Review Fix chats with playwright Dana Block to find out what inspired this extremely personal production.
About Dana Block:
DANA BLOCK worked as an actor with Richard Foreman‘s Indie film, “Once Every Day” (winner, New York Times Critics Pick 2013). She is a proud member of New York Women in Film and TV. Last year, she performed her new play, “Queen Kong,” Off Broadway. She has written, produced, and performed four other one-woman shows, receiving a BroadwayWorld award for the role of Silda in a regional production of “Other Desert Cities.”
About the Production:
Saturday, November 2 @ 7:30 p.m., as part of the 10th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, New York City. Tickets: https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/United-Solo-Theatre-Festival-2019/Overview
“Monkey Man” comes from a little stuffed monkey my brother carried around until the damn thing disintegrated.” … playwright and performer, Dana Block
Growing up, Marc was a gut-splittin’, hell-raisin’ comedian of a kid. But when Marc turned 18, schizophrenia took his mind and he went on the run. Literally.
Marc hitchhiked across America, calling himself a Highway Man: “I tell my stories to drivers, keep ’em awake at night.” This show is constructed from the brilliant, stream-of-consciousness rants and graphic cartoons Marc made in a diary as he jumped from ride to ride, sleeping on the side of the road, begging for food. He attempted to stay in reality but his mental illness led him further and further down a rabbit hole. “He tried to reason his way out,” Dana says, “finding tunnels, underpasses, crosscuts, but none of it led him back to home.”
Review Fix: What inspired you to chronicle your brother like this?
Dana Block: Some years after my brother, Marc, left home to go on the road hitchhiking and become as he put it, “a highway man,” I discovered all his notebooks full of drawings and writings he made during his mental breakdown. He turned bi-polar schizophrenic when he was 18. At the time, my family didn’t know what the hell was going on. My parents just tried to keep him out of harm’s way. Marc went in and out of mania. Sometimes he was fine and sometimes he was way out there. He was a musically gifted, super bright and hilarious kid who had entered a land incomprehensible to any of us. What I found in his notebooks was a gold mine of rants and revelations. His cartoon drawings were mysterious and depicted a mind on “tilt.”
I don’t know exactly what drove me to make a show out of this material but that’s what I did. I created his story and the story of our family, how his break affected us all and how we felt like we were hurtling into space like a planet on fire. I’m an actor and writer. I decided to take my brother Marc on as a character, and speak the speeches he wrote. I’ve had the chance to travel his path. He and I were so very close as kids. Dual. I guess I wanted to tell his story and show him off to people. I also wanted to go “in”, go into his mind through the material he produced and try to understand where he went. I assembled old photos and memorabilia to write some of the scenes, used some of his monologues verbatim. I put together a show which is kind of a chronological story, starting with my visit to The Trail’s End Motel to see him twenty years after he left home, then us as kids and teenagers, and later moving towards the tough, dark days of his hitchhiking and disorientation. He was an hilarious comedian, clown and soulful lover boy. I think of the show’s construction as a photo album, each new page is a new scene.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Block: It starts with a spark, sometimes something that really pisses me off. That’s happened twice. A mean dentist in Chicago inspired me to write a full-length play about a female dental predator named Dr. Salvation, who wants to become the first female dentist to successfully cultivate and implant living human tooth clones (“The Art of Dentistry). I love to write about female monsters because I love to write juicy big fat acting roles for women. I am an actor. “Queen Kong,” I started with the title- just a title- I loved the name Queen Kong and I challenged myself to write a new piece with this title, for the Buffalo, NY Infringement Festival. In one month, I put together a crazy show about a 90-year-old German filmmaker who is doing a remake of the “King Kong” epic. I started speaking like this little German woman who then turned into a Nazi and before you know it, Leni Riefenstahl showed up (Hitler’s propaganda filmmaker “Triumph of the Will”). From there on in, the character of Leni became so strong that no matter what I wrote in the script, when I got to the stage, Leni started to run the show and it turned into a lot of improvisation. So my process with that script was write- improvise on stage-rewrite- improvise on stage- rewrite. I worked on that material at Fringe Festivals and got it produced last year by New York New Works Theater Company. Sometimes an odd even captures my imagination and I get obsessed and entertained by it. “La Vache Sauvage” (The Savage Cow) was based on an incident I witnessed in Southern France, when a cow escaped from a slaughter house and ran around the countryside until she found refuge in a tiny Patisserie (bakery).
The town was in an uproar and frightened out of their wits, until some bad-ass, Galois-smoking cowboys managed to throw ropes around the old gal’s neck and drag her to her destiny. What was she doing in there? What was she so guilty of? Eating all the jelly donuts? Or the eclairs? I wrote a show about her 2 days of freedom, how she terrorized children and took shots of whiskey at the saloon with the cowhands until they turned her in. With “Monkey Man” I am using material that is like documentation. It’s very personal. But I have also created material in it.
Review Fix: What did you learn/are learning about yourself/your brother through this process?
Block: I think the biggest thing I have learned is that I believe ultimately, it was my brother’s destiny to become what he became, that none of us could save him.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this for the future?
Block: I would like to expand “Monkey Man” another 30 minutes. At United Solo Festival, it runs 45-minutes. I’d also like to tour this show.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Block: I will be sending out “Art of Dentistry,” a 3-Act play with 6 characters, and want to see it get produced. It came out of a play competition in Buffalo, NY, at Road Less Traveled Theater Company. It actually won second place, but only the first place winner got her play fully produced that season. It takes so much to build and polish a play, but “Art of Dentistry” is so close to being done. I’ve had several readings over the past several years. That sure would be super exciting and fun. I of course, wrote the main character of Dr. Salvation for myself, she is wonderfully evil, but I’ve seen a couple of other actresses read the role, and I thought they were so fabulous that I might give it up and let someone else do it better.