Conference Call: S.P. Monahan and Charles Baran: "Aunt Jack" at Theater for the New City
With infectious personalities, great talent, and kind hearts to the depths of the earth, it’s no wonder I have been fans of S.P. Monahan and Charles Baran for quite a few years now. S.P. & I first met after I saw him in Charles Busch’s Times Square Angel, which has now become an annual tradition for almost a decade. Charles Baran & I met at Sophie’s, an open mic that used to be hosted at the Broadway Comedy Club and we have been friends ever since.
After interviewing them separately on their own projects in the past, it’s beyond great, to speak with S.P. & Charles together as they get ready for the New York premiere of S.P.’s gay comedy Aunt Jack.
Aunt Jack tells the story of Norman, who “after breaking up with his long-time boyfriend, moves clear across the country, leaving his fathers, George and Jack, in a tizzy. Months later, with George, a prominent gay activist and historian, suddenly takes ill, Norman returns home to set things right and to introduce his parents to Andy, his new partner. Jack, a well-known drag performer and cabaret star, and Phyllis, Norman's biological mother, are dismayed to find that Andy is not who they expected. Tensions build into an inter-generational confrontation about sexuality, identity, and monogamy.
Aunt Jack makes its New York debut at Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue, between 9th & 10th Street) from June 7-28. Click here for tickets!
1. S.P., This June, your show Aunt Jack is coming to Theater for the New City just in time for Pride Month. What made you want to write this show?
S.P. Monahan: More than anything I've ever written, Aunt Jack comes from a deeply personal place for me. After I graduated college and "entered the world," as it were, I noticed some really stark generational divides in the LGBT community--cultural, political, social--and they really troubled me. I grew up as a child actor surrounded by amazing queer humans who broke barriers of gender, sexuality, and identity, many of whom had lived through the AIDS crisis. I am who I am because of those folks. But I'm also a millennial, and, while I don't have much of a millennial frame of reference in terms of pop culture, I definitely have a political perspective reflective of my generation's values. And it can be challenging when those who are older don't share those same values, particularly when it comes to language around inclusivity in our community. So, I wanted to write a play that tackled these serious philosophical quandaries and bridged divides through comedy.
2. Charles, how did you get involved with the show?
Charles Baran: Well Adam, it was one of those serendipitous moments of being in the right place at the right time. I was waiting for the elevator at Shetler Studios on a hot July day, chatting with John Lampe after my rehearsal for a Golden Girls Musical I was doing. John is the manager at Shetler and he and I would always chat a bit when I came in. This one afternoon John asked me if I’d be interested in taking a role in a reading he was directing, a part he thought I’d be good for. I immediately said “Sure” (we are actors darling, we don’t turn down work) and that night he emailed me the script. When I read it, I realized it was the role of a lifetime. And here we are two plus years later.
3. What are you both looking forward to most about sharing this show with NY audiences?
S.P. Monahan: Honestly, I'm really looking forward to sharing all of it with New York audiences. I grew up performing in Charles Busch's Times Square Angel for a predominantly LGBT audience at Theater for the New City, and I really wrote this play for that audience. It was an incredible experience to get to develop the show out of town in Fort Lauderdale last summer, and also to see how the show worked in front of a completely different audience in rural Vermont. But now, it feels like I'm bringing the play home.
Charles Baran: The unique message it brings front and center in the LGBTQ discussion. I won’t give too much away, but the show does make you think a lot about the roots of the LGBTQ community and where we’re headed. That was the take away I heard most in Wilton Manors last summer when we did the show at Empire Stage. People would come up to me at Georgie’s Alibi or at Nick’s Pizza and tell me they loved Aunt Jack because it made them think. Plus it’s so damn funny.
4. What can you tell us about your characters?
S.P. Monahan: Norman was raised collectively by his two gay dads and his mom, and now he's in his 20s and going through something of a quarter-life crisis. About six months before the start of the play, Norman suffers from really debilitating anxiety and decides to break up with his longtime boyfriend and move out of New York, where he's lived all his life. When Aunt Jack starts, Norman is coming home for the first time since he left. Most of the conflict that drives the play is between Norman and Jack, his step-father.
Charles Baran: After getting to know Jack for a few years now, I’ve come to realize how “old school” gay I am. I try, I really do, to keep up with the times. I listen to new music every day, from Cardi B to Cardi Z. I feel Jack tries his best as well. Jack is a 20 year old gay boy in a 55 year old man’s body and in so many ways I am the same. As much as Jack and I try to keep up there’s always some new term or app that we’ve never heard of before. We still try to relive our fabulous nights dancing at the Barefoot Boy on 38th Street or eating breakfast at 5am at the Market Diner on 10th Avenue with the truckers and our mascara smeared around our eyes. Those things don’t happen anymore, do they? If they do, Jack and I just aren’t invited.
S.P. Monahan: I really love everything Charles said about Jack's character--Jack's internal conflict stems from the fear that he no longer has a place in this new, millennial wave of LGBT culture. Even though Norman's technically a millennial, he's in a similar situation. He's afraid that he doesn't have a place in the community and culture that he knows and loves, and he's afraid of rejection. Jack and Norman are so consumed by their own insecurities that they don't see how much they have in common.
5. What should audiences know prior to coming to see Aunt Jack?
Charles Baran: That the show is pure love. It was written with love. Directed with love. And it will be performed with love. Aside from that, leave all other expectations and preconceived notions at the door.
S.P. Monahan: What he said!
