Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Adding Machine, A Musical...The Odyssey Theater. 2011. Be There or Be Square.

So I haven't had a chance to really sit down and blog because, well, I've been too busy.  I love being able to say that and write that.  I've just been too friggin' busy.  And it's all been career oriented. 

After a marthon audition process (about 7 or 8 hours total over three days) The Odyssey Theater Company, arguably the most prestigious and respected and award-laden company of its kind in Los Angeles, offered me the leading role of 'Mr. Zero' in the award-winning musical, The Adding Machine, last night.  Even though there were other offers on the table from other venues, I immediately accepted.  And the reason was simple: it's a brilliant piece of theatre.  Roles like this for fifty year old guys come across about once every ice age.  Not counting my own play, Praying Small, it is quite possibly the best role I've been offered in a couple of decades.  It fell in the midst of a whole slew of other roles, some much more lucrative, but the moment I listened to the music last week, I knew this is the one I would do.  The score itself is the best I've heard since Sondheim's Assassins.  And to my knowledge, this is only the fourth incarnation of it and the first on the West Coast.

Every now and then in the actor's life a massive thing like this comes along and afterwards lots of things change.  So, for a moment, let's call a spade a spade.  The uncomfortable truth is this: even though my Idaho-sized ego sometimes would like to think differently, the bare truth is no one on the West coast knows or cares who I am, professionally speaking.  And the only way to change that is for something like this to come along.  Yes, I could go out to Palos Verdes or Manhattan Beach or wherever and do another Oscar Madison or another Tennessee Williams play or take a large role in one of my own pieces, but really, that's just sort of figuratively spinning my wheels in the long run.  Those options are sideways movements for me, not loping steps forward. 

Years ago I was working with the brilliant actor and my NY mentor, Michael Moriarty.  Now, Michael has certainly had ups and downs in his career.  He's been to the mountain top and he's also scrambled for roles worth doing.  It was late Spring, as I recall, and I'd been offered a number of roles for the summer in various regional theaters around the country.  One of the offers included a buttload of money but some mediocre roles in a highly visible venue.  Another offer included a string of challenging roles, real ball busters, in a venue that no one of 'importance' would ever see and the money offered was quite literally about a quarter of the other one.  And at that time in my career I really needed the money.  I was torn.  So one day I walked over to Michael's beautiful, huge, apartment on 58th street to ask his advice.  And he told me something I'll never forget.  It was so simple.  He said, and I'm paraphrasing, of course, "Clif, you've got your whole life to make money.  And you will.  You'll make it hand over fist one day.  But if you turn down Hamlet for a buck fifty for Guildenstern at a hundred bucks you're a fool."  I was remembering that yesterday when I accepted the role. 

I will attempt to chronicle the long journey I'm about to take in these blog pages over the next few months.  I know, deep down, when something has completely captured my imagination like this role.  I woke up this morning wanting to start work on it immediately.  I wanted to start putting that beautiful, haunting, genius and angry music inside me already.  I wanted to instantly start working off the many images coming to me.  Alas, I'll have to wait until 7:30 tonight when the entire cast is assembled for the first read-thru.

Additionally, this is a piece that comes to me with absolutely no preconceived notions about how to play it (aside from the recorded soundtrack, that is).  Some actors shriek defensively at the very thought of seeing someone else do a role they're about to do themselves.  That's horse hockey, as far as I'm concerned.  I'm guessing that's some sort of practice that originated in academia.  Steal, steal, steal, is what I say.  I steal unabashadly, I don't care if it's Brando or Ralph Richardson or Meryl Streep or Buddy Hackett.  If it's good, I'll take it.

But I can't do that with this piece.  It is too new.  To my knowledge, it's only been done in Chicago (2008), New York (2009) and since then only Minneapolis and Cincinnati (2010).  I've heard that Seattle Rep tried to acquire the rights earlier this year but it fell through.  I can only surmise (I don't know this for sure) the owners of the piece are being very protective and decided instead to let a theatre like The Odyssey do it; a theatre with a forty year history of doing cutting edge and highly acclaimed work.

In any event, it has landed here in Los Angeles.  The Odyssey is down the street from The Geffen over in Westwood.  It's a beautiful, three-theatre complex that has been lovingly and expertly transformed from an old warehouse.  Ron Sossi, the director of this piece as well as the artistic director of the theatre itself, has a long and stellar reputation as being one of the best in Los Angeles.  He will certainly have his hands full with this property; it's as layered and complex as one can imagine.  The role itself, the one I'm doing, is the quintessential 'anti-hero.'  That is to say, a character not terribly likable at first glance, an 'everyman' of sorts, just struggling to get through life the best he knows how with his limited intellect and skewered moral principles.  I adore playing characters like that.  It is the Willy Loman of the musical theater.

So.  The journey starts tonight.  And it's been a long, long, LONG time since I've been so eager to take it.

See you tomorrow.