hamlet at the intimate Classic Stage Company on 13th Street in NYC. Just as we were about to take our seats we were surprised by Saturday night live TV Funhouse animation director J.J. Sedelmaier. Suddenly, J.J. and I realized Patti Smith had just taken her seat in the next row and we were like little kids seeing the punk icon. Turns out she was with director Darren Aronofsky.  Later I noticed a guy in a black suit and white shoes, which I couldn’t help complimenting him on. I told him they were pretty badass shoes, and Joe Jackson would be jealous. I’m pretty sure he was Butch Vig, legendary producer and leader of the band Garbage. Oh, and the play? Well, “the play’s the thing,” and it was brilliant. Scarsgaard, with shaved head looked much like a manic Michael Stipe. I watched him deliver cliched lines like “to be or not to be” in a fashion that made them sound as if I’d never heard them before. I was also pleasantly surprised to see character actor Harris Yulin playing Claudius.

Director Darren Aronofsky (in the blue T-shirt) and punk rock star Patti Smith (far right) speak to some young fans after the play Hamlet in NYC.
Director Darren Aronofsky (in the blue T-shirt) and punk rock star Patti Smith (far right) speak to some young fans after the play Hamlet in NYC.

What It Means To Be Creative

(The original video on the PBS website has disappeared, which showed a great scene from the play. That scene appears on this video from the Charlie Rose Show at 8:05)
I recently saw the Broadway play  Red the story of a two-year period in the life of Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist painter who achieved recognition in the 1950s. Red stars Alfred Molina (yes, that’s Doc Octopus from Spider-Man II) who gives one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen in ages.

Let me just start by saying, while I draw, paint and create, I will never reach the intensity of a Mark Rothko. While I aspire to a higher level of creativity (I would hope all artists do), I don’t believe it’s productive to do so to the point where it alienates everyone I know and love, and in the end, would cause me to take my own life as Rothko and so many other artists have done. I’m happy to draw my comics and live near the beach with my wife and go on adventures or just walk my dog. Maybe Rothko or Van Gogh or Diane Arbus just needed a dog. I’ve never heard they had a dog at the time of death. I have a great dog named Kirby. When art or life become too demanding, Kirby and I just play with the ball in yard or go for a stroll on the beach.

While I’m not sure whether Rothko had a dog, he did have an impressive career, and for a moment in time, changed art itself. In Red, Molina’s Rothko is a self-absorbed, pompous genius, whose intelligence is eclipsed only by his passion for creativity. This is brilliantly conveyed by Molina’s riveting performance. I sat in the dark and wept at times, for reasons I can’t convey.

I can’t really say I suffer for my art. Actually, my art probably suffers because of me. I’d offer that creativity is a lot harder than it looks. It’s a great gig, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, but it can be a struggle.  It’s full of personal challenges, crushing defeats and glorious victories. But when it gets too crushing, or even too glorious, it’s probably a good time for me and Kirby to head to the beach.

My pal Kirby the Jack Russell