don’t be ronin my dreams

i see a movie and debate my future. like that’s anything new.

I saw Ronin last night.

I liked it. I decided I liked it, which means the film had some flaws… but I guess I liked it.

It was funny, because you could tell that they wanted you to know you were watching experienced actors who didn’t have big names, so they kept putting them in recognizable situations.

Opening shot: Voice-over of Robert DeNiro, so the young crowd says, “He sounds like the dude in Taxi Driver.” In case that did not work out, they have him shouting a sentence over and over again: “Get out of the car. Out! Out! Out! Out of the car! Get out! Get out! Get out of the car! The car! The car! Now! Get out! Now! Get out!” A classic DeNiro line if there ever was one. “Is that the guy from Heat?”

Enter Jean Reno. Put that little black skull cap on him for the first fifteen minutes of the film, so we all know him as The Professional.

By the way, I will never see another film with Natascha McElhone. Ick. They started so you could recognize her too… she kind of looked upward with sad eyes– “Oh, the Truman Show. That’s where I’ve seen her.” Her accent was so horrible and inconsistent, I kept wondering when she was going to say it was all a part of her spy act and that she was from America. It doesn’t happen. For her sake, it should have. Terrible. I can’t exactly duplicate it here on the page, but I’ll try… pretend you are seeing a high school production of Dancing at Lughnasa. Then Natascha starts talking: “Yoooouve go’a stick with the plan that was chosen. Nouuu. We cooont be goun’ around without a plan. We’ve been given orders. Have you go’ a prooblem with that?” Like that. Have the sentence with an accent. Half without. Oi.

Then you’ve got Stellan Skarsgrd, where everyone’s like, “Who’s the Bill Gates guy?” And then he gets kind of angry, and he lowers his head and touches his glasses in exasperation, and everyone’s like, “Ohhhhhh. Good Will Hunting.”

And my personal favorite, Jonathan Pryce’s entrance. Just sort of spins around in a subway tunnel to look at something. You could hear the Infinity music playing the second you saw him.

Then there’s the Irish/Scottish guy, who they ugly up enough that you’re like, “I’ve seen him be the bad guy before, and I know he’s not from Trainspotting.” And honestly, all I could think of was that I saw him in Patriot Games, a film I saw, like, five years ago and don’t even remember, but something about the way he was being filmed and the way he was dressed reminded me of the film. What happened when I checked the IMDB this morning? You betcha. Patriot Games. Amazing.

It’s like the memory of nine films in a spy plot.

But I wanted to like it, and dammit, the filmmakers wanted me to like it, and I was in a car-crashing mood, I guess. Lots of innocent bystanders killed. When you’re a spy, you don’t care about anyone, you see. Which goes against Jean Reno’s character completely, but whatever. Or is it Jean Reno’s character that I’m used to in other films? Damn. I can’t remember.

I’m not supposed to.

So, if you are wondering how the shows went this past weekend:
Friday– terrible. Saturday– both shows went well. I was worried that I would never have a good show again until Saturday came around. Actually, Friday’s was still better than last Friday’s.

I tell you what, there’s nothing worse in improv than getting a suggestion from the audience that you don’t know anything about. And not like the audience is trying to screw you, you should just know about it, you know? I’m usually the one getting upset when someone doesn’t know a t.v. show or a playwright. I mean, everyone should be familiar with Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, and David Mamet. We get them shouted out all the time. Everyone should know “The Facts of Life,” “Three’s Company,” and “Seinfeld.” But, of course, because I made a big deal out of it, it came back to bite me on the ass. Friday, we got Gunsmoke. Dammit, I know of the show and all, but I’ve never seen it, I couldn’t name any characters, and I ended up doing some silly gunfight on stage because my partner didn’t know about the show either. So that sucked, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Last week, we were playing a game called “Pan left, pan right” where it’s kind of like channel surfing. There’s six or so scenes of two people going on and each has a different topic or theme, and someone on the mic shouts “pan left” or “pan right” and you go through each of the scenes. Does that make sense? Well, anyway, my friend Andy and I got Moby Dick. Man, I never read Moby Dick. That’s a damn shame, I know, but I hadn’t read it. So I whisper to Andy, “I didn’t read it.” And he says, “Me either, but there’s a t.v. movie with Patrick Stewart and the kid from E.T. on TNT right now.” And I say, “Henry Thomas?” And he says, “I don’t know, but that’s what we’ll do. Follow my lead.”

