I took the train out to New Jersey last night with my friend Blake DeLong.  We worked together at Chautauqua a few summers ago with Alex Morf, performing a dark, philosophical play by Albert Camus called The Just.  Alex is now starring in a wildly different piece, a commedia dell’arte play at New Jersey Shakespeare called The Servant of Two Masters.  Commedia is a form of comic theater that began in Italy during the 16th century, known for its use of stock characters and improvisation.  You can see the influences of commedia even now, in the type-specific characters of modern television sitcoms.  I have to tell you, though, it is not an easy thing to do.  We worked on commedia at NYU with Jim Calder, and it has to have both incredibly broad humor as well as a deep commitment to that humor being truthful.  I was never all that good at it.  Alex, however, was meant to do commedia.  He is fantastic as the title character, a servant who tries to please two different masters.  If you get a chance, you should go see him do this role.

(Alex Morf and Matthew Simpson in the Goldoni play, ©2010 Gerry Goodstein)

Christine Mild (“After Apple Picking”) drove a UHaul with her brother across the country this week from New York to Chicago.  I met her for a drink in Queens the night before she left, after they had packed everything they could fit into their truck.  Christine is one of my favorite people and I’m going to miss having her here in New York.  But I also understand why she left.  New York is not an easy place to live and work – it’s relentless, competitive, and unforgiving.  The following day as I again watched the edit of her interview, I was struck by a phrase she says: “Nothing is easy in New York,” and how it echoes the interviews of both Stacey Linnartz and Michael Stuhlbarg.  Consider the similarities.  Stacey: “New York is the city that you love and grow to hate, and LA is the city you hate and grow to love.  And um… although I love New York City, it’s hard… in this town.”  Michael: “I’ve been in this city for 21 years, doing this professionally since 1989 and… I feel so old sometimes.”  I’ve lived in New York for seven years now, and though I love its rhythms and people and art, I understand what each of them mean.

She wears a clown nose and she still breaks your heart (painting by Claude Gillot)

Stacey and I studied commedia with Jim Calder, but we also studied clown with Chris Bayes.  Now clown is not what you think.  No makeup or wigs or circus.  Clown, like commedia, forces you to find a very childlike simplicity in comedy.  Again, Alex Morf is the perfect example of someone who masters this.  Good comedy, like all good art I think, comes from a very honest and truthful place.  Remarkably, it also comes from pain.  As much as you might not want to admit it, nothing is funnier than someone else’s pain, recognizing it as familiar but not your own.  At the end of our class with Chris Bayes, we finally got to wear red noses (a clown and comedy rite of passage) and he named our clowns.  Chris works with idea that every person has one clown in them, a very simple and truthful and innocent person (though possibly also devious, or angry, or sad).  When you find that person, Chris gives your clown a name.  Stacey Linnartz wanted her clown to be fierce and independent, but eventually figured out that she was quite the opposite: a little girl named Crybaby Zero.  My clown was soft spoken and mild mannered, and went by the name Baltimore Peabody, The Vaguely Pathetic.

New York is difficult, but for now it is where I live and work.  I see its beauty and its opportunity, but it also wears me out a little.  I’ll miss having Christine here.  But for now I’ll put on my clown nose and continue to walk the crowded streets.