"Kiss Shot," a
new musical comedy by Jim Neu, is set in the near future in Los Angeles where
film noir has taken over as the dominant everyday lifestyle. The lingua franca
is right out of a Raymond Chandler novel and events evolve cinematically. Thanks
to palm pilot technology, every citizen packs a "personal portable sound
system," so he/she can break into song with appropriate backup music on
impulse. The result is an affectingly stylish and zany play with music in which
Lips Green (Mary Shultz), an unknown saxophonist and small-time criminal, sets
out to shake down the Hollywood powers-that-be over a film clip of two '50s
male film icons behaving, well, badly together.
To do so she's got to pull
off a sting operation on the world's most seasoned and world-weary bunch, including
Monte Blane (Bill Rice), a veteran actor in hundreds of Hollywood crowd scenes,
Belle Russe (Black-Eyed Susan), an agent for dead clients ("celebrity salvage"),
and a couple of mugs played by Jim Neu and Charles Allcroft whose idea of a
warm impulse is to only break one of your legs. She's even got to fool the Rhonda
Fleming Society, where career background actors meet to show off spear wounds
from "Intolerance," swap Agnes Moorehead stories, and look up lost
movies so they can claim to be in them.
It's a milieu that's simply
made for Playwright Jim Neu, "the Oscar Wilde of the Postverbal Generation,"
who is a master of deadpan circumlocution and the elliptical take on language.
This makes for blindingly brilliant dialogue, doublespeak, and a minimalist
comedy style that is all Neu's own. The title refers to a pool table move where
you use one ball to nudge another into the pocket. It's also an apt metaphor
for the language upon which Neu's intricate plays ride: a sort of literary dodge-and-run,
like when one character, savoring the anticipation of watching the two stars
doing the unmentionable, declares, "If it's that good, you have my posthumous
thanks in advance" and Lips accuses a fellow shakedown artist with, "You've
got more sides than a bipolar conman, or am I hitting too close to home?"
The piece is scored and played by jazz pianist/composer Neal Kirkwood and directed
by Keith McDermott, a veteran of five previous Jim Neu plays. Sets are by Donald
Eastman and lights are by Carol Mullins.
Critic Brandon Judell has
called Jim Neu "one of the most effulgent beams currently shining on Off-off
Broadway." Neu's own underplaying once reminded a reviewer of "a kind
of Groucho Marx on medication." When his first full-length musical, "Dark
Pocket," was presented by The Club at La MaMa in 1994 to approving audiences
and critics, the Native (L.C. Cole) wrote, "It was minimalist writing
and acting at one of the best performance levels around....This was controlled
chaos, manipulated madness, intellectual idiocy, from which a lot of deconstruction-minded
performers and writers could well learn....The fun of course was entirely in
the stylish ride and the ideas it took us by."
Neu's material has, of
late, proved to be surprisingly adaptable. This fall, Neu teamed up with choreographer
Douglas Dunn for "Aerobia," a witty dance-play that was a sly satire
on self-improvement fads. Deborah Jowitt wrote in the Village Voice, "Dunn's
choreography and Neu's text form beguiling rhythmic partnerships, collide, and
conspire, while managing to convey...the society of the future and a place where
it hangs out." The season before, Neu's "Dark Pocket" (La MaMa,
1994), a piece based on a chance meeting of a detective and a mysterious older
man in New York's Inwood section, was adapted into a play for two women by
Bloolips' Bette Bourne and Paul Shaw and performed to approving notices at
the Rosemary Branch Theatre, London.
Jim Neu began working in theater as an actor in Robert Wilson's company in
the early 1970's, performing in New York, Europe, Brazil and Iran. When Wilson
began employing text in his work, Neu began writing for him. He contributed
to the scripts of Wilson's "Ka Mountain," The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin"
and "A Letter for Queen Victoria." Neu began writing his own plays
with the Napa Valley Theater Company in California in the late '70s. Since 1992,
all his new works have been presented by La MaMa, with the exception of "Aerobia,"
the collaboration with Douglas Dunn. In all, Neu has written 25 plays, which
have been presented by leading experimental theaters in New York, Chicago, Dallas,
San Francisco, Philadelphia and London. They include "Him or Me" (1979),
"Basic Behavior" (1982), "Mutual Narcissism" (1984), "Duet
for Spies" (1987), "An Evening with Jesse James" (1988), "Live
Witness" (1992), "Dark Pocket" (1994), "The Floatones"
(1995), "Mondo Beyondo" (1997) and Undercurrent Incorporated"
(1999). In 1993, "Live Witness" was published by Theater Communications
Group in their "Plays in Process" series. In recent years some of
his earlier work has been revived by the Chain Lightning and Miranda theater
companies in New York. In addition to his own work, Neu has collaborated with
theater companies Otrabanda and the Talking Band, and written text for dance
works by David Woodberry, Yoshiko Chuma, Charles Moulton and Cathy Weis. He
also wrote the screenplays for Andrew Horn's films "Doomed Love" and
"The Big Blue," which both premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.
Neu is recipient of a 1985-86 National Endowment for the Arts. Fellowship for
New Genres, 1987 New York Foundation for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship, and
a 1994 New Works grant by the New York State Council on the Arts.
Director Keith McDermott
was a member of the cast of Jim Neu's "The Floatones" at La MaMa in
1995. As an actor he's performed major roles on Broadway as well as in the avant
garde work of Robert Wilson and others. As a director, he's staged both modern
and classical plays. Obie-winner Black-Eyed Susan is well known for her work
with Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theater, John Jesurun, Mabou Mines, Roslyn
Drexler and Stuart Sherman. Mary Shultz, recipient of an Obie and a Bessie Award,
has performed with Meredith Monk, John Jesurun, Ping Chong, Anne Bogart, Mac
Wellman, and many others. Bill Rice, a regular in Neu's plays, has performed
with Stuart Sherman, starred in Tennessee Williams' "The Traveling Companion,"
danced with choreographer George Stamos, and had a solo show of his paintings
in the Sidney Janis Gallery in NYC. Neal Kirkwood composes for and performs
with the Chromatic Persuaders, The Discovery Orchestra and Gorilla My Love with
Harry Mann. Charles Allcroft, who is also a playwright, has performed in works
by Robert Whitman and "A Mass for the 21st Century" by Carmen Moore
and acted in the films of Lee Ellickson and Vladen Nikolic. He has appeared
in La MaMa productions of Jim Neu plays and in "The Monk and the Hangman's
Daughter" by Ellen Stewart when it was produced for the Festival of Nations.