The play opened last night and exceeded all of my expectations. The cast was spot-on. The light and sound excellent. The energy and commitment wonderful. The audience reaction both during and afterwards at the reception, for the most part, quite satisfying. Naturally, there are those that want to suggest rewrites (see George S. Kaufman quote). But that's good. My executive producer, Teal Sherer (an amazing actress currently playing the lead in the best production of PROOF I have ever seen - and I've seen a few) mentions in the curtain speech that we are accepting critical comments from audience members, and I guess we are. So I got a few. It's all good.
Several things went through my dim-witted mind last night as the curtain approached. One, we did a goofy speed-thru before the run last night. I purposely was going to set the tone of silliness but JR and Chad beat me to the punch. I wanted the cast to get loose. Not treat it so seriously. It is, after all, just a play. So I thought I'd get really irreverent during the speed thru. I needn't have worried. By the time I made my entrance, the adlibs and general disrespect of the play was in full gale. I liked that. I didn't want a bunch of tense, nervous actors waiting to go on. Instinctively, the cast realized this and we all just played. I think that element alone was incredibly helpful.
One of the NoHo company members mentioned, in the midst of all the embarrassing accolades coming my way, that is was, "a good first step." My first reaction was, "First step!? We acted the shit out of this piece tonight!" But after a night's sleep, I think she's right. Still some rewriting to be done, still some moments to be found, some editing to take place. It's a meandering kind of play at times and that's okay because that's what I wanted.
I travelled down to Wichita, of all places, some years back, to do James Tyrone in Moon for the Misbegotten. The first readthru at the table and I'm thinking, "You know, this play is really overwritten. What was O'Neill thinking?" I smile at that thought now. O'Neill is O'Neill for a reason. At first glance it may seem he writes a lot of accidental stuff. Seemingly veering off here and there, sort of wandering off into territories that don't have anything to do with theme or plot. But eventually, it all makes sense. O'Neill does not write haphazardly, I discovered. Every line, every utterence is there for a reason. It may not be clear at first, but eventually it is. It is not the tight, pushed kind of writing that, say, Mamet or Rabe or Kushner are famous for. But once the ribbon is tied at the end of the play, one realizes it is ALL there for a reason.
Now, I'm not nearly so egotistical as to compare myself to Mr. O'Neill. But I can say that From the East to the West borrows that quality from him.
My buddy, Tracy Letts, back in Chicago, and I used to talk about O'Neill endlessly. We are both great admirers.
Another thing I thought both during the first act and after I make my entrance, is that the humor works. I was worried about that. I'm not especially known for my comedic writing. My humor as a playwright tends to be dark and character-driven. I'm not good at writing "jokes." That's not to say I don't LIKE that kind of writing. I don't care what anyone says, Neil Simon is a friggin' genius. That brilliant man churned out thirty years of plot and jokes. If I were to pick up RUMORS right this very instant, I'd be guffawing in minutes. I don't get that. I don't write like that. Wish to god I could sometimes.
Had my good buddy, Joe Hulser, in the audience last night. A very fine director, Joe is. He directed me many years ago in a Sam Shepherd piece that was really exciting and surreal. Anyway, Joe just kept shaking his head and saying, "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant." In an evening of nice things being said, that was what I liked the most. Not sure he's RIGHT, but it was nice to hear anyway, especially from him.
Also my dear friend, Kyly Puccia, was there. Musician, composer, singer, actor extraordinaire. Kyle didn't have a lot to say about the writing (albeit we only spoke briefly) but seemed to like the acting a lot. His is another opinion I listen to unreservedly.
I have hopes for the piece. Not really at liberty to share those hopes yet. But I can say this...it will run in a full production very soon. Although some may disagree, when it runs, it will run very close to as it is written now. Writing a play is not a democracy. Just like writing a novel is not a democracy. Or painting a painting. Or composing a song. I don't recall Hemingway ever 'workshopping' a novel. I have no intention of workshopping this play. I don't believe in it.
Tonight another good house, I'm told. A few more friends in the audience. Once again we shall endeavor to do the words "by lightning flash."
Whatever happens next with the play, we did something very cool. We made a hat where there never was a hat.
See you tomorrow.