Playwright Marc Spitz is getting his ass kicked. Jonathan Lisecki— best friend and erstwhile roommate— slaps the flippers feverishly. The Cactus Canyon pinball machine has just awarded Lisecki a Gold Mine Multiball and he has Super Jackpots to collect. Spitz looks on coolly as Lisecki doubles, then triples, then quadruples Spitz’s score. Unfazed, Spitz pops a few pills (vitamin C) and washes them down with a pull from his Bloody Mary. From the jukebox, the guys’ song selections issue forth: T-Rex, Gun Club, Dolls. Lights, action, booze, pills, rock— this afternoon’s scene might be an excerpt from one of Spitz’s own plays.
Those plays— Retail Sluts, The Rise and Fall of the Farewell Drugs, and . . .Worry Baby— will anchor this summer’s Pure Pop Theater Festival (August 18 through October 4). Aaron Beall, Pure Pop’s impresario, has dubbed Spitz the Pure Pop Playwright. “Pure Pop,” explains Beall, “is a return to rock, and Marc Spitz is the literary embodiment of that: a rock ‘n’ roll Oscar Wilde.” Spitz, Beall insists, has “a rude sensibility that makes audiences laugh harder than anybody this side of Paul Rudnick.”
Calm, soft-voiced, clad in head-to-toe black, sporting a tattoo of a sad cat (his nickname) and a perpetual cigarette— Spitz’s demeanor hardly screams “irrepressible hilarity.” But his plays tell a different story. A confident farceur, who cites among his influences Christopher Durang and the old Carol Burnett show, Spitz chronicles the lives of the young, hip, and poor of New York— distorting their stories to comical extremes. “I turned to farce,” Spitz says, “because I did not want to write about coming of age. I didn’t want actors reading my diary onstage and trying to pass it off as comedy or drama or anything.”
To avoid such egotism, Spitz uses a volatile humor to spirit his plays away from autobiography, resulting in a digable mix of the familiar and the far-out. Spitz based his first play, Retail Sluts, on his experiences working at a Soho boutique, where he passed his days “outfitting German tourists in pimp wear.” But the final draft buries his personal life amid a swirl of psycho trust-fund girls and shopping addictions. Spitz’s stable of eclectics has grown to include a drug dealer who studied ceramics at Bard; a rock band that morphs from Sex Pistols to Backstreet Boys and back; and a chemistry teacher turned barmaid— with a little something extra under her skirt.
Lisecki, who has acted in all of Spitz’s plays and will direct two for the festival, describes himself and Spitz as “ridiculously pop-culture-damaged.” “But,” adds Spitz, “instead of detoxing from it, we use it— and hopefully not in that prefab, Reality Bites sort of way.” This so-called damage, combined with an easy grasp of hipster vernacular, gives Spitz’s work an undeniable immediacy for which most playwrights would give their eyeteeth.
Spitz explains that he writes in this style because “it’s how we live. Most theater is stuffy and it’s uncomfortable. I don’t want the work to seem like theater. I want it to be as fast and enjoyable as possible. The language helps, the rock ‘n’ roll helps. I want you to feel like you’re in a bar or an apartment. That’s why I like Nada— it’s like someone’s dingy apartment.” “It is someone’s dingy apartment,” Lisecki pipes up. “That guy who lives in the basement.”
Yet the timeliness of Spitz’s plays may well be their biggest drawback. “The more contemporary you are, the more susceptible you are to being dated,” says Spitz. “I’m going to be 30 in October and at some point it’s going to be ridiculous for me to stay hip.”
Thus Spitz’s next play, which his theater company will likely produce in time for the holidays, marks an attempt to create “something more timeless.” He describes the work in progress as “a sort of goth Christmas Carol” based on the life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. And, speaking of new things, Spitz announces that, though he’s never acted, “I’m going to be in a movie. I play a neurotic writer who smokes and wears a lot of black.”