Dallas — Eric Bogosian is worried he won’t fill up the Wyly Theatre.
The playwright, actor, novelist, and most recently the creator of 100monologues.com, Bogosian comes to Dallas for four performances over three nights at the Wyly to perform Eric Bogosian: Bitter Honey — The Best of 100 (Monologues), presented in the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Off Broadway on Flora series. He hasn’t traveled outside of New York to perform in more than 15 years.
“Dallas asked me to come here and I said ‘who’s going to come see this?’ They told me to let them worry about it,” he says.
In 2007, Bogosian was asked to bring some of his monologues to Broadway for a one-man show. He wasn’t interested. A few years later he realized over the years he had amassed a great number of monologues and decided to publish them in a collection. “I had about 97. We added some from Talk Radio and published it.” The result was the collection 100 (Monologues).
What began as a book has evolved into something even greater. The website was born out of one of Bogosian’s regular poker nights with actors like Liev Schreiber, Bobby Cannavale, and Dallas Roberts. Bogosian asked if any of the men would ever be interested in reading some of his monologues on film. They were all in.
100monologues.com is Bogosian’s baby. Now a collection of 50 actors doing his monologues, Bogosian has created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the remaining 50 monologues.
“My son warned me not to do it. He said I’m not supposed to ask for money," Bogosian says. "But I figure, a lot of time and money is going into this, the actors are giving their time, why can’t we ask people to help us out if they are using the site and enjoying it?”
After less than a week the project was halfway funded. Bogosian is excited about the remaining 50 monologues and has actors lining up to do the project. The site features actors such as Michael Shannon, Jessica Hecht, Billy Crudup, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jennifer Tilly, monologist Mike Daisey and playwright Halley Feiffer, whose play I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard opens at Kitchen Dog Theater this weekend. (You can watch the Crudup and Feiffer monologues below.)
“It immediately gets complicated with coordinating things like SAG contracts and schedules, but we put it together with my son who has a production company. We found a tiny sound stage that no one knows about. It’s perfect for what we’re doing.” Bogosian says young actors tell him quite frequently that they use his monologues for auditioning, “Why not give them a resource to see really great, professional actors doing the monologues?”
Bogosian is probably best known as a playwright, but he’s written so much the distinction as playwright is becoming smaller. His 1987 play Talk Radio, which originally starred Bogosian off-Broadway, was a hit for its revival on Broadway in 2007 starring Liev Schreiber. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and the Broadway production for a Tony. For his film adaptation of the play, which was filmed in Dallas, Bogosian received the Berlin Film Festival “Silver Bear.” His six solo performances off-Broadway between 1980 and 2000 (including Drinking in America, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll and Wake Up and Smell the Coffee) received three Obie awards and the Drama Desk Award. In April 2015, Bogosian published Operation Nemesis, a nonfiction account of the conspiracy that targeted and assassinated Turkish leaders responsible for the Armenian genocide.
His Dallas appearance will feature monologues from his solo pieces and plays, as well as a few “late night” appropriate ones that he’s saving for the second show at 10 p.m. on Saturday night.
“I am very conscious of my breath and voice,” he says. “A few of these really blow my voice out. I’m saving those for my last show so I don’t have to worry about not being able to talk the next day.”
Bogosian talked with TheaterJones about why he doesn’t like to tour anymore, what goes into a monologue, and why he hates solo shows.
TheaterJones: According to the press release, you haven’t performed outside of New York in 15 years. Is this true, and if so, why?
Eric Bogosian: It sounds really serious, but after 9/11—which happened blocks away from me—I started to reevaluate what I was doing with my time. I was touring all over doing solo shows, but I wanted it to be this lively, community oriented thing. I wasn’t able to control that as much with a tour. So I stopped. My income took a huge hit, but I was happier and more relaxed with the work I was doing and writing.
So why Dallas? How did that happen?
Dallas contacted me about this off-Broadway series they have and asked me if I’d want to come here. I was very skeptical that anyone would even come to it, but they told me to let them worry about that. I have a real fondness for Dallas. I was here years ago [he performed a solo show at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in the late ‘90s]. I don’t know if it still exists, but there was a great little used bookstore near downtown. I have some books I got there and I pull them out from time to time. I think of them as my “Dallas Books.”
