As the Night & Day editor, I get more than 200 e-mails a day and -- disregarding the kind souls who take time out of their day to inform me about Canadian pharmacies, free iPods and ways to increase the size of my penis -- almost all are press releases.
I spend the first half hour of my day weeding through this patch and sorting the winners into folders organized by the dates of upcoming issues. It's the humdrum task I do while waiting for the coffee to brew.
I was woken up a bit by this e-mail from one Alex Wukman:
Hi. I wrote a one-act play called Superwoman vs. the League of Evil. It was supposed to debut last month, but there were scheduling conflicts. The league of evil had to work every weekend in July. So we moved it to August. Then Superwoman had to go out of the country for two weeks. So we moved it to September. Then we lost our rehearsal space. Then Superwoman decided it was more important to go to Austin for a week than come to rehearsals. So we sacked her. Now after recasting the lead of the play and restarting rehearsals in my living room we've found out that in September the venue we were scheduled to perform in is closing down for two months to remodel. I swear if this keeps up I'm going to put Superwoman in a Santa suit and call it a Christmas play. I have to wonder if this damn thing will ever see the light of day, it feels like this show is a flying dutchman; cursed to wander the earth trying to find someone to listen to it's message of insanity, identity and alternate realities. [sic]
I kept looking at the end for a paragraph with the event date that makes these e-mails easy to classify, but there was no event. In fact, why was he bitching at me? But after several rereads, I grew to value this message because it was the exact opposite of the press releases I usually get -- slickly-written PR nuggets that would never mention any of the lack of interest that got the event stalled.
I sent an e-mail back saying, "Sounds interesting. E-mail us again if you have a start date." After I pressed "Send," I realized I might have been rubbing it in his misfortune.
Next, I saw the above message, word for word, printed in the letters section of the Free Press Houston. Apparently, Wukman was screaming about his hardship to anyone who would listen. He was to the typical event organizer what a guy wearing a John 3:16 sandwich board yelling on a street corner is to a humble community pastor.
I Googled him and landed on his MySpace page, where he posted shirtless pictures of himself and stated his interests as "Realigning society along two basic maxims: maximum fulfillment for each and every human being and living in harmony with the environment. Oh and refuting Descartes because he was a moron."
How a one-act superhero play will accomplish any of the above, I don't know, but after a few weeks I got another e-mail:
Hi. After much struggle and lots of luck the force of good have prevailed! We got invited to do a one-night only, sneak preview performance of Superwoman vs. The League of Evil at Commerce Street Art Warehouse on Sept. 12th. You should come. We will have ever so much fun what with the dancing and the drinking, the bands and the talking. Please come. Pretty Please, with whip cream and a cherry on top. I will be your best friend if you come. I will do many nice things for you if you come.
"I will do many nice things for you if you come?" I forwarded this e-mail around the office with the commentary "Creepiest. Invite. Ever." But the e-mails from Wukman kept coming and I have to admit I was charmed by his lack of tact:
superwoman vs the league of evil saturday september 9th at 8 pm commerce street art warehouse (2315 commerce)
you should come
None of the slick, reserved-tongued people I usually deal with show this kind of naked desperation for press coverage.
Before I got this job, I was paying $170 a month to sleep in the gimp room of a friend's house and selling my books for food money (goodbye, latter half of Chuck Palahniuk's career). Now I was a member of "the media." Some abuse of my menial power seemed like a way to celebrate.
I imaged showing up at Commerce Street Artist Warehouse, spotting the face from the MySpace profile and shouting, "Are you Alex Wukman?"
"Do you want to be in the Houston Press?"
"Eat this tin of cat food!"
These thoughts dwelled in sick regions of my mind until I got yet another e-mail:
hey i thought you said you would list my play superwoman vs the league of evil in the night and day calendar if we got a date. we got a date, this saturday at 8 pm at commerce street art warehouse 2315 commerce, and we aren't in the calendar what gives?
I never said I would list the play if he got a date but I have to admit that, unlike, 90 percent of the material that comes into my inbox, it did make me feel like going out and seeing what was so goddamn important. So this weekend, a colleague and I ventured out to Commerce Street to be two of the dozen or so people to see the world premiere of Superwoman vs. the League of Evil.
As we entered the Warehouse, we heard a woman's anguished cry. As we neared the performance space of the labyrinth-like Warehouse, it formed into "But I'm Superwoman and I have to stop the League of Evil!"
The setup was this: A table and two chairs. In one was Sarah Purdy, a graduate of the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, dressed in a cape and leotard and with mascara smeared down her face, and in the other was Gustavo Ramon, who Wukman said was "a fixture on the local underground theatre scene," dressed in a white lab coat. Purdy insisted that she was Superwoman and was on a quest to stop the League of Evil and Roman insisted that she was a mental patient and then Purdy would scream "But I'm Superwoman and I have to stop the League of Evil!" and the conversation would loop around once again. The dialogue wasn't much but Purdy was, um, loud enough to keep my attention -- and the fact that she filled out that leotard didn't hurt.
"But let's say there is this 'League of Evil' and they do want to blow up the world," Ramon said, taking the conversation into a new direction after twenty minutes. "With all the poverty and war would that be such a bad thing?" I thought the political undertones were a creative misdirection but I was glad they stopped the annoying Monty Python-like repetition of the words "Superwoman" and "League of Evil."
It's good netiquette to forewarn readers about spoilers so be forewarned. At the end of the play, Ramon walked offstage and took out his cell phone (for a minute I couldn't tell if this was part of the script or a friend had text-messaged him with something better to do) and said something like "Hi, this is Alpha Central. I've neutralized the infiltrator. Long live the League of Evil." At this point, the play became less bizarre and random and more like the offbeat Saturday Night Live sketch that comes on at ten till midnight.
The lights lowered and Wukman, dressed in cowboy boots and a vintage dress shirt, declared himself director of the play. "Any questions?" he asked the dozen-strong audience. I suppose this was the point where I should have sat up and introduced myself but my colleague and I were still debating the best way to handle this. Wukman was pissed at us and I suggested she talk to him because she is a cherubic 24-year-old in pigtails, and I thought he'd be less likely to punch her in the face. Another idea was to announce, "Hi, we're trademark lawyers for DC Comics." After a brief scare, he'd be happy we're only from some newspaper that ignored him.
But I decided on the direct approach and said, "Hi, I'm Nick Keppler from the Houston Press." He paused for a minute and said, "I think I e-mailed you."
Ramon, still in costume interrupted us and asked, "I got it right. Alpha Central, right?"
"Yeah," said Wukman.
After an awkward silence I asked, "Where did you get the idea...for...um...this?"
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"I wanted to do a play that was just two people in a room," he said, as if this wasn't a response to technical limitations. "Initially, it was going to be a terrorist in Iraq and a government contractor who find out they went to college together, but I decided that didn't make much sense."
"And this did?" I asked.
He shrugged and gave an unpretentious laugh. Somewhat to my disappointment, somewhat to my relief (I did fear being punched in the face), Wukman was nothing like he was in his e-mails. He didn't come off as a self-obsessed, maniacal artist screaming for attention, but a quiet and unassuming young man.
I guess all press releases lie. -- Nick Keppler