You scribblers out there might want avert your eyes or turn the virtual page because this might be a little too much to take, this whole Jack Rushton situation. You know him. He’s an actor, among other things. He’s been in a lot of shows, but the roles that stick out are Mr. Lucky, a completely over-the-top operator, a French ladies man, Pepe LePew come to life, complete with the very European (and tres elegant) hand-lick, at the New Works Festival a couple of years ago, and Dan, the self-emasculated, late-in-life newlywed whose, um, penis gets up and walks away because he’s not getting any attention in “The Richard Cycle,” the centerpiece of Michael Kimball’s “I Fall for You,” a collection of short works the playwright staged at the Firehouse three years ago. He’s also a writer. He started scribbling seriously a couple of years ago after getting a seat with The Group, a Port writers’ group that includes Kimball as well as Joshua Faigen, whose most recent play, “A Book of Snow,” served as appetizer for this year’s Boston Theater Marathon, and Raymond Arsenault, who will be rolling out “A Secret Remedy,” his new play, at the Actors Studio in a couple of weeks. It’s a productive group that, as Faigen has said in the past, whose name is either cool or stupid, depending on your mood. And Group member Rushton is apparently hard-wired directly to the Muse, who is totally crossed off my Christmas list since she is spending way too much time with this guy. I mean, in the past two years, he’s written 50 to 65 pieces. Yeah, so many that the guy can’t even keep track of them — and they “keep coming out,” he says. And you thought you had problems, right?
They’re mostly short works, although “London,” his first full-length, a play about high finance and bad decisions, had its first staged reading a couple of weeks ago at the North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative, and he has another full-length ready to go. He’s also written for the New Works and has had two shorts in Group Alchemy and Group Soup, the last two group shows by the Group. And now ... and now ... so, he comes up with a name — “Screaming Jesus.” The concept, which melds advertising and religion as well as the Nazarene and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” one of the most recognizable images this side of the Mona Lisa, quickly followed. He wrote the piece and brought it to the Group to be savaged — in a totally constructive way, of course. But they loved it. Thought it needed a little help at the end to pull it all together, but they loved it. And Rushton listened to their advice and completely ignored it, sending the script off to the New York City 15-Minute Play Festival. “On a lark,” he says, “expecting nothing.” But the play was accepted. And debuted to a sold-out house. The “Screaming Jesus” cast of Tracy Bickel, David Houlden and Jim Manclark ”were undaunted and fearless. They nailed it. It was great,” says Rushton. “They absolutely nailed it,” says director Tim Diering. The play finished a close second as audience favorite.
Rushton had already decided to package the play with seven other shorts for ”Screaming Jesus and Other Twisted Tales,” a benefit for the Actors Studio this weekend. But, retract your nails, scribblers. Take a deep breath. Obviously the guy’s got game, he’s on a streak. “It’s like gold mining,” he says. “I’ve hit a rich vein and I’m going to mine it while I can.” Who wouldn’t, right? He tries to write every day — something, anything. “I just write,” he says. “I don’t know what or where it’s going.” Or, getting back to the gold metaphor: He’s panning for gold. Not necessarily writing a play. Sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes it’s prose. The important thing is getting something down. ”Stitching,” which features Anne Easter Smith and Terry Blanchard, started out as a poem. So did the dark, surreal “Requiem,” which features Jennifer Wilson and Terry Donahoe. And even when a piece is done (“and it never is,” Rushton says. “It’s always of work in progress, no matter how ‘finished’ it is.”), you’ve got to be willing to let go and let it grow, like the playwright did with “French Lesson,” when he changed the genders and, thus, psychological dynamics of “French Lessons,” flipping it upside down. ”Change the genders, change the world,” he says about the play, a farce, that features Sonya Pelletier, Michael Pingree, and Maureen McDonald. The show, which runs one weekend only, from June 1 to 3, hits a lot of different marks, stylistically: Farce, comedy, drama. Kim Holliday and Charles Bradley join forces in the dark “Lemon Drops.” Bradley plays opposite Sherry Bonder in the fanciful “Pig-Pen.” Maureen McDonald solos in “Phone Sex,” a comedy that is exactly what it sounds like. ”Holland Park,” which will feature Rushton and Gloria Papert, is a comedy that deals with language and difficulty of communication.
“This is a tremendously talented group of local actors and directors,” says Marc Clopton, executive director of The Actor’s Studio, “who will be strutting their stuff in a diverse collection of twisted and not-so twisted short plays as a fundraiser for the Studio. I’m eternally grateful to them for all their efforts. And, Jack Rushton may be a newcomer to playwriting but he’s brought his talent as an actor to the written word and the incredible results will be here for all to see.”
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: ”Screaming Jesus and Other Twisted Tales,” an evening of short plays by Jack Rushton, will be staged June 1-3 at The Actors Studio of Newburyport, 50 Water St., Mill 1, Suite #5, the Tannery. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday. Reservations can be made online at MKTix.com or by calling 978.465.1229. For more information, check out newburyportacting.org