It's Not Pat
When I think of great comedy, I rarely think of cancer, and I never think of my parents moving in with me. That is more the stuff of tragedy, or at least melodrama. But for Julia Sweeney, late of Saturday Night Live (she was the androgynous Pat), her real life had to be turned into comedy. Sweeney's brother Mike was diagnosed with lymphoma, and he moved in with her. Then their parents moved into Sweeney's too-small-for-this-many-people house in Hollywood. The result was nine intense months and a solo performance piece, God Said, “HA!”, which opens Jan. 6 at the Magic Theatre.
I had a chance to speak briefly on the phone with Sweeney. “The most important thing,” she tells me, “is that I want to make sure people don't think this show is a drag. Yes, my brother did die of cancer, and that's part of what the show is about. But everything that happened — my brother and my parents and my own cancer diagnosis — was both tragic and funny.” During the long months when Sweeney cared for her brother, she spent Sunday nights doing alternative stand-up at an L.A. club. “The idea was you had to do a 20-minute set about something real,” she explains. “The set had to be funny, but you couldn't do jokes or shtick. It had to be real.” Sweeney started the work because, understandably, she needed to vent. After several weeks, she realized that she had at least the beginnings of a solo play. Once her brother died and her parents moved back home, she began to work seriously on the piece. Sweeney chose San Francisco for the world premiere because of the city's renown as solo performer-friendly. “I was intrigued by things like your Solo Mio Festival,” Sweeney observes. “I knew this would be a good place for the premiere.”
For Sweeney, the trick to making cancer funny is to make it theatrical. “By theatrical I don't mean wildly exaggerated,” she hurries to explain, “but shaped in a way that helps to develop the story. I see my life novelistically, and it was important to me that the characters in the piece meet the standards I set for a good novel.” Most important to Sweeney, however, is that the audience laughs. For information, call 441-8822.
Play for Pay
How many times have you seen a play and thought, “They should've paid me to sit through this!” Thick Description heard your plea and inaugurates “We Pay You” previews with its production of Wieland, an original adaptation of a 1798 novel about ritual murder and spontaneous human combustion. For the Jan. 6 preview, TD will pay audience members a dollar, an attempt to get a full and presumably enthusiastic house for its first preview. Call 621-7797 for reservations.
By Deborah Peifer