Although the Vineyard Theatre did a developmental lab production of Nicky Silver's comedy, My Marriage To Ernest Borgnine, back in April 1997, the company ended up producing a different Silver piece, The Maiden's Prayer, this season. What happened to Ernest Borgnine?
The answer arrived May 23, when the play had its American premiere at San Diego's Sledgehammer Theatre, directed by Bryan Bevell. The show started previews May 16 and was scheduled to run to June 14 but was recently extended to June 28. Reviews of the show were positive, leading Variety columnist Army Archerd to phone the real Borgnine (of "Marty" and "McHale's Navy" fame) with excerpts.
A week later, Borgnine's laywer called Sledgehammer to threaten legal action.
In response, executive director Ethan Feerst mustered all his courage...and backed down. "We don't feel there is a burning first amendment issue here," he said in a statement. Rather than battle the former husband of Ethel Merman, Silver has renamed the piece, My Marriage To Marisa Tomei. "Given that the play really has nothing to do with Ernest Borgnine, both Nicky Silver and I feel this is a perfectly fine response."
Silver's "psycho-sexual comedy" concerns a troubled teenager and his troubled psychiatrist and features such characters as a deranged killer and a budding Lolita. Starring in the rechristened Tomei are Diane Addis, Michael Douglas Hummel, Julie Jacobs, Dale Morris and Brian Salmon. Designing the show are David Ledsinger (set), Peter Smith (lighting), Michele Short (costumes) and Jeff Ladman (sound).
Silver's connection to Sledgehammer comes through director Bevell, artistic director of the Fritz Theatre, where he staged Silver's Fat Men In Skirts. He also helmed Silver's Free Will and Wanton Lust at Sledgehammer.
Sledgehammer Theatre was established in 1985 by Scott Feldsher, Ethan Feerst, and Robert Brill. Over the past twelve years, the company has gained a reputation for producing large shows on small budgets and their intense dedication to new voices in American Theatre. It has introduced new works by such acclaimed playwrights as Mac Wellman, Erik Ehn, Kelly Stuart, and Charles Mee.
Other Silver works include Pterodactyls, Raised In Captivity, Fat Men In Skirts and The Food Chain.
For tickets and information on My Marriage To Marisa Tomei at the Sledgehammer Theatre, 1620 6th Ave., call (619) 544-1484.