At the time of this writing, I am about to undergo a great honor: I am going to perform a play written by Edmond Malin, one of the most unique and ineffable talents in New York independent theater.
If you talk to people, it can seem like Ed Malin’s been around as long as indie theater as we know it today. Elena Holy, the producing artistic director of the New York International Fringe Festival, once fondly described to me her memories of Ed working the phones at FRINGECentral in the early years of the festival, back when that was how they sold the majority of their tickets. Andrew Frank and Ed McNamee of Manhattantheatresource recalled to me how Ed was one of their very first volunteers, and one of the longest lasting. He regularly reviews plays for nytheatre.com and attends plenty more readings and performances he doesn’t review, and has in general become one of the most ubiquitous and welcome presences in indie theater. I myself have known Ed and both followed and participated in his work since 2002, so when I say that you should quit reading this profile right now and immediately download American Jataka Tales or The Inconstant Infection, that’s coming from someone who knows what he’s talking about.
I first got to know Ed’s writing from Manhattantheatresource’s “Spontaneous Combustion” events, in which playwrights would write short pieces overnight. Even under the punishing time constraints, Ed never failed to deliver hilarious pieces—like “Tri Again,” “Step Out,” and the incomparable “Film Noix—that perfectly expressed his unique voice. Consider this exchange from “Film Noix,” between two film noir dames in a café:
ANNETTE: (in introduction) Annette.
TINA: No thanks, I always live life without one.
ANNETTE: Do you make a habit of drinking alone?
TINA: Other people’s habits are just waves, senseless eddies that are one place one day and somewhere else the next. They suck you dry, and then they drench you like a cheap frat boy hazing prank. I went with this fella who told me he was Anglican. Well he wasn’t. He was a deep sea fisherman and he wasn’t humming my tuna anymore.
This is a hit of pure Malin right here: nonstop word play (which Ed never hesitates to plunge into, shamelessly punning if he feels like it) masking regret while expressing tremendous intellectual restlessness. Suffice it to say that in the remaining three pages of this play, the characters speak French and Hebrew, reference several noir films, and try to kill each other a couple times a piece. It’s virtuoso stuff, and I was hooked from the moment I saw it. (Ed later went on to premiere a full-length version of Film Noix at FringeNYC.)
Ed’s love of depicting intellectual and spiritual exploration through linguistic mischief and dirty jokes has been a delightful feature of his work going all the way back to his production of Dog Spelled Backwards is Krishna in 1997 through works like the gorgeous, time-spanning, globe-trotting Buddhist comedy American Jataka Tales (which workshopped at Manhattantheatresource and played FringeNYC in 2009).
Along the way, his themes and obsessions have continued to expand. Unlike far too many playwrights (myself included) Ed reads voraciously and travels extensively (he’s been just about all over the world by now), and both the breadth of reference and the diversity of setting and language in his plays has grown as a result. His more recent works, like The Inconstant Infection, Cabaret Sauvignon, Inversion of the Baby Snatchers, and The Color Brunette, have the feel of freewheeling, large-cast, global language parties that delve into spiritual and sexual explorations while still always feeling the weight of the horrors of history.
The play by Ed we’re about to open this week (as of this writing) is one of my very favorites of his (though I may be biased): Judge, Yuri, and Executioner. It’s a one-man play about an 85-year-old masochist looking back over his life and his loves. Already the director (DeLisa White) and I have had to have Ed explain references to obscure passages by Pascal and references to Napier. The dirty puns start right out of the gate and don’t let up. But what Judge, Yuri adds to this mix, that I love, is a raw and moving emotional core. It’s the story of a man who is repeatedly disappointed by both love and humanity but who never gives up on his particular filthy-minded quest for enlightenment. It’s hilarious and sad and dirty and dense and brilliant, it takes place all over the world, and it contains some of the most atrocious puns you’ve ever heard. In short, it’s a play that could only have been written by Ed Malin.Published on February 21, 2012