The theatrical run of HOT KEYS, Jeff Weiss’ aptly titled downtown production, was at once the strangest and most gratifying theatre experience of my life. Curtain went up at midnight and came down at 3am, I spent most of my time onstage oiled up and half naked, but it was the best acting work I’d ever done. Jeff forced me to forget many of the weird acting habits and pretensions I’d collected at NYU while studying my ‘craft..’ Before the first performance, he blazed up the fattest spliff I’d ever seen and nonchalantly said, ‘just jump off the mountain and see what happens.’ I jumped off the mountain for three months with that show.
It took me much longer than three months to appreciate how unique and bizarre this lower east side theatre world was. On one of the first weekends, as I left PS 122 in the early morning hours after a late night show, I was accosted by a short, chubby little gay dude in khakis and a blue button down.
Great, I thought, another creepy dude with money who thinks I’m some insatiable Chelsea bottom.
‘Hey, DUDE,’ I responded.
I probably made the ‘Dude’ a little more staccato and sharp than it had to be. I had gotten in the habit of appending a ‘dude’ or ‘man’ to my same-sex Manhattan greetings as a not-so-subtle way of spiking the Village gaydar with a ‘HETERO’ blast. Since I looked…well…gay, it was all I had.
“Uh, listen,” Gay George Costanza stammered, “I’m doing this play ‘Tartuffe’ in a couple of months and I think you’d be great to play the Prince.”
Really? The Prince?
That’s what my career needed as a jump start – the opportunity to play a piss-ant part for no money in some black box theatre on the 4th floor of a walk-up in Greenwich Village. The amount of classical off-off Broadway shows in the city was astounding. It wouldn’t surprise me if this show was being put on in… shiver… Brooklyn. The only thing that makes my skin crawl more than Brooklyn is the idea of doing theatre in Brooklyn. You mean I can have all the filth and danger of a big city with all the inconvenience of a shitty suburb!? Yay!
Luckily, I had an out…
“Well, I’m still in school right now so I can’t really do anything else. This show is an exception because it plays so late.”
“Okay, well my name is David Saint, and I’m a fan of your work. Maybe some day in the future we can work together. Good luck.”
And then he walked away.
Very polite, very professional, I thought. Hmmmm, I guess he DIDN’T want to sleep with me… am I losing my looks?