Thursday, July 16, 2009

Leslie Pasternack at the Actors Studio

Okay, so Leslie Pasternack admits to being a bit of a nerd. Of course, when you leave a paper trail of theoretical work like “Theatrical Transvestism in the United States and the Performance of American Identities: 1870-1935” and “The Bride Wielded a Razor: Images of Women on the Blackface Stage of James McIntyre and Thomas Heath,” it's probably best to get in front of the “nerd” thing and inoculate yourself against it.

Actually, “egghead” is the word she uses — po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe in our culture — and says it's something she's been working on. “I’m an egghead who wants to get out of my head and into my body more,” says the somewhat repentant stage nerd, who is teaching theater history (sigh) in the wilds of Pennsylvania and bringing her new commedia dell'arte-inspired mask drama about social outcasts and/or rejects (woo-hoo!) to the Actors Studio at the end of this month. She understands that getting out there and doing art instead of just talking about it and putting it into its proper historical and psychological context sets her up as “the bastard stepchild” of both sides of the academic/creative schism — as if the doctorate in theater history from the University of Texas and degree from the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre didn’t already do the trick. But she’s getting past that, too, just like she's gotten past the whole penis thing.

No, wait. That's Brighina, the cat-like character from the first act of “Clean Room” — someone who, when she first appeared in “Brighina and the Worm,” one of the pieces in Independent Submarine's play festival “1x1” four years ago, was subject to paralyzing migraine headaches that could be alleviated in one of two ways: the consumption of chocolates, or being in a room with lots of penises. During the run, Brighina would bring the play to its climax by walking through the audience and checking out the guys with a complete lack of subtlety — staring at their laps, in fact — and ultimately bringing one lucky, and probably horribly embarrassed, guy up on stage with her. Brighina’s grown since then — still dealing with some of the same issues, mind you, like how she defines herself according to the response she gets from the guys she adores and fears and mourns, like her Vietnam vet dad and boy genius brother. But in “Clean Room,” she's “not as confrontational” about, you know, the other thing. She’s cheerful, disoriented — and stuck in a waiting room of a locked ward, trying to figure out why she’s there. And Stupino, whose story is explored in the second half of the show, is a gentle janitor at the hospital. He’s lived his whole life, and takes pride in his work, as unpleasant and sometimes unsavory as it sometimes is. And while Brighina may not be as “confrontational,” don’t expect a smooth ride. Commedia dell'arte, she notes, “has a long, rich history of offending people.” The production is not recommended for children.

The two-part play premiered earlier this year at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., where Pasternack teaches drama and theater history, but it is not the first time Brighina and Stupina have been together. After makng her Boston and Newburyport debuts, she did Manhattan Theater Resources and Estrogenia Sola Voce Festival in 2005. Stupina showed up in “Good at That,” at the same two venues the next year. And in 2007, Brighina and Stupino pieces were bookends to Newburyport actor Jeff Onore's dark, funny monologue, “A Busy Guy with a Lot of Problems” in a production at Stage Left called “Dig This.” Their stories continue to grow, and Pasternack still has not closed the book on them — not yet, anyhow. She has a tentative draft for a third part. “I’m building the pieces all the time,” she says. “It may be evolving. It is by no means complete.”

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Leslie Pasternack will perform “Clean Room,” a solo masked performance in two parts, at 8 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1, and at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Actors Studio. The Aug. 1 show will include a talkback session with the author. The production contains adult themes and may not be not appropriate for children. Pasternack will also hold two master classes in physical theater and mask performance on Aug. 4 and 11 at the Actors Studio, which is located at The Tannery Mill #1, Suite 5. For more information or reservations, call 978.465.1229 or log onto

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