How Are Things In Timisoara?

The giant billboard outside Teatrul National Timisoara

Three weeks ago today I awoke in Timisoara, Romania, feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.

It was the night I had traveled for and dreamed of: opening night of the first professional performance of my first play, BROTHERS!

This play was written from a concept borne of a half-drunken conversation with my friends at Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse in Sacramento.

Now, twenty years later, I awoke in Timisoara after losing my smart phone (and therefore half my brain) and turning a seven hour drive into twelve with a brief stop to explain my American ignorance of Romanian road signs to a couple of very nice police officers in the Carpathian Mountains. They told me I was speeding. I told them I was sorry and lost. They let me go, pointing me thataway, admonishing me to turn left before I wandered into Hungary.

I thanked them profusely and did as I was told.

Stumbling into Timisoara several hours later than planned, I met my first Romanian friend, Vlad Arimia, and we had a lovely dinner.

Despite my long and confusing day I slept well that night and awoke the next morning unconcerned about the play. I thought it was stupid. Always have. The Sacramento Bee reviewer of its Stagedoor world premiere disparaged it as, “…an alcohol-fueled testosterone festival.”

She was right, of course. That’s what it was meant to be. It was Dumb and Dumber before that movie came out and made the concept cool and profitable.

Florin Piersic Jr.

Now, twenty years later, here I was in Eastern Europe at the Romanian National Theatre preparing for the professional debut of BROTHERS! directed by and starring Florin Piersic Jr., one of the biggest stars in Europe.

I wasn’t worried about the play. It was what it was: dumb (and dumber). I was just excited to meet Florin and to pick his brain. He obviously saw something in my work that still eludes me.

L-R: Florin Piersic Jr., Calin Stanciu Jr., Matei Chioariu

The show that night was amazing. The acting, the sets, lighting, special effects and all the theatrical dressings of the evening gave me a new appreciation for how high theater craft masters can elevate even a piece of silly nonsense.

The audience gave the cast three standing ovations and though I hadn’t understood a word of my own play, I leapt to my feet in joyous agreement. Whatever had happened on that stage for nearly three hours was magical in its performances.

After we finally met and hugged for the first time Florin told me, apparently sincerely, “I don’t understand why this play isn’t on Broadway.”

“Because it’s a cheesy piece of shit,” I told him, more than once.

We both laughed but didn’t have the time to explore what we were missing.

I can’t say for sure but I think Florin and I are both doubting our own judgment. I sure am.

On the off chance that he found something deeper in my play that I never had the insight to intend, I’m now writing its sequel while thinking fondly of the Romanians I met and the beauty of the Carpathian Mountains I never intended to visit.

With apologies to the Bard out of context —

The play isn’t the thing. It really isn’t.

People are the thing.

Calin, Mirela, Vlad, Dave

I miss my new Brother, Florin, and his wonderful costars, Matei Chioariu, Calin Stanciu jr. and Marko Adžic. I wish very much I had left time in my schedule to visit with them longer than a few minutes after Opening Night.

I also miss the Romanian countryside: the canola fields and sheep crossings, the scenic villages of Transylvania, the towns of Sinaia, Brasov and the many convenience store clerks who tried in broken English to guide me back to my proper path.

I even miss the military official at the Serbian border who spoke sternly, yet kindly, about my directional stupidity as he sent me back to Timisoara to restart a day’s journey exactly where I had begun six hours earlier.

Multumesc, Romania. I love and miss you all.