‘Wretch’ returns: One More Time

WLM TESTER JPEGI recently spoke with director/actor David Yen, at the first cast read-through of my new play ‘Drumming With Anubis,’ running (in its world premiere) June 7-30 at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre. David was the original director of ‘Wretch Like Me,’ in its very first version. Under David’s direction, the show saw it’s own original premier in July of 2009, at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa, and then a few additional runs at 6th Street Playhouse, 162 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, and a number of small one-off’s here and there. Eventually, after moving on to write a spate of other plays, I returned to ‘Wretch,’ completely rewriting it, taking was was a long-ish two-act extravaganza (original run time was 2-1/2 hours including intermission) and transforming it into a tight, fast-moving 75 minute one act performed without intermission. Sheri Lee Miller was the director of that version, which went on to tour the North Bay, have a full run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland in 2014, and then another run at the San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2015.

And that was that.

Time to move on to other projects, other plays.

I’ve since written another one-man show ‘Polar Bears,’ a novella about the author of ‘Frankenstein’ (“Mary Shelley’s Body”), a stage adaptation of that novella, and a supernatural comedy (the aforementioned ‘Drumming with Anubis), which, since it is being directed by David, brings me more-or-less full circle.

At the read-through, I mentioned to David that ‘Wretch’ is about to have its 10th anniversary, a fact that slightly blew him away (“How can it be ten years?”), and would have had the same affect on me were it not for the fact that I’ve been spending the last couple of months memorizing ‘Wretch Like Me’ (the one act version) all over again, in preparation for a one-night-only 10th anniversary performance on June 20, three days past the show’s official birthday. It’ll take place at the Glaser Center (another full circle), where it all began a decade ago.

There is a possibility of a few small Bay Area performances here-and-there around the same time. And then, unless something incredibly surprising occurs (an offer of a run in San Francisco or Berkeley?), it’s likely that I will be saying goodbye to this show as a performer. I love the idea of ‘Wretch’ being published in script form, returning as a play other actors can tackle, and I’ve never given up on my dream of adapting it into a full book. But as I re-acquire the text in my brain again (no, it’s not easy to do just because I wrote it, because memorization is aways just memorization), fully aware and appreciative of all that this story (and the journey of bringing it to the world) has meant to me, I can feel in my heart that it is (almost) time to step away and leave it to others to perform in the future.

But not until I’ve told it one last time.

I hope you will help spread the word. If you’ve never had the chance to see me perform this, here it is. If you’ve seen and an enjoyed it and wished you could share it with others. Please spread the word.

To all of those who’ve helped bring this project to life over the years in all of its various forms (David Yen, Sheri Lee Miller, Dan Zastrow, Julia Lander, Robin DeLucca, Susan Panttaja, Allo Gilinsky, etc.) thanks eternally.

I’ll keep posting as the next several weeks progress.

I hope many of you find your way to Left Edge Theater to see ‘Drumming With Anubis,’ and then make a date to catch the (probably) final performance of ‘Wretch Like Me’ at the Glaser Center on July 20.

And yes, I will be singing ‘Amazing Grace’ backwards.

One more time.




‘Wretch’ takes a break

20150905_202139-1-1Well. With our final performance last Thursday, ‘Wretch Like Me’—after something like six years, several incarnations, two directors, over a hundred performances, and one international excursion—is going back on the shelf for a while.

I have accomplished just about all of the major things I’d hoped for with this show. Mainly, we did the San Francisco and Edinburgh Fringe. I still hope to someday have a full theatrical run in the City, and see what that little clapping man in the Chronicle’s review pages has to say about my show.

I’d love a run at the Marsh, where ‘Wretch’ had a Marsh Rising workshop performance a few years ago.

But now is time to work on the next show, ‘Polar Bears.’

It’s all written, and we go into rehearsals in late October or early November, with a premier date of December 4 at Main Stage West in Sebastopol. Sheri Lee Miller will direct, and yes, it’s another solo show. Actually, this will only be my second solo show. PB-MSW poster (New Dates) no addres PB-jpegEverything else I’ve written since ‘Wretch’ has been a two-actor show. So ‘Polar Bears,’ especially given the recent passing of my father, who is a character I will play in ‘Polar Bears,’ this should be a powerful and wonderful experience.
And it will have a big dose of Christmas magic, too.
I’m genuinely excited to move into this next phase.

