One Actor. Four Characters. Endless Emotions.
…and a little bit of Cole Porter!
JOHN FICO SPEAKS ABOUT “MADE FOR EACH OTHER”
“Made For Each Other”, a love story between two gay men opening this weekend at New York City’s Stage Left Studio, has a history as interesting as the play itself promises to be. Multiple award-winning playwright Monica Bauer has stated that back in 2009, various experiences in the one-of-a-kind world of the theater had left her, to say the least, frustrated. Still, she was still hungry to continue writing– as well as to shake things up creatively. Inspired to write a one-man show, she turned to “the best actor I have ever worked with”. That actor is New York City native John Fico, and the resultant play went on to win accolades on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as nominations for “Best Solo Show” and “Best Actor in a Solo Show” for Fico at the 2010 Planet Connections Theatre Festivity off-off Broadway. Directed by John FitzGibbon, the play features Fico in four comedic and dramatic roles, and the actor also gets to sing and dance. I asked Fico if he believed that “Made for Each Other” was at all autobiographical. He replies, “I think so. I feel like I’m always talking about my point of view, which led me to my partner and the beginnings of our relationship. I feel like it’s always about that. I feel like it’s always about my grandfather. I don’t know that Monica would agree! (Laughs)”. He continues, “Monica sat me down and interviewed me about all of these things. We all have the same issues, I guess… or theater wouldn’t work! She has written it very close to my personal truth, so it’s easy– even though the characters have different points of view, and different takes on what is happening and who they are. They are not all walking around going, ‘Why won’t you love me?’! (Laughs) She’s made it very easy for me to go deep and explore. She’s written it to my voice, the way I speak… I am very lucky to have met her at all!”
John Fico and I spoke more about “Made for Each Other”, which opens– appropriately enough– on Valentine’s Day:
JR: Hi, John! Thanks for speaking with me. Congratulations on the opening of the show!
JF: Thank you! We open next Friday and run as long as we can. We have a commitment until the first Friday in April, and then hope to keep it going.
JR: Yes! And opening night is actually Valentine’s Day! Is “Made for Each Other” a good opening show for couples to see on that day?
JF: It’s a love story, it’s a romantic story… I think it’s a good one. You have two guys in the story who find it difficult to love themselves. It’s only through the love of this person who they meet that they believe that they are loveable, and that they can love themselves… and that their lives can change. And then, of course, there’s fear, there’s self-loathing– especially on the part of one– but mostly, it’s about love and hope. It’s got a very hopeful ending! Will they get together? Will they not get together? You’re gonna have to wait and see! And it’s not just about the couple, of course. They are two other characters: the mother of one, who has Alzheimer’s; and the grandfather of the other, who died of emphysema… and how they exist in memory, as they did in life. From the past, in memory, they influence these boys: how they choose, whether they love themselves, and who they can love. There’s that “inter-connected-ness”!
JR: Would you say there’s something of a “metaphysical” aspect to the play?
JF: Some people come away with that. In my opinion, it’s more accurately “memory”. They live in their memory. But other people come away with the feeling that they were influenced by the spirit beyond the grave. I don’t know. (Laughs) You can take away what you will. Similar to the character in the play, my grandfather lived with us as a virtual stranger to me at the end of his life. He died of emphysema. I didn’t know him very well. In many ways I resented him being there. I was 13 years old, barely knew who I was, and just starting to discover who I was… and there’s someone in my room! He’s everywhere I look, and he’s displaced things in my house unintentionally and changed the dynamic of my family. But, I still miss him. He died when I was 15. I still think about him, and still think about what he wanted for us and for his family. That’s a huge influence for somebody who I barely knew! The memory of him does influence the kind of life I wanted to lead, and who I chose as a partner, and the way we set up our lives. The things that were important to him would appear, anyway, to be very important to me and very present in my life. He’s that much of an influence on my whole family. So, I think the play is like that. My grandfather’s whole thing was that we all be together as a family… and often, in this life I’ve chosen and in New York in general, you’re alone a lot. I’m always driven back to the idea that we can all be at the same table and have this time together. The funny thing is that I missed that. The rift in our family came around the time I was born. My family lived in the Bronx, and the Bronx fell apart in the 1970’s. My grandparents moved to Florida, and then my mother just wouldn’t speak to him… and so I missed out on 20 years of sort of “mandatory Sunday dinners” with this huge family of aunts and uncles and cousins. They had to go every week to my grandfather’s table. What a great thing! You could never get that today. No one would do it… It’s this romantic idea in my head: this thing that I never had. I live with that, and I miss this thing that I never had. And I want it! So, I am lucky that I get to deal with this on stage all the time… So, yes, it IS a good show for Valentine’s Day! (Both laugh)
JR: Say more!
