Duane Daniels sits in a small audience chair on the momentarily empty stage of Space 55. Blue Galaxy, which he's directing, opens April 29 — one week out, at the time he spoke with us — so Daniels can be forgiven for looking a bit tired, and he does. Or he's simply conserving energy, like a cat. Then his warm, clear, professional-actor voice fills the room.
"People say, 'Who's your favorite writer?' I say, 'Kim Porter.' I've never seen such beautifully complex characters. Like people who don't know they need anything in life; they think they're okay, and the audience kind of finds out, and you start to dig and dig and dig. And the most powerful stories are impolite stories, in a way — and Kim is not afraid to tell an impolite story. And because things look so incredibly bleak in a certain way ... the redemption becomes so profound for the audience."
That's not an unusual experience for Porter's audiences, whether we're watching one of her plays or enjoying her storytelling. But what will be new, for Blue Galaxy audiences, is the spectacle of a fully staged musical — one that contains a degree and quantity of adult content that, for fans with children, definitely mandates the engagement of a babysitter.
"Okay, there's nudity," Porter says, recalling a conversation about the show with her enthusiastic mother. "'There's fellatio — simulated fellatio — but not nudity and fellatio at the same time ... and lots of swearing.'" Mom allegedly remains delighted at the prospect of attending.
Lead actress and Space 55 newcomer Libby Mueller chimes in: "I've explained to my friends, both conservative and liberal, that although there's a great deal of graphic sexuality, it's in the dialogue, mostly. But also in visual, but not quite at the same time. And there's lots of nudity, but that doesn't take place the same time as the sexuality. Oh, and then there's a brief moment of sexual violence; I hope you don't have PTSD."
Mueller is as excited about Blue Galaxy as Porter's mom, but from the other side of the proscenium: "This is my dream come true. This is what I got into theater to do. And I didn't always know it. But quite recently, I sat myself down and said, 'What exactly do you want? What kind of art do you, Libby, want to create?'
"And it was something I'd never asked myself before. Because when you're 11, you think about the glamour, and sometimes you think about the lifestyle you may be able to afford yourself, but mostly you think about your livelihood depending on being the center of attention and how that justifies all the secret feelings that you have inside."
(Along with being profound on a number of levels, this remark presents maybe the best description of adolescent drama-queenity you'll ever hear.)
"I decided that what I wanted to do was indie theater, and the kind of characters I wanted to portray were troubled and told a necessary story to people who haven't had as charmed a life as I have had. And I wanted to work directly with the playwright." Mueller seems to have hit that personal trifecta with this show.
Blue Galaxy's songwriter, Roger P. Clark, originally came to know Porter through serendipity. "We met in the sandbox when my kids were really young." He's been a professional musician for forever and was thrust into the spotlight by "Stairway to Gilligan's Island," a late-'70s novelty mashup that generated a copyright lawsuit from Led Zeppelin and the producers of Gilligan's Island, which resulted in the record being pulled from airplay and (virtually) all the 45s destroyed. "It’s my Little League trophy," Clark says of his quirky claim to fame. "It allowed me to meet every big shot I ever wanted to meet.
"It ate my band," he adds. And so, like any typecast artist, he hopes to show his real range with this and future projects. More musicals? "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, someday."
"It’s best when I stay away," says Clark of the rehearsal process for Blue Galaxy. "All my projects, I’m either the boss or I go get coffee. My wife and Kim declared that I wasn’t allowed down there until it opened. The execution is the execution. I trust Kim completely. This is her baby. I can’t wait to see it."
Porter has waited a long time to see it. Returning from a Los Angeles production of her popular script Munched, she "got to that place in the desert where the radio cuts out, and I put Roger's disc in. I was in this place almost like I was having a midlife crisis. Like when your dreams finally come true, you feel like your old life can't contain you, in a way.
"Blue Galaxy popped in my head again. And because I had Roger's disc in, it all came together like this. And when I pulled into the driveway, I sat down, I wrote it all in a week, even though I'd been sitting on it for, like, 20 years."
Blue Galaxy plays at Space 55 in downtown Phoenix from April 29 to May 22. Tickets and more information are available via Space 55's website.