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Bite Your Tongue at Theater for the New City

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If anyone has been wondering why I haven't written anything here lately, it is because I have been working for a theatrical production since January: Bite Your Tongue (an Actors Equity Showcase currently playing at Theater for the New City):

Bite Your Tongue explores the notion that what we actually say aloud does not necessarily reflect what is going on in our heads. The reality on the outside does not always match the reality on the inside. They are both a version of reality, but which is the more powerful force?

It's an amazingly fertile theme, as Bite Your Tongue demonstrates. And the play, which takes place outside of conventional sequencing and yet still maintains a cohesive story arc, presents many interpretations of the theme. Although reasonable minds can differ, as I have seen in various write-ups of the play, here is how I see it (and what can you expect if you are thinking of coming to see it before it closes on March 17).

Imagine an affluent suburban neighborhood. Mostly colonials. Mostly one-acre zoning. There's a wealthy doctor who lives there. Let's call him Andrew. Maybe he's the elegantly attired president of his country club's membership committee. Perhaps he's a highly respected pillar of his community with a really impressive golf handicap. Maybe he's got a rather milquetoast wife who goes by a rather generic name. Perhaps there's a daughter who is living at home while she finishes grad school ("Melanie" or "Mel") and a son who graduated from high school and is ready to start his freshman year of a rather impressive college ("Francis").

Imagine that Andrew has a next-door neighbor - a divorcee at midlife, a professional success, but no longer the sprightly vixen she was in her youth. Perhaps her husband left her for his personal trainer, and now the personal trainer has become his new wife and the mother of their new baby girl. Perhaps she is now embittered, or worse, apathetic about love. Perhaps we only know this middle-aged woman as "Mrs. White" because notwithstanding her career success, she remains nothing to anyone except some man's wife - and someone's rejected wife at that.

Perhaps Mrs. White has been doing her best to raise her two sons to speak politely and behave with decorum - a couple of pretty boys who may be truly ugly on the inside. Perhaps one is a lifelong friend of Francis ("David"), despite that he is not nearly as intelligent or deep. Perhaps the other ("John") is still living at home at the age of 30, for reasons no one in the neighborhood would ever care to discuss or even think about.

There are other neighbors too - a teenage girl the same age as Francis and David ("Felicia") who has already figured out the power of her youth and the sensuality that she supposedly possesses, but who has not yet figured out the nuances of using these secret weapons. Perhaps Felicia has an older sister, a 24-year old who is at home for the summer on break from Julliard ("Veronica" or "Ronnie"). Perhaps Veronica aspires to be a role model for Felicia, but hasn't quite figured it all out herself. Perhaps she never will. And imagine that in this affluent neighborhood, there is a boy known as "Bam" - a "token" minority, whose appearance (like anyone else's) is inevitably deceiving.

What if one day, for no explicable reason, every single one of these people - people like you and me and everyone we know - suddenly broke that long-standing contract we've made with society to keep our thoughts to ourselves?

What if suddenly we heard what they were thinking? What if the ugliest of notions carried in their hearts suddenly became audible?

What if suddenly, what they were thinking became reality?

What if it were nearly impossible to discern the difference between what they dreamed up in their heads and what was actually happening?

What if suddenly there were simply no filter, no rules, no social norms? What if suddenly everyone did just exactly what they wanted to do, without regard to societal standards? Would we wander around, spouting hatred? Would we commit random acts of unspeakable violence? Would the meaning of everything become intensified? Or would nothing mean anything anymore, happening only in a fleeting moment of feeling?

That's what Bite Your Tongue explores.

As we watch, it is difficult to be sure as to whether we are suddenly listening in on the deepest thoughts of these characters or whether these characters are suddenly acting on their darkest impulses. Is Felicia real? Or is she just a fantasy of Francis? Is she real to Francis but merely a fantasy to the middle-aged, deeply disappointed Andrew? Do we actually meet Felicia in Act I? Or are we only meeting her, for real, in Act II, when we catch her unawares, interacting with her older sister, Veronica?

Does Veronica have a reason to be angry? Or is she wishing she did? Could she possibly be capable of the unspeakable acts of violence of which she speaks when we first meet her? Is she a romantic? Or is she so in love with love, itself, that she is rendered incredibly callous? Does Bam speak the truth at any point? Or is Bam always speaking the truth? Is David as shallow as he seems? Is Francis as wise and decent as he makes himself out to be? Or is he making fools of all of us? And what of Melanie? Is she a borderline personality gone bonkers? Or could we merely be hearing her inner torment?

If one thing becomes clear, it is that there exists a tacit agreement with our friends and neighbors to maintain decorum. If there weren't, who knows what would happen?

As thought-provoking as the material is, these actors bring it to even more vivid life, in a way that words on a page cannot possibly express: Philippe "Keb" Blanchard as John, Ben Curtis as Francis, Tali Custer as Felicia, Elizabeth Lanier as Veronica (or Ronnie), Audrey Lorea as Melanie (or Mel), Zen Mansley as Andrew, Cameron Mason as Bam, Lissa Moira as Mrs. White, Thomas Wesson as David and Wendy Callard-Booz (in a special appearance; she along with Ben and Lissa appear courtesy of Actors Equity).

We feel their pain as much as we feel mocked by them. We find ourselves taking it all very personally as we watch. We grow to hate them and wonder if we even have a right to hate people based solely on their thoughts. Others we grow to love, but find ourselves questioning if what we are seeing is real, or just someone else's misimpression.

This production is directed by Theodore Mornel (aka "Ted") a veteran stage director who we are honored to have as our artistic captain. In the midst of the first week of rehearsals, Ted lost his wife, which made us all very sad and has added a note of poignancy to the entire production. The haunting music is by Quebecois composer, Sebastien Tremblay.

Bite Your Tongue grew out of the characters and ideas explored by Canadian playwright, Etienne Lepage, in a series of short stories he wrote while in graduate school. He later turned those characters and ideas into a play called Rouge Gueule that played in Montreal in 2009. Last year, Chantal Bilodeau translated Rouge Guelue into Red Howl, as commissioned by the Lark Play Development Center for a public reading in 2011. When Philippe "Keb" Blanchard took his dramaturgical turn at the material, the beautiful and brilliant Bite Your Tongue was the result.

My role has been called "Stage Manager", "Director of Fund Raising", "Director of Public Relations" and "Mommy"...but mostly, I have really just helped out where my help was sought and where I felt that my help could be used. It has been an amazing experience, and it makes me want to re-invent myself yet again...this time as a producer.

I would like to give this production the best review imaginable, but since I am so closely involved with it, it would sound biased. So, I encourage anyone and everyone to come out and see it before it closes on March 17. Tickets are available at this website and this one as well. Tickets are also available at the box office at 155 First Avenue, New York, New York. Showtimes are 8 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, there is a 3 p.m. matinee at which tickets are "pay what you can."

Come on down, and see what happens "one day in dysfunctional post-postmodern America."