JF: We’ve had four endings. This last one, we’ve had for about two and a half years. We have an ending which Monica thought was just as hopeful, but left a lot of people shocked and unhappy. I don’t want to give it away… There are some elements still there. She said, “I won’t change this play to satisfy the people. This is the story.” She’s such a great writer. She’s not precious with her work at all. If I remember this right, she basically sat up in bed one night and said, “I know how to change the circumstance without changing the story!”… and give people the hope at the end that they were looking for, in a manner that was more clear and personal to them. She was right… and she did it.
JR: That sounds great! So, earlier you mentioned self-acceptance as one of the themes in “Made for Each Other”. What are some of the other themes and issues that are explored in the play?
JF: Love, and romance, and sex, and memory, and family. What it all comes down to is, “Do you love yourself?” “Do you believe intrinsically that you are worthwhile?” One character has body issues– I mean, it’s not a big deal, it’s more of a comic point– and he’s also in the closet. His mother has Alzheimer’s, and he’s afraid he’s gonna have it too. He feels that he’s old, and he’s bald, and he’s fat– and he teaches in high school, so he stands there in the closet all day and every day. He thinks that perhaps his mother has resented him. She was gonna be a Broadway star and she got pregnant instead. So, how can he love himself? He’s unlovable, right? But then this guy comes along and loves him on sight, at their first meeting. They dovetail into each other. And, that’s pretty much my relationship with my partner Kevin. Everywhere I am weak, he is strong. Everywhere he is needy, l know how to support him– and vice versa. These two characters are like that. They make each other whole. If that other person can love me as I am, then I AM loveable. I CAN be myself. I can love this other person. If I am worthwhile, then I can give to this other person. I think that’s the basic story. All these characters are looking for acceptance and love, and they find it in other people… and then they can give it to themselves.
JR: Wow! So, the author of the play has stated that she had only you in mind when “Made for Each Other” was ready to come to life. In the time you have been involved in this project, what was the biggest change or revelation– or maybe challenge– that you experienced through the journey the play has taken?
JF: I think it’s one of progress. I’m sort of a kinesthetic actor, and I like finding my truth through my body. I have a whole process that I go through, and I know how to get into that. But the deeper the play goes into your bones, you have to find new ways to bring that out! That challenge is always there, because the play is so rich. It’s been a challenge in my process to keep exploring and opening up, and finding more truth… finding how it lives in my body today. It started out as a nice little play with lots of characters to do. The more you work on it, the more it becomes about something else– something much more personal! We have a wonderful director, John FitzGibbon. Between his work, and Monica’s work, I feel like I am the artist that I always wanted to be. I did a lot of plays where I tried to find the right answer on stage, and tried to be what I was in real life– as in life and as in relationships. With these two, I have full permission to be myself on stage and play with the audience the way I like to play with them… and discover these characters the way I want to. At this late stage of the game, that has ensured me as an artist. It’s been a beautiful process about art and self-love. So, to answer your question… (Both laugh) I don’t think there’s been a big challenge or a big change like that. It’s ongoing!
JR: And… there’s also music in “Made For Each Other”, right?
JF: Yes! We borrow from the Cole Porter song “Anything Goes”. When my grandfather was with us at the end of my life, I started doing musical theater in high school. “Anything Goes” is what we did at Archbishop Stepinac High School in 1986, and it was a sort of “turning point” in my life. I knew that this was what I wanted to do, I knew that I was gay, and that’s when I started having ideas about the life that was coming up. It was just an exciting time for me. My grandfather died during the audition process, and the only black shoes I owned had taps on them. So I had to wear those to his funeral– with galoshes and tape! One of the characters lives (Jerry, the nurse) was changing at that point– and so we borrowed the idea that when he was 15, he was rehearsing in the high school musical “Anything Goes” and it was the best part of his life. He wanted to be an actor, and he decided not to be. He’s regretted it ever since. But the love of the other guy– Vincent, the teacher– makes him think, “I should be happy! I should do what makes me happy. Maybe I’ll go back to it.” That all ties into the plot, so we can’t go too deep into it… (Laughs)
JR: Right! But you do get to sing in the play, right?