I’m excited for this performance. There are theatrical things like breath and focus that are fun. They keep me a little off balance. It excites me, and it feels slightly crazy. Anything could happen when I walk out there.
Do you think anyone from Fort Worth will come? Are the tickets expensive?
I think Fort Worth people will come out to see you. According to my subscriber email the tickets start at $29.
Ok. $29 isn’t too bad. Theater is often very overpriced.
Do you have a process for developing a good monologue?
My work originally came out of a very visual world. I was also very interested in presenting archetypical figures. One of my best friends, Cindy Sherman, creates her art through images, and people will say, “Oh I’ve seen that before.” And they hadn’t, but what she was portraying was a sense or an idea of something. It was something familiar while also being unique. I was very arrogant when I first started out. I would wonder why someone would get a role over me. I had a chip on my shoulder about who was getting work. Were they better looking? But I started to work with actors who were so good that they startled me. Philip Seymour Hoffman was my hero. He was this totally normal looking guy—there was nothing distinctive about him physically. He was just an amazing actor. The site has helped me remain teachable as an actor. It’s my work, but the actors come up with all of these ways of doing them. It amazes me.
How do archetypes fit into your work then?
Archetypes are a way of defining people in our society. It kind of creates this echo effect in our culture. Many people are acting like the part they are supposed to be playing. And all of this complicates things. If you went into a doctor’s office and they doctor was like, [in thick New York accent] “Hey you, lay down right here!” you might be put off. But if your mechanic spoke that way you wouldn’t think twice about it. That’s the way you imagine a mechanic might speak. To me this is what acting is all about. It feels real, but is it real? So much of what we do is contrived.
Are there people you don’t want to play because of a cultural sensitivity to that person?
I don’t play gay characters, because I think what people typically identify as a “gay” character is a stereotype.
Do you have an opinion about about certain groups giving “permission” to actors to represent their communities? I’m thinking of Jared Leto versus Jeffrey Tambor as representatives of the trans community.
Well, I haven’t written anything new in awhile, so that keeps me from being too topical or political, but I try to avoid topics like that anyway. How we think has a lot to do with how we behave. Knowing Jeffrey, he is an incredible actor but he also brings an incredible amount of humanity and sensitivity to everything he does. I also think you can’t ignore the physical nature of the actor. I’m not going to play the club bouncer, I’m not going to play an Asian guy. Though there is a history of that in film and TV.
You are 100 percent Armenian, but do you get mistaken for an “angry white guy”?
Actually, I am frequently cast as Jewish. But I do see that by saying “white” we can mean the benefit a person receives. Men definitely have the advantage over women.
Do you get asked by young actors to look at their solo shows?
Yes, but I don’t. I kind of hate solo shows. I feel bad for my part in promoting them. There are soloists I really love, like Mike Daisey and John Leguizamo. There was something that burst out of them, it needed to come out. I loved Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, and an old actor no one’s ever heard of, John Wood. I saw him in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties. I was amazed at how he transformed himself on the stage from this old man into a young man.
Do you feel it is necessary for a character to make a transformation during the monologue? In your most recent monologue video, "Benefit," the character reveals more of who he is to the audience as the monologue progresses, but does he change?
The short answer is: most of my characters do not change during their monologues. And that's because, for the most part, this is satire. Satire is something that works within the context of our way of thinking, that's why it's funny. We are surprised by the twists and turns. As theatrical devices, these monologues exist in and of themselves, as opposed to being a "hinge" in a larger dramatic work occupied by the same characters. So the usual dramatic ebb and flow doesn't exist in these solo shows.
As far as I'm concerned, the audience is a character here as well. So the change, the "transformation", is between the audience and the material. There is an an echo effect between the audience's expectations and biases and what they are seeing and hearing coming live from the stage. My characters are contrivances designed to explore our lives. We are all characters! We design ourselves every day! So, as far as whether "he's" changing, well, he only exists in our minds, my mind. A more interesting question I want to answer is: Are we changing?