I was one of those annoying kids who was always showing off. I put on plays for my parents, forcing my little sister to be incidental characters. I think I cast her as a dog once.
In high school I had lead roles in both senior plays. Before that I was cast as a 16 year old Ebeneezer Scrooge in a Sacramento Parks & Recreation teen workshop production of A Christmas Carol.
As an adult I’ve acted in and directed dozens of plays and in the process I came to write a few.
That’s where my friend Florin found me.
Florin Piersic Jr. read my first play, Brothers!, and liked it so much he produced, directed and starred in its first professional staging at the National Theatre in Timisoara, Romania, three months ago — 17 years after he first read it.
I flew to Romania to attend the opening. The show was magical even though I didn’t understand a word of my own dialogue.
Florin brought me onto the stage for the curtain call. We hugged in the spotlight, our first in-person meeting after swapping emails for nearly two decades.
Florin is a wonderful actor, a ruggedly handsome man, gentle and soft-spoken off stage; fearless before his audience.
Tonight he’s in Hollywood for the premier of an Amazon Prime TV production, Comrade Detective, in which he costars with Channing Tatum, who lends his voice to Florin’s bold on-camera performance.
Comrade Detective exhibits Florin’s physical acting skills while withholding his perfectly nuanced vocal delivery.
You can’t spring this much talent on America all at once.
Rupe un picior, prietene, Florin!
Break a leg, my friend.
(PS. After publishing this I was informed by another Romanian friend that there is no such expression as "break a leg", meaning "good luck", in the Romanian language. What I said here was apparently a sincere and friendly wish that Florin should literally break a leg...and not necessarily his own! This is why I love words.)
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.
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.
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.
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.