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Just Move the Car and Stage the Play

Date: Feb 13, 2015

It's no accident that The Groundling takes place in a guy's garage.

Marc Palmieri's new comedy, now at Axis Theatre, follows Bob Malone, a landscaper who's so moved by an outdoor performance of Love's Labour's Lost that he decides to write his own play about his marriage. He mostly casts his friends and family---though he does hires the director and star of that life-changing Shakespeare show---and rather than rent an auditorium or build a platform in the back yard, he parks the Range Rover in the driveway and has everyone perform next to a snow shovel and an economy-sized package of Poland Spring bottles.

And that's fine. Better than fine. Bob's play cracks open his community's heart, especially because it highlights the best times of a marriage that has recently gone to hell. By the final scene (which Bob writes at the last minute), it's hard to imagine this intensely intimate experience happening anywhere other than the Malones' own home.

"It's really about someone discovering theatre and discovering the power of the theatre so purely that it surprises even the people that you'd think were always aware of it," says Palmieri. "It's that sense of what storytelling can mean for us, no matter who we are."

 Palmieri should know. Just like his characters, he's a Long Island native, and he didn't see a straight play until he was a senior at Wake Forest University. "I wasn't studying theatre," he says. "I was there on a baseball scholarship, but I saw Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana and it blew me away. That was senior year, and I crammed a minor in drama after that. I went theatre crazy."

To that end, The Groundling also honors his geekiness. The title refers to audience members in Shakespeare's day---the common folk who would stand at the foot of the stage to see a play while the nobles sat down. There's also a major plot thread about the ending of Love's Labour's Lost, when the happy couples are suddenly rocked by tragic news.

But Palmieri, who directs the production, still wants these insider references to feel resonant with the the characters who are making theatre for the first time. He and the cast never want to seem like theatre pros who are laughing at the newbies, so they're focusing on emotions that anyone feels when they're creating a show. "There are nerves, there's joy, and we all feel these things, even as experienced people," Palmieri says.
Plus, he uses the play-within-a-play to poke fun at his own artistic shortcomings. Bob's script is written in rhyming verse, which results in juicy stanzas like, "I love you, you're my sister/My best friend on the planet/You shoulda been my maid of honor/Not that dumb bitch Janet."

Palmieri freely admits he's never be a poet laureate. "One thing I've been trying to do since I was very young is write poems," he says. "Whatever you call that dreadful poetry that's in the play, I've been doing it since I was 12. I find this play an amazing opportunity to put my terrible poetry skills to good use."

Mark Blankenship is the editor of TDF Stages

Photo by John Painz