Prophecy Productions

I don’t understand why so many playwrights have trouble getting their work produced. If Skip Grisham can get An Evening With My Friends onto a stage, in front of a paying audience, then no script can be too awful to merit a production.

An Evening With My Friends has to be the worst play currently being produced on the planet. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to do worse.

If you set out to write the worst play in the world, you would certainly strive to make the script trite, pretentious, and hopelessly implausible. The dialogue, of course, would be inane, and the “profound” passages would be written in rhyming verse. At least some of the characters would be insulting stereotypes, and any treatment of sex would be smarmy. You’d also want to include a couple of ghastly musical numbers, and you’d want them performed by actors who can’t sing or play their instruments.

An Evening With My Friends has all this and more. It’s about three people who have met by calling 1-900-FRIENDS, a hot line for the lonely. Nancy (Debra Rich) is a call girl. The play begins with her dressed in a skimpy teddy, languidly smoking a cigarette while she paddles the bare buttocks of a client. Karl (Lee Master) is a painter, and Boyd (Paul Byrne) is a homosexual whose only activity seems to be watching TV.

The three have never seen each other–their only contact is on the telephone. So Karl suggests that they meet at a restaurant, but not as themselves. Instead, they will come as the people they would like to be. Nancy decides to come as Natashia, a famous fashion designer. Karl comes as Chef Cookie. (“Perhaps you have eaten some of my cooking,” he says by way of introduction.) Boyd comes as Boris B. Boriski, a sinister spy dressed in the obligatory trench coat and fedora.

If you were the author, where would you take this idiotic premise? In the direction of comedy? Satire? Farce? But you’re trying to create the worst play in the world, so of course you would take it nowhere–which is exactly what Grisham does. Oh, things happen, but they don’t accumulate into a narrative of any kind. Boris offers to serve as Natashia’s agent, which elicits the first dreadful song (“You make me dizzy Mr. Boris with your promises of gold. You make me dizzy Mr. Boris with your stories told. Come on Mr. Boris . . . tell the truth before I grow old.”).

Boris dashes off and returns as Boris Boris Boris, a famous journalist who wants to interview Natashia. Karl pretends to be a count. They decide to take a bus trip, during which Boyd dresses up as Bootsie, a transvestite who wears a pink cowgirl outfit covered with little mirrors. In this disguise, he performs another dreadful song.

Then, out of nowhere, comes a dramatic scene in which the bus driver (Chris Kulovitz) is confronted by his pregnant wife (Peggy Queener), who believes he is having an affair with a waitress. This scene has no connection, in tone or content, with anything else in the play.

By this point Grisham has proved he can create the worst play on earth, but he ensures his claim with a surprise ending. Karl reveals that he is actually Karla, a lesbian in love with Nancy. As he confesses this, he breaks into verse: “Now out from cover, it’s clear to discover that yourself is your evil and final surprise. Soon an end to this trickery and lies, causing your timely demise. I rise from my seat, stand firmly on my feet, with hands in crotch I take my leave, if you please.”

So isn’t anything about this production worthwhile? Yes. The stencils Grisham designed for the set are ingenious in their simplicity. Placed on a rotating base and lighted from behind, these stencils provide an attractive background to each abysmal scene.