6. Charles, what is your favorite trait that "Aunt Jack" possesses?
Charles Baran: Ah! Great question. My favorite trait about Aunt Jack is that it sneaks up on you. It is incredibly funny, hysterical actually, and there is a laugh every 90 seconds. Until it takes a turn and you find yourself saying, oh wait…It’s at that point I’ve noticed a few Kleenex’s make their appearance in the audience.
The show is a raucous new comedy about sex, love, death, and drag. Over the next few questions let's play with these topics.
7. If you could have sex anywhere, where would you want to have it?
Charles Baran: OMG! First I have to think where I haven’t had sex! I recall a time, one night, long ago, in the Men’s Room at the Barefoot Boy, a bathroom meant for a single occupant, and here we were, myself and a handsome lothario squeezed in tight. I was 21 or 20, OK, 19. It was 4am. The bar was closing. The tiny Men’s Room was right in the bar area. All the lights in the joint were turned on full blast for the cleaning crew. Suddenly the door was yanked open and there we were. The lothario standing straight and tall like a Buccaneer in a Cecil B. DeMille epic and myself in a slightly lower position, pants around my, well, you get the point. It was a long time ago.
S.P. Monahan: You know, Adam, the show itself is so, so raunchy, and I think that if I write one more low-brow, dirty thing that people can read on the internet, my grandmother will have a heart attack. So, I'll pass on this one.
8. For the love question, what's the most romantic thing your partner has done for you that made you go, "Oh, I am loved."
Charles Baran: Adam! Don’t make me cry!! There have been a million and one things Kirk has done for me over the last 30 years, to pick one would be hard but let me try. Kirk travels a lot, he is a very successful Lighting Designer (and we got him on Aunt Jack!) but every time he goes away, he leaves a little note under my pillow, or in the freezer next to our can of Café Bustelo telling me he loves me and that I am his Prince. Thank you for reminding me of this Adam. I know how lucky I am.
S.P. Monahan: I've been married for a little over a year, and, as someone once said, it really is the little things you do together. The simplest, least romantic moments are sometimes the ones that make me feel loved the most. The moments of "Oh, I saved the last Black Raspberry Sparkling Ice for you" or "I haven't watched the new episode of Veep yet because I didn't want to watch it without you" might not be epically romantic, but they're little kindnesses that really make me feel warm and fuzzy. My partner gets up before I do every morning and puts an eye mask on me before turning on the lights. It's so simple and so sweet, but moments like that are the ones I cherish most.
9. If you could stage your own death scene, how would you want to die?
Charles Baran: Peacefully and with a smile on my face. I’d want Kirk holding my hand on one side of the bed and Bette Midler holding my hand on the other side of the bed.
S.P. Monahan: When I was 11, I played Gavroche in Les Miserables, and I've aspired to die by French firing squad ever since.
10. What would your drag name be?
Charles Baran: Rhoda Rage. Two years ago I would have said it was Anna Zett, but my new choice was born out of our troubled times. Sad isn’t it?
S.P. Monahan: There's a sequence in the middle of Aunt Jack where we hear a couple of funny drag names—but I won’t spoil it. Personally, I hope to one day debut a drag character based on actor/singer/satirist Natalie Walker, named Natalie Streetwalker. The persona would be Blanche Dubois meets Wednesday Addams...or maybe Blanche Devereaux meets Morticia Addams? These are the nuances I’ll have to discern in performance.
More on S.P.:
S.P. Monahan is a playwright/performer best known for writing and starring in the solo musical DIVA (winner of the 2013 United Solo Award for Best Musical and Backstage Magazine Audience Choice Award), which was later expanded into the critically acclaimed DIVA: LIVE FROM HELL (music & lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen). Together, Monahan and Oyen also wrote the musical TYRANTS, which has been developed at the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony, by The York Theatre, and by Penn State Musical Theatre, under the direction of John Simpkins. Other plays include RODHAM/SADE (Sanctuary Series @ HERE Arts Center), GALLOWS TREE (Winner Best One-Act 2012, Manhattan Repertory Theatre), and THE FRONT PORCH PLAY (Fordham University). As an actor, S.P. has appeared regularly on stages across New York since age 10 and has played the role of Jimmy the Newsboy in Charles Busch’s TIMES SQUARE ANGEL at Theater for the New City every year since 2004.
More on Charles:
Charles Baran, Actor, Singer, Comedian and Screenwriter, recently played Jack Sable in the world premiere of Aunt Jack by S.P. Monahan at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Past roles include Mrs. Bumbrake in Peter and the Starcatcher at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, New Hampshire, Andrew Carnes in Oklahoma! at the John W. Engeman Theater, Northport, Long Island and Larry Foreman in The Cradle Will Rock at Theatre 80 St Marks, New York City.
His music videos of HOME (a parody of The Wiz) was nominated as Best Music Video in the Winter Film Awards Festival New York City, and PELICAN (music and lyrics by Bryce Kulak) was featured in the Toronto LGBT Film Festival in November 2018.
Charles is the recipient of the 2016 MAC Cabaret Award (NYC) for Best Male Debut. He is best known for his Cabaret Shows St. Valentine's Day Massacred, Songs for a New State of Mind, and Recipes for Disaster at The Metropolitan Room, New York City.
Charles has performed Stand Up around New York, at Dangerfield's, Broadway Comedy Club, in Florida at DADA in Del Ray Beach and Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.
He has recently completed two screenplays, The Delivery Guy, a romantic comedy, co-written with Timothy Strader, and The Iguana in the Parking Lot, a drama set in South Florida.