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Metropolis Has No Superman

Photo courtesy Josh Anderson / The New York Times

On January 21st, I went out to the Cornstock Theatre’s Winter Theatre Lab to see a play. As a Geektress, the title of the play intrigued me: Metropolis Has No Superman. But, I had to do some research because maybe this was just a clever metaphor for a person or a place without a savior. My MFA is in playwriting and I love the thee-ate-er, but I don’t do trite.

The author of Metropolis Has No Superman is one Mr. G. William Zorn (badass name but it should really be spelled with an X). Mr. Zorn is from East Peoria -- hey, cool! a play by a local playwright -- and he’s in the PhD program over at Western Michigan University. Wait a minute… that’s where I went to grad school.

This play is a big frigging deal. Zorn won the Mark Twain Prize for Comic Playwriting at the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival in 2010, the same year Tina Fey won the grand poobah Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Damn.

Let me say this: Zorn deserves it. Of course the title is metaphoric, but it’s also literal. Our main character is Chance Loring, born and raised in Metropolis, IL, a very real little town as far south as you can get and still be in IL. The second he turns 18, Chance leaves Metropolis and his family and does not return for six years. In that six years, Chance has not spoken to his father once. Chance is not only gay, but also the creator of the successful comic book series Queer Boy. His dad never really approved of either the gay or the comics, hence the distance.

But dad is getting older and mom is throwing him a big birthday party. Everyone wants Chance to come home. A couple of nights before the party, Dad gets really, really plastered and really, really angry. At Superman. Metropolis has a big statue of DC’s most wholesome hero in front of the courthouse and dad is determined to take him out with his car. Dad dies in the process, never having made up with Chance, and all of a sudden birthday shenanigans turn into funeral hijinx.

The play as a whole is ripe for both humor and sorrow. A theme of missed chances and connections runs throughout. All of these characters could have been happier people if only they had made slightly different choices or opened themselves up to multiple life possibilities. This is especially apparent in one scene where we get to know Chance’s sister Didi Betterman, whom Chance has made a villain of in his comic book – Jesus Girl. The scene in question (which I’d rather not spoil) is not integral to Chance’s story, but it turns Didi into a very real person instead of just an angry fundie, making Didi my favorite character.

The writing in Metropolis is 100% solid. The dialogue is witty but also real. Yes, I believe people would say these things to each other. Chance and his partner Tracy are people I would hang out with. Didi is someone I would loathe in reality (no matter how much I enjoy the fiction of her). And if my dad bought the farm trying to murder Superman with a car, well… bully for my dad. What a way to go.

I loved this play as a spectator and as a playwright, so much so that I wished I had written it. Not only is the work superb, the author himself is pretty badass. Mr. Zorn was at the opening weekend of his play and was kind enough to chat with my playwright geek self, both in person and via email:

Carey: How much of this play is autobiographical - in terms of plot or character?

G William Zorn: Well, I guess I could point up the obvious stuff. I didn't grow up in Metropolis, Illinois. I didn't create a superhero named "Queer-boy" (though I would totally read that comic). Ya know, stuff like that. But, I'm not naive enough to think that I create art in a vacuum. Of course, some of this is autobiographical. I don't think that can ever be avoided. Even when I've been asked to write a historical piece, it always turns out to be about me in some way. Thank god, I have multiple personality disorder.

The end of your play leaves some unanswered questions. Do Chance and Tracy make up and live happily ever after?

GWZ: I smell sequel...and that's all I'll say.

Are you a nerd, comic book variety or other?

GWZ: Of course. And I was a nerd BEFORE it was chic. I was, in fact, a comic nerd but I was never into the super hero stuff. I read "Tales of the Weird" and "Horror Tales." I still have night mares about a teddy bear that steals your soul.

Who is your favorite comic book villain? We all know they're way more interesting than the heroes.

GWZ: Does "The Monarch" count? I love "The Venture Bros," especially naked Brock.

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

GWZ: Flying. I'd never miss another audition.

Who would you cast in a dream production of this play?

GWZ: Kathy Bates as Marion [Chance’s mother]. I haven't thought about the rest.

Remember that time you won the Mark Twain Prize for comedic playwriting for this? That had to be pretty awesome.

GWZ: It was pretty cool. Me and Tina Fey. It never gets old saying that.

What do you think holds a bigger stigma - homosexuality or nerdery?

GWZ: It's been my experience that gay geeks have it pretty awesome.

Who would win in a fight: David Mamet or Harold Pinter (in his prime)?

GWZ: David would get HUGE style points for the trash talk, but Pinter would psyche us all out by sitting perfectly still and not saying a word for over an hour and then out of nowhere: a frying pan right in the kisser.

How do you feel about Spiderman: Turn off the Dark?

GWZ: When I first read that U2 was writing the score, a little voice kept saying: "...and he rode a pale horse..." Personally, I'm still waiting for "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman" to get another Broadway run.

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