La Brea‘s David Wilson Barnes, Bill Buell, and Greg Moss are Faking Being Adults Downtown (and everywhere else)

“I’d stare at red-headed men and try to imagine if that was going to be me.”

There may be no more significant moment in an adult’s life than the minute you realize everyone’s faking being a grown-up, or at least feeling like one. It’s a subject that makes for good downtown theater, as demonstrated by Clubbed Thumb’s new summer treat, La Brea, now playing as part of Summerworks 2013 at East Village gem The Wild Project. Staged on a set as papery fragile as post-graduate hope, the 90-minute comedy uses heart-to-hearts with siblings, lost Los Angelinos, and woolly mammoths to underscore how spectacularly childish adulthood is at its insecure, baffled core. In honor of the show’s final performances this week, we talked to recovering Peter Pans — star David Wilson Barnes, funnyman Bill Buell, and La Brea playwright Greg Moss — about the daily struggle to be functional adults.

Rebecca Henderson and Bill Buell in <i>La Brea</i>
Rebecca Henderson and Bill Buell in La Brea
(© Heather Phelps-Lipton)

When you were a kid, what did you think being a grown-up would be like?

GM: A lot of freedom. Going to Pirate’s Park (the local amusement park) any time I wanted to. Staying up late and unregulated TV. It was not about responsibility, or having a job, or anything like that, but more like autonomy and being in charge of my own life, doing things I liked to do more often. Having a car and having my own house.

DWB: When I was a kid — at least the “kid” I identify with — I was a short, flaming-red-haired, slightly pudgy boy living in Southern California. Being about twenty pounds overweight with red hair made me a bit of an outcast. I’d constantly search for what I’d look like as a grown-up. I’d stare at red-headed men and try to imagine if that was going to be me. I don’t know if my idea of being a grown-up went much beyond a basic need to want to be wanted, want to be accepted. And now I’m an actor. Go figure.

BB: Cool, because then I could fly jets.

At what moment did you first feel you were a real adult?

BB: When I smoked my first cigarette.

DWB: The moment I feel I’m a grown-up is the moment right before I make an enormous ass of myself. So I try to avoid that feeling at all costs. It bodes of darkness and lunacy. And not the good kind.

GM: Oh god. I go in and out of being a grown up regularly, cyclically. It’s not a static state but a constant battle for this contested ground of adulthood. If I had to pick a single moment, I’d say it was when I rented my first apartment. (Which happened when I moved to L.A. [It’s] this little twenties-style apartment on North Ardmore.)

David Wilson Barnes and Rebecca Henderson in <i>La Brea</i>
David Wilson Barnes and Rebecca Henderson in La Brea
(© Heather Phelps-Lipton)

At what moment in adulthood did you realize you were not at all a grown-up?

GM: Every time I see my parents and sister I revert back to thirteen. Those old patterns run deep.

BB: When I could not get a sail down on a boat in a horrible storm. There was no one to help me. Also, anytime anything or anyone made me cry like a baby…because I was crying, like a baby.

DWB: Yesterday. Because I’m still making the basic assumption that I have any idea what I’m doing.

What’s the one part of adulthood you wish you’d been better prepared for as a child?

DWB: Liking who I am, meaning being OK with liking what I like and letting others like what they like, and not feeling like liking what they like is important to liking what I like and visa-versa-visa.

GM: I wish I’d known more about time and money and food and how to handle them better. Right? Right? Right.