"Alvin, an aging comedy writer with one last shot at a network meeting, is trapped under rubble by an LA earthquake. A hilarious look at TV, theater, Heaven and Hell — from one who's been there."
Does it sound like a story line that is, well, a little nuts? Well, it's not, given who wrote "Rubble," this current off-Broadway play. It is Bristol native and Emmy Award-winning TV writer Mike Reiss, best known for his work on the TV shows"The Simpsons" and "The Critic," the film "My Life in Ruins" and the play "I'm Connecticut."
Reiss, whose play is featured through Sunday, Aug. 25, at The Players Theater in New York City, admits it was a seemingly odd pretense for a play but says that as he wrote it, it became funnier and funnier and sillier and sillier. Reiss talked about his new play, his Bristol roots and his plans for the future as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: I am afraid to ask, where did the idea for the play come from?
A: It's funny; you get ideas from bunch of places. My friends and I went out to see a play that won a national award and it was terrible. I was embarrassed and even though I bought the tickets for my friends I was afraid they were mad at me for taking them there. And I started thinking, I could write a play that bad, but I am going to write one that New York City critics love. Something with lots of angst and people that are mad at the world. It just kept getting funnier and funnier and sillier and sillier.
Q: A person trapped under rubble — some people might not see the humor in that. What did you see?
A: There is a genre of movie about people being trapped that I enjoy, like Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" or "Buried" with Ryan Reynolds. I love the idea of trying to make something out of something so small. Mine is not a big sprawling production but audience be damned. Production-wise and cost-wise it's simple and can be staged anywhere.
Q: Yours is one of several plays there now. Any challenges?
A: As simple as it is, it is a production nightmare in that my man is sitting inside trapped in a pile of rubble for the entire play. It seems like "what could be simpler?" but we are part of the New York International Fringe Festival with 200 plays, so we have to move it in and out in 15 minutes so the others can go on and off stage.
Q: How is the play doing?
A: In one sense it achieved everything I wanted it to, five performances sold out and there are producers who are interested in it. It could be going to Broadway. I mean, Bette Midler just did a play where she sat on a couch for 75 minutes and it was a huge Broadway hit. Let's get a star to sit in a pile of rubble. Bruce Vilanch is wonderful in my play and did make it his own.
Q: Is your play about you?
A: Everybody presumes it is me. It's not my life but my worst nightmare and something that has happened to half a dozen friends of mine. They work, they save their money, they leave town, they get divorced and get wiped out and have to come back to Hollywood. A guy buried alive, so to speak.
Q: Tell me about growing up in Bristol. Were you the class clown? You said once you never felt like you fit in.
A: I probably did say that but it's not exactly true. I was literally the only Jewish kid at Bristol Eastern High School and I was shy. I was smart but I wasn't like everybody in town. I go back less and less because my family moved away, but I do go back for reunions. And I got to ride in the Mum Parade and I was inducted in the Bristol Eastern High School Hall of Fame. I think I am the only one; it's more like a Closet of Fame.
Q: Any teachers that left an impression, good or bad?
A: I had many supportive teachers, all four of my English teachers in high school. They encouraged my writing and would let me do crazy things like book reports on made-up books. I used to write humor for the high school newspaper and there was one teacher who would rewrite the jokes. I was so mad at her for wrecking my jokes. The year after I left, she won a million dollars in the lottery.
Q: You have been writing on "The Simpsons" for a while now. How will it end?
A: I don't know. I have been thinking about it for 23 years now. No one has had a great idea yet. About two years ago it looked like the show was going to end because it had gotten very expensive. Coincidently, we had an episode that was about Christmas in the future and showed how everyone wound up. We thought that would be a fitting end because the first episode of "The Simpsons" was about Christmas. But then we didn't get cancelled.
Q: You wrote a play about Connecticut a while back and now "Rubble." What's next?
A: I am going to write a new one, about an 80-year-old comedienne in a nursing home for actors. Every play I have written either has a comedy writer or an old Jewish man or a young gay man because I like writing for these guys. You can believe they would be funny.
Q: Any favorite TV shows?
A: I don't watch a lot of TV. I like "Family Guy." I miss "The Office." I don't like all the shows I am supposed to like. I tried "Breaking Bad" and I said to myself 'This stinks.' I felt that way about "The Sopranos" too.
Q: Something no one knows about you?
A: My friends know, but I think the most interesting thing about me is that I have been to 82 countries with my wife, places you would not even think of going — Libya, Syria, North Korea. My wife has a death wish and I just like to hang out.