In the next year, I also have the following to look forward to:
The publishing, in the summer, of my first novella, ‘Mary Shelley’s Body,’ which will appear in the anthology ‘The Eternal Frankenstein,’ published by Word Horde Press.
The stage adaptation of that story, which I am turning into a one-WOMAN-show, to appear on stage in Sonoma County in 2016 (details to be released sometime soon).
Another book, which I am co-writing with a local therapist-writier.
A cooperative theater project titled ‘Conversations with Our Fathers,’ in conjunction with Actors Basement.
And then I will start working on another new play: one with FIVE actors.
And possibly another adaptation, of a classic novel that happens to be close to my heart.
So I’m going to be busy.

WretchFringeLogoHopefully, there will be a resurrection of ‘Wretch’ in the not-too-distant future. I’m open to being surprised by opportunities I might not even know exist. If that doesn’t come to be, well . . . it’s been a great ride.

‘Wretch Like Me’ has truly changed my life.

My thanks to everyone who’s been a part of it!


Fringe Update

photo 3-5Two weeks of the Fringe now over.
That’s three performances of ‘Wretch Like Me’ begun, performed and finished at EXIT Theatre’s iconic brick build on Eddy St., with one performance left this Thursday.
It has been a great experience—though quite a different one than anticipated. On Sunday, September 13, the first scheduled performance of my show, I got a call in the early hours of the morning letting me know my Dad had passed away. I knew it was close. He’d been sent home from the hospital just two days before that, and put into Hospice care. But as technically “excepted” as it was, it was still a blow. Nine hours later, in the time honored tradition of “the show must go on,” I took the stage to do my show. I’ve written elsewhere about that experience, so I will just say that I did that show in honor of my Dad, who was always the photo 2-5consummate professional, and would have been very proud of me. The next morning I left for Southern California, to be with my family and help plan the memorial. That next Thursday, following the service, my wife and I drove back to Northern California, and the next evening, I performed my second show at the Fringe. Though it all, Team Wretch’s stalwart stage manager Robin has been awesome, as has the show’s director, Sheri, who gave me some valuable advice about how to tackle a performance when so much emotion is roiling beneath the surface. And I should also thank Brittany and Amanda, at the Fringe, who have also been absolutely awesome in supporting me—a performer they barely know—as I work through performing at the Fringe during what has turned out to be one of the hardest weeks of my life.
If the performances had turned out to be a bit less than solid, I suppose I might say I had a good excuse. But I think, contrarily, they have been some of the best I’ve ever given. My goal is always to avoid trying to stand out and be too “performance-y,” instead serving as a conduit to the script, the words, the story of ‘Wretch’ itself.
I’m not the one to say if I’ve accomplished that.
But the reviews have been gratifying in suggesting that the story is standing out strong and clear.
One frequent Fringer named Sarah K. posted the following review on the Fringe Festival’s REVIEW PAGE.
photo 1-2“Dang, this show sure sucked me in. David exposes his vulnerability as the unpopular kid who everyone picked on, and how he found Jesus so he wouldn’t have to be lonely anymore. For a while, it seems to work – he seems to have found his people among the other members of the Jesus club in high school – but as the years go by, he finds that ‘getting closer to Jesus’ is not bringing him the ‘joy’ he is promised. There is some very subtle and potent ideas about what really brings meaning and joy in life, and they are beautifully expressed in this fantastic show. Recommended.”

Another audience member, Garen, posted this.
“A completely captivating story. It goes far beyond exposing fallacy or limits of blind faith. It’s truly kind hearted and uplifting!”

And my friend Brent, who has seen other iterations of ‘Wretch,’ came out for Sunday’s show and then posted the following review.
20150905_205931-2“I’m five years older than David, and I experienced the “Jesus Freak/New Christian Youth Movement” when it was just forming in South Bay San Jose 1970-1973. The year I graduated I wondered what was to become of those lost-looking little freshmen who were being exposed to the weirdness I had not-so-deftly side-stepped during my high school years. I wondered no longer after meeting David, befriending him, then seeing his initial presentation of “Wretch Like Me” at the Glaser Center. It was nothing short of phenomenal. He took the Jesus Freak Movement much more to heart than I did, he being raised in a religious family while my mother was an avowed atheist and my father was a fallen Mormon, so David had different reasons to question than I did, but the courage to ask many questions and the commitment to exploring those questions for answers has led to this wonderful performance piece. It is full of truth and the exposure of deceit, joy and the pain of the heart, and a dedicated adherence to all the discipline and craft that theater has to offer. I highly recommend this show to anyone who has a brain, a faith and a heart who chooses to use them. Peace.”

