Members of the ensemble!
Perhaps, in your travels, you have heard, or even experienced for yourself, the natural phenomenon known as “the Actor’s Nightmare.” A version of the naked dream for people who are actually comfortable being naked in front of hundreds of people, the Actor’s nightmare involves finding yourself onstage in front of an audience with no idea what play you’re in and only lines from the wrong one to say. Something similar just happened to me. The “Recapper’s Nightmare.” I went to bed for a couple of hours immediately after the show, as is my custom, and as I slept, all sorts of wondrous phrases on the nature of vanity and corruption and decay swam into my slumbering mind. “What a recap this is going to be,” my subconscious whispered, “an unsparing analysis of the sickness of an age that Jonathan Swift himself would envy.”
Then I actually woke up and realized that all of the words I had been dreaming were actually about Faye Resnick, the pornographic claymation figure Satan himself sculpted out of Brazilian collagen-substitute and day-old haroset and sent as his servant to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, not Smash, beloved Smash, which by comparison seems to have been executive-produced by the Dalai Lama, and was actually fine tonight! So as the proctologist said when he was mysteriously struck with sudden hysterical blindness, I’m just going to have to feel my way through.
Speaking of nightmares (of the long, national variety) Megan Hilty is singing “Let Me Be Your Star” and all is right with the world. The atmosphere in the rehearsal hall is basically like that picture of the sailor and the nurse kissing in Times Square after the Japanese finally surrendered, and its made even more so by the benevolent influence of Tom, who in an attempt to exorcise the dark spirit of Derek and his leather-coated Matrix of recrimination, is laboring to give each and every one of his precious flower actors exactly that which their heart most desires. Eyelid and Tokenetta are cavorting in a ball pit filled with Pick-a-Mix. Cousin Debbie is wearing a new draped blazer in teal, which her personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s told her was a “very approachable color.” Gore Vidal lolls in the recently installed Jacuzzi as three scantily clad Roman youths — flown in especially at his request — sodomize an effigy of Norman Mailer with a rolled-up copy of Plato’s Republic. There’s even a big box of Kleenex on the stage management table! Kleenex! When did Derek ever offer you a Kleenex, except to wipe your face off after he forcibly held you down and came all over it? “Never” is the answer! And not only is there Kleenex, and coffee and croissants from Balthazar, and fire opal pendants, and ladies-in-attendance, Tom, in a further attempt to bury his childhood torments at the hands of homophobic neighborhood bullies in a place so deep even subconscious memory cannot touch it, is going to make everyone like him even more by inviting the entire cast over to his house for his party, where he will attempt to incorporate every idiotic suggestion they may have into the show! Populism, yeah, yeah!
And oh my God, look, it’s Token! On furlough from his mission (do you think it’s possible that The Book of Mormon story is just a cover and Token is in fact an actual Mormon missionary? They don’t give up easily, those guys). Oh! If he’d only been faded, if he’d only been fat, if he’d only be jaded or bursting with chat — but no, Tom takes one look at his big gleaming head and the celibate tension starts crackling. Oh, Tom, foolish Tom. In order to get what you want, better see that you keep what you have. And don’t delete your Manhunt profile.
And so we move from bread, circuses, and chastity to the darker side of dictatorship, to the subterranean dungeon of the New York Manhattan Public Workshop Theater Club, where Kat McPhee and Jeremy Jordan’s bare and equally hairless bodies are slowly stirring next to each other on the stage. OMG, is this really happening? Is this like Ross and Rachel on the floor of the caveman exhibit at the Museum of Natural History?
No, it’s just rehearsal, and this is happening inside Derek’s mind. Derek, it seems, has the opposite of the naked dream, where he’s the only one with clothes on. In the land of the nude, the panted man can pretend he’s got the biggest dick, I guess. Believe it or not, he and Jimmy are having some disagreement as to the creative direction of Nixon’s Enemies List: The Musical! For example, Derek thinks there should be a set; Jimmy thinks all of the platforms should be made entirely out of the writhing nude bodies of Muggles, like the time Pilobolus performed at the Ministry of Magic at the late Rufus Scrimgeour’s request. Derek thinks there should be blocking; Jimmy rips open his shirt to display his suicide vest. Derek suggests they incorporate some sort of lighting plan into the show; Jimmy rips out both of Derek’s eyeballs and eats them. And then there’s the matter of casting the remaining role of “Diva,” a “Lady Gaga–like” character, according to Derek. “Lea Michele?” Jimmy roars, turning green as his clothes rip off his suddenly enormous body. “LEA MICHELE???????” and here, I’ll just refer to what I wrote in my notes: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Jimmy Collins is the closest thing to an outright sadist that we will probably ever see on network television (unless the rumors are true that the CW is planning to replace Emily Owens M.D. with Orin Scrivello D.D.S.) and even he can’t inflict Lea Michele on the public. Even Hitler was kind to animals, you know?
