With just a table, chair and microphone, an actor on stage will take audience members out of the cold and into a whole other world.
Steve Mellor will be performing “Muazzez,” one of a number of short stories in Mac Wellman’s book “A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds,” at the Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City over the next week, in a show co-presented with Performance Space 122. It is in these short stories that Wellman explores the possibilities of a number of asteroids and planetoids.
The author, also a playwright and poet, is known for his experimental style and has won numerous awards, including an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement. He decided to do these stories on extraterrestrial life when he came across a list of thousands of asteroids. Aside from the outside worlds, he explores language in “Madness.”
“With these stories it’s quite germane to creating a world and making it a little odder than the kinds of stories you’d read in The New Yorker,” Wellman said. “I’m just kind of exploring the possibilities in our time, in our language.”
Since World War II, writing in the United States has been about using short, simple sentences, he said, as well as simple vocabulary. But there are more than a million words in the English language and “not to be interested in that at all is to be foolish,” Wellman insists.
In each of his stories, the characteristics of the asteroids are what set the scene. In 2008, the Chocolate Factory Theater presented Wellman’s play “1965UU,” about a world that was very slippery. In “Muazzez,” named for asteroid 3396 Muazzez, discovered in 1915, the creatures are abandoned cigar factories.
“This is not science fiction, it’s the farthest thing from that,” Wellman said. “It’s not science fiction, it’s something else, and it’s a real world but it’s a world that nobody has ever visited.”
Wellman has been working with Mellor since the mid-’80s, and they have often collaborated on projects such as the production of “Muazzez.”
“What’s great about Mac is he’s a playwright who likes to cast people who he likes,” Mellor said. “He’s always been that way with everybody he works with.”
Aside from plays, Mellor has been on the big screen, having had parts in “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Mickey Blue Eyes.” For “Muazzez,” he and Wellman worked together on and off for years, rehearsing and playing with the way the story would be portrayed on stage. It was during one of the performances when they used nothing but a chair and microphone that they decided to abandon ideas of stage sets and props.
“I just sat at a table and it was very effective,” Mellor said. “It seems to be the right way to do it.”
Wellman, who coordinates the master’s playwriting program at Brooklyn College, has had a long relationship with the Chocolate Factory Theater and he, along with Artistic Director Brian Rogers, has been working on this production for two years.
“Mac’s writing is singular. His voice is completely unique,” Rogers said in an email. “‘Muazzez’ is also special because it’s performed by Steve Mellor, who is known as THE Mac Wellman actor.”
As for the story itself, Wellman told Fusebox, a Texas arts festival group, “All I will admit about ‘Muazzez’ is that the narrator is an abandoned cigar factory (ACF), whose problems flow naturally from his longtime condition (never mind how long).”
“Fire Over Water,” an exhibition of paintings by playwright Len Jenkin that tell “shadowy, strange and ambiguous” stories, will be on display at The Chocolate Factory before and after the performances of “Muazzez.”