For Andrew Unterberg, the ultimate daze job comes at night.
The riffs of readings, dervish dance of direction, unscripted disagreements, building the barrier of a fourth wall brick by brick …
Playwriting, agrees the full-time lawyer, is a court of a different venue.
His venue these days — evenings — is the Cherry Pitt, where the young attorney's "The Crow Mill" crows proudly as part of the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival. Fringe with tallit attached: There is a Jewish element to this Jewish writer's wrenching tale of a scientist trying to uncover the DNA of memory, the spindly software of his soul that focuses on an abused childhood which may have lead to killing fields of unfriendly family fire.
Unterberg is no outsider to the Fringe; in 2006, he won its best of the best for his play "The Infliction of Cruelty."
Why inflict oneself with the hardships attendant to a career whose third act is never a certainty, where penury is the accepted penalty for purging the artistic need to write for the stage? After all, his daytime job as a successful Manhattan lawyer must be drama enough
"I see the opportunity as a writer to step away from myself," he reasons. One small step for manuscripts
is it harder to map the human genome — as the scientist does in "Crow Mill" — or the human heart? "The heart is far more difficult," says the writer. With all the genetic codes scientifically plotted, they are outnumbered by the heart and its countless complex plotlines. "There are so many aspects of love," marvels Unterberg.
It's a story line, this love lore, he's well familiar with. Happily married and a new dad, Unterberg is overwhelmed by the firmament of filial love."My son has added layers to the meaning of my writing," he avers. What's it all about, Andrew? The drama plays up the "nature versus nurture" debate, with science taking a walk on the wild side: "We are beginning to have a level of control over our fate."
Tradition? Not Quite
Unterberg inherits the mantle of iconoclast amid the idiosyncratics of the fringefest with a work that speaks and plays on several levels. "In some aspects, it's a Jewish play albeit not a traditional Jewish play," and, he cautions of the surprising grandmother role afflicted with demons and dementia, that this is by far not his bubba's stand-in. "But the play involves rabbinical teaching and the grandmother [evokes] that without even realizing it." Talmud as teacher? If life has taught Unterberg anything, it is that he was meant to duel with duality.
Lawyer … playwright: But why choose between them? "When I'm an attorney during the day, I'm an attorney 100 percent. And, then, at night, I change my clothes and head to the theater as playwright."
Somewhere along the way, upcoming writer/established lawyer Andrew Unterbeg carries along his own telephone booth, allowing him to engage in becoming a fast-change artist of the best kind.