“I wish I could transmute my middle aged gay pain into some zombie vampire Lena Dunham comedy superhero reboot movie but I can’t,” Mike Albo says in his one-man show “The Junket,” currently at the Lynn Redgrave Theater (45 Bleecker Street, NYC). Instead, he tells the true story of a scandal from his actual life.
Now, the real Mike Albo was a “performance artist comedian poet writer” who became a freelance writer and got a freelance gig as the twice-monthly Critical Shopper columnist for the New York Times, until he took a two-day junket to Jamaica in 2009. Although the paper released a statement “we do not see any violation of our rules” it changed its mind shortly afterwards, and axed his column. That’s more or less what happens to the stage Mike Albo, except only his name is unchanged.
How did this play come about?
The show came about I guess the way many solo shows are borne…I experienced a terrible year and had my lofty illusions shattered. Then I was totally depressed and didn’t think I would ever do another solo show again. But then my fantastic director David Schweizer all but urged me to turn this story into a show. We worked on it for a year.
We did a workshop at Dixon Place (the most vital spot downtown for development) and then polished it over a short retreat hosted by the New York Theater Workshop up in Adelphi University, then I premiered a first version at the Afterglo Festival in Provincetown, and then had a first run back at Dixon Place in the fall. The trajectory of this development is really also sort of about the great supportive theater community in NYC and the support of my friends who all got me on stage again!
Did you have second thoughts about bringing this whole issue up again?
Yes and no. I mean I am always afraid someone is going to yell at me so why not just say the truth? Someone told me once that I should “keep quiet” and I would get my job back. But isn’t that sort of shown to be a tragic tactic in human history, to keep quiet?
Why do you change all the names in the play except for yours? Is that really for legal reasons as you say? Or is it a comic conceit?
There is nothing more fun than creating fake names. I have been obsessed with satirizing our consumer culture ever since 6th grade when I created a fake vaccuum commercial for a class presentation. I am not a lawyer so the for legal reasons is sort of a joke and also sort of real because as i said i am always afraid someone is gonna yell at me for something.
In the play, you say “Swag is that gift bag you get when you walk out of a launch party, or even that water bottle they throw at you from a gay pride float. And over the years its these swaggy scraps that have kept me clothed, hydrated and partially fed in this city I cannot afford. ” Does New York really run on swag?
Yes! Our entire consumer culture runs on swag. And by swag I mean not just gift bags, but the favors and nods and dinners and promotions and little freebies and open bars and complimentary power bars. Swag is universal, though…as old as human civilization. I’m sure in ancient Rome they were handing out free olive oil to get people to come to a new spa or something. I may have been “caught” with swag, but in this show I am just saying we are all taking part in the well oiled consumer machine, every day.
You talk about fashion world swag, and journalism swag. Is there theater swag?
Ha! maybe on Broadway? As a downtown performer, you’re lucky if you get a drink ticket.
What have been the most memorable reactions to The Junket?
The blogger who “broke” the story and set the whole horrible wheel in motion came to the show. He emailed me afterwards. I have zero ill feelings towards him though. He was doing his job. This has been one of those awful events that happens in your life that you end up being weirdly grateful for because it makes you stronger. The whole ordeal almost made me insane, but, like I say in the show, it sharpened my knives.
Is the Mike Albo of the show different in any way from the Mike Albo who resides in your apartment?
Well, i think I do actually have a gay accent so that’s not different. But this Mike Albo tapping away here may be a smidge more mellowed out.