Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
In The Thing About Men, writer Joe DiPietro once again proves that you don't have to be heterosexual to know how those people tick.
THEATERMANIA: So really, Joe, why not subtitle your new show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy?" You are openly gay, aren't you?
JOE DiPIETRO: Yes -- but the composer is straight! It's funny: After I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change had been running for a while, the publicity people were looking for a new angle to market the show. They tried pitching it to the gay papers and magazines, but the editors were not at all interested in a straight show written by a gay guy. They just couldn't seem to get their heads around that concept.
TM: I don't imagine that you intentionally avoid writing about gay characters.
JOE: No. You have to remember that you're talking only about the two musicals I've had produced in New York thus far. I've written other shows that have been done out of town or not yet produced, and some of them have gay-themed subject matter. Basically, I write what I want to write. Over the River and Through the Woods was very much about my grandparents but I'm not someone who writes particularly about my own life; I like to write about all sorts of people. Certainly, every aspect of your life informs what you write, but my more popular shows don't happen to focus on my "gay lifestyle." My very exciting gay lifestyle!
TM: I understand that The Thing About Men is based on a film.
JOE: Yes, a West German movie called Men, released in 1986. It's a West German farce, believe it or not! I initially saw it at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, and I loved it. When I rented it and saw it again in the early '90s, I thought, "This is a great idea for a small musical" -- just the thing that Jimmy Roberts and I were looking for as a follow-up to I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change after we were finished with that. I mentioned the idea to Jamie Hammerstein, our producer [on ILYYPNC]. He took a look at the movie and said, "I have no idea how you guys are going to make this into a musical, but if you want to do it, I'll buy the rights for you." And he did.
TM: Marc Kudisch plays the central character?
JOE: Yes. The show is about Tom, a middle-aged advertising executive who has just about everything he wants in life -- a wife, two kids, a high-powered job, and he fools around on his wife with some frequency. Then he comes home one night and finds a hickey on his wife's neck that he didn't give her. He freaks, he moves out, and he starts following his wife and her lover around. Her lover is this downtown Bohemian artist who doesn't have a job and it turns out that he's looking for a roommate, so Tom moves in with him but doesn't reveal who he is. That sets the plot in motion. The show is very much a comic exploration of men, modern marriage, and friendship.
TM: I know that Leah Hocking plays the wife and Ron Bohmer plays the lover. How do Daniel Reichard and Jennifer Simhart fit into the mix?
JOE: They function as a very wry Greek chorus and they also play a bunch of comic characters. They're both very funny, may I add.
TM: So is Kudisch.
JOE: Yes! When we were starting to plan a New York production of the show a couple of years ago, everyone asked, "Who would you want to play Tom?" And I said, "Marc Kudisch is the guy." I hadn't even worked with him at that point but I said, "The guy can sing, he's funny, he can be moving." Then we did a reading with Marc and there was no question. He was perfect for the part -- as he will tell you!
TM: Well, it would be a wonderful thing for you if the show has even a fraction of the success of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.
JOE: We celebrated our seventh anniversary on August 1. Obviously, you never expect a show to run that long -- not in your wildest dreams. You think, "If it's a hit, it's gonna run a couple of years and I'll be thrilled." The show has had about 60 or 70 regional productions, so the title is really out there, and now we're getting people who have seen it in their town and want to see the New York original. It even draws foreign tourists who don't seem to speak English -- which I think is amazing, because the show is really about the text. I mean, it doesn't have special effects or anything like that.
TM: I've always loved the title.
JOE: Funny you should say that. When we were bringing the show in, a lot of people said, "That title doesn't work. It's too long." Basically, we used it because we never came up with a better one. But now I think the title really attracts people; it definitely captures something about relationships, straight or gay. "I love you, you're perfect. Now, let's just change this one little thing about you..."
TM: I remember that, when the show first opened, some of my gay friends turned up their noses at it without having seen it. But, needless to say, any show -- whether it's about gays or straights or whatever -- has to have general appeal or it's not going to run.
JOE: Absolutely. Another thing is that we opened at a time when musical comedy had been out of vogue for several years. You know, there were a lot of shows like Sunset Blvd. Now musical comedy is the thing again but, at the time, our show was almost unique. Gay theater was becoming mainstream with shows like Jeffrey and Angels in America. I remember people asking me, "How can there not be any gay characters in your show?" It was remarkable: We wrote a show about straight people and it was as if we were making some kind of radical statement.
TM: Do you and Jimmy Roberts see yourselves as long-term writing partners?