When Sean Penn is reading absurdist comic fiction… you expect the absurd. And last Thursday’s “An Evening with Sean Penn” event at LACMA’s Bing Theater did not disappoint.
One of the more inexplicable performance events ever presented by Film Independent at LACMA, the evening saw the two-time Academy Award-winning actor (Mystic River, Milk) appearing solo on stage to read excerpts from an unpublished manuscript entitled Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff—purported to have been written by an obscure figure known only as “Pappy Pariah”. Some have speculated that Pappy Pariah is, in fact, a pseudonym for Penn himself. But if this was the case, Penn was maintained the fiction throughout, never slipping.
The evening began with a few introductory comments from Film Independent at LACMA curator Elvis Mitchell, extolling Penn’s extensive list of credits. He then pointed out the MAG-lite® perched prominently on an adjoining side table with a bright red bow, a tool requested by Penn in the event that a text or email should interfere with his performance.
The high-powered flashlight was put to use sometime during the evening’s second half, when a cell phone jingled just long enough to interrupt the reading and provoke a powerful beam of light leveled at the perpetrator. I didn’t turn around to look, but I trust said jingling cell phone will henceforth be silenced at future LACMA events.
When you consider that Bob Honey was supposedly written neither by Penn nor any other prominent author, the question naturally arises—why? What draws the efforts of a major public figure like Penn (who must be up to his eyeballs in other material) to personally plug something called Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff?
As Penn tells it, it all began in 1979 when he was attending a writing symposium in Key West and popped into a bar. Penn couldn’t help but notice one of the bar stools was taken up by a piece of truly hideous commercial art appearing to be fiberglass papier-mâché. So imagine Penn’s surprise when the art turned out to be an actual human being—Pappy Pariah.
Pariah described the book he was working on, all the while impressing Penn with the way he spoke: candidly, with no explanation or apology for the scientific terms and acronyms he dropped liberally throughout. Penn told Pariah about his mother, who had been making greeting cards. When Pariah showed interest in the cards, Penn gave him her address.
Fast-forward 37 years or so, and Penn’s mother informs him that she’d received a manuscript addressed to him. From Pariah. Feeling a little regretful that his 19-year-old self hadn’t stayed in touch with the fascinating character he met in the bar in Key West, Penn read it.
Full of fascinating vocab combinations rich with imagery and non-sequiturs, the book (which Penn read excerpts from) follows protagonist Bob Honey from one adventure to another as he literally “just do stuff.” As the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly political, with Bob befriending a variety of characters while killing off plenty of others— possibly for the government.
Narrated by Penn, the book will be released on Audible next Tuesday, October 18 with the goal of hitting the masses pre-election. But the actor expressed his desire for a printed version to be produced as well, since he believes the story has even more impact when you read it.
As Penn answered when Mitchell observed that the story comes at a propitious time:
“It’s a good yarn.”
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