Mark His Words
Mark Setlock, the star and co-creator of Fully Committed returns to the New York stage in Jonathan Tolins's The Last Sunday in June.
I was rather surprised to learn that, although he is in the process of creating a new show about sexual fetishes (!), Setlock still considers himself an actor first and foremost. To that end, he is now appearing in an Off-Broadway play written by someone else: The Last Sunday in June by Jonathan Tolins, who also wrote The Twilight of the Golds and If Memory Serves. Over lunch recently, I chatted with Setlock about his past, present, and future endeavors.
THEATERMANIA: Mark, I've always wanted to meet you just to say that Fully Committed was one of the funniest shows I've ever seen. If I remember what I read at the time, you created the piece with Becky Mode and it was based on an idea she had, but the character of Sam was based on you. Is that right?
MARK SETLOCK: The show was based on both of our experiences working in restaurants. Becky and I went to acting school together at the American Repertory Theatre in Boston, and we were partners in crime. We both moved to New York and she kind of phased out of acting. She started writing for children's TV and then she got a job writing for The Cosby Show. She also had worked in tons of restaurants, so she was always telling me stories about how demanding people could be. Then I got a job answering phones at Bouley in TriBeCa and, for a brief time, Becky worked with me there. We would make fun of the callers and I would pass the really difficult ones to her. We called them all "hags" and we had classifications of what kind they were -- the depressed hag, the rich hag, the Japanese hag. Then, one night, we had dinner at this little restaurant in the East Village and Becky said, "You know, this could be your one-man show. You could do all the voices and it could be a kind of day in the life of this eatery."
TM: Well, it was terrific.
MARK: Thanks. We're trying to make it into a TV show. The development stuff just takes forever and I feel like it could fall through at any moment, but there are really great people involved: The guy who directs the Austin Powers movies wants to direct the pilot, TriBeCa Films is the producer. Becky's writing the pilot and I'm contributing.
TM: Were any of the characters based on specific people and, if so, did any of those people come to the show?
MARK: The maitre d' was based on the maitre d' from Bouley, though I made him a little more demonic than he really is. He saw the show a bunch of times; he loved it! My dad was based on my dad, pretty much as is.
TM: How about the chef?
MARK: There was a touch of David Bouley in him, but our chef was a composite of every prick I've known who just didn't understand that everyone who works for him has a life. I tried to get David to see the show, but he wouldn't come. He's such a baby.
TM: It'll be great to see you back on stage. Tell me about The Last Sunday in June.
MARK: I think it's good. It's kind of like a 21st-century Boys in the Band without all the self-hatred. It's set on Gay Pride Day in this apartment on Christopher Street, and I'm the old boyfriend of one of the guys. I've written a gay novel that was panned universally by the gay press, and I'm kind of weird and sensitive and not much fun. Out of guilt, my ex calls me and says, "We were just talking about you, we miss you, happy Gay Pride Day." So I show up and announce that I'm getting married to a woman because I'm not comfortable living the gay lifestyle, I feel like an oddball. Basically, I just want companionship, so I'm going to marry this close female friend and we're going to leave sex out of it. It's been a challenging role for me to get into because I relate to it a lot. I mean, I've been with my boyfriend for six years and I would never marry a woman, but I do sometimes feel excluded from what's going on. What is the role that sex plays in gay men's lives? How important is it, really? The play raises a lot of interesting questions and I think it'll spark some good debates.
TM: I saw a previous version called Another Gay Play, and it was very post-modern. The characters would say things like, "Hey, you know, this is a perfect set-up for a gay play" and so on. Is that still in there?
TM: I hear you have a great one.
MARK: He's stunning. Really sweet. And I get to spend a lot of time with him back stage, sharing my wisdom: "Listen dear..."
TM: I'll be interested to see how close this new version is to the one I saw. Now, before I let you go, can you tell me about your fetish play project? I realize it's still in the planning stages.
MARK: About a year ago, I was reading Dan Savage's sex advice column out loud to my boyfriend and there was a letter from a guy who liked to masturbate in women's clothing. His wife found out and divorced him. He had told one of his friends about what he did in private and the friend said, "You need therapy." Dan wrote back something like, "That guy is not your friend; dress up however you want and masturbate to your heart's content." I just loved that, and I thought there was theater in it. Kind of like The Vagina Monologues, only The Fetish Monologues. What I'm really interested in is the first moment, the first inkling, the first memory someone has of when they started to have this desire. I got a letter from a guy who said he remembers watching a Woody Woodpecker cartoon as a little kid: Woody Woodpecker was getting a haircut and the guy got really turned on. Now, whenever he's getting a haircut -- from a man or a woman -- he gets an erection. Anything can be a fetish. It boggles the mind. Chicken pot pies can be a fetish.
TM: You think?
MARK: Sure, if you had a thing for your mom or your aunt who used to bake them! Anyway, I wrote to Dan and he said he would post a letter from me asking people for their experiences, but he's so backed up with letters that it's finally being posted now, a year later.
TM: Will this be another one-man show?
MARK: No, definitely not. It will be a two-person show. I'm working on it with my friend Kristen Lee Kelly; we were in Rent together. I don't ever again want to do anything by myself, because it's not that much fun. There's no sharing, no one to bitch about the audience with. It's a step away from stand-up, which I would never want to do either.
TM: Well, the project sounds fascinating. I don't know if this is one of your objectives, but I read something once that made a lot of sense to me: It's good to get these fetishes out there because, aside from everything else, they make being gay seem not so strange by comparison. So they can actually be an aid to tolerance.
MARK: Exactly. What is normal? And what's more harmful -- the violence we're surrounded by, or some guy dressing up like a woman and masturbating? I think it might be fun to read a couple of fresh letters every night, and I also think I'm going to make up a few fetishes. I know that there are people who are into dressing up like cartoon characters, but I think that there should also be people who like to have sex while dressed as characters from '70s sitcoms, cross-pollinating between networks -- you know, Florence from The Jeffersons having sex with Mr. Cunningham from Happy Days. Or Captain Kirk with Dinah Shore. That would be really cool.
TM: Do you have a target date for production?
MARK: We're just starting. It's been in limbo for a long time, and I was about to give up. Then, just the other night, I got an e-mail from Dan saying, "I finally have a column that I can run your letter in because there are other things about actors in there." And it's in the Voice today! He also writes about John Cameron Mitchell's movie project. Have you seen the website for that?
TM: No, but I've heard about it. [Mitchell] wants to do a high quality, mainstream film with real actors doing graphic sex scenes. I wonder if it's ever going to happen.
MARK: It's a fascinating idea. I think John is a brilliant guy. And I'll bet it will be high quality porn!