So this guy with an iPhone
For the last year and a half, three of the Bay Area's favorite theater artists - actors Jeri Lynn Cohen and Charlie Varon and director David Ford - have been creating a new play together at The Marsh.
Cohen is a founding member of the Word for Word theater company, and appeared most recently in the Aurora Theater's critically-acclaimed production of Body Awareness. Varon's hit solo plays (all created in collaboration with Ford) include Rush Limbaugh in Night School and Rabbi Sam. Ford is the leading director of solo theater in the Bay Area; his recent collaborations include Brian Copeland's The Waiting Period and Geoff Hoyle's Geezer.
The three sat down to talk about their new play.
CHARLIE: A friend forwarded me a viral video called "The Last Lecture." In it, a professor with terminal cancer talks about his life, what he's learned, and his imminent death. As I watched it, I wanted to laugh, but I knew I wasn't supposed to laugh.
JERI LYNN: Obviously you've never had a life-threatening illness.
CHARLIE: Fifteen million people watching the end of someone's life on their Iphone - that's bizarre!
JERI LYNN: The Internet has changed the way people deal with death. But I get why people need to post, to blog, to leave a legacy. As a patient, there's something healing about telling your story.
DAVID: It's arguments like these that let you know you have a good subject for a play.
CHARLIE: A guy walks into his oncologist's office. This is my character Adam. He knows it's serious because the doctor wouldn't tell him over the phone.
JERI LYNN: I play the oncologist, Lillian, who tells Adam the hospital's made a terrible mistake and he is not dying. He is fine.
CHARLIE: Then Adam starts gushing about this viral video he saw on You Tube when he thought he was dying
JERI LYNN: Stop! You're giving it all away!
CHARLIE: And the video that Adam and Lillian post.
JERI LYNN: Stop! It's about life, death and the Internet.
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CHARLIE: One of my characters says, "Human beings crave sugar, so we invented Coca-Cola. Human beings crave fat, so we invented Crisco. Human beings crave attention, so we invented You Tube. And now we have diabetes and heart disease, and soon we'll have diseases of overexposure."
DAVID: Diseases we don't even have names for will be profit centers for pharmaceutical companies.
JERI LYNN: There's this moment in the play when Adam and Lillian talk about what should never be posted on the Internet. Adam mentions that his 10-year-old daughter stumbled on nipple-piercing videos, and Lillian says: "I do not want to know of such things."
DAVID: You Tube is this thing created by the cerebral cortex to give our reptile brains a place to play.
JERI LYNN: Charlie and I both have Luddite tendencies. I'm just now getting a Facebook page. David is way ahead of us. He showed Charlie how to use the iPhone that keeps popping up in the play.
CHARLIE: Adam uses the phone to call his daughter, email, text, surf the web, shoot video. In the history of theater there has never been a prop that is the equal of the iPhone.
JERI LYNN: The moment Lillian tells Adam he doesn't have cancer always gets me. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I kept waiting for someone to tell me it was all a big mistake.
CHARLIE: One of Jeri Lynn's friends came to a preview and said she's a great oncologist except she's too compassionate.
JERI LYNN: That was someone from my support group. We're very opinionated.
DAVID: First, don't try this at home. We're building on the twenty years Charlie and I have spent writing plays together. And the two of us have known Jeri Lynn for a long time, so we're starting with a lot of history and trust.
JERI LYNN: We built the play through improvisation, first to find the characters, then to discover the story. We would record everything, transcribe it, and then David would shape it into a script.
CHARLIE: Hundreds of hours of improvisation, with David directing Jeri Lynn and me, steering us, guiding us
JERI LYNN: Telling us, "Don't be so nice. Your characters are not that nice."
CHARLIE: A thrilling process, about 80 percent joy, and
20 percent pain.