Monday, May 10, 2010

"Would you go to lunch?"

A busy day at the Ponderosa planned.  Three hours of monologue work with Victor Warren, the director for Praying Small, a quick lunch, and then a few hours with Tara Orr, who's playing Susan.  The monologue work is a bit daunting.  I'm not quite off book for them but yet I know them fairly well.  I'm in that nebulous, fuzzy time when I can't quite put the book down and yet I don't really need to hold it, either.  I hate that time in the rehearsal process.  Can't really act the play yet because I'm searching not for the line, but the structure of the line.  In other words, I don't want to memorize the paraphrase.

This is the time when I become very frustrated.  But only with myself.  There have been times in my career when others have mistaken this frustration for anger towards someone else.  Not that at all.  I'm upset with myself.  But I tend to yell a bit and mutter a lot of obscenities under my breath. Particularly for this play one is likely to hear, "who wrote this shit?" mumbled now and then.

There's something nearly perfect when the actors know their lines yet don't have the pressure of performance.  That time when everyone is still in the rehearsal room and the props, costumes and scenery don't impede the work.  John Geilgud thought this, too, and presented his famous Hamlet with Burton in exactly that way.  It's known now as the "rehearsal Hamlet" because Geilgud thought the best performance given by the actors was that time right before they actually take the stage.  So in that famous production, 1963 I think it was, the actors all carried things found around the rehearsal room for props.  An old overcoat was used as a cape, an umbrella for a sword, a big jar for a goblet, a fishing cap for a crown, etc.  It didn't quite work but it was a fascinating idea.

Shakespeare, especially, takes on a life of its own once the books are down.   I remember doing Julius Caesar in New York some years back.  The books were down, we all knew our lines inside and out, we knew our blocking and were in the dead center of the moment.  The words began to take flight.  And suddenly that beautiful language began to really emerge.  It's a terribly exciting time for the actor.

I don't like thinking a lot while I'm working.  Sounds a bit odd, but there you have it.  I don't like it when the proverbial third eye of the actor starts roving.  The best work always comes when the words become the thing.  And if there is a trust of the other actor onstage, it really gets good.  There are a few actors I've worked with through the years that I've felt that way about.  I suspect that will be the case with Brad Blaisdell and Rob Arbogast in this production.  Both very fine actors that will be there for me.

With Rob, who plays the role of Roman in this play, we have two really tough scenes to memorize.  Some are tougher than others because of the way its written.  The two with Rob don't have an easily followed thru-line.  That is to say, often the words don't build on each other.  There are a lot of ellipses in the text.  This is why a lot of actors find Mamet so difficult.  Because of his tendency to write partial sentences.  And his love of repetition.  Look at Glengarry Glenross.  The movie is pretty much exactly the text of the play so you can see it in that.  There is a moment when Kevin Spacey is talking to Jack Lemmon.  His character's line is "Would you go to lunch?"  I can't remember exactly but I think he says it seven times in seven different ways.  Try to imagine saying "would you go to lunch" seven different ways for seven different meanings.  Spacey, of course, does it brilliantly.

So from today we have thirty-two days to put this thing on its feet.  Oy.  I'm already getting the heebie-jeebies.

See you tomorrow.