The sexting scandal surrounding former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has been fodder for comedians, punsters and those who love double entendres. Now it's the source material for a play, The Weiner Monologues, coming to off-off-Broadway's Access Theatre Nov. 6 through Nov. 10.
'Found Texts' (You Finish The Joke)
The Weiner Monologues began a couple of years ago, when a group of very young actors, most just out of Hunter College, were taking a summer workshop in New York. They were playing around with "found texts" — you know, items from the newspaper, or e-mails — and creating scenes from them. That was when Weinergate erupted. And when they hit the jackpot.
Jonathan Harper Schlieman, the show's co-creator, says there's not an original word in the script.
There are, however, various messages between Weiner and the women he met online, as well as newspaper articles, talk-show jokes, and the text of Weiner's own speeches. There's even an app you can access while you watch the play to see those famous pictures he took of himself.
John Oros, the show's other co-creator, says that at first, "the jokes and the double entendres were just too hard to ignore." But as they got into reading various transcripts and looking at the texts, "there were so many areas of our culture that this scandal touched upon that we thought [were] worth exploring."
They realized the piece wasn't really about Anthony Weiner — which is why, says Schlieman, the actor who plays him doesn't even try to look or sound like the former congressman. Instead, "it's about how the media has affected this sense of public and private in an age of the Internet and 24-hour news cycles and the twittersphere."
A Story Of Epic Proportions
At first, Schlieman and Oros didn't have a structure for the play. But then they started thinking about the mechanics and traditions of Greek tragedy.
"There are certainly Greek elements to it," says Schlieman. "In terms of a man being undone by his own hubris, it's up there with Oedipus, I think. It's a little bit funnier, hopefully. We also employ a Greek chorus."
That chorus represents both the media and the public, with one scene taken from a New York Times article interviewing people in Weiner's congressional district.
"I know every photo I have on my computer, and he should know every photo he has on his computer," the chorus member says. "As a congressman, he should know better! I would think everybody knows their undergarments. It would be weird if he didn't know."
Hubris: In every Greek tragedy, it's the pride that leads to a fall. And while we can laugh at a man who called himself Carlos Danger, who would fall from being one of the darlings of New York's progressives to coming in a distant fifth in the New York City mayoral primary, there's a poignancy when the actor playing Weiner gives this speech:
"Today I am announcing my resignation from Congress, so my colleagues can get back to work, my neighbors can choose a new representative, and most importantly so that my wife and I can continue to heal from the damage I have caused."
Larger Than Life, But Still Tragically Flawed
But why should we care?
"It's because it is a story we can tell each other. " Schlieman says. "It is the same thing as a bunch of shepherds gathering around by a fire to share a story. It is almost mythological. He is a larger-than-life character. All of our friends have been seeing Anthony Weiner in the street; I get five text messages a day, saying, 'Oh, he is in Barnes and Noble with his kid.' 'I saw him going for a jog in the park.'
"He is a celebrity. In our culture of celebrity worship, that makes him a god."
So maybe it's not exactly like Zeus having his way with all those nymphs and goddesses, but it is a story about real lives that rise and fall — on a plane that bridges the real world and realms ethereal.