Everything I Need to Know I Learned From I Love Lucy
(a bio of sorts)
I am unabashedly proud to confess that I love Lucy. Like many, I have spent a lifetime watching reruns of the madcap redhead, her long-suffering Cuban husband, and their ever-present neighbors and best friends, the Mertzes. I am able to recite chunks of iconic dialogue, and I can answer a myriad of minutia type trivia questions about the show. At varying times in my life the 181 episodes of black and white shenanigans have been both an inspiration and a remedy. Lucy was always my idol – and often my savior. The very first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was Lucy Ricardo, and still the first thing I reach for when the world turns cold is my I Love Lucy DVD collection.
It may have been Lucy’s fabulous, tight-waisted, floor-sweeping, housecoats – you know, the ones with the sharply darted busts and long, tight sleeves – that first spurred me to secretly don one of my sister’s frocks and slip my feet into my mother’s shoes. I know for sure that it was her limitless talent as a comedienne that prompted me to pursue an acting career. And like Lucy, I spent much of my time and energy trying to break into show business. For a long number of years I kicked – and was kicked – around Hollywood; doing little theatre, auditioning for TV, paying for endless headshots and acting classes, and trying to get some traction as an actor. And then, also like Lucy in Episode 17 (Lucy Writes a Play), I decided to try my hand at playwriting.
My first produced play, Facing the Calm, was clearly inspired by – if not derivative of – Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July. Like many young dramatists, I began by writing echoes of the works that had moved me as an observer. Like Lucy’s theatrical opus, A Tree Grows in Havana, my first play was not an overwhelming critical success. The experience of seeing something that I had created brought fully to life, however, hooked me forever on the craft of playwriting. After performing in a production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, I was invited to join a small, dues-paying theatre company. I agreed to the pay-to-play arrangement as long as I was taken in as a writer – and not as an actor. It was in that company of passionate artists that I was really able to immerse myself in every aspect of theater; production and performance.
During my tenure in the company I was also working as a Sign Language Interpreter for the Los Angeles Community College District, and finishing up my Bachelor’s degree at California State University, Northridge. Like Lucy’s French, my American Sign Language was never perfected, and although I was able to make a living as an interpreter – it was not the life I wanted. I set my sights on graduate school. It was about this time, as a reluctant actor, that I landed a recurring role on Days of Our Lives as a Deaf and soon to be dead member of the DiMera clan. Simultaneously, as a playwright, I had my second full-length play, FEED, produced in Los Angeles. Soon after, my first five applications to graduate playwriting programs landed me a spot in the 2008 dramatic writing cohort at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
I spent the next two years in Lucy Ricardo’s New York. I learned a great deal about myself as an artist, and the craft and business of playwriting. It was during this period that some of the darker grey and black undertones of my favorite sitcom really began to shade my view of the life that I had lived and the road ahead. It was likely the 24/7 work of trying to write truth into the spirits of my characters that made me realize that there were truths about my own spirit that I was not owning; one of the truths being that as a gay man I was considered a second class citizen. Finally, like Lucy in episode 71 (Equal Rights), I arrived at a point when I could no longer allow myself to be complicit in fostering the long pervasive attitude that I and those like me were somehow less than. I remembered that one of my NYU professors had suggested to me that my gift as an artist was my honesty, so I decided to put his observation about my writing skills to the test.
In the aftermath of grad school, I returned to Hollywood with an original television pilot to peddle, Life Between Hope and Mercy, about a psychiatrist who returns home after a tour of duty in Iraq with a shattered body and spirit, and takes a job in the country’s first legally sanctioned euthanasia clinic. In addition to my series pilot and treatment, I had begun to formulate the idea for a self-revelatory project that would challenge me both as a writer and a human being, Coming Clean: Confessions of an HIV+ Dad. I knew it would be tough, but once again like my tenacious, redheaded role model in episode 73 (Lucy Tells the Truth), where Ricky, Fred, and Ethel make a wager that Lucy will not be able to tell the absolute truth – I was convinced that I was up for the challenge.
I continue to write books, plays, screenplays, and television projects. I even have a children’s book in my creative queue. I also continue to challenge myself – both artistically and personally – to be as honest as possible at every turn. In all aspects of my life I also hold fast to all that I learned from the wacky, henna-haired housewife in apartment 3D: never underestimate the transformative power of laughter; find a good hair color and stick with it; always have music in your life – even if you’re not particularly good at making it yourself; find a partner that appreciates your quirks, and share with them the whole of your heart; recognize that the world is less then equitable, and try to fix it; reward yourself with some new furniture every now and then; really and truly love your neighbor as you do yourself; in some way, shape, or form have yourself a little Ricky; and above all, never never never ever stop trying to get into the show.