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The Playwright Who Fell Over the Edge

Playwright Michael Farkash has died.

He was only 53 years old, but he’d been battling health problems, and his sudden death last month came as shocking news to his friends in the theater.



He’d been producing Equity Waiver plays in L.A. since the 1980s at LATC, the Burbage, Wallenboyd, Theatre/Theatre, Cast, Theater of NOTE, as well as the occasional outdoor venue.



Mike had affiliated himself primarily with the “experimental” wing of local playmakers — Heliogabalus and Padua Hills, where the fearless exhibition of his own waking dream state was a natural fit, and where his wry, unaffected nature endeared him to his colleagues.



His plays were memorably strange. He had a bent for science fiction, and his work often concerned topics like the cryogenic preservation of heads, alien abduction or astral projection. Some did not, though, like the play about online pimping. They bore titles such as

Frozen Futures

,

Gyno Girls

,

Fontana Produce

and

Stolen Time

. One play I was in (I forget the title) dared restore to popular esteem the dishonored practice of mother-son sexual relations.



But he’s probably best remembered for his 1990 cold-cut opus,

Meat Dreams

, concerning the journey of a destabilized delicatessen owner. Mike got the best reviews of his life for that one. Not that it mattered; he certainly didn’t try to replicate the winning formula. In fact, I never heard him mention the play again following its highly successful run.



Mike was respected by his peers because he set out to tell stories that were often just as determined not to be told. I came to regard him for it much the way those Nazi captors did Steven McQueen’s tireless efforts to flee in

The Great Escape

. Mike’s fortitude for tilting at narrative windmills was close to astonishing. In workshops, group resistance to his ideas perturbed him little, and he’d jot notes patiently and without judgment, managing to convey at the same time the impression that he was simply glad for your company. The man was miraculously un-self-involved for an artist.



Mike cared little for production values. No audience that saw it will forget the penuriously low-tech sight gag involving a plastic infant lowered from the Glaxa Studios rafters in

Abduction

. The doll descended through the lights on a string, coming to rest on cue within the just-opened palms of the actor. My mouth fell open. It was not only a feat of insouciant timing but an act of total disregard for the preservation of the fictional dream. Though I confess to not remembering what the play was actually about, it contained that towering Farkash moment.



We’ll remember him for his abundances: his wit foremost, his gentle manner and absence of antagonism. We’ll miss, too, his rich and quietly resonant voice, which reached your ears as though over thick carpet through a wet basement.



And let’s not forget Mike the sometime actor. He cut a Falstaffian figure that, because you knew him, you were inclined to view as ironic. But it’d be a mistake to think he was playing himself. The work for him was no joke; he’d proved many times that his intentions were true and his heart was sincere.



It’s his heart, we now realize, that he gave, and by which he revealed himself. And it feels cracked far too soon.

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