Northern New Jersey. Autumn 1993. The New York Giants are on Monday Night Football and Andrew and John are in a comfortable routine, doing what they always do: Talking back to the TV, second-guessing play calls, and drinking beer. Through his love of sports, along with the dissection of Bruce Springsteen lyrics, Andrew is about to embark on a personal journey of self-discovery that will take him to a places he’s never been before.ANDREW REACHES THE OTHER SIDE is a different kind of coming out story.
GENRE: Heartfelt comedy
LENGTH: 90 minutes – 2 hours
CAST SIZE: 6
CHARACTERS: 4 Male (3 early 20s, 1 mid 40s); 2 Female (1 early 20s, 1 mid 40s)
Script is free to read. Permission is required for any and all public performances or readings. To inquire about about obtaining rights, please use the contact form.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
I was 23 on September 23, 1991 when I uttered the words “I’m gay” for the first time. While I had known for over a decade I was attracted to other guys, I never acted on my desires. I convinced myself I could and would suppress them for as long I lived and be undetectable. In my adolescence, I studied how “straight, masculine” guys carried themselves and I modeled my behavior on these observations. Real men didn’t let their wrists get limp. Real men didn’t talk with a lisp. Real men didn’t cross their legs. Real men didn’t swish when they walked. A real man watched sports and could readily talk smack with another real man about last night’s football game. Even if it killed me, I was going to be, or act like, a real man. I never relaxed my wrists. I watched my sibilants. I walked like I had taken a dump in my pants. I perfected the manspread when seated. And, most importantly for this real-man persona to pass, I watched sports and talked smack.
It didn’t hurt that my older brother Joe, who was naturally athletic and a star baseball player in high school, provided an up-close example of what it meant to be a “real” man. The two of us often played catch or one-on-one tag football with a neighbor. Joe was always the steady quarterback. And since he and our neighbor were 5 years older, stronger, and bigger than me, the games were no even match. I started at a disadvantage, but they never treated me with kid gloves. In fact, our tag football games were more like shove-Pete-to-the-ground games. I was knocked to my ass every other play. But I always got back up. I may have been younger and smaller, but I couldn’t show weakness.
We grew up in small house with one main television in the living room. Most of the time, Joe controlled the remote, which meant a Mets, Yankees, Jets, Giants, Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Knicks, or Nets game was always on. Not only did I study how the games were played, I studied how my brother and our neighbor reacted and talked smack, and I tried to emulate every nuance in their reactions. With practice, I was eventually able to hold my own. And I came to genuinely enjoy the games and the banter.
And yet in high school, I didn’t play any team sports, unless you count bowling as a sport. It was one thing to play in the backyard or street with my brother, but something entirely different (and frightening) to play and compete with strangers, of whom I’d need to hit the showers with after games and practices. This was a bridge too far for my fragile persona, who feared being found out more than anything else in the world. Instead, I bowled (no showering!) and joined the Woodington Players, the drama department, and hid in plain sight.
Although none of the drama club members were officially out—this was the mid 1980s—everyone suspected and assumed several members, including my friend Scott, were “different.” Compared with Scott’s noticeable affectations, no one ever suspected I, too, was different. Scott couldn’t or didn’t feel the need to pass, and this made him an uninhibited actor with a commanding stage presence. I, on the other firm-wristed hand, was so guarded and self-conscious and monitored all my gestures on and off stage. This made me a terrible actor. Well, except for my masterful performance of being a “real” man. In retrospect I probably wasn’t fooling anyone but myself.
Every Spring, the Woodington Players traveled to the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, to participate in a festival of one-acts with other high schools. In the fall of my Senior year, our faculty advisor, Mr. Hurley, decided the Woodington Players would perform two original student-written plays for the festival. He posted a call for original scripts. I had taken and enjoyed a creative writing elective my sophomore year, so I figured why not give writing a play a shot? I wrote a short play called The Garage Sale all through the winter and submitted it for consideration right before the deadline. To my surprise, Mr. Hurley selected it as one of two the drama department would rehearse and perform. This was my first taste seeing others perform characters I created out of thin air. I loved it more than anything else I had accomplished in high school. And while it took me 4 years to write another play, the seed sewn at the Bucks County Playhouse in May 1986 would sprout and grow in the early 1990s.
