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 returned to the space which he founded in 1982 -- the Paradise Theatre on NY's East 4th Street -- for his latest play, Wang Dang. The show played last year at this time (Jan. 29-Feb. 28, 1998) and recently returned to the same space with two different actresses joining Noonan in the three-character show. Megan Edwards and LeAnna Croom now have the roles played by Missi Pyle and Tristine Skyler.
In Wang Dang, which opened Jan. 14 and runs to Feb. 14, two film department coeds meet their professor in an off-campus motel room. As with Wifey and What Happened Was..., Wang Dang occurs in real time.
Reached early in the initial run, Noonan told Playbill On-Line he was still in the process of learning what the play was really about, and won't even have any real answers until the summer, when he intended to film the material. "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... The point of doing it as a play is to learn about it, discover what the story is."
Some reviewers have criticizing Noonan for keeping his plays so tightly focused and living-room intimate. Responded 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