A scene from the original production of Honey Fist | Ken Glickfeld
Description: A group of old friends gather for their annual bender honoring a high school buddy who died young, when an adversary who turned Hollywood shows up to cast doubt on how he died.
First Produced: 2013
Date Added: 4/29/2013
Content Advisory: Strong language, violence
Coming of Age ·
Single Set ·
Grief and Mourning ·
Characters are Mostly Young Adults ·
Mostly Male Characters
2 Acts, 120 Minutes
2 Females, 4 Males
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From the Author:
HONEY FIST is an odd play for me: it is both my most naturalistic, and my most autobiographical. I really did grow up near Boston, and I did lose a friend named Justin to a mysterious fall. Details from my own growing up are threaded throughout the play, and the characters feel more like friends than fictions. These things both please and trouble me, as I didn't set out to write that kind of play.
I meant to write something between a thriller and a comedy about a particular kind of New England swagger that I find both repelling and fascinating. I mapped out all sorts of clever plot twists on the way to what I imagined would be a shocking yet satisfying surprise ending. But along the way of writing it, something else happened entirely. The play resisted my clever plot twists, and fought against the idea of a satisfying ending.
This happened, I suppose, because the play is about loss, and death is too small a cup to satisfactorily hold a whole life. It overflows, spilling over and staining those standing close. The characters who were close to Justin wear the stain of his loss proudly. Each believes they know something singular and essential about him, and in bringing their separate memories together, they can conjure some part of him back to life. They can't, of course, anymore than they can wash the stains off and find closure. There is no satisfying end, no easy answer, but until the end, for the characters of HONEY FIST, there are stories to tell and beers to drink and pot to smoke and fights to start and love to make and plots to scheme and friends to try and make some sense of it all.
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Original Production Information
Produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble in rep with Johnna Adams' SANS MERCI at 4th Street Theatre, 83 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003, from April 30 to May 18, 2013.
STU: Matt Archambault
SAM: Isaiah Tanenbaum
SUL: Chinaza Uche
RENE: Anna Rahn
JOE: Nat Cassidy
GRETYL: Lori E. Parquet
Director: Kelly O’Donnell
Scene Designer: Charles Murdock Lucas
Costume Designer: Will Lowry
Sound Designer: Janie Bullard
Lighting Designer: Kia Rogers
Production Manager: Kia Rogers
Props Master: Sara Slagle
Stage Manager: Jodi Witherell
Technical Director: Matt Vieira
Press Rep: Emily Owens PR
Honey Fist, the newest play by August Schulenburg, starts off feeling like one kind of play, turns into another kind for quite a while, and then ends up going off in an entirely unexpected direction at its conclusion. I mean this, please realize, as a compliment: this meandering, rambling yarn—which is in part about the nature and power of the yarns (stories) that we create about our lives, for ourselves and for consumption by others—is lyrical and touching and profound.
Schulenburg's voice feels entirely distinctive in the world of indie theater at this point. I don't know anyone else who could have written this, for example:
I don’t hate you, I adore you. You’re like the opposite of gross, you’re like pure, and I don’t mean virgin pure, fuck virgin pure, like unicorn pure, you know?
Sometimes I think, if Justin hadn’t died, I might’ve been an actual artsy-fartsy artist instead of one hell of a drunk carpenter. Crazy how something like that alters your course forever. Sometimes I feel that other life rubbing up against this one, you know? Like I could just breach that invisible wall and reach into that other life, where he’s still alive, and I’m, you know, finding the shapes in shapes for real.
Unicorn pure ... finding the shapes in shapes: this is theatrical poetry, and Honey Fist brims with it.
Let me talk a little about the plot. Stu, Rene, Sam, and Sul are old friends from high school; now about 30, they still live in the same New England town where they grew up. Once a year they meet on the anniversary of the death of another friend from high school, Justin, for a night of drinking, smoking, and revelry. Justin was the golden boy in their circle, someone they all revered and loved, and his death all those years ago has colored their lives ever since.
What makes this night different from its predecessors is the unexpected appearance of another friend from that era, Joey. Joey is the one who got away and made good: he's now a successful Hollywood filmmaker, creator of a number of films whose storylines are all too clearly inspired by the lives and personalities of his old pals. Joey admits that he's about to make a movie about Justin, and he tells the group that the one who tells him the best story he doesn't know about Justin will win the brand new Porsche he drove up in.
With Joey is Gretyl, his current girlfriend—a huge music and movie star.
In the first of Honey Fist's four scenes, we get just what the setup promises, as the friends begin to tell their "Justin stories" in hopes of winning the car. But don't expect Schulenburg to stay stuck on that trope, or on the suspense movie storyline that soon follows. Yes, there's a mystery to uncover in this play that centers around what really happened to Justin the night he died. But the heart of the play is elsewhere, in the melancholic souls of these characters who, though still relatively young, feel so misdirected and used up.
It's Rene who utters that first quoted line above, upon meeting Gretyl, a star she has idolized from afar. And it's Stu who confides that second bit about how he might have wound up an artist. I want you to meet these people, all of them: see the play—which is directed very effectively by Kelly O'Donnell and well acted by a cast of six, led by Matt Archambault and Lore E. Parquet, who mine the depths of Stu and Gretyl with uncanny insight, and featuring Nat Cassidy (Joey), Anna Rahn (Rene), Isaiah Tanenbaum (Sam), and Chinaza Uche (Sul), all of whom bring their characters to raw and vivid life—and/or read it on Indie Theater Now. The rich humanity of Schulenburg's work is as stirring a theatrical experience as any on offer right now.
review of the original production in 2013
Is that what brought you here tonight, Joey boy, another flick?
No, Justin brought me here tonight.
I’m sure he’s glad you remembered.
He’s not someone you forget.
Bet you could make a movie out of him.
I know, I could, I am.
You’re making a movie about Justin?
That’s a great idea.
Yeah but there’s so much like to put in there, it’s gotta be like a three-parter.
Fucking eighty-parter, epic, tragic, awesome.
That’s just right, Sul, I need to put it all in there, but I don’t know it all, do I? No I don’t, not everything, not enough maybe to do him justice, right, so that’s why I’m here. I want you guys to tell me the best true story you know about Justin that I don’t. And whoever tells me the best story, gets the keys to that Porsche.
That fucking Porsche right there?
That’s the one.
Serious, brother. About time I started giving back to the place that made me.
It’s really, really generous of you, Joe.
And I got the game-winning story right here.