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New York Post
March 2003







By JOSHUA TANZER

     "This is not a play," Ed Schmidt advises us from the start. "This is not a theater. And I am not an actor."

     He has to say that because when he performs his show for a sellout house every weekend, it literally is a house — his house. The city, state and feds don't let you lawfully run a theater in your home, apparently, but you can run a religious gathering, which is how "Minister" Schmidt is forced to describe one of the city's most unusual theatrical, uh, worship services.

     "The Last Supper" has been booked solid for months and there are hundreds of names on the waiting list, but through the magic of e-mail (info@thelastsupper.info) and cancellations you still have a chance to see the show before it closes in May. If you're lucky, you'll receive an undisclosed address in Brooklyn that leads to a basement door, through a dark cellar and a snow-filled back yard and, finally, to the door of a nice warm kitchen and the play itself. The tastefully appointed kitchen — which Schmidt the actor describes as "custom built [with] solid birch cabinets and a stainless steel countertop" but Schmidt the homeowner later admits is really an Ikea special — has been outfitted with church pews for 15.

     The play is really three intertwined experiences in one. One is a harried one-man performance of a play of Schmidt's creation, a heavily embellished drama involving the women who cooked the last supper while Judas was plotting his betrayal. It features the actual cooking of the meal, which everyone is invited to share at the end. Second, that drama is interwoven with asides, monologues, interruptions and plain chattiness that are probably more the point than the drama itself.

     And third, there's the strange experience of seeing a play in somebody's home. In a standard theater you have certain consistent expectations, but here you can't have any. Schmidt's wife and kids could walk in at any point. He could be some nut who doesn't really know anything about theater, or an avant-gardist who will veer at any moment into some kind of warped performance art that you'll have sit through because you won't be able to leave the kitchen tactfully.

     Luckily, he isn't a weirdo. And luckily, he isn't a half-bad cook either. It's worth staying.

     This kind of theater at close quarters in normal household lighting contributes to the show's excitement, unpredictability — and risk.

     "That's one of the things that audiences really respond to," Schmidt says.

     "But as a performer, the intimacy is a real problem. If people are bored, or look like it, I can see every reaction.

     "I'm more the host rather than just the actor, and I start feeling, 'Oh my God, these people are in my house and they're having a bad time.'"

     One audience member who wasn't sure he was having a good time was John Boehrer, a salesman from Lindenhurst, L.I. As the show began with false starts and digressions — which turn out to be part of the script — he was starting to prepare himself for a costly fiasco.

     "I was pretty frustrated," Boehrer admits. But as the digressions started to reveal a kind of logic, he realized, "This whole night seems to be falling apart, but it's really coming together."

     He's had a chance to give Schmidt his feedback and now calls the show one of the most extraordinary theater experiences he's ever seen, partly because of its one-man, do-it-yourself nature.

     "To be in contact with the actor and writer — you get your tickets from him and he welcomes you into his home — you feel as if you've formed some sort of friendship with this person."

     Schmidt says he had this idea partly because of the difficulty of getting plays produced in New York theaters, and partly because of the ideas that arose as he developed the play about the women cooking the last supper.

     "Once I figured out what it was about, it just made so much sense," Schmidt says.

     "I knew that I wanted to feed people. It seemed like a nice metaphor for what I do, or what theater does."

     Schmidt's been asked whether he would move the show to an actual off-Broadway theater, but he admits it probably wouldn't work there. On the other hand, he has tossed around the possibility of packaging the show and franchising it out for other actors to perform in their homes.

     Still, he doesn't recommend that others get into the home-theater business.

     "I would say, if the play is good enough it's going to be a good experience," he says. "But you have no idea — it's going to take over your life."

     And family life will infiltrate the play too. At a minimum, you'll probably hear the sounds of normal domesticity as Schmidt's wife, a former actress, comes home with the kids and puts them to bed. If there's a bustle or a crash or a scream from backstage, "that's good," he says. "That makes it clear that there are real things going on in this real house."

     "My kids just think it's normal — this is what dad does. My son just thinks when you go to plays you sit in pews."

     And the youngster seems to have show business in his genes too, sometimes popping in to make a cameo in the play, the elder Schmidt notes. "A couple of nights ago he imitated the hunchback of Notre Dame — that was a new one."


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