As the parent of a child actor, one of my goals is to expose Ben to as many things as he can handle to build his knowledge base and help enrich his performance.
The adult actors he has worked with get this, and Ben has tried to take their advice, even though it can throw his parents — and others — for a loop sometimes.
Example: Knowing that the Folger’s production of Macbeth would be extremely violent and bloody, Jill and I agreed to take our then 10-year-old son to see Tim Burton’s version of Sweeney Todd. The theory was that we could expose him to the fake blood, see how he reacted to it, and then talk/discuss/tweak as necessary.
He made it work, and the other actors were impressed by the “research” we had done as he went into the Teller/Aaron Posner production. Then, one night during the ride home from Macbeth, Ben asked if he could watch the 100 greatest movies of all time, based on the poll from the American Film Institute.
When I asked why, he said the other actors suggested the best way to become better at his craft was to watch good acting. Of course, that meant he would be exposed to more R-rated films, and the biggest one on the list was “The Godfather.”
Imagine, if you will, a high-pitched 10-year-old voice saying, “But Dad, I need to watch it. It’s supposed to be a really good movie.”
We agreed, as long as he read through the screenplay first so that the more violent stuff (can you say horse head) would not come as a huge shock. So during Metropolitan’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” our son was dressed in an outlandish lime green suit carrying around the illustrated screenplay from “The Godfather.”
Flash forward three years. Now 13, Ben and I regularly see movies together. It’s a nice ritual and one that reminds me of my dad, who always wanted a movie buddy to come with him to see the stuff my mom had no interest in watching. (Given that my mom is not a big movie fan, that meant most things.) Ben and I always talk about the subject matter beforehand, and I try to let him know about the parts that I think are pushing the envelope.
This goes for plays, too, and brings me to the end of this story.
Last night, we saw the star-studded revival of John Guare’s dark comedy House of Blue Leaves featuring Ben Stiller, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Edie Falco. Even though the show has gotten some mixed reviews, the performances are terrific, especially Falco’s.
Although the pacing is slow at times, there is much to admire about Guare’s work, which is set in Queens on the day Pope Paul VI visited New York City in 1965. But no question, it is dark, with talk about nuns, a political bombing, a soldier going to Vietnam, a zookeeper and amateur songwriter losing his grip, and his wife, a schizophrenic who heading for the institution that gives the play its title.
New York theater houses offer student discount tickets to some shows, and it is the only way we could have been able to see this one, which is selling out. So Ben went to the box office with me, showed the ticket manager his 6th grade PPAS ID, and asked for two tickets.
The ticket manager peered over at my son and said, “This show is for mature audiences. You are too young to see this show.”
Ben, without batting an eyelash, said, “But I say f--- on stage every night.”
The ticket manager said, “You must be in Billy Elliot.” He then handed us our tickets and we were on our way.
Ben smiled as we left the theatre. Sometimes it pays to be “mature.”