Dates: 28-30 April 2005 (St. Ann's Warehouse, Brooklyn), 13 May 2005 (Royal Festival Hall, London), 14-16 September 2005 (UCLA)
The Pitch: "Theater of the New Ear" was a double-bill "sound play," a concept dreamed up by compose Carter Burwell, who wrote the score for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Charlie wrote one half of the double-bill, the Coen Bros. wrote the other - their play was called "Sawbones." "New Ear" was performed in New York, London and LA, with actors reading their lines from behind a desk on-stage, accompanied by an orchestra and a foley artist making sound effects - just like the old-style radio plays, before a live audience.
Charlie's play, "Hope Leaves the Theater," follows a middle-aged woman, dissatisfied with her life and relationships, watching a play-within-the-play - and then leaving the play, catching a bus and heading home for some cyber-sex. Actors step in and out of character, there are references to Charlie himself, and the play is as self-referential/meta as anything Charlie's ever written.
In LA, due to scheduling conflicts the Coens' play was replaced with "Anomalisa," written by 'Francis Fregoli,' the pseudonym of "a well-known writer" whom, it turns out, was actually Kaufman. Google "Fregoli syndrome" for interesting results.
An article from Creative Screenwriting describes "Anomalisa" this way:
Anomalisa is about a self-help business book author (David Thewlis) who travels to Cincinnati to lecture his disciples and meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) at his hotel. A drunken night reveals that Lisa is disfigured (we don't see this, as the actors are not in make-up) and doesn't want to discuss what happened, but she does mention that she hasn't had sex in eight years. The author falls in love with Lisa's voice, has sex with her, and vows to leave his family for her. The audio-based sex is intentionally comedic as we watch two actors moan and breathe heavily while a foley soundman furiously rubs silk sheets together between the seated actors. Next, the author has a nightmare wherein he's convinced that everyone in the world is in love with him and is in fact one sum-total "group" personality that incessantly wants things from him. Again, this is accomplished via audio as actor Tom Noonan does the same voice for pretty much everyone in the play except for Lisa.
In the morning, Thewlis drifts away from Lisa and, upon returning home to his family, has a mental meltdown. Fregoli expertly puts us inside Thewlis' P.O.V. for his nightmares and even during his breakdown, wherein the sum-total group from his nightmare descends upon him while the antique Japanese pornographic toy the author gave his son starts literally sputters out of control. The toy spews forth faux-semen and sings a Japanese song, which ends the play on an ambiguous note as we wonder whether the author will drift back toward his family and reality, if this freaky toy will magically destroy the author's world, or if this too is another dream during a restless night. Excellent details, wild storytelling, solid characters, and a unique P.O.V. without the use of a single image makes this character-driven drama successful.
Cast, "Hope Leaves the Theater": Hope Davis, Meryl Streep, Peter Dinklage
Cast, "Anomalisa": David Thewlis, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Download: An MP3 of the New York performance is available for download. It is unknown if a recording of "Anomalisa" exists anywhere.
MP3, 96MB, 163 kBits/s. Running time: 1 hour 22 mins (approx.)
The "Theater of the New Ear" MP3 contains a brief intro by Carter Burwell and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the Coen Bros. play "Sawbones," a brief intermission with Burwell and Hoffman, Charlie's play "Hope Leaves the Theater," an outro by the campest radio announcer ever, and a few seconds of ABBA's "Supertrooper."