After two of my earliest plays, Water Signs and Anchors, Talk Shows, Love and Poetry Without Motion, were produced in 1991, I quit my full-time job as a production coordinator at Words & Pictures, a small boutique creative agency in northern New Jersey, to focus on becoming a playwright. It felt like a now or never decision, one I had and could afford to make while I was young and still living with my parents. But I needed to find a way to tell them so they wouldn’t wonder why I wasn’t getting up for work anymore. They were sure to be worried and try their best to talk me out of it, so I quit my ad agency job first then immediately found a survival job as a host and server at The Iron Horse, a family bar and grill restaurant in my hometown.
I broke the news to my parents one night at dinner. When I told them I quit my full-time job to focus on playwriting, I preempted their response by including, “If you don’t have anything supportive to say, please don’t say anything at all.” To their credit, they respected my wish and didn’t respond, positively or negatively. They just sat there, probably in shock. To ease any of their unspoken concerns, I mentioned my new job at The Iron Horse, and that I couldn’t wait to show them to their seats or take their orders someday.
When not at the restaurant, I wrote, submitted plays, volunteered at theatres, and joined a writer’s group, Playwrights Gallery, that met every other week on the Upper West Side. And just in case this writing thing didn’t pan out, I taught myself graphic and web design as a backup plan. I wrote 3 full-length plays between 1992 and 1994. Each were overwrought, had no relatable characters, and lacked heart. Of course they were bad plays. I was unable to access or unwilling to explore the depths of my own heart and character.
How could I break the cycle of writing crap? Well, I tapped into my core to write about the most emotional event in my life at the time: coming out as gay. In the mid-90s, coming out stories were a dime a dozen. Almost every gay writer had written one. And I read or watched most of them but none of these stories seemed to capture the essence of my story. You know, that of the sports-loving, smack-talking, beer-drinking, stiff-wristed “real” man. (Although the made-for-TV movie Doing Time On Maple Drive came pretty close.)
In 1994, I put pen to paper on Andrew Reaches the Other Side, hoping to write a different kind of coming-out story. In the first scene, Andrew (based on me) and his friend John drink beer and talk smack while watching Monday Night Football. The play opens in the dark with John yelling, “Pass interference! That was pass interference. No way. What a horrible call.”
That first line was all I needed to spark the rest of the story. But now I had to write it, share it, and expose myself to criticism for such a personal story. Even though the play was based on my own coming out experience, I knew I’d need to dramatize, embellish, and pad the nuts and bolts of reality. And this meant wearing my heart on my sleeve and embracing my vulnerabilities, something I guarded against, often unsuccessfully, my entire life.
At a Playwrights Gallery session, I handed out a scene from my new play to one of the volunteer actors. “Are you okay reading a gay character?” I asked, while handing him pages. Even in New York City in 1994, I didn’t want to presume his or anyone’s comfort with the material. The actor chuckled and said of course he was fine with it. He was an actor, after all. Over the next few months, I wrote new scenes and within a week or so was able to hear them out loud. I can’t tell you how invaluable this process was in crafting the play.
I finished a rough first draft in May 1995 and gave a copy to my buddy Allen Zadoff. We met while freelancing as word processors at a pharma advertising agency in the Flatiron District. A fellow writer (and an experienced director), I trusted his opinion. Allen was the first person outside of Playwrights Gallery to read Andrew. A few weeks later, we met at Rumbles, a coffee bar on Christopher Street, to discuss the play and for him to explain his notes. His copy was covered in red-pen markups, or what we called “Bloody Marys” at the ad agency. “It’s looks worse than it is,” he assured me. “You had a lot of typos.”
We went through all his comments. I agreed with almost all of them. Allen’s gentle, spot-on feedback was priceless. It had to be. I wasn’t paying him. (We have remained close friends, and I’d like to pay him back by plugging his wonderful books—he’s become an accomplished author—so check out his website and buy one of his books.). Over the next few months, I rewrote the play to address the issues. I completed a new draft in early 1996, and soon after started submitting it to agents, theatres, and contests.