The show must go on. This week, I go back to Southern California for Dad’s burial. As soon as it’s over, and my family engages in one final funeral-reunion-meal together, I head back home. The next night, I do my final show of ‘Wretch.’

photo 1-4 Like all of the other others this week, I’ll be doing it for the audience.
And of course, above all else, I do it as a continuing tribute to the amazing example given me by W. Gene Templeton.

This is for you, Dad.


The Fringe is open! (‘Wretch Like Me’ opens Sunday)

sf-fringe-festival-mapAs of Friday at 7:00 pm, the San Francisco Fringe Festival is open, with three shows happening simultaneously in three theaters, for the next three weekends. Everything happens at EXIT Theatre, a four block walk from Union Square. The Fringe Facebook page is humming with messages about what’s going on, and the Fringe’s popular ‘Review Page’ is already logging audience reviews of the first shows to hit the stage.
FORCE-eleanor-mason-reinholdt-Force-of-Nautre-squareAbout Eleanor Mason Reinholdt’s parenthood vs. non-parenthood drama ‘Force of Nature,’ audience member Leandra Gets says, “Eleanor bravely opens up her experience to the audience, in a way that is at times funny, sweet, heartbreaking and raw.” Marin Van Young adds, “Eleanor is a beautiful performer and writer, and this is important stuff.”

Another show, Sha Sha Higby’s ‘Paper Wings,’ has so far collected just one review, but it’s a good one.
paper-wings-5Writes Sara K. “If you want a traditional show which has a clearly defined plot with dialogue … this is not the show for you. This show is what the description says it is – a living sculpture. That is, a combination of masks, puppets, props, and costumes, all made by hand by the performer, put into motion, with sound and projections.” She writes a bit more, then concludes, “It is clearly a labor of love, full of inventive creative touches. Recommended.”

nightcap-1Sara K. (a frequent viewer!) also saw Debra Watassek’s one-woman-show ‘Night Cap Melody (How one step at a time became a dance)’, her autobiographical story of caring for her musician father at the end of his life. About the show, Sara K. writes, “Most of the time, when I read/hear about caregiving to Alzheimer’s patients, it’s about how much of a burden it is. However [in this show] Debbie clearly tells that there is much more to it than that – there is both Debbie’s ongoing relationship to the father she had known, as well as her new relationship with what her father had become. I think she makes the point very well that life is short, and though caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s may seem to be a waste of precious life, for her, it became rewarding in its own way.” Another viewer, Tracey K., writes, “Poignant, moving, sad, funny all describe this one woman show about taking care of an aging parent with Alzheimer’s. Debbie did a fantastic job of showing us who her father was and how her relationship with him changed with the disease. A couple opening night bumps here and there and a few anecdotes that went on too long, but that didn’t stop me from becoming enrapt in her story and in tears at the end.”

get-1And about the show ‘Get No Place Fast,’ featuring Grace Booth and Julianna Frick in a tragic-comic post-apocalyptic vaudeville, Sam B. says, “I’m already a huge fan of Juliana Frick’s performances, I was excited to experience GET NO PLACE FAST. And she and Grace Booth did not disappoint- within less than 60 minutes, this perfect duo craft moments of gut-busting hilarity, deeply tragic pathos and spectacular acrobatics. They’ve got great comedic chops and tremendous characters that reveal a vulnerable human edge. SEE IT!”

exit-theatreTomorrow, not only do I get to perform ‘Wretch Like Me’ for the first time at the Fringe (hopefully earning a few juicy reviews of my own), I get to actually sit down and see some other performer’s shows, and then I will start to add my own thoughts and descriptions to the Fringe Festival’s review page.

Wretch Like Me plays
Sunday, Sept. 13, 4:00 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 18, 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 20, 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 24, 7:00 p.m.



Tech Day

photo 1-1Today was Tech Day for the ‘Wretch Like Me’ team.
At the Fringe, each production is given a three-and-a-half hour slot to figure out any tech issues related to presenting their show. Since there is a very short window of time between shows, one of our jobs today was to rehearse the load-in process of setting up the stage, patching in the computer to run sound cues, setting the lights the way they need to be for the audience when they walk in, and launching any house music planned during walk in.
We have a total window of just fifteen minutes.
Our practice load-in took exactly . . . 90 seconds.
What can I say? We’ve done this show a few times.
Then, with stage manager Robin tucked away inside the tiny (and hot!) tech booth, we ran the show, from beginning to end, with Brittany, our house tech liaison, as our audience.
photo 2-2The stage is fairly large, compared to what we had last summer in Edinburgh, so half of the run-through included keeping an eye out for ways to use the expanded space for more than just walking from stage left to stage right as I tell the story.
I can actually walk forwards and backwards.
Limitless possibilities open before us.

