Selma Blair and the Ick Factor

Hellboy actress starring in Alley play.

Stage

Selma Blair & The Ick Factor
Hellboy actress starring in Alley play

By Margaret Downing

Selma Blair playing Kayleen picks at the blood on fellow actor Brad Fleischer's face — an action designed to be both comic and in keeping with the title of the terrific new two-actor play now on the Alley's Neuhaus Stage — Gruesome Playground Injuries.

It's always a big step for someone whose best-known work is on the movie screen (Hellboy, Hellboy 2 and Legally Blonde) to suddenly do live theater — but for Blair, it's bigger than most.

She's scared to go onstage, but she picks a show when she shares 90 continuous minutes of duty with Fleischer, who plays Doug. She's not a big fan of ick, but gore and vomit are crucial parts of the plot of this dark comedy by playwright Rajiv Joseph.

Blair and Fleischer, who most recently starred in Joseph's play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (and who, if you Google, you can see in a guest role of Timmy the soldier on Jericho), sat down with Hair Balls to answer a few questions between shows. They're relaxed and clearly friends, knew each other before this play and seem in some (but not all) ways close to the characters they play: the outgoing and athletic Doug, who gives too much for love, and the more tightly wound Kayleen, who loves and cares, but perhaps not as much, and who cuts herself.

The play bounces back and forth in time as the audience learns of one injury after another that each of the leads incurs from the time they meet at age eight to when they are both 38.

The injuries are horrendous and have earned the play its mature advisory from the Alley. At the same time, while extreme, they are more than suitable metaphors for the way people have of hurting each other in relationships.

"I think the ick factor of the play is something that keeps the audience visually in check. It keeps testing them. Where did those scars come from?" Blair said. "I'm not an ick fan. I had trouble even looking at him when we were first dealing with the prosthetics in the rehearsal process; just dealing with any blood is very frightening to me."

In contrast, Fleischer said he felt right at home the first time he covered his face in blood. "I come from the horror movie background, so I love that stuff. I put the stuff on and I think that's great. I love putting that stuff on."

But Blair is nothing if not a trouper: "I keep my scars on to stay in Kayleen's skin when I'm not at work and then just touch them up before shows."

The length of the one-act show istough, both agree.

"Having done a bunch of theater before, this is the hardest thing I've ever done," Fleischer said. "It basically is a one-man show where you're lucky enough to have somebody else out there where if you start faltering at all or if your energy starts to drop, you can look at the other person and pick it up."

"Rehearsal itself was really exhausting to me, but the payoff is so important," Blair said. "It's a blessing to get to do a play like this with Brad and with Rajiv's words. I love this play, but it does require an endurance I need to find and it's an important play and I need to do it justice eight times a week."

Fleischer was an easy pick for his role, but playwright Joseph said they tried out several actresses for the Kayleen part before they found Blair, who wanted this role for a lot of reasons.

"This play is so close to me. This is a huge, huge factor in my life, this play, and it was something I also wanted to prove — can I do this? I'm terrified of stage, never really sure if I'm a good actress or not and this is a play where you get to figure it out; you get to work through a lot of choices and do it so many times."

At this point, Fleischer broke in to say: "I can tell you exactly why she got it...We walked in and Selma is nervous and I was nervous for her and we started and...all of a sudden Selma says, 'I've got to stop,' and blood's coming out of her nose. For no reason at all, blood's coming out of her nose."

"I look over to Rajiv and he sits back and goes, 'Oh, my God' and was just smiling and I'm thinking, 'Rajiv, you can't start smiling when someone's bleeding out their nose.' And Rajiv says to me, 'Are you kidding? This is Kayleen!'"
_____________________

Whatever

Aussie Cookie Ignites Creole Debate
Houstonians wonder what the big deal is

By John Nova Lomax

It's a never-ending debate around these parts. What is Creole? Is it the same as Cajun? If not, why not?

And let's say you were an Australian supermarket chain and were looking for a name for your in-house generic rip-off of the Oreo, and you decided to call it the "Creole Cream." Should you expect a visit from the PC Brigade?

If you answered no, think again. Aussie grocers Coles recently found that out the hard way when they were broadsided Down Under by a professor of Aboriginal descent.

"'The word Creole comes from a period when people's humanity was measured by the amount of white blood they had in their bloodstream. This is the same kind of thought that underpinned horrific regimes like the Nazis,' Sam Watson, the deputy director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit at the University of Queensland, told brisbanetimes.com.au," a news report said.

A spokesman for the grocery chain denied any racist intent. He said the name referred to the "well-known Creole cuisine style that originated in the U.S."

It certainly seems to us less offensive than Dairy Queen's Moo-Latte milkshake, which we called into question five years ago, thus inspiring Slate to chime in from its ivory tower.

And one thing's for sure: Watson's head would explode if he ever visited Houston, where there are whole apartment complexes called things like the Creole at Yorktown and Memorial Creole, and where Cajun/Creole is one of the more popular cuisines. Googling Houston and Creole gives you almost a million results.

We put the Creole Cream question to Linda Smith, the Breaux Bridge, Louisiana-bred proprietor of the Louisiana Creole Cafe on Dowling Street in the Third Ward.

First off, she was as puzzled as we were about the allegedly Creole food in question.

"I don't know what any of this has to do with an Oreo cookie," she laughed.

"But the only thing I can say about 'Creole' is what my grandmother and them always would tell us: that we were Creole because we were African-American. My grandmother's ancestors were slaves from Africa. They always stipulated that Cajun was for Caucasians and Creole was for African-Americans. So what they said in Australia about the Oreo, no."

One of the reasons the debate rages on is that there are two distinct definitions of Creole in the state of Louisiana. At least two..."Everybody has a different definition for Creole," Smith says.

In the city of New Orleans, Creole most often today refers to the descendants of mixed-race, French-speaking "free people of color," who long occupied a place on the social ladder in between whites and English-speaking blacks. Often they were artisans and tradesmen and substantially more educated and well-off than the rest of the black community, not just in New Orleans, but pretty much anywhere else in the United States.

Which takes us pretty far afield from a generic Australian Oreo. Smith can't understand what the term Creole has to do with such a traditionally all-American cookie. Hair Balls agrees and put it to her that it's such a stretch to label it Creole, that maybe there was a (possibly well-meaning) racial slant after all. Maybe the whole thing is less literal than, like, metaphysical or something.

Smith cackles. "Yes, it has that white marshmallow center and that black outside...I don't know. I don't know. I just don't know."

So maybe that PC Aussie professor should have looked at this whole thing with a more benign eye. As Jerry Seinfeld once mused in regard to a similar ebony 'n' ivory confection, "If only people would look to the cookie, all our problems would be solved."

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