Adelaide Fringe 2013
One night after smoking a bowl of weed, Peter Michael Marino decides to write a musical, combining the music of Blondie with the plot of the film Desperately Seeking Susan. After the American director drops out, the play is transferred over to an English cast and crew, and things start going rapidly south at the West End. From numerous cultural clashes to a rebelling cast, Marino’s dream smashes into bits in front of the spotlight, and he only survives the experience by being able to just self-deprecatingly laugh at it all.
Peter Michael Marino, formerly a stage actor on Broadway, one night gets stoned and decides that what the world needs is a musical based on the film Desperately Seeking Susan interspersed with the music of Blondie. Even though Marino admits to having written the musical in a rushed fashion, it is noticed by some of the top showbiz people of Broadway, including the director of The Vagina Monologues, who owns a huge mansion that “vaginas built”. Marino still dreams of having his own “vagina house”, even as the big name American director drops out, and Debbie Harry of Blondie starts demanding a cut.
When the play is picked up by an English cast and crew and transferred over to the West End, there starts to be more demands on Marino’s time and patience. The director and the choreographer can’t work together, the English audiences are confounded by the American references and dialogue, the cast are predicting the show will “go down like the Titanic” and Marino is forever being asked to rewrite the script. Marino’s health suffers, both mentally and physically – this includes a graphic description of his internal hemorrhoids, aka “bleeding ass” – and the show is predictably a fiasco, barely lasting a month on the British version of Broadway.
Marino eventually finds peace after the show is a hit in Japan, but it is still clearly a raw subject. He either has the memory of an eidetic or took copious notes about the experience, because his rapid-fire delivery swung between being self-deprecating, being bitter and blaming everyone else, or musing on what could have been. It is a fascinating story and funny in places, but at times it feels like we’ve walked in on a man venting in a therapy session. The tonal shifts are a sharp zig-zag, and because Marino is such a hyperactive performer, it got hard to understand the narrative at times. It also didn’t help that even though Marino is a very impressive mimic, there are a lot of characters to remember in a short amount of time, being brought to life by only one man. Desperately Seeking the Exit is a curious mix between long form storytelling and stand up, and it would have been better if it had been one or the other instead of the two.
As a play, it would have been easier to keep up with who said what when, and would have complimented the very funny examples Marino gives of Americans not being able to understand the English, and vice versa. The emotional punch at the end, the failure of the play, the firing of everyone involved and Marino’s crippling depression as a result, would have also packed more punch. As a stand up, it could have just been Marino’s sole voice on the subject, and Marino is an extraordinary emcee as it is. His tangents were just as interesting as the main narrative, and he threw in some nice observations about Adelaide, committed to bonding with the audience, making frequent eye contact and trying to get everyone involved.
The set was small – Marino was literally as well as metaphorically bouncing off the walls – and even though the only prop was a radio, it was used effectively at key moments. Even though the way that the story was presented was confusing in places, it was still a well-rehearsed, witty and interesting fable about one man’s descent into madness because of his desire to mash a Madonna movie with 80s pop in a musical.
One of the moments that stayed with me is Marino’s description of passive-aggressive behaviour – to go along with something even if you hate it. Marino may have hated what happened to his artistic “baby” in England, but I liked hearing about it, and if you can keep track of what’s happening, it’s a story worth hearing.