And part of me thought, if I wasn’t familiar with the film, the audience probably wasn’t familiar with the film, but I decided to go with it. Andy sat on a chair trying to make it fly to the whale while I shouted “Engage” a lot, because if there’s one thing I know less than Moby Dick, it’s Star Trek. So this went on for a few seconds, until my buddy on the mic shouted “Pan Left…read a book!” And the audience laughed, and we laughed, because it was obvious that we had no idea what to do. So a few more of the scenes went on, one of which was about a guy trying to get in to see Evita, and was getting teased because he was there alone, and not on a date…and Andy turns to me and says, “What do you want to do when we go back?” Because we have to continue the scene or start a new one concerning Moby Dick pretty soon, and I said, “What’s that guy’s name, Queque? Queek? Queequeg?” “That last one,” he says. “Follow me,” I said. “You be Queequeg.” And then we were called on, and I jumped up on a chair, arms in full Eva Peron glory and sang:


Don’t cry for me tiny Queequeg!

The truth is I never read you!

I read some Steinbeck.

A little Hemingway.

I was in honors!

Read Billy Budd, hey!

And the lights went down to applause, and I had saved the terrible Moby Dick incident. But that’s my big fear. I get stuff that I didn’t read, and if you know that most of the audience has, then you’re at a terrible disadvantage.

Oh, improv. I’m sure my stories just make your day. Sometimes I really feel like a whore in this business. Improv… the show isn’t made without an audience. At the BS3 festival last year, I was talking to a guy from a troupe from LA and I said, “Wow, there’s only four of you, that must make for a hell of an improv show.” Because you’d have to all be working so hard for 90 minutes. And he says, with this lemon-tasting scowl, “Oh, we don’t do improv.” And I said, “Why not?” And he says, “That’s not real theatre. That’s not even real comedy. Your audience does all the work. You make them do all the thinking. It’s terrible.” And I said, “Do you know where you are?” And he says, “Excuse me?” And I started to take of his badge and I said, “This is the Big Stinking International IMPROV and Sketch Comedy Festival, buddy. It was an improv festival first. Why don’t you just take your smug ass down to Del Close and learn something, you ignorant asshole!”

Well, I was thinking that, anyway. My memory falters in the time that has passed. I think I said something else really profound, like, “Oh.”

But what he said, as incorrect as he is, makes me think, “What if other people feel that way about what I do?” I want people to know I’m in legitimate theatre. But then I think about Saturday night, when I was in the bathroom after the show and I heard a woman talking to a friend, “You know why I like these shows? Because I could never do that. Just go up in front of all those people with nothing. They have to be really smart.”

And then I pulled up my smarty pants and left the stall.

I don’t know. I guess “at the end of the day,” (as Eric is fond of saying) I don’t really think that what I do isn’t legitimate, and I don’t really concern myself with those who dislike improv. It’s been a great acting tool. It has been an incredible writing tool. I now understand what grabs an audience better. What keeps them listening. How they will tune out the sound of bar staff and beer bottles and talking and music just to hear what is going on onstage if it is engaging enough. What makes them like one person, and dislike another, when they really don’t know either of them as people. When an audience stops listening… and most importantly, what makes them laugh.

We were all sitting at a bar last night after rehearsal (as we are often prone to do) and we were just talking about stuff, and we got on a topic that was making us laugh, and one by one, someone would add to the joke or top the joke until someone nailed it right on, and we all laughed, and sighed, and sat still for a second. One of my friends goes, “You can hear the comedy shotguns reloading.” And someone else started complaining that one night we were all talking about something, and it got really funny, and everyone was topping one another, and he goes, “and it was so competitive. He’d say something funny, and then he’d say something funnier, and then she’d say something right after that that was really funny.” And I said, “Oh, yeah, I know. It sucks to laugh, doesn’t it?” And my friend says, “I’m serious. Don’t you get tired of laughing all the time?” And my other friend says, “Seriously, we get a little jaded by all the comedy, but you seem to always love it.” And I put on my little halo and said, “Every day is a miracle for me, Andy.” And he said, “You must be the healthiest person in the world, with all the laughing you do.” And it got a little quieter, because a few people at the table knew about my biopsy next week. Including Andy, who then said, “Because it’s good for fixing things, you know, like when you’re sick.” And he started flubbing a little, and he says, “I tried to write maxims, but someone always re-writes them and makes them better.” “Like laughter is the best medicine?” “Yeah. I was working on ‘laughter makes sick parts better,’ but I guess that other one was more appealing to the public.” And then someone ordered another pitcher, and we moved on to another topic.
I don’t want this to affect my sense of humor. I hope Andy’s right. I hope I’m the healthiest person in Austin.

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