Shattered Globe Theatre

at the Project

In earlier, more literate times writers made the leap from writing for the page to writing for the stage with surprising frequency and ease. George Bernard Shaw, George S. Kaufman, Ben Hecht, even Eugene O’Neill put in time on newspapers before turning their attention to play writing. These days journalists are more likely to make the far more lucrative leap from page to screen (and tube).

Which is why it was such a treat to see Adam Langer’s Backstage Pass. Here is a journalist who takes the strongest elements of his craft–a keen ear for dialogue, a sharp eye for the way people act–and translates them with ease to the stage. And like a good journalist, Langer tells his story–about a malevolent free-lance feature writer who intentionally stirs up trouble in a rock band as he conducts a backstage interview–with economy and skill. Not a second is wasted in Langer’s hour-long play: every moment of dialogue, each detail of character development, is essential to spinning out the plot.

Most important, Langer takes care to avoid cliched characters. Instead, he works hard to make every character in his play unique. Thus instead of serving up four stock head bangers, Langer gives us a band made up of a gregarious lead guitarist, eager to make certain the interview goes well; a brooding, reticent bass player who reads Milan Kundera’s novels to pass the time; a naive kid-brother drummer eager for approval; and a smart, assertive, self-possessed vocalist.

Langer has as many ties to theater as he does to print. Last summer, for example, he played Puck in a fund-raising performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Bailiwick. Normally I put a playwright who directs his own work in the same category with lawyers who defend themselves in court and doctors who are their own patients. However, Langer the playwright owes many thanks to Langer the director.

As director, Langer has assembled a fine group of actors. There is not a miscast one, nor a botched performance, in the show. However, even in an excellent cast there are standouts. Tim Sullens proves quite adept as the ever manipulative reporter Adam, who would seemingly do anything for a good story. Pat Murphy is quite convincing as Lewis, the diffident bass player who seethes with anger. Joe Forbrich, as the band’s naive drummer, and Carri Coffman, as the confused groupie, make an appealing and likable couple, though the drummer is too self-absorbed and the groupie too screwed up (“God, I hate it when people are in love with me–it’s so annoying”) for their fling to last.

None of this is to say that the production is flawless. It isn’t. Much of Langer’s staging, for example, seems cramped. But then the actors are crammed onto the Project’s tiny stage. It’s hard to imagine that a venue as large as the Uptown Theatre (where this interview is supposed to take place) has a backstage area no longer than a Bucktown bedroom. Still, I suppose in the world of shoestring, late-night, non-Equity produc

tions, one takes what one can get. I’ve seen productions that would have killed to have as much room as Langer has at the Project.

I went to Backstage Pass hoping that glimmers of Langer’s puckish wit and gift for story telling would appear in his play. I found much more than I expected. Langer is clear

ly one of those rare writers whose words seem equally at home in print or coming out of an actor’s mouth.