What Does Barbie Have to Do With Playboy's Lesbian Spreads?

And a slice of wry from Douglas Carter Beane about Mr. and Mrs. Fitch.

The wry wit of playwright Douglas Carter Beane has sociopolitically wrapped itself around taboo love, celebrity closeting, and Olivia Newton-John, all with a bemused eye toward the way showbiz makes people misbehave in frantic yet mirthy ways.

And now, Beane is taking on the gossip world with his comedy Mr. and Mrs. Fitch, previewing at Second Stage Theatre en route to a February 22 opening. In the play, John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle are married columnists who, in desperation, create fictional celebrities that turn out to become bigger than a lot of real ones who only seem fake. As a single columnist who usually sticks to actual truths, I tried to fish some out of Mr. Beane on the phone the other day:

Me: Hi, Douglas. What's your connection with the gossip community, as it were?

Beane: When I was doing The Little Dog Laughed, we wanted Liz Smith to do the voiceover. I went to her apartment. I loved how homespun it all was! In your mind, it's going to be very noir, with blindshades across people's faces and lots of cigarettes.

Me: And where do I fit into this?

Beane: When I was just a child in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, I worked in a "fern bar" called RJ Willoughby's—with tile ceilings and ferns everywhere—and I'd read the column by you, and my female friend and co-waitron would say, "I'm gonna go to New York and meet this Michael Musto. He'd be a perfect husband." I'd say, "Honey, this doesn't bode well."

Me: Not a very intuitive person.

Beane: She was in love with the quip.

Me: But back to a better-suited couple: Mr. and Mrs. Fitch.

Beane: I wanted to write something where a man and a woman had an equal amount of lines. People always say, "Oh, those chatty Beane women." "Well, I'll show you!"

Me: Is the theme how distortions become accepted as reality thanks to our murky media landscape?

Beane: The kindest way to say it is the democratization of the truth. Whatever the most people believe in, that's what goes. There is something called truth, and you have to own up to it, "but we voted!"

Me: Give me an example.

Beane: When someone in a chatroom can say, "I went to the first preview of a Kenny Lonergan play, and Matthew Broderick is not off-book" and that ends up on the first page of the Times, that's crazy. It's in previews! Kenny rewrites during curtain calls!

Me: Are you relieved to be doing this play Off-Broadway—like Lonergan did—where there's a little less pressure than on Broadway?

Beane: Second Stage is a great place to create. You don't have somebody coming in and fucking you up: "My wife doesn't like the leading lady's shoes." Crazy commercial producer talk. You just put on a show!

Me: Well, Xanadu went to Broadway, and it was hilarious, though it got strangely shut out at the Tonys. Were you suicidal?

Beane: If you do it for awards, money, or acclaim, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. I do it because I have things to say and I want to work with great people. And Xanadu is on tour and making me money. It's wowing in Seattle! People are throwing on their flannel and going to the theater in droves! [Laughs.] But I was really mad at Tom Stoppard, that prick.

Me: And now you're working on Give It Up!, a modern take on Aristophanes' Lysistrata, which sounds a little bit like your answer to Glee.

Beane: It's very Glee. It's like, "What if the people who wrote High School Musical were intelligent? What if they were gifted?" I'm joking. I've never seen High School Musical.

Me: I lived it! Anyway, tell me about the show.

Beane: It's pretty frickin' amazing. A pop Britney Spears/Lady Gaga score and cheerleaders and basketball players. The cheerleaders are cock teases and the basketball players end up going to a whorehouse. In Texas, that's entertainment.

Roasted Bar Nuts

Rather than create a dazzling bunch of fictional celebrities, let me tell you about some actual ones I ran into—like roaster extraordinaire Jeffrey Ross, who was grilled onstage at the Friars Club last week by comic Judy Gold. (Why those two? "They're both Jewish, and they both like girls," we were informed in typical Friars manner.) Gold started by asking Ross if he'd ever turned down a roast, and he replied, "Mike Tyson! I feel like you have to have love and admiration for those you roast, and he didn't deserve it. It's hard to like a cannibal and convicted rapist!" For similar reasons, I guess, Ross once refused to roast the cast of The Hills.

Did he ever do a roast and regret what he said? "I remember making fun of Farrah Fawcett," admitted Ross, mortified. "They were jokes about her being old and ugly. But she got there, and she was beautiful! I did the jokes and regretted it immediately."

But usually, Ross scores big-time, like when he deadpanned to roastee Hugh Hefner, "I admire your work. I just want to shake your dick!" (though the comic said Hef's favorite joke from that whole night was the one about a rival pornographer: "We were going to roast Larry Flynt, but no one wanted to build a ramp.")

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