Jefe's House

The Golden Horseshoe: A Lecture On Tragedy

by on Nov.09, 2010, under Film/TV, NYC, Theatre

While I’m discussing Medicine, Man and Tesla’s  Letters now being available on the Kindle, I may as well discuss THE GOLDEN HORSESHOE:  A LECTURE ON TRAGEDY.  I conceived, wrote, directed and performed this 75-minute  autobiographical  tragicomedy about family skeletons, Nietzsche, Elvis and a trip to the Underworld in 2003. It came about because I had met Michael Wiener, an amazing performance artist of whom I was a big fan, at a party once. Doubtless I had consumed many martinis, and began blathering on to him about something or other.  At one point he stopped me and said, as I recall it, “You’re a good storyteller. You should come and do something sometime at this show I co-curate at the Gershwin Hotel.”  I was flattered, said sure, didn’t think he was serious.

Six weeks later I got a call from Michael’s co-curator, famed artist and Andy Warhol cohort Neke Carson, asking if I was interested. I said sure, and that I had a whole spoken-word, true story kind of thing worked out.  He said great, why don’t you come by in two days and tell me more about it.  In truth I had no idea what I’d do, so I thought – What’s the best true story you’ve got, Stanley?  What’s the story that all of your friends always ask you to tell over and over? Then I thought, Got it.

I’m not a seasoned actor, but I’m not shy.  I give lectures on playwriting and theatre history, I’m used to that.  So, to make it easy on myself I decided I’d pretend to be  giving an absurd lecture on Greek tragedy, using  a family that bore a striking resemblance to my immediate ancestors, and a protagonist who bore a striking resemblance to myself, as the subject matter.

But then I needed someone involved who could actually act, to play me at times and emote on my behalf.  How to pull that off? Put an actor onstage next to me posing as my Teaching Assistant.  It snowballed from there.  The playbill would look like a course syllabus.  I’d give out a ludicrous quiz at the end.

Instead of hiding backstage before the show, I would stand on the sidewalk in front of the theatre greeting each “student” to my “lecture” as they entered, then directing them inside to where my “Teaching Assistant” would hand them a “syllabus.”  I would be wearing an ill-fitting, black tuxedo and the Teaching Assistant would be dressed casually as an undergrad.  We would create bits for the entering audience or passersby: the inept, prima dona professor chewing out his TA for being late, or handing out the playbills upside down, or for smoking and talking to his girlfriend instead of greeting the guests, etc.

Onstage would be a small table on which sat a neat arrangement of empty Jack Daniel’s bottles, a telephone receiver, plastic sheet protectors, pencils, a stack of quizzes, and a pencil sharpener.  It would look like a modern art exhibit.  Also onstage would be two chairs, a lectern which doubled as a music stand, and a black acoustic guitar on a stand directly in front of the liquor table.

Throughout the evening I would keep calling it “my one-man show,” much to the TA’s chagrin. When I played and sang certain carefully chosen, sappy country ballads, they would not be fully memorized but require that I read from sheet music for the lyrics and chords. The performances would feel informal as though I were sitting in a living room with the audience, not so much putting on a concert as asking them to study the songs along with me.

Also, an actress playing an ex —  an unassuming, silent woman dressed in black but wearing a white veil — would sit knitting in the audience close to the stage. She would knit throughout the entire show. Occasionally I would direct self-damning remarks to her, or get my TA to do it for me.

The result was THE GOLDEN HORSESHOE:  A LECTURE ON TRAGEDY.  It world premiered on December 9, 2003 at the ‘Live From the Living Room’ performance series held at the Gershwin Hotel in New York City.  The original cast included Michael Wiener as the Teaching Assistant, Ellie Hanlon as the ex, and Juliana Trivers on fiddle (I had a fiddle player pop up from behind the bar and accompany me on the climax song, a lonesome bluegrass version of Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen).

The show was performed again in winter of 2004-05 for six workshop performances at Don’t Tell Mama, a cabaret in the heart of the Broadway theatre district, with Luke Rosen in the role of the Teaching Assistant (a year later Luke appeared in my award-winning short Lady in a Box alongside Sarita Choudhury).

The short-lived show remained an under-the-radar, underground kind of experience, but it wound up getting shot by award-winning documentary filmmaker David Gaynes and is now available on DVD as AN EVENING AT THE GOLDEN HORSESHOE.  Two excerpts from February, 2005 are below. Enjoy.

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