If you've seen the films or plays, What Happened Was... and Wifey, you know what to expect from a Tom Noonan show: fragile, intimate tales that bristle with underlying eccentricity or rage. When Noonan staged Wifey (featuring Karen Young, Julie Hagerty, Wallace Shawn and Noonan himself), he did it in a theatre the size of a large living room, with the audience seated around the room within breathing distance of the actors.
Noonan has returned to that space which he founded in 1982 -- the Paradise Theatre on NY's East 4th Street -- for his latest play, Wang Dang. Performances began Jan. 29 for a Feb. 5 opening and a run ending this weekend, Feb. 28.
The author again stars, this time opposite Missi Pyle and Tristine Skyler, as two film department coeds meeting their professor in an off-campus motel room. As with Wifey and What Happened Was..., Wang Dang occurs in real time and will be filmed this summer.
Reached early in the run, Noonan told Playbill On-Line he was still in the process of learning what the play is really about, and won't even have any real answers until he films the material this summer. "I'm not sure yet on this one," Noonan said. "The last couple of weeks will really tell. It's hard to describe in words how you feel when it's.. I almost don't know. There's a sense that it's moving toward something. An inexorable outcome that will happen. The `moment' will happen during shooting and show things that aren't even coming out now. Not that my pieces aren't worth seeing as plays, but there are certain moments that you don't get fully till you shoot them. We rehearse the play with that in mind."
"Since the Paradise is my own theatre," continued Noonan, "I'm thinking of doing the show in April again -- the theatre will be free then - but that's difficult because of getting press to get an audience. We'll probably shoot the film in June or July, with the same cast. The point of doing it as a play is to learn about it, discover what the story is." Some reviewers have begun criticizing Noonan for keeping his plays so tightly focused and living-room intimate. Responds the playwright/filmmaker, "I'm comfortable with this way of working. I'm not that young, and there's a market for what I do. I don't see there's a lot of people covering those small, subtle silent moments." Asked about comparisons made between his work and that of Englishman Mike Leigh (Goosepimples, Ecstasy), Noonan said, "His stuff reminds me of my stuff. The kind of detail in non-verbal communication. He reminds me of what I try to do. Cassavettes too, and Fassbinder."
Continued Noonan, "It's a fine line between what I do and therapy. I do this stuff because I need to work out certain things in my life. It's not therapy, because there's something more elevated about a play, but it connects to people in a wider context. But I still try to make it as personal as I possibly can. With Wang Dang, issues about having kids and the darker side of that was something I wanted to explore. Having kids is a heavy, dark thing."
Noonan also looks at his three stage plays as following a philosophical progression. "In some ways, my first play, What Happened Was..., was about dating; the second, Wifey, was about marriage. Now Wang Dang is about children. But this play also deals with friendship. The story's more about the relationship between the two women, in a way, than about the guy."
For tickets ($20) and information on Wang Dang at the Paradise Theatre, 64 East 4th St., call (212) 253-8107.
-- By David Lefkowitz