By Jeanne Sager
CALLICOON June 18, 2004 Forget the cockroach with the Jesus complex; Jessie Curtis Baade is coming home.
For the second year in a row, a play penned by the Callicoon native has been accepted into the New York City Fringe Festival one of the most prestigious multi-performance arts festivals in all of North America.
Shes living in Modena right outside of New Paltz and the play will be performed in New York City this August.
But the subject matter hits home.
Its the story of a girl named Deanna Curtis (think of that) who is visited by an angel drafted in the form of comic Freddie Roman.
Kid, he says, you will entertain in the mountains . . . dont forget to tip your waiter.
Its a laugh-a-minute ride that will take the audience from 1960s Sullivan County through the life of Deanna Curtis a young shiksa with the comedic timing of Milton Berle.
Jessie Curtis Baade intersperses Curtis journey from being so funny shes shunned by classmates who dont understand the kid who opens her mouth and Don Rickles falls out to losing her funny when she shuns the angels advice through life on the road as a magic act with scenes at hotels that were the center of comedy during her own youth.
Baade grew up in the Catskills after all during Woodstock she was 5 years old and at home in Callicoon with parents Terry and Ed Curtis.
A graduate of Delaware Valley Central School, Baade grew up acting out plays with buddy Trish Roche and learning to write at the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance programs in Narrowsburg.
The Borscht Belt has always fascinated the comic/actress/writer shell see Mal Z. Lawrence at Blanches Diner in Mongaup Valley and shes, well, plotzing.
Im so wrong for my generation, Baade confessed with a laugh over lunch on one of her recent trips home to Callicoon for the towns annual tractor parade.
Im a Borschtophile the Borscht Belt was alive when I was kicking, Baade adds. My sister went to Woodstock . . . I watched Milton Berle.
People who came out of the Catskills hotels were true performers, Baade explained.
It didnt matter what kind of comic you were, you had to hold the audience, you had to be really, really good thats all that mattered.
Comics of this generation are losing that, she continued, like the ability to roast.
Deannas story isnt Baades story. She didnt have famous comics coming down from the heavens to talk in her closet.
But shes fought tooth and nail to get where shes gotten, a story her character could relate to.
Baade used to get what she calls the spinnies shed black out, visions in front of her face would starting turning round and round.
Eventually the comic found out she had a brain tumor that was causing epilepsy.
Working was almost impossible, and eventually her condition led to brain surgery.
But that didnt solve the problem. While trying to run after a 4-year-old day in and day out (Baade and husband Jason have a daughter, Phoebe), she was dealing with a mixture of medicines that she said was crippling.
From November to March, she was almost incapacitated.
Thats when she was writing Freddie a period she barely remembers.
I just did it so I could be doing something, Baade recalled. I researched the hell out of it for another play and I always wanted to do something on this.
Baade was proud of Vincent last years Fringe showing, named after the main character, the cockroach. But this time shes going to be at the Fringe Festival at the top of her game doctors pronounced her epilepsy-free in March.
Im getting another chance, she said. I know the writing is good, I know its an interesting story.
And Baade will get the chance to control almost all of the production.
She has a director, Alysa Wishingrad, who gets it, and Baade is the star of the show other characters will be done with voiceovers and Baade is testing her muscle with different voices.
The thing thats tricky about this from an actors point of view is doing a lot of the voices that cant be a voiceover, she explained.
Baade is getting help from Jason, a former actor who is studying microbiology at SUNY New Paltz.
Shes also enlisted the help of Dara Wishingrad her directors sister who did the sound for Vincent.
The sisters are incredible to work with, Baade said, and theyve been a big help.
This play basically fits into Baades car a big thing because the festival hasnt even assigned them a venue in the city yet, and all the practice is being done in the New Paltz area.
Were not guaranteed storage space, were not guaranteed wing space, anything, Baade explained. With this, it doesnt matter we can do it on a cabaret stage if we have to.
Shes come into the technical age using projections for a lot of the set and was even rehearsing with another actor via the phone before the characters part was made into a voiceover.
Baade is willing to try a lot of new things this year. Shes still nervous she has a lot of lines to learn, and the whole process is nervewracking.
I know what to do now, I know what not to do, she said of working off a years experience. Im impressed I could do it when I was as sick as I was if I could do that, I could do this.
Theres prestige attached to this, of course to be recognized for her writing is an honor.
Writing is something Ive been doing since I was a kid, she said, shrugging. Its something I just do acting is hard.
And its something she can see Terry and Ed bringing their friends to while Vincent could offend some sensibilities.
Its a good cross-section, Baade said of Freddie. There is some swearing, but she does have a Catskills timing to her speech.
Its entertaining, she noted with a laugh. I swear to God, its a trip in my own head.
The play will be performed five times during the festival sometime between August 13 and 29.
For ticket information, visit www.fringenyc.com.