Mac Wellman, the avant garde poet and playwright who's work has been produced mostly in smaller American venues, currently has his artistic feet planted firmly in popular venues on both coasts.
Recently his Second Hand Smoke opened at New York's Primary Stages; Bottom's Dream Theatre, a company performing at Los Angeles' Ivy Substation, presents the world premiere of Wellman's The Lesser Magoo opening Jan. 30 and running through March 1.
The Lesser Magoo, whose title is based on the 1932 Ben Hecht /Gene Fowler comedy The Great Magoo, completes a four-play cycle based on the biblical myth of Susannah, called "Crowtet." Other "Crowtet" plays include A Murder of Crows, The Hyacinth Macaw, and Second Hand Smoke. ...Magoo follows Mr. Candle, an expert on the obscure subject of Crowe's Dark Space, a representation of the spiritual state of contemporary America.
In an interview with the LA Times, Wellman said of ...Magoo, "It's a kind of very odd linguistic and imaginative journey that goes basically wherever the characters want it to go."
The LA Times warns ...Magoo audiences, "Viewers should not expect a straightforward, easily digestible story"-- typical of most Wellman plays, which tend to be comparatively less streamlined, linear, and logical than others. Wellman has written more than 40 plays. "It's not that I'm trying to make my stuff willfully obscure," the Times quoted Wellman, "The world most of the time seems like a very strange and complicated place to me and I want to make plays that in some sense are as complicated and strange as the world we live in."
Mitchell Gosset, producing director of Bottom's Dream, says "If you do Wellman as your main work, it's almost a political statement."
In its five-year existence, Bottom's Dream made several of these statements, successfully producing two of Wellman's plays, 7 Blowjobs and Terminal Hip.
In fact, for Bottom's Dream, a company devoted to Wellman's work, ...Magoo is a dream come true. The company, who was in the market for a major production, flew to Wellman's hometown of New York City to persuade him to write them a play. Gossett says, "We have a strong connection to Wellman. . .Mac is like our grandfather -- and he is to a lot of theatre artists in the country who all read his work and consider him a leader in the poetic movement of new writing."
Wellman, who teaches and has influenced many young playwrights at Yale, is considered, along with Erik Ehn, one of the nations foremost "language poets." Wellman denies that it is a movement, but acknowledges that certain modern playwrights such as himself are interested in the effects of heightened language in the theatre, instead of the "conventional notions of what drama, tragedy and comedy are."
Wellman is as thankful to Bottom's Dream as they are to him, because, as the LA Times quoted "the kind of work I do is rarely, if ever, commercial, so the larger institutional theatres aren't terribly interested."
When Bottom's Dream proposed that Wellman write them a new play, Gossett said they assured the playwright that "it would be our big piece." Wellman then customized ...Magoo with mostly hidden references to the company. A more obvious reference to the loyal company appears in a scene where someone comes out with a mule head--corresponding to the character Bottom in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Bottom's Dream has created a reputation for itself in it's allegiance to newer, poetic playwrights. Erik Ehn has written the company a monologue called Bottom's Dream, which Gossett says was designed for the company to do before any show. Bottom's Dream will be one of the performing companies in the first New York International Fringe Festival this summer.
Bottoms up ! To the Bottom's Dream come true, The Lesser Magoo, now running through Mar. 1. For tickets or more information, call (310) 231-0446, please refer to the Ivy Substation regional listing on Playbill On-Line.
--By Blair Glaser