Credit: Jack Hornaday

The Afflicted: John Spitzer, 52, a Woodley Park actor and director.

Diagnosis: Pomo blow. The District has been less than wholeheartedly receptive to Spitzer’s surreal brand of stage shows. “I ran an experimental theater company for 18 years, and I was never able to experiment,” says Spitzer, whose Fraudulent Productions fought to keep it postmodern from 1984 to 2001.

Symptoms: “Never forget” about it. Though Fraudulent often managed to fill enough seats to offend—one show consisted entirely of Spitzer standing onstage, burning the audience’s paid admission—“I had to nickel and dime the last five shows from friends and family,” he says. Spitzer was sure that Fraudulent’s final production, an avant-garde adaptation of Frankenstein, would finally draw a mainstream audience. Then came the show’s opening night: September 12, 2001. “No one was going to the theater,” says Spitzer. “The cast outnumbered the audience most nights.” Though the production picked up steam in the middle of the run, Frankenstein finally succumbed to another disaster—the anthrax scare—that kept would-be theatergoers in their homes.

Treatment: A boon full of sugar. Since disbanding the company, Spitzer has jettisoned serious experimentation for lighter (though still eccentric) fare. Currently, Spitzer moonlights as olde-tyme vaudeville-style MC “Professor Sprocket” at the Palace of Wonders. “It’s nice to finally be putting on something people want to see,” says Spitzer, who now looks for audience cheers instead of his “loftier goal” of “broadening people’s horizons.” Still, Spitzer insists he hasn’t abandoned his Beckettian roots. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve just realized, Hey, what’s so bad about having a good time?

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