I was so lucky to see Michael Kimmel’s new play Stand. Up. in a pre-production stage on Monday night. You can read a more formal review here, but for my blog, I want to talk more in-depth about the characters. This is not a spoiler free review. This is also not proofread by any means. Just me and word vomit, the usual.
In this reading, there were five characters seated across the stage. From left to right were Tommy (Michael Cyril Creighton), Lance Banks (Zachary Levi, light of my life), Frank Patton (Ben Shenkman), Donald (Graham Rowat), and Mara played by the wonderful Quincy Tyler Bernstine. As the scenes play out, they each take to a music stand and read from a script. It was so incredible to see. I had never seen anything like this before. Very cool. Anywho.
As I stated in my review, these characters all have depth. They are all main characters with storylines that unfold throughout the play. Of course, Lance and Frank have the most complex dispositions as the play’s center roles.
Frank Patton is a character I relate to emotionally. He’s a two-time divorcee in AA (not me), struggling to keep his sobriety through life’s curve balls, aka depression (me). He’s hilarious as he degrades himself (me) and uses his self-hatred as his muse for his art (also me). But it’s not easy for him. He’s constantly facing triggers as he meets with talent agent Tommy, who carelessly offers to buy him a drink at every rendezvous, or at comedy clubs where he performs in front of an audience that probably has a healthier relationship with alcohol than he does.
It’s a persistent fight, but he continues to give it his all throughout the entire play, which is so inspiring. He rebuilds his career through his podcast and even scores a late night talk show gig. As the play closes, however, he’s faced with the trigger of losing control over his material–thus, losing his ability to write his own bits in exchange for a career. The play ends with Frank debating his eventual relapse into alcoholism. And I love that. I love that it’s not easy for him, that it’s depicted as a goddamn hardship in his life because it allows the audience to feel sympathy for him. To understand his addiction and depression, and empathize with it.
I loved seeing that on stage. Real, raw, explicit.
On the opposite side of the spectrum sits Frank’s best friend, Donald. I think of Frank and Donald like Cory Matthews and Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World. If Frank/Cory is the main character with the main plot, Donald/Shawn is the comedic relief, the sidekick. Donald’s character has flawless comedic timing. He’s vulgar when he insults Lance, calling him a prick or motherfucker in almost every scene. He’s dramatic and angry, and it drives the play forward and gives it a kind of humor that’s different from what Frank gives. He’s relatable because he only wants basic things in life: a career that’s blossoming, some sex from Mara, and enough money to live on easy street (which he gets by opening for Lance’s comedy tour). He wants happiness, ultimately, and you know, for motherfucking Lance Banks to admit to stealing his jokes. Prick.
Speaking of Lance Banks, the failing, but extremely arrogant movie star. Despite having a really hard surface, even Lance has some amiable aspects, especially when it comes to Mara, his ex-girlfriend. When he’s with Mara, there seems to be a crack in his hardass shell from which rainbows and cupcakes seep out. Sure, there’s tension between the two, but he’s vulnerable with her. She knows him better than most people (except he would never talk about the damn accusations, stubborn man) and she can make him open up, if even for a moment. In those sincere instances, the audience has a chance to sympathize with him.
Lance’s agent, Tommy, even has some underlying issues the play touches on briefly. While he’s extremely outgoing when talking with potential/established clients, and especially when talking about his job and what he does, there’s a sliver of anxiety that shows through sometimes. He can be easily intimidated by anger, but he ultimately regains the upper hand by remembering that it’s his job to make his clients successful. Without him, they’re nothing. Toward the end of the play, the audience also learns that despite having a seemingly glamorous occupation, Tommy does struggle financially.
Personally, my favorite character was Mara. This is coming from somebody who stans (see Stan by Eminem) the absolute fuck out of Zachary Levi’s ass and worships the ground he walks on. Mara is a hardworking woman who loves sex and loves comedy, but hates love, stating blatantly that she’s committed to comedy. She embodies feminism in such a beautiful way. She is confident about her talent and has learned how to be tough in order to get where she is as a female comedian, to be taken seriously in a profession made up of mostly men. I’m unsure if it’s Bernstine’s portrayal of her, or the character herself that’s so charismatic and endearing. Mara is a character that helps normalize independent and successful women in today’s society. SO IMPORTANT.
This play is so much more than just a story about some washed up comedians. I cannot wait for it to move into a final presentation stage so I can see it again. I tend to obsess over shows I see, so this should be entertaining in the months to come.