ReWrite is a series of three mini-musicals (“a musical comedy triple feature,” to use writer Joe Iconis’s words), each of which is about “just two people talking.” Two people talking about hopes and dreams and life goals; vulnerability; and the courage it takes to actually live your life. That’s ultimately what all of Joe Iconis’s shows and songs are about and yet with each new creation he seems to find freshness and new avenues to explore, all the while keeping his signature one-two punch of humor and humility, leaving audiences laughing at some hilarious joke one moment and near tears the next from the poignancy. Iconis is truly a necessary voice in theatre (or rather in the artistic world in general) and is deserving of even more attention and adulation.
We begin with “Nelson Rocks,” in which Nelson (Nick Blaemire) is trying to ask his beloved-from-afar Jenny (Lauren Marcus) to the prom. Nelson comes across road blocks, like a teacher (Lorinda Lisitza) who hounds him for a paper, and a jockish bully, Ike (A.J. Shivley), who also has designs on Jenny. Nelson almost makes the ask but Ike beats him to it. But wait - no - that can’t be how it happens. ReWrite! We start over. Nelson’s journey continues to be rewritten until it is right.
Next is “Miss Marzipan.” Here, Lisitza play Miss Marzipan, a single woman who is past her prime and trying to make an impressive dinner - all out of marzipan - for her high school crush, set to arrive in a short while. Slightly unhinged, Miss Marzipan (a moniker she gave to herself) kidnapped The Young Man (Shivley) at the supermarket. She knew her beau has two sons so she thought, “If I have a son, we’ll have something to talk about.” Logical, right? And so The Young Man and Miss Marzipan find themselves to be “just two people talking,” even though Miss Marzipan is slightly manic and The Young Man is tied up. (This sounds deranged - and it kind of is - but in Iconis’s hands it begins as something very funny and turns into something entirely sweet - kind of like marzipan.)
In part three, “The Process,” Iconis leaves himself entirely vulnerable. Here, The Writer (Jason “SweetTooth” Williams) is sitting and writing in a Dunkin Donuts. The Girl Behind the Counter (Patryce Williams) takes an interest and asks what he’s writing about. When she discovers he’s writing their conversation, she admonishes him, saying he needs to actually go out and live life, not just write about it. The Writer’s enablers then appear: Mom (Lisitza), Fan Boy (Blaemire) and Mick (Shivley) are - on paper - the antithesis of vampires, as they are the voices in The Writer’s head telling him he’s wonderful and to keep going. In actually, as The Writer realizes, they are enablers - crutches on which The Writer leans when reality gets in the way of the perfect rewrite. This all comes to a head when The Customer (Marcus) comes in to Dunkin Donuts and chastises him for using her name and likeness in his musicals. “We were supposed to have the perfect life together,” she says, but The Writer never asked her out. Instead, he just kept writing and rewriting until the “scene” played out the way he wanted it to. In the end, The Customer’s rebuke and The Girl Behind the Counter’s straight shooting help The Writer realize that it’s okay to write about life (you’re supposed to write what you know, right?) as long as writing about life doesn’t get in the way of actually living life.
It was here that I was reminded of a terrific scene in That Thing You Do!, the Tom Hanks movie about the meteoric rise and fall of The Wonders. After Jimmy and Faye are mistakenly identified as engaged, Jimmy shouts at Faye, demanding to know where the idea came from. Faye realizes Jimmy is all artifice: “I have wasted thousands and thousands of kisses on you - kisses that I thought were special because of your lips and your smile and all your color and life. I used to think that was the real you, when you smiled. But now I know you don’t mean any of it. You just save it for all your songs. Shame on me for kissing you with my eyes closed so tight.” Like The Writer at the beginning of “The Process,” Jimmy didn’t express what he actually felt; he didn’t actually connect with people; everything was about the music. Writing and rewriting until it was perfect.
But is it really perfect if it’s not perfectly real?