Peter Michael Marino, ’87, will present his critically acclaimed one-man comedy show, Desperately Seeking the Exit, on Friday, October 18, at 7:00 p.m. in the Flexible Theatre, Donald Savage Theater and Communication Building. The production is a pay-as-you-can event and no reservations are needed. The show will also run on Sunday, October 20, at 4:00 p.m. at Allen Street Hardware, 245 Allen Street, before heading to engagements in New York City.
To follow is the backstory on the production…
Imagine going to bed having just achieved your life’s goal—and then getting up the very next morning to find out that, as the British say, someone has stolen your scone. That’s the situation Peter Michael Marino, ’87, faced when he awoke on November 16, 2007.
“I fear that Desperately Seeking Susan will leave most discerning theatergoers desperately seeking the nearest exit,” wrote influential drama critic Charles Spencer in London’s Daily Telegraph the day after the West End opening of the musical conceived by Marino. Within a month, the curtains would close on the $6 million production, and the Buffalo State theater grad’s world would fall apart.
“I was in complete shock. Complete shock,” said Marino. “The British press was especially harsh on the show, and after those reviews came out, we just couldn’t sell tickets. The closing left me depressed. I went back to New York City and didn’t leave my apartment. I had been in theater my entire career, but I started looking for non-theater jobs.”
So why did the show—in which Marino paired the music of Blondie with the storyline from the 1985 cult movie starring Madonna—fare so poorly in London’s West End?
That’s the big question. And interestingly, Marino’s answer to that question has been his salvation.
“About six months after the show closed in London, I got word that a theater in Tokyo was interested in producing it. I flew over for opening night, and it was fantastic,” Marino said. “The show received four-star reviews and standing ovations. When my plane touched back down in New York City, I was able to think about the London experience in a whole new way.”
Marino began to pen a one-man comedy show called Desperately Seeking the Exit as a cathartic way to explain how things went awry in London. One conclusion he reached: they had tried to tell a quintessentially American story in a British way. This cultural disconnect left audiences confused.
“I did the very first reading of Desperately Seeking the Exit on the Buffalo State campus in March 2012—just me reading the script—and I couldn’t believe the response. People loved it,” said Marino, who titled the show as a nod to Spencer’s original review. “I realized that this was much more than just the story of me making a flop on the West End; it was about someone having a goal, falling short of that goal, but coming out OK on the other side. I think everyone can relate to that. Ultimately, I want the show to provide hope and a few laughs.”
In August 2012, Marino took Desperately Seeking the Exit to the Edinburgh (Scotland) Fringe Festival. Among some 2,700 shows staged during the festival, Desperately Seeking the Exit emerged as an audience favorite and a critics’ darling, garnering five-star reviews.
The success of the show prompted an improbable invitation to return to London in the spring to present Desperately Seeking the Exit for a four-week run at the Leicester Square Theatre.
In the May 2 edition of the Daily Telegraph, critic Charles Spencer gave Marino his due, writing: “I’m rather chuffed that he chose a line from my review of the show in the Daily Telegraph as his title, and relieved that on this occasion I feel able to give him a better notice….The tale he has to tell is full of humour.”
“The last thing I ever thought is that I’d return to London, but to be up there on stage and hear people laugh and get involved in the ups and downs of the story, it’s very gratifying,” said Marino, who took the show for a second run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. “I feel like I’m back and that I’ve proven myself as a comic writer. I’m very excited to see what happens next.”