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Adore Him, Adore Him

Robert Kent discovers how a playwright found happiness moonlighting as an actor. logo
Jonathan Marc Sherman (top center)
and cast in I Wanna Be Adored
For playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman, professional adoration began at 18 when his first play, Women and Wallace, was produced as part of the 1988-89 Young Playwrights Festival at Playwrights Horizons. The coming-of-age play garnered rave reviews and pushed the budding writer's career into a steady, forward motion. Four years later, Playwrights Horizons produced Sherman's Sophistry, a sexual-harassment story directed by Nicholas Martin (currently represented Off-Broadway with Fully Committed) and co-starring a pre-Ally McBeal Calista Flockhart. His plays also include Jesus on the Oil Tank, Sons and Fathers, Serendipity and Serenity, and Wonderful Time.

These days, Sherman is taking a break from writing to pursue other interests. "I drink lots of scotch, smoke cigarettes, and make nasty, snide remarks," he says. Nice work if you can get it! But the acclaimed dramatist hasn't traded his pen for days of wine and roses. He's referring to his role in Marc Spitz's punk after-world fable I Wanna Be Adored

, now playing at New York Performance Works. "I get to play a dark angel," Sherman says, "and it's a role I'm very fond of."

Described as "a cross between It's a Wonderful Life and Twin Peaks," I Wanna Be Adored tells the tale of Winston Frame, the lead singer of a fictitious alternative band known as the Divining Rodz. Frame kills himself and plummets into a purgatory that resembles a seedy strip joint. In this setting, Frame meets a bawdy comic, a burlesque dancer, and an angel who tries to save his soul. Named after a 1980s punk song from Stone Roses, I Wanna Be Adored is based on the life -- and death -- of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division. "The play is 'inspired by' Ian Curtis," says Sherman, correcting my word choice. "That's the best way to put it -- probably for legal reasons," he adds with a laugh.

The chance to act, not the music, attracted Sherman to this dark, comic tale. "I have yet to listen to a single Joy Division song," he confides. "There's a Captain and Tennille song in the show, though!" His last trip across the boards was several years ago in the WPA's Unexpected Tenderness, and he appeared in his own Sophistry with Flockhart and Ethan Hawke. "Ethan and I have a running gag that I'm the only person who remembers the fair-to-middling reviews," says Sherman. "The Times criticized some of the writing but liked my acting. I'd rather they had said I was a bad actor in a good play!"

Fellow playwright Spitz sent Sherman the script of I Wanna Be Adored with a note that said, "There's a great part for you in it!" Sherman, who now admits, "I've always wanted to be in one of Marc's plays," was delighted. Hailed as "the epitome of pop theater," Spitz's work includes The Rise and Fall of the Farewell Drugs, Retail Sluts, and ...Worry Baby. He is also a contributing editor of Spin magazine. "Marc's writing draws on the trappings of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll," says Sherman, who attended college with Spitz and Peter Dinklag, his I Wanna Be Adored co-star. "There's usually some sort of dark element -- with a real sweetness at its core."

While rehearsing and performing his current role, Sherman has enjoyed a reprieve from writing. "Acting is more social," he notes. "When writing, you spend the majority of your time alone, where no one sees you stumble." Although he values his solitude as a writer, Sherman welcomes the experience of performing someone else's words. "I have learned a lot about writing from acting," he confesses. "It's always helpful to look at a scene from an actor's perspective. I've discovered why some of my scenes don't work -- and how to fix them!"

Sherman hastens to add that he hasn't given up his day job. He's adapting Sophistry as a screenplay, rewriting Evolution (a play previously workshopped in Williamstown), and penning a new work, tentatively titled Things We Want. "Writing makes me feel more exposed and responsible," he explains. "It can be a very manic-depressive process. Acting requires a more even temperament." All in all, he prefers being known for writing lines rather than speaking them. "I've never really liked the life of an actor," he says. "Writing is something I enjoy and can be successful at. Acting is a vacation!"

Anyone interested in seeing Sherman in I Wanna Be Adored should take note -- his "vacation" ends May 28.

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