That February, Playwrights Gallery presented a public reading series of member-written 10-minute plays. Hatch, my play in the series, was a dramatic departure in tone and style from any of my previous work. The drama centered around a grandmother longing to leave her husband, and how their granddaughter tries to convince her to stay in the marriage. After the reading, a woman in the audience, Judith Hawking, introduced herself to say she loved the play. The validation felt great, especially coming from someone who didn’t know me. Judith said she worked with Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, and suggested I send them a full-length play for consideration. The next day, I dropped off a copy of Andrew Reaches the Other Side at the theatre. Then waited for a response.
In the fall of 1996, I decided it might be helpful to make some personal connections at the theatre, so I volunteered to usher. I met only other volunteers. Then I volunteered to help in the box office. And that’s when I met Gary Bonasorte, co-founder and co-artistic director of Rattlestick. Gary was a kind, loving, generous soul who made me feel at ease. We talked whenever we were both there at the same time, which was every time I volunteered. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to tell him I had submitted a play earlier in the year. He gestured to a pile of scripts waiting to be read, sifted through the pile until he found mine, and put it on the top.
In early 1997, Gary called me at home to say he read the play, loved it, and had already discussed it with other members. He said Rattlestick would be having a reading of my play in April at The National Arts Club, and they assigned a director, Tom Caruso. Then he mentioned that one production slot remained open for the following season, hinting Andrew Reaches the Other Side might have a chance to fill it. But first, there was a developmental process to follow. This was great news. A critically acclaimed off-Broadway theatre company, with praise from one its founders, wanted to have a public reading and possible production of my play. I tried not to get ahead of myself, but it sure felt like my foot as a playwright was in the door.
I didn’t know anything about the inner workings at Rattlestick, but their history suggested they reserved at least one production per season for a gay-themed play. Besides Gary, there was another gay resident playwright who happened to be working on a new play. The fact the “gay” slot was not yet filled gave me hope for Andrew. But while my foot may have been in the door, I’d soon learn feet can get stepped on or stuck.
I met with Tom at a coffee bar in midtown. He understood the play. Phew. We talked about casting. He had most of the parts cast in his mind. I suggested my friend Jenn for the role of Laurie, Andrew’s girlfriend in the story. He agreed to have her read the part. Now, all I had to do was invite people and wait for April to arrive.
I was a nervous wreck for a few days prior to the reading. The stakes seemed high. The play could move on to the next stage in development or maybe to a full-blown production. On the evening of April 21, 1997, I walked from my apartment on 14th & 7th to The National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. As soon as I entered, I felt way out of my league in the stuffy environment. But the faces of several close friends helped to calm my nerves.
I sat in the back, pulled out a notebook and a pen, and settled in to listen and take notes. A few times, I glanced around the room to see the audience’s reactions. Everyone seemed engaged and responded to the humor and drama where I had hoped, sometimes surprising me with unexpected laughter. Except for one person: the gay resident playwright I mentioned earlier. He doodled in an artist’s sketchbook for the entire reading. I had never met him until then but, of course, in a room filled with loving support, I honed in on his disinterest and gave it more weight than it deserved. From his sour-puss facial expression to his closed-off body language, he made it clear he didn’t want to be there, as if he was being held hostage. I tried my best not to let him distract me. This was a special night for me, and dammit I wasn’t going to let anyone ruin it.
In the end, he didn’t have to. David, the other co-Artistic director, did. While everyone in attendance said something nice say about the play, David couldn’t find one thing he liked. His first comment was “it’s a movie, not a play” and it would be too expensive to produce. He suggested I cut the character of John and the entire first scene. What? The first scene set the tone for the rest of the play. Andrew is secretly attracted to John. Without John, there is no internal struggle for Andrew. No reason for Andrew to come out. David’s comments were so out of step, so jarringly different, from all the other positive feedback. Did he actually listen to the play I wrote and other people heard?