JF: I get to sing a little bit of Cole Porter, I get to do a little bit of tap… I don’t wear the shoes in the show because I don’t have time to get in and out of them, but I still have the shoes from 1986! I still wear them to class. It’s very stiff leather, but it’s nice for me. My grandfather’s actual cane is on stage with me for the character. It’s nice to have these things from the past in my hands.
JR: “Made For Each Other” was very well-received in Scotland. What was that like for you?
JF: For the Festival, it was high tourist season in Scotland. A lot of Europe was on vacation. We would get a lot of older straight couples who were either just walking through the space, and there was a show going on, and they were like, “Let’s go in.”… and also, Scottish Parliament was discussing the issue of marriage equality right at that moment. So, some were like, “Well, we might as well see it.” And, they came out in TEARS! They were so touched, and they were like, “We weren’t sure this was gonna be for us.” They thought it was a “gay play” or “issue play”… and it’s not. It’s a play about love. A one-man show can have that stigma: That you’re gonna go on stage and just rant about your mother: “Why didn’t you let me go to the school dance? Now I’m ruined!” But there really isn’t that much of that out there. This is different, and we’ve run into issues about that on applications. There’s no place on the application for the author’s name, because they assume that the performer IS the author. You know? We sort of don’t fit in that sense, because we are a true piece of theater with just one performer.
JR: The author has said that she could only work with one actor– YOU– and that was largely because you had that loveable quality about you…
JF: Awww! I hope so!
JR: (Laughs) So, she wrote the play about her experiences, and then brought in an actor and brought elements of HIS life thrown in– so this is really a unique experience, isn’t it?
JF: Yeah. It is a “best of” theater situation, where it is truly collaborative. I didn’t do any of the writing, but Monica is not precious with her writing, so she’d come to rehearsals, take the director’s notes, and small things might be altered. And we’d meet in the middle, like I do with the audience. People come up to me and congratulate me on the “wonderful show I’ve written”, and it’s really nice– but untrue! And sometimes the director’s name gets lost in all of this as well, because they don’t expect there to be other people. But there are. Of course, there’s a lighting designer, etc… and Cole Porter is an influence from beyond the grave, even though we only use little bits of his music. And of course, the audience becomes part of that collaboration, because I do have to talk to them. Their reactions can really feed the show. However, in Scotland, the first time, I had three young women who rushed in, and I think they thought it was gonna be stand-up comedy. They were in the front row, bored out of their minds, and texting the whole time.
JR: Oh, how rude! Don’t they know about “theater etiquette”? Really…
JF: What can you do? Mostly we get people laughing, laughing, laughing, and then they’ll come up to me after the show and say, “My grandfather died from dementia.” or “My mother has emphysema.” Or… whatever they relate too. And THEY get to have the catharsis instead of me having it on stage. It’s nice!
JR: Yeah! So, lastly… Why should the people come to see “Made For Each Other””?
JF: Because I’m gorgeous… and tall… and a great head of hair! (Laughs) But really, because it’s TRUE! The emotional journey is worthwhile and true. It’s everybody’s life. In Florida, we had old couples who had nothing to do that day so they came to see the show. They were like, “I didn’t realize I was going to like it.” Then they realize, it’s about THEM! It’s about THEIR father, and THEIR godmother, and THEIR relationship with their spouse. It’s special in that way. It’s not “audience participation”. I don’t look them in the eye and make them act with me. But we do it together, as a community. It may be a one-man show, but we do it together!
JR: I’ve always believed that that’s the best way to do it!
“Made For Each Other” is playing at 214 W 30th Street, 6th floor,
New York, NY 10001, on Fridays at 9PM starting February 14th. Visit http://www.MadeForEachOtherthePlay.com for more info.