THEATER


“PIECES (OF ASS)”
Conceived and directed by Brian Howie.
Performances start July 10
at 80 St. Mark’s Pl.,
212-868-4444.


Telling the tales of beautiful women

By JERRY TALLMER

It was Laurel Pinson’s mother who from time to time during Laurel’s girlhood in Houston, Texas, would quote Rita Hayworth’s piercing remark: “They go to bed with Gilda, they wake up with me.”

It was Megan Brown’s Aunt Susie who one Thanksgiving day in St. Petersburg, Florida, handed bored 12-year-old Megan a book and said: “Here, read this.” Megan opened it to the first page, the first line: “Scarlet O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Charleston Twins were.” It changed Megan’s life.

Laurel Pinson today, at 21, fresh out of Yale, does not resemble Rita Hayworth —she’s a lot skinnier, for one thing — but, to borrow the words with which Emily Webb’s mother reassured young Emily in “Our Town,” Ms. Pinson is pretty enough for all practical purposes. Beautiful, indeed. And brainy.

Megan Brown at 27 does not look anything like Scarlet O’Hara, or Vivien Leigh for that matter — she’s tall, redheaded, and even skinnier than Laurel Pinson — but there are no men and few women who won’t take a second or third glance (for many men, a knee-jerk speculative glance) when beautiful and brainy Megan Brown enters a room.

This past March each of these two young ladies and hundreds of others had their attention called to an ad that a 36-year-old Holy Cross graduate named Brian Howie had placed in theatrical trade papers. It read to this effect: “If you are pretty, beautiful, sexy, and you know it, and if you are interested in writing an original monologue based on that fact, please reply by e-mail to . . . “

And so Laurel and Megan did, and so they are at this writing two of the 12 young women slated to open July 10 under Brian Howie’s direction in a show — a series of monologues plus short films — with the jolting title “Pieces (of Ass),” at 80 St. Mark’s Pl., normally the home of the Pearl Theater Company.

If you want to think of this entertainment as a rebuttal to “The Vagina Monologues,” no one’s going to stop you. As it happens, Megan Brown was one of the performers in a “Vagina Monologues” last year in Orlando, Florida. But the whole point of “Pieces” is that these are not people performing other people’s words and thoughts; it is their own thoughts and experiences in (as trimmed by director Howie) their own words.

Since the play is Howie’s baby (including the triple-entendre title), let him tell it:

“The idea came into my head four or five years ago, here in New York, basically because I had dated what I thought were some pretty girls, and it seemed to me that the prettier they were, the more difficult they found certain aspects of life. The same seemed to be true for many of their friends.

“Then one of the girls I dated started writing down stories. And the stories became a journal, more and more organized. She asked me for my opinion of what she’d written, and I read it, and I thought that most people who looked like her wouldn’t have these tormented thoughts.

“One day I said: ‘What about performing some of this, making a show out of it?’ But her goal was to write a whole novel, when I was thinking of it as a little five-minute piece linking her interesting stories to her looks. On certain days she was the most beautiful woman in the room; the next day she felt she was so ugly, she didn’t want to get out of bed.

“So,” says Brian Howie —with a glance across the table to Laurel Pinson and Megan Brown, who were nursing their Diet Cokes — “the idea started out slightly gimmicky on my part, I admit that. ‘Let’s put a bunch of pretty girls on stage and let them tell their stories.’ But the girl who had started the whole thing wasn’t willing to do any work on it. ‘Let me know when it’s ready’ was her attitude.”

So the whole thing died stillborn.

“Flash forward to five years later, which is now.” Brian Howie’s production company, New Scenario Entertainment, is supposed to be shooting a movie, but the film’s director has been sidetracked by another project. Time’s a-wastin’. What to do?

“Well, let me go back to that idea of five years ago. I put the word out, told friends, put an ad in Back Stage. And was overwhelmed with the response. Maybe 500 answers, maybe a thousand. A lot of them were from actresses, of course, responding to what they thought to be a traditional cattle call; actresses who thought they could play the role. But I was looking for someone to live the role.”

Laurel Pinson did in fact think it was a cattle call. She e-mailed Brian, saying: “I am a writer who just graduated from Yale,” and he e-mailed back: “Yes, but do you know that you’re pretty, do you believe you’re pretty?”

“That,” says Laurel, “is when I got interested. I e-mailed him back: ‘I do.’ “ She went down to Union Sq., where Brian had rented out a bar and lounge for the auditions. They got talking. She told him that when she feels most beautiful is when she gets up in the morning and has no makeup on at all, no pretense. As in certain Richard Avedon photographs of Marilyn Monroe.

“That shocked me,” says Brian Howie. “I always thought the women put makeup on for me. I think I’m a good writer, but when Laurel brought me what she’d written, I didn’t even have to edit it. I cut it some. Laurel’s piece was the one that made me think we’ve got something here.”

Here’s a relevant bit from Laurel Pinson’s monologue:

Men say that women are mysterious in their ways, and if that’s true then a woman’s bedroom is a complete enigma. This is where we put our faces on — that’s what my grandmother used to say. There’s an implied deception in everything outside this room. Here we can hold our beauty in perfect stillness . . .

Laurel’s grandmother, Christine Crow — her mother’s mother — died of a stroke three years ago. “She was once very, very beautiful. Infamously beautiful . . . So we come full circle in the bedroom.”

When Megan Brown started reading that book her Aunt Susie had dragged down from the shelf that Thanksgiving day, she fell in love with Scarlet O’Hara.

“Scarlet was 16 at the start of the book. I was 12. Sixteen, for me, was mature and cool and everything I didn’t have. I mean, I was mature [for 12] but I wasn’t cool, probably.” She was less cool the day in seventh grade “when . . . Brock Bradley asked me if the carpet matched the drapes.”

No, she hadn’t known what it meant — nor did this journalist. She points to her red hair. “Here — and down there.”

On her 24th birthday [this is in her monologue] “a guy jerked off on me on line at the post office.” Megan was half-flattered, half-appalled. “Was it just the interminable wait in the post office? If so, I was sympathetic.”

As one can see, it helps to get through life, even if you’re beautiful, if you also have a sense of humor.

Neither Megan nor Laurel nor, for that matter, Brian, have ever been married.

“When I was 19,” says Megan, “this one boy’s mother kept whispering in my ear how I should marry her son. I’m so glad I had the sense not to do it.”

“I never liked dating,” says Laurel. “I have had relationships with boyfriends that lasted a year. I never wanted to be married, but I always wanted a wedding.”

Megan, laughing, chips in with: “So have I.”

For further marital data you’ll have to poll the other 10 monologists at 80 St. Mark’s Pl., whose names are Diahnna Nicole Baxter, Tania Davison, Leigh Elliott, Sara Rae Gore, Rachel Hollon, Heidi Kristoffer, Jennifer Elle Lewis, Tami Mansfield, Ashley Palmer and Samantha Ross.


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