Against the Odds
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Against the Odds<br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> IN THE METROPOLIS, everyone wants to express himself -- no matter how great the odds against him. Tonight, the odds include the Urban Man in his sometime guise as theatre critic, huddled on a metal folding chair in a tiny "blackbox" venue off Hollywood boulevard. The place is cramped almost to the size of my living room, but I shall describe it lovingly: chill and damp as a root cellar; walls, rafters, and drainpipes painted black; lighting cables hanging twisted and threatening just overhead. <p> Always in these venues, I can feel the presence of a fierce talent waiting backstage: A thin young dramaturge lurking in the green room with a personal take on society and a cigarette. He's busted but unrelenting, and tonight, he's willing to go head-on against the odds. <p> Me, I visualize the moment when he broke his father's heart by leaving a perfectly good Shakespeare workshop at Northwestern to take a red-eye to L.A. As a critic, I admire him. Often I envy him. <p> But as a father myself, I have to admit that he inspires-fear. <p> For across town at this very moment, in my actual living room, where it's cheerfully warm and bright, I know that a group of hopeful teenagers practices a passionate student play. And I know that among them acts my 16-year-old, probably just now donning his dashing gray cap to enter stage left. His step is plenty fierce and determined -- and even if he has not yet begun to smoke, I know he could prove unrelenting. <p> Just now, his director probably shouts: "More, more. Give me more!" <p> Back in the blackbox theater, a young man appears onstage, and I know at once that he is the dramaturge I anticipated: tonight's writer-producer-director-leading man. He is sharp of cheekbone and handsome of neck, and I notice he possesses a much more finely-chiseled chin than my son. I know this man has put up his own money to mount his play, and I'm sure he knows there are only two of us, both critics, sitting out in the cold gloom, staring him down. In my agitated state, he seems not much older than the teenagers in my living room: but surely, whatever energetic director inspired him years ago, he has long since learned the odds. <p> A jet of water roars through a drainpipe, the music kicks in, and as I sit forward in my seat, the Urban Man unexpectedly fills with a na-ve and giddy optimism. I mean, who knows? Perhaps tonight all that fierce determination will pay off. Perhaps this young man will repay even the fears and anticipation of his father -- who no doubt gave him his fever for the arts, encouraged him to speak deftly, smiled on his frank entrances, and once bought him dashing gray caps. <p> The lights flare. Actresses open false windows with smoldering angst. Actors adjust neckties with sudden anger. The leading man speaks philosophy. And for a time, it all does seem remarkable and important. <p> But alas, no. Ultimately, no dice. <p> Somehow it all fizzles in the last half hour. Self-expression fails. Frankness and determination fail. The personal take on society proves-unclear. We two critics applaud, trying to sound like an audience, but we know the fierce dramaturge has lost his wager. And the Urban Man, now consumed by dramatic foreshadowing, releases an audible sigh. I ask myself how I might prevent my own determined child from expressing his personal take on society, five years down the road. If only I knew how to uninspire him, or his teachers, or myself. <p> Outside, the odds now include a bitter wind sweeping the boulevard. As we raise our collars, the other critic turns to me and remarks, simply: "Better luck next time." <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved. This piece was derived from a longer essay which appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine in Dec. 2004. <p>
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