Luckily, Gary was still a fan of the play. In the weeks that followed, he and I talked a lot about possible revisions. He was such a diplomat, gently nudging me to find a way to make John and the first scene work for David. It became clear that while Gary and David were co-Artistic Directors, the buck really stopped with David. Even so, I took Gary’s suggestions to heart and rewrote the first scene and elements of John’s character to hopefully assuage David’s concerns. Look, I wanted them to produce my play, and if this is what I needed to do, I would do it.
I stayed involved and kept volunteering, but now used my self-taught graphic design skills to create promotional materials—mailers, posters, postcards—for their next five shows. When I finished with Andrew rewrites, I gave a copy of the revised script to Gary. Once again, he loved it, and told me they would have another reading, this time at the theatre. That reading occurred in July 1998. Afterward, David said he enjoyed the play a little more, but still had a problem with the character of John. He said Rattlestick would try to work it into a workshop during the season. I didn’t know exactly what that meant. It felt promising but also sounded like developmental hell.
In the meantime, Rattlestick filled the vacant production slot with the doodler’s new play. Did the doodler know Andrew was up for consideration and hurry to finish his play to take the production slot? I suspected this was the case but I’ll never know. Later in the season, Jenn and I saw his play. We almost left at intermission. All I could think for weeks was “this is the play that beat Andrew out of a production?” I won’t get into the horrid details here, but let’s just say when the New York Times panned the play, the schadenfreude soothed my soul.
Jenn urged me to stop working with Rattlestick. She saw how it was damaging my play and my spirit. She pushed for us produce the play ourselves. We had successfully staged a handful of shows together throughout the 1990s, and she was itching to get Andrew on its feet as soon as possible. So was I, but for some reason I still clung to a glimmer of hope Rattlestick would produce it. After all, Gary was still a fan and champion of the play. Surely, he could persuade David.
Gary and I met shortly after the second reading. He didn’t mention David or Rattlestick at all. Instead, he offered to send Andrew on my behalf to STAGES, a theatre in Houston he worked with in the past. He suggested I apply for a Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) fellowship. Without saying it directly, he was letting me know Andrew might not have a home at Rattlestick, and he was more than willing to help me find a home for it elsewhere. I read the requirements for the MTC fellowship. I needed a recommendation from a theatre professional. I didn’t qualify. “I’ll get Terrence to do that for you,” Gary said. Gary’s lover was playwright Terrence McNally. I had met Terrence a couple of times while stuffing envelopes for Rattlestick at their apartment, but he and I never spoke, except for just pleasantries in passing.
Fearful of more rejection, I never applied. Besides, I soon heard from Rattlestick’s literary manager and director, Brian Adams. He’d be taking the lead in getting Andrew into a workshop production. Brian envisioned an initial reading and then several weeks of rehearsals so we could see the play on its feet. The initial reading occurred in December 1998. I hoped David wouldn’t be there, but no such luck. After the reading, he was true to form, saying, “I’m frustrated. I feel like there’s a play lurking in there somewhere.”
I heard enough. I had rewritten Andrew repeatedly to please one man, and I was no longer willing to change another word just for him. I called Jenn that night and said, “Fuck them. We’re producing Andrew on our own.” I was relieved to be done with listening to anymore clueless and destructive comments. Plus, now I had a mission: to prove Andrew Reaches the Other Side was indeed a play and not a movie, and it could be produced on a shoestring budget without sacrificing quality.
Jenn and I put the wheels in motion immediately. Since Andrew Reaches the Other Side would be our first production, we named our new theatre company Other Side Productions. Each of us made a list of folks we could hit up for money. Our goal was to raise $10,000. Since we wanted potential contributors to be able to deduct donations on their taxes, I researched how to become a not-for-profit corporation in New York State and with the IRS. We created a board, a mission statement, wrote by-laws, and filed the necessary paperwork. I created a website, highlighting who we were and laid out our plans for Andrew and the future.
