In 2007, when Peter Michael Marino’s musical adaptation of the 1984 film “Desperately Seeking Susan” flopped on London’s West End and lost more than $7 million, he thought about packing it in.
“It was pretty traumatic,” said Marino, a SUNY Buffalo State graduate, in a phone interview from his home in New York City. “I had a good long year of complete depression, like, ‘I’m leaving the business, I’m leaving New York, I’m moving to an island and opening up a margarita stand.’ ”
But instead of slinking off to an anonymous, theater-free life in the Caribbean, Marino licked his emotional wounds and did what any incurable theater writer would do: He turned his trauma into drama.
The result is “Desperately Seeking the Exit,” a one-man show named after one of many merciless reviews of Marino’s show, which will have two performances in Buffalo this weekend. The first is Friday night in Buffalo State’s Donald Savage Theatre, with another performance Sunday afternoon in the Backroom at Allen Street Hardware.
The show grew out of a semi-private blog Marino kept during the show’s workshop and preview process, a document of idealism slowly morphing into despair that provided a ready-made outline for a new production.
“The tricky part was making it a comedy and not making it ‘Woe is me, I hate everybody who screwed me over,’ you know, one of those stories. So I had to look at it from a different point of view, and I guess somehow it came out a comedy,” Marino said. “I leave it up to the audience to decide where to place the blame, I suppose.”
Unlike the show that inspired it, Marino’s one-man “comic autopsy” has prompted plenty of positive reviews in New York and in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it played during the city’s Fringe Festival last year. Since Marino first workshopped the show in Buffalo in February 2012, he has tightened it considerably and broadened it to appeal to audiences who aren’t necessarily musical theater experts.
If anybody comes off looking like a doofus in the show, Marino suggested, it’s not necessarily the producers or members of the creative team, such as Debbie Harry of Blondie, who wrote the music. It’s him.
“I sort of come off as one of the bigger idiots in many sections of the show as well,” he said. “It’s not only a story about the making of a musical; it’s also sort of a fish-out-of-water story, which is kind of what ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ is. It’s me being a novice writer, working in a foreign country that speaks the same language, that absolutely doesn’t understand anything I’m saying.”
Bringing the show back to Buffalo in its polished form, Marino said, is a way to thank local audiences for their help in refining it.
“I thought that doing it in Buffalo, where of course you have such a huge amount of theater going on there, that I would get the sort of feedback that represented everyone. If you do the show in New York, you’re kind of really only getting New Yorkers’ opinions of things,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re all proud that they contributed to the development of the show, because of their feedback in the beginning.”
What: “Desperately Seeking the Exit”
When: 7 p.m. Friday in Donald Savage Theatre, SUNY Buffalo State, 1300 Elmwood Ave. 4 p.m. Sunday in the Backroom at Allen Street Hardware, 245 Allen St.
Tickets: Pay what you can