Sunday, September 13, at 4:00 pm, is the first performance of 4 at the Fringe.


How Sweet the Sound

Wretch-David reclining on Happy faceTonight, for the first time in at least a year, I get to walk out on stage and do the following things in front of a live audience:

• Stand on an enormous Happy Face.

• Pretend to baptize my own infant self.

• Talk in a really bad Scottish Accent

• Explain how, when six-days-old and then even more so when I was five years old, I became a sheep

• Explain why puppets make you unpopular on an elementary school playground.

• Become my own mother.

• Deliver some of the most bizarre advice a loving mother ever gave her 7-year-old son.

• Explain how a salamander, my brother’s scientific curiosity, and a few dozen books about bubonic plague and Egyptian embalming practices led to my lifelong obsession with death.

• Pretend a stool is a hedge.

• Explain who ‘The Jesus Lady’ was.

• Sing ‘Amazing Grace.’

• Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ backwards.

• Become Yoda reciting ‘Amazing Grace’ backwards.

WLM - sheep photo 1• Explain the following concepts—Baptism; Witnessing; Afterglows; Speaking in Tongues; Being Slain in the Spirit; Why masturbation isn’t “necessarily” a sin; how faith, in the words of Jesse P., is “like a sandwich”; why, in certain cases, there is nothing more appropriate to say than “Wow! Wow-and-a-half!”

• Introduce and become the following indelible true-life characters — Righteous Rick, president of the Downey High Jesus Club; Jesse P., spicy but earnest long-haired leader of Downey’s most popular Tuesday Night Bible Study; Rev. Dude, a former acid-dropping surfer guy who found Jesus in a tent in Hawaii while tripping on “magic mushrooms,” the supremely confident minister of Happy Chapel, a brand new church in Downey; Eddie, who has one very important question; Cindy, intense and earnest and super-cute; J.E.F., my straight-shooting brother, who likes to share his own scientific observations about my spiritual practices, while occasionally “blowing shit up in the back yard.”

• Explain why fasting for 30-days is the “Holy Grail of self-starvation.”

• Pantomime a puppet show

• Become Sam Galaxy, a big, green alien puppet with a few shocking truths to deliver.

cropped-untitled-1.png• Explain how I discovered, just in the nick of time, that maybe I was not a “sheep” after all, and learned that while walking away form being “saved” is often harder than staying in the one place you ever felt safe and accepted, sometimes it’s the only way, in the end, to truly save yourself.

I do other things too.

I can’t wait. I am genuinely thrilled to be telling this crazy story again to real people. I hope, if you have never scene ‘Wretch Like Me,’ or are curious about how it’s evolved, you will join me tonight or tomorrow afternoon at Lucky Penny Community Arts Center in Napa, or sometime between Sept. 13 and 24 at the San Francisco Fringe Festival. All the info in one the Wretch Like Me website.

Whether it’s return viewers or brand new audience members waiting when I take the stage, tonight—and the next few weeks—is going to be fun, as I return to the story I never get tired of telling.

Wow. Wow-And-A-Half!


One week out, then one week more

WLM - Living RoomOne of my favorite performances last year, in the lead up to going to Edinburgh with ‘Wretch Like Me,’ was performing the play in the living room of Blair Hardman. It was a special fundraising event, and it was intimate, up-close, a little bit intimidating—and loads of fun. I’ve been carrying that energy with me over the last few weeks of rehearsing ‘Wretch Like Me’ (in preparation for six shows in September), as I have been rehearsing . . . in my own living room.

Got one more rehearsal tomorrow, with stage manager Robin DeLuca, and with some luck, maybe one more in the coming week with director Sheri Lee Miller.

Then, on Saturday and Sunday, September 5 and 6, I’m performing at Lucky Penny Community Arts Center  in Napa. One evening show and one matinee, will be a great time to bring the show back to Napa (we did a few small shows there last year), and will effectively work to get the show super-warmed-and-ready for my San Francisco Fringe Festival debut on September 13, the first of four shows at Exit Stage Left on Eddy St., in SF.