In July 1999, the IRS granted us temporary not-for-profit tax-exempt status pending final approval. Soon after, we mailed the donation letters. Within a few weeks, we had raised half of our goal, which was enough to start searching for a venue. (One afternoon, I ran into Gary from Rattlestick and told him I’d be producing Andrew. He suggested I talk with David about using Rattlestick’s space. I considered it for a quick minute then reminded myself not to look back.) Jenn and I visited several theatres, and ultimately put down a deposit on the Bank Street Theatre for a three-week run in March 2000.
After we booked the venue, we began to assemble a team. Each of us tapped into our combined theatrical relationships. She recruited Rob Hilliard for lighting design and John Flanagan for scenic design. My friend and co-worker Sheilah James, who had worked with People’s Light Theatre in Philadelphia, signed on to stage manage. My dear friend and composer Roger Anderson offered to write music, design sound, and run the sound board. My bowling teammate and fashion designer, Ricky Lizalde, became our costume designer. My softball teammate Mason offered to run the light board. My boyfriend Danny and my roommate Joe took on the role of house and box office managers.
We still needed a director. Roger suggested his friend and former boyfriend Chuck Blasius. Even though Roger and I were friends for nearly 8 years, I never officially met Chuck. Roger reminded me I had seen a couple of shows Chuck directed, and he remembered I was impressed. I trusted Roger and sent Chuck a script.
A week later, Chuck and I met for drinks. The first thing he said was Andrew was more than ready to be staged. I asked if he’d be interested in directing. “Absolutely,” he said. Andrew Reaches the Other Side now had a passionate and competent director. Chuck asked if there was any music that inspired me while writing the play. Of course, mostly Bruce Springsteen. I promised to burn a CD for him.
Based on our donations and ticket sale projections, I devised a budget. In the fall of 1999, we posted a call for headshots and resumes. We held auditions in November and December, with callbacks in early January. (We saw a lot of talented and not-so talented actors. One actor we called back but didn’t cast was Mario Armando Lavandeira. A few years after our “rejection,” he reinvented himself as blogger Perez Hilton. Who knows if this would have happened had he been cast in our show? You’re welcome, America.)
By mid-January, the cast was set: Mark Shunock (Andrew), Kieran Campion (John/Danny), Jennifer A. Skinner (Laurie), Stephen Guarino (Skip), Melanie Bean (Mom), Marty Miller (Dad). Compared with the endless back and forth with Rattlestick, all the pieces came together so easily. I kept waiting for some sort of derailment, but the train kept chugging down the tracks. Were there bumps? Yes, but they were minor issues easily hashed out over drinks and smokes. (When excited or stressed, I used to bum cigarettes from Jenn or Chuck to calm my nerves.)
Since every other necessary role was filled, I made it my mission to ensure we had audiences. I knew what it felt like to perform to an audience of one and to be an audience of one, and I was determined to fill seats at any cost. I offered comps to just about every gay organization, including GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), AVP (Anti-Violence Project), YES (Youth Enrichment Services) at the LGBT+ Center, SAGE (an organization for LGBT+ older people), PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and various senior centers in NYC.
Despite my intense discomfort promoting my own work—it felt weird and uncouth—I became the show’s publicist. Our stage manager’s girlfriend, Sarah Donovan, offered her photography skills for a publicity. For a photoshoot location, I asked the manager of the Dugout, a gay bar in the far west village and sponsor of my softball team, if we could use the space before they opened. In exchange, I’d give them an ad in our program for free. He agreed, and Sarah shot some wonderful photos of the cast in the bar. I contacted every publication, small and large, to let know about the show. None of this came naturally or easy. My friend and HX Magazine publisher, Gary Lacinski, gave me a huge discount to run ads in three consecutive issues. At the time, HX Magazine was the go-to source for gay nightlife and culture in New York City.
A writer with LGNY newspaper contacted me. He introduced himself as a friend for undiscovered gay theater. He asked to attend a rehearsal so he could write a feature about the show. He framed it as a favor to help get the play noticed. This sounded wonderful, that is, until he showed up and behaved like a slimeball at a peep show. He lasciviously ogled the twentysomething male actors in the cast. During a break, he followed them outside to proposition them for a “swimming” movie he intended to make. His presence made everyone uncomfortable, so Chuck and I asked him to leave. This was not the kind of help we needed to promote the show.