Still, there has to be a deciding vote, so what does Scott Jim Oskar Ellis Nicola Eustis (who I will hereafter refer to by the clever acronym “S-JOENE,” until I forget) choose? “I don’t know, Derek,” he says, “LED screens?” “Don’t worry,” Derek says, “my mother’s second cousin Baruch from Kfar Saba has an electronics store on 43rdStreet — I’ll get a good price.” “You don’t understand,” he says. “The kid’s got Angel. He says … he says if he doesn’t get his way … he’ll … ” His voice breaks. “Just do whatever he says. Let him do the whole goddamn thing through interpretive Afro-Haitian dance while Katharine McPhee stands limply on a tall platform, her arms dangling half-raised in the air like those old videos you used to see of astronauts sleeping on the space shuttle. I’m begging you.”
Oh, look, it’s Mimi!!! She’s followed the traditional trajectory for a heroin-riddled exotic dancer from the eighties and became a Broadway publicist! Alas, the news is not good, as the Arts and Leisure section is absolutely refusing to cover Bombshell. That’s what you get for spending two seasons telling everyone Michael Riedel is the most powerful theater journalist in New York, I guess. And besides, what’s to write about? I mean, it isn’t even by Annie Baker. Can Anjelica Huston pull some kind of juicy story out of her cauldron — and it can’t involve sex or drugs or scandal or fighting or incest or anything juicy; this is the Times, after all? Perhaps she might consider tying the show to some sort of angle about the locavore movement and/or the real-estate/schooling choices of affluent professional families with two-to-four children? Otherwise, she and Mimi are shit out of luck, because that candle just won’t light.
The party! Oh, what a party at Tom’s house, filled with actors, gay in all senses of the word, swilling Champagne and ripping the pages out of books and screaming about how the farmer and the cowman should be friends. Which they should be! They have a lot in common! Tom is hiding in his bedroom, just like my Cousin Debbie at her sweet-16 party, which I was at, actually. I was 4. I remember dancing with a purple balloon and Aunt Phyllis saying to everyone: “Obviously, she wanted one. But we’re really hoping she’ll just grow into her nose.”
Anyway, Tom is pouring over the script, looking for some place he can insert Token, clearly brooding on the other place he’d like to insert Token, if you know what I mean, ladies. There’s nothing, except, wait — why don’t they shove in a totally unrelated Nat King Cole number that has nothing to do with anything except that he was a human being and Marilyn was a human being and they lived in America at the same time! That totally sounds like a very solid reason to quit your steady job in a sold-out tour of the biggest grossing show in America! In return, Tom gets one (1) night of shirtless co-sleep, one (1) brief tushy pat, and one (1) acrimonious public dumping when the number is inevitably cut, as it must be, and Token is furious at Tom for his own faulty career planning, just like we are meant to believe that Scott Jim Oskar Ellis Nicola Eustis is still furious at Cousin Debbie for letting Mike Nichols direct her first play instead of him fifteen years ago, thus halting his ascendancy to the artistic directorship to one of the most prestigious theaters in the country by an unforgivable eighteen months. And look, I really do appreciate the attempt by Smash to show the public that no, art isn’t easy, and sometimes you really do have to make tough decisions and choose between ambition and love. Those are difficult conversations, yet the ability to have them, and still hang onto your humanity, as it seems Tom is beginning to do, is often the deciding factor between success and, well, less success (although of course, it all depends on your definition of what success is).
And yet, there is a magic bullet that can assist one in this and that the show seems to ignore entirely: contracts. Contracts are why people can’t just play hopscotch back and forth between shows and promises; contracts are there to protect both parties from the havoc wrought by someone else’s sudden great idea and/or manic episodes. Sure, there are broken promises and changes of heart. Even the nicest people eventually have to screw someone over or cut someone loose for the good of the show — which is ultimately what everything is in the service of, but the contracts are there to soften the blow. They are the good manners of show business, a shared set of standards there to protect everyone from getting hurt. Even the worst dinner is a little bit nicer if you hold your fork right and say thank you afterward. I know Joe Machota is the only agent in New York City and thus must be very busy, but surely he has an intern or something that can take care of this! Think of all the commissions he’s losing!
And in further casting comings and goings, Midriff done got herself a part and thrown off the terrifying, cleaver wielding shadow of Lea Michele by singing a Beyoncé song on top of a bar while she fellates a light fixture and miraculously doesn’t electrocute herself! Karen, emboldened by Kyle Goblinweed (who has drunk a thimbleful of honeymead and has no idea where he is) aggressively thrusting his mouse-tongue down the throat of the cute lighting designer, musters the courage to pass Jimmy a note reading “Do you like like me? Check one: Yes __ No __ I love you __ I hate you ___.” Jimmy, being Jimmy, checks all four and then shows up at her door in the middle of the night for a booty call, because hey, he spent 25 bucks on this chest wax and it would be a shame to see it only once this episode. Derek, in the meantime, consoles himself with thoughts of the crazy sex he and Karen are going to have when he picks her up from the emergency room after Jimmy had broken her left arm and her spirit for the fourth time.
But who is going to play Marilyn’s mother? That’s the most important question! With Token gone, Tom suggests Patti LuPone, because hey, it might as well be someone else he wants to have sex with. But Anjelica Huston, in her wisdom, has consulted the runes and at last found an angle even the New York Times is going to go all queer for: “The part of Marilyn’s mother shall be played by Bernadette Peters, a.k.a. Mama Lee.”
My dream, my impossible (naked) dream of Mommie Dearest: The Musical is one step closer to fruition. Let’s see Brantley not freak the fuck out over that.