BWW Interview: PATTI ISSUES' Ben Rimalower Discusses New Solo Show BAD WITH MONEY, Opening Tonight!
Ben Rimalower, famous for his renowned solo piece PATTI ISSUES, has written a new solo piece, which he will begin to star in tonight at the Duplex. BAD WITH MONEY deals with Rimalower's struggles with money and excessive shopping, an addiction that has plagued him throughout his adult life. Directed by Aaron Mark, the play will run for two months, closing on November 6th and beginning tonight (September 4th).
Rimalower took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss this exciting new production, as well as his past experiences in theatre, "Patti Issues," and much more. Read the whole interview below!
Tell me a little bit about your show "Bad with Money."
It's a solo play, a mono-drama as my director calls it. It's basically the story of my sort of out-of-control relationship with money which has been very damaging to my life and career. It's sort of extreme behavior. My struggle to overcome addiction with drugs and alcohol was much easier for me, and drug and alcohol addition is such a common topic. But it wasn't a difficult struggle as opposed to money with me.
When did you come up with the idea for this show and how?
When I was writing "Patti Issues," in the earlier drafts of it long before it opened, some of material was sometimes hard. Everything feels connected when you write autobiographical materials. If you write something about getting your first car, you end up talking a lot about your parents. That show was about my relationships with Patti Lupone and my father, but it became more than that. And then I had a lot of random material about my struggles with money, and because my experience with "Patti Issues" was so rewarding I wanted to write another solo show.
What are some of the difficulties in writing material that is autobiographical?
There's so much that could potentially go into it. I have to go through everything that's sort of in my head and then chip away and see what the actual show inside that is. I'm lucky to have a really brilliant collaborative director, Aaron Mark, who helped me so much in finding this show. "Patti Issues" was a little easier for me because I felt a little more distant for me. Not more distant, because I was obviously personally connected. But this is something I struggle with on a day-to-day basis. My instinct was to want this show to have a tidy ending. Unfortunately, in my life I don't have a tidy ending. But that's the challenge; making this show a complete journey.
How does the fact that you've written this show affect your relationship with the director, Aaron Mark?
A lot. For a lot of the process, his relationship with me is as a playwright, but I love working with him as a performer. He's a great director. But it's hard because we'll be working on the play at rehearsal, and I keep wanting to be changing things. And he's like, well, let's talk about that later. I'll be like, that's not right, let's fix it. And he tells me no, let's fix it tonight after rehearsal. What's important right now is how you're doing it as a performer. So he's been very helpful with that, but it's hard for me.
Your show is about poor money management. Is there one particular thing that you've spent a large amount of money on that stands out?
No, no. It's not really about, oh, I bought a Gucci sweater or something like that. It's day to day. I just spend so much money on restaurants or taxis...or at Duane Reade or Walgreens, buying batteries and paper towels. I just get a high from shopping. It's just the quantity. It's not only what I'm buying, it's the out of control-ness. I end up spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on interest charges and late fees and penalties. Probably if I wasn't doing all of that, the amount I'd spend a month would be a decent amount.
This show, as well as your debut show "Patti Issues," is a solo show. Is there something about the style or process of creating a solo piece that you prefer?
I was always a director for my whole career. "Patti Issues" was the first thing I've written and performed in high school. The thing I was writing about was my life, and it would just be me up there on stage. And then I had a great experience with that, but in the future, I think I would really like to write things for actors. And I'm sure some things will be easier with that, and some things will be more challenging.
"Patti Issues" has been produced worldwide. How does it feel knowing that your work has become so widespread?
It's wonderful. That's what I always dreamed about in my directing career.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this show?
It's been interesting to me because I had a drug and alcohol addiction, and I went to rehab and I got sober. It's something that everyone talks about. Everywhere you go, on TV shows, it's such a common thing. And that was not a difficult struggle for me. And money is a real problem in my life and it's a total taboo. I had a friend who came to see the show, and she was really helpful...she read lines with me. So I invited her, and I thought it was obvious that I'd be giving her a comp ticket. And so the day of the show, she said to me, "I hate to be tacky, but are the tickets free?" And I was like, why is that tacky? A smart person that takes care of themselves has to make choices about how much they're spending. Why is it tacky to ask that? So what I hope is that other people will talk about it...about themselves, or about me. Whether somebody has my problem or not, everyone has to deal with money.
You worked as an assistant director for the 2001 Broadway production of "A Class Act." How does working on Broadway compare to working downtown?
The cool thing about downtown is that things can happen really quickly and there's not a lot of people involved. When I want to make a change in my show, I can write things hand by hand on the subway on the way to rehearsal. On Broadway, it takes 48 hours for them to make a change in the staging. You need a whole four hour tech call. But that said, Broadway is limitless. And you're on Broadway, there's nothing like that. That's what we always dreamed of watching the Tony Awards as little kids.
You're both a writer, a director and a performer. Do you have a preference?
In terms of what I really want to spend my life doing, it's definitely writing. It's a way to really express myself. It's difficult and rewarding whereas performing is absolutely a pleasure, but I'm not really interested in going on auditions and working on a character. I guess if someone offered me some fabulous role, I would have to consider it, but it would have to be pretty fabulous. I really like directing because you get to see the performers' enthusiasm for the writers, and that's really wonderful to see. And I love to sing, but I'm no Michael Crawford or Norbert Leo Butz. I like to direct musicals because I can direct people like Natalie Joy Johnson, who is this phenomenal singer. So it's exciting for me to direct the kind of show that is based in singing.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Well, my director is really convinced that my third show will be a solo show in a trilogy. It's hard to for me to tell now. I am hosting the 54 Below Stritch tribute on Friday the 12th, and I'm really excited about that. I'm looking forward to that, and I don't have to write it!
Ben Rimalower's addiction to spending beyond his means has driven him to extreme lengths all his life. In BAD WITH MONEY he charts his sometimes hilarious, sometimes harrowing struggle to overcome his problem-or get rich trying. Rimalower's first solo show, the long-running hit Patti Issues, explored his obsession with Broadway diva Patti LuPone and his relationship with his troubled gay father. Bad with Money delves into even deeper personal territory with the story of his struggle with debt-a journey that takes him through drug addiction, prostitution, fraud and multiple betrayals.
BAD WITH MONEY will be performed at The Duplex (61 Christopher Street at Seventh Ave, New York, NY 10014) on Thursdays at 9:30 PM fromSeptember 4 to November 6. Tickets are $25 (with $50 VIP tickets available) and are on sale at PurplePass.com or (800) 316-8559. There is a two-drink minimum per person. You must be at least 21 years old to attend. Please visit BAD WITH MONEY at www.BadWithMoney.net and www.facebook.com/BadWithMoney.
Photo credit: Allison Michael Orenstein