Tuesday, February 16, 2010

To Tell a Story.

We had our final dress last night. Two people in the audience. One of them gave us a standing ovation. Either that or he had to pee.

We worked hard to get here. Very hard. And a huge amount of dedication from a really solid cast.

I was off, personally, but that's because I was thinking of a ton of other things onstage.

My buddy, Jim Petersmith, came to see it last night. I think he liked it. Talked to him briefly afterwards. He had no preconceptions coming into the play, in fact had no idea whatsoever what it was about, even. Jim is notoriously closed mouth about things like this. Doesn't really give criticism. That's just Jim. He tends to find little moments he likes and latches onto them. I'm sure five years from now, out of the blue, he'll recreate something he saw last night and catch me completely off-guard. Jim is quite possibly the most unaffected charismatic actor I know. When we were younger I hated being onstage with him because audiences tend to look nowhere else. It is not something that can be taught.

My next play, probably in the late summer, at NoHo will be Praying Small. I think Jim would be great in that play. Maybe I can entice him to do it. He has a long history of waffling back and forth before committing to a project.

So it was okay last night. First time we'd done the whole thing with everything - lights, sound, props, costumes, non-stop.

Tonight is a full house. A few close friends in the audience, too.

We have dubbed Wednesday night "celebrity night." A few old friends, Michael Moriarty, Joe Mantegna, George Wendt, Charlie Sheen and a couple of others are allegedly attending. Joe and George I know from my Chicago days, Charlie and I worked with Naked Angels in NYC, and Michael, of course, was my teacher of note for many years. The wonderful actor, John Schuck, who originally read the character of "Harry" will also be there. Older readers of this blog will remember John from M.A.S.H. (the movie) and a long stint as Sgt. Enright opposite Rock Hudson in McMillan and Wife in the seventies.

Had some new things happen last night, which is always good. I was hoping some unexpected things would happen just to catch my cast and I off-guard. Final dress is always sort of a test drive. See if the car shakes in the wrong places or makes the turns tight enough.

I once stopped a show in the middle of a final dress. It was (and I blush to confess this) The Music Man and I was playing Harold Hill. This was in Pennsylvania about 15 years ago. I completely went up (forgot the lyrics) in the middle of the song TROUBLE. I simply stopped, cut the orchestra off, said to the audience, "This is what final dress is for..." and started over. Petrified the cast, but hey, whatcha' gonna do?

That's what live performance is all about. I was watching David Mamet's Speed the Plow years ago on Bway...it's the famous production that Madonna did with Joe Manegna and William H. Macy (both Mamet stalwarts). In the middle of the first act, some crazed Madonna fan simply climbed up to the stage and began walking toward her. Joe was closest to the idiot and, without missing a line, grabbed him by the arm and guided him offstage into the wings. Although Madonna was clearly shaken by this and sort of stumbled through her lines for the rest of the act, Mantegna and Macy, pros that they are, were completely non-plussed. I later asked Joe about it and he said, "Well, my first thought was that he might be armed. My second thought was 'How dare this guy interrupt my monolgue?'" Now that's an actor.

As I mentioned before, Actors Equity is making us carry scripts during the show. At first I was disappointed with this. But we're getting used to it and the actors don't seem to mind. The exact rule is that the scripts, "...must be on the actor's person." So everyone (except me, that is) comes on stage with their script and then just tucks it into their pocket.

My assistant director, Mary Evans, is a godsend for this play. Last night, knowing I can no longer see anything on stage, she gave some wonderful notes to myself and the cast. I was really pleased.

Many years ago I saw the iconic actor James Earl Jones onstage. I was way in the back. Apparently there were some older ladies in the front row conversationally chatting throughout the entire first act. I couldn't hear them but obviously Mr. Jones could. At one point he stopped acting, turned and looked at the geriatric offenders and said, in that God-like voice of his, "Would you PLEASE shut the fuck up?" Loved that.

Speaking of Jones, I once remember Moriarty telling me, "I once had a chance to play opposite Jimmy Jones. I told the casting lady that called me, 'Are you out of your friggin'mind? No one 'shares' the stage with Jimmy Jones.'" Loved that, too.

So, here we are, fight fans. Opening night. The first time the public has heard these words, ever. To be honest, I'm not sure how to feel about it all. I hope it's good. I lost the ability to judge that about a week ago. Just too close to it. I hope people like the story...because in the final analysis, that's why we're here: to tell a story. Ultimately, that's why the actor exists. To Tell a Story.

In Lord Olivier's book he says, "I am not an actor, I am a purveyor of plays." I think that pretty much says it all.

See you tomorrow.