On opening night, Thursday, March 9, 2000, we had 30 confirmed reservations, including two reviewers. On Friday and Saturday, we nearly sold out. Each audience seemed engaged. They laughed and got quiet at all the right moments. After each performance, electricity filled the lobby as the audience exited. We couldn’t quite put our fingers on it, but we sensed something special was happening.
Two reviews came out before our second weekend. Here’s a blurb from one of those reviews: “Andrew Reaches the Other Side is a very enjoyable post-liberation gay play. It’s perfectly delightful with a strong cast, interesting characters, and a well-written script. Peter Mercurio is a talented new playwright who has succeeded in writing a ‘different kind of coming-out story.’ He will make a substantial contribution to American culture in the 21st century. I look forward to following his progress over the next few years.”
After being repeatedly told my play wasn’t a play, or that there was a play lurking in there somewhere, or that it would be too expensive to produce, I finally felt vindicated. The following week, Gary from Rattlestick attended a performance. After, he congratulated me on the show’s success and triumph, and said we needed to talk about next steps when this run ended. I looked forward to reconnecting with him, and to find out more about what he meant by next steps. (Tragically, I never got the chance to speak with Gary again. Unbeknownst to me, he was in ill health and died from AIDS-related lymphoma a few months later. I’ll always be grateful for his support, for being my and Andrew’s cheerleader, and for his gentle guidance and encouragement.)
Thanks to our reviews and word-of-mouth, we played to packed houses with several sell-outs for the rest of the run. More and more audience members—many I didn’t know personally—hung around after each show to meet me and the cast, and to get our autographs and take pictures with us. I always believed in the play’s potential to strike an emotional chord with others, but not like this. The show had fans, and they let us know.
Some fans sent emails: “I dragged three unwilling friends to see the show. By the finale, we were all unanimous in our praise of both the production and performances. It is very refreshing to see a play about a gay relationship that does not involve nudity or pandering vulgarity yet still manages to be sexy and believable. Thanks for a great afternoon at the theatre.” “Thank you. I’m just sorry I didn’t see the play earlier so I could tell more people about it.” “Congratulations on your recent project Andrew Reaches the Other Side. It was an enjoyable and heartening to see a gay play which doesn’t find any excuse to have male actors running around naked.”
Under Actors’ Equity Showcase rules, we could only run for 16 performances, with a $12 cap on ticket prices. Even with these restrictions, and coupled with donations and aggressive concession-selling by Joe and Danny, it became clear the production would not leave Other Side in the red. So we decided to pay the actors and crew more than just the usual travel stipend. They deserved it. Some donated the money right back to the company.
I wished the experience didn’t have to end. Unfortunately, we couldn’t extend the run, there was another company loading into the Bank Street Theatre right after our last performance.
Our last performance was rough, emotionally. The space, which just hours earlier was full of life with a cheering audience, was back to being a silent and empty black shell. For me, it’s this in-the-now, temporary endeavor—where a group of folks (cast and crew) come together to create a family to raise a child (the play) knowing it will someday end—is what makes theatre so unique and magical. Lucky for me, I made some life-long friends working on this show, which to this day, remains one my proudest moments in theatre and the best experience I’ve had as a playwright.
Thanks for reading. I want to share a fun fact about some character names. When Andrew Reaches the Other Side was produced in 2000, most people knew the character of Andrew was based on me. But they also assumed the character of Danny was named for and based on my real-life boyfriend and future husband. Nope. I started writing Andrew in 1994, three years before I met real-life Danny. If you happen to read the backstory for my play Anchors, Talk Shows, Love and Poetry Without Motion, you’ll notice the lead is also named Danny. I wrote Anchors in 1991. Seems I am drawn to the name Danny for certain types of characters: the charming, innocent-looking boy next door, romantic lead. The fact I eventually married a Danny was, I suppose, predestined. It’s an interesting, if not outright eerie, coincidence. Now here’s an even weirder coincidence: The character of Danny in Andrew Reaches the Other Side was based on a composite of several people in my life, including an influential guy named Kevin. And Kevin just happens to be the name Danny and I gave our son.