|Photo by Anne Fishbein|
“I want everyone in the world to ask permission before they wear shorts.” That’s Jane’s (the wide-eyed and exuberant Betsie Devan) response to men who wear Capri pants and to anyone who would buy a bright yellow Lexus. Jane’s the bubbly gal, one of the three young, single career women in Eydie Faye’s comedy The Pages of My Diary I’d Rather Not Read (now playing at the Hudson Backstage). And Jane would like to rule
Ivy (Marissa Manzanares) we know is successful by her tailored look and power desk. She’s a successful businesswoman but frustrated write-aholic who’s filled up tons of notebooks but has yet to publish a word. She also has an idea for a TV show called Dick for a Day.
And then there’s self-deprecating Esther, played by the author, who respects yet can’t seem to embrace aspects of her mother’s simple philosophy, such as a shopping spree at Target “because tomorrow we could have cancer.”
“If I brought home an African-American man,” says Esther, “it’d be cheaper than a hit man.” Esther’s like a Rhoda Morgenstern who’s been bumped around more. And in this play, there is no sweet, popular Mary Richards in sight.
You can quote the hell out of Pages — there are more zingers per minute than Mel Brooks sped up to 78 rpms, practically a TV season’s worth of one-liners for the average (topnotch, even) sitcom. Each character is onstage the entire length of the play, each delivering a monologue of innermost thoughts from her sacred journal in a kind of roundelay, each unaware of the others. They circle around the stage, weaving dialogue as artfully as those Olympic rhythmic gymnasts twirl flags and hoops and such. It is a marvel of these actors’ ability to keep the pace moving, as lines clip each other and even overlap, yet everything’s choreographed and rehearsed to perfection (Richard Hess directs).
Pages has been wrongly compared to Sex and the City. For one thing, Sarah Jessica Parker and company get laid more than your neighborhood hooker. Yet Three Coins in a Fountain it ain’t, either. Pages’ girls want Mr. Right, sure, but they are at an age when they are realizing that somewhere along the way they may have let their ideals derail their happiness, and that misery is pretty damn funny.
What gives the play its richness isn’t so much the rim-shot humor as how the barbs often turn from sharp blasts into thudding sadness. Each character has a breakthrough moment where self-defenses are dropped and inner Holly Golightlys appear, as when seemingly-in-control Ivy sighs, “I seem to have stepped on all the flowers I was supposed to smell.” Jane sums up with “It’s not right for a girl as cute as me to be this bitter.” And Esther breaks your heart in her quip-free retelling of calling out for her boyfriend to kill a cockroach, momentarily forgetting he’s recently dumped her and is gone. Of other happy loving couples, she says, “I feel like people like me are here to remind people like them how lucky they are.” Ouch.
Sometimes, Faye’s ability to put pathos behind the patter turns to real anger, such as Esther’s “guacamole incident,” where her neurotic insistence over having her sacred snack remain untouched by other family members turns into fury.
“I’m fascinated with making the audience laugh in one sentence, and the ball’s rolling, and then the air gets sucked out of the room,” says Faye, over coffee in Studio City.
The Pages of My Diary I’d Rather Not Read is the first play for 24-year-old Faye, a Valley girl who attended the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, where she met her two co-stars, along with director Hess. Faye recalls — with lots of “totally”s and “you know what I’m saying?”s — her not-very-long-ago straight-outta-college days, when she and Manzanares and Devan all moved to New York City, working crummy temp jobs and trying out for plays and movies. Pages began as short monologues Faye wrote for herself and her actor friends in order to stand apart from the throng. “Nothing was doing it for me, and when I would go out on auditions, even if I wasn’t right for the role I would do my own monologues, and friends would be reading them to people like Stephen Schwartz, and I’m like ‘Ha!’”
The response was strong enough to encourage Faye to expand the monologues, often drawing on her own private journal. While “pretending to work” at the Director’s Guild, she completed what would become Pages. Her old drama professor, Hess, encouraged her to take it to the stage in L.A.
“I’m a character actor. I’m not Grace from Will & Grace, you know what I’m saying?” she says of her dark-featured look that was described once as “interesting.” “There are no young character actors. If you’re young, you’ve got to be cute and this and that. So I said, ‘I’ve got to do this on my own and create my own thing because I’m tired of playing the angry Italian woman and the Spanish maid.’”
So were born Esther, Jane and Ivy. “About 40 percent me,” she says of these women of the smart and überdemanding generation; each has a million rules and
Are her characters merely the latest in the line of Bridget Joneses and Ann Maries? “I think my characters are three distinct types of people, and we all have a little slice of each of them,” says Faye. “I get 60-year-old people coming up to me after the show and telling me how much they related to it. I didn’t want this to be a one-liner fest. It’s your most inner thoughts — that’s my concept. Your journal is about your highlights and lowlights. There’s no filler. You don’t write, ‘Today was good. I had a hamburger and la dee da.’ It’s more about invisible midgets under your skirt and ‘I don’t want my mom to die.’”
One thing that sets Pages apart from other fretting yuppie-fests is Faye comes out of formal theater training; it would be unfair to accuse her of intending the play to function as her gimme-a-sitcom-now showcase. For one thing, she uses too many Thespian expressions like “back to the front” and insists that it will always be the play first. However, Hollywood has definitely come calling. Movie people want her for script rewrites and features; TV suits want her for sitcoms. There is even talk that Ivy, Jane and Esther would be great on episodic television. Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore, Chloë Sevigny and Jennifer Love Hewitt have “expressed interest” (translation: They’ve sent representatives to see the show). “Everything’s in the meeting stages, but it’s a good time. All of a sudden I have options, and I’m not begging people to hear me.”
But easy there, Ms. Barrymore. “If I can find someone who can do it better, I’d be more than willing to step aside. It’s not something you can just plug somebody into. It’s a very delicate dynamic between the three girls,” she says upon learning of the inquiring A-listers. “If Angelina Jolie wants to play Ivy, that’s fine, but I’ve got to see her audition.”
Pages of My Diary I’d Rather Not Read is being
performed at the Hudson Backstage, 1110 N. Hudson Ave.,
Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through April 15; then at the Lillian Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood;
Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; thru April 29. (323) 930-9304.