A very nice notice from the formidable Los Angeles Times came out yesterday for the play I'm doing, The Interlopers, by Gary Lennon. In fact, it was downright glowing. The only slightly negative comment in the review involved the acoustics of the theatre, although the critic seemed to think it was a volume problem from the actors, which it may have been slightly, but not entirely. The Bootleg Theatre in downtown LA where we're doing the piece is a wonderful theatre, wonderful space. But it's a barn. The stage itself is huge. Jim Fall and our designers did a tremendous job of minmizing this problem by moving everything forward and cutting off the length of the stage with four scrims and a back curtain, but it's still a barn in the final analysis. Consequently, it's a very deceptive space in terms of acoustics. Adding to this sound complication is the fact that halfway up the stadium seating is a low hanging series of beams that tend to trap the sound out front. The back of the audience is at a decided disadvantage. Another added hurdle is that it is June in LA and it's hot. So we have to, obviously, run the air conditioner which further muffles sound quality.
Strangely, the review seems to indicate our director (Jim Fall) is responsible for this because he's directed a lot of films. This is ludicrous, of course. In the final week of tech, Jim became uncomfortably aware of the acoustics problem and did all but beg the actors to speak louder, to push it out, to simply project. He was fully aware of the problem. The problem was, after weeks of rehearsal at one volume, some of us found it difficult to adapt to a new set of interior instincts and play a different ballgame. I had a couple of people in the audience the night the LA Times were there. One said he had no problem at all with the volume and one (my wife, actually) said she did. Personally, I purposefully took it up a notch and didn't have that much adjusting. But there are some gifted, instinctive actors in this lot and their inner-compass told them, rightly so, that to take the volume up for the folks in the back would also make the first few rows uncomfortable. So everyone tried to strike a happy balance and frankly, I think we did. Actually, this is a fairly common problem in live theatre, especially if one is working without body mikes. Everyone on stage is perfectly capable of projecting, we are all well-trained, but we were all trying to find that perfect balance so as to not come off as shouting during otherwise naturalistic scenework. Our instincts, again rightly so, told us this would be disconcerting for some.
But in the end, volume always trumps in the theatre. If they can't hear it, it doesn't count. It had nothing to do with Jim directing us to 'talk softly.' Quite the contrary. If I had to guess, I think he gave the volume note about 55 times, all told. To suggest the play couldn't be heard because the director has done a lot of film is like suggesting the play isn't moving because there are too many funny lines. There is simply no connection between the two.
In any event, it's all quibbling because it's a wonderful review. Also more than a bit unfair because I really think Jim is one of a handful of truly great directors I've worked with over the past thirty years.
It reminds me of a review I recieved years ago. I was doing the play 'Deathtrap' for the fourth time...I had already done the role (the young playwright and murderer, Clifford Anderson) three previous times in three different productions and I was, well, getting a little bored with it. So I suggested to the director (I think this was at Arkansas Rep) that I play it with a slight stutter, very slight. For one thing I thought it might make him more vulnerable, less threatening, and consequently more shocking when the audience discovers he's a sociopathic killer. By that time, after three productions, I think it safe to say I knew the play and the part inside out.
When the reviews came out, one of them said, "Mr. Morts might have made a fine Clifford Anderson had he bothered to learn his lines." He had completely missed the point of the stutter and what's more had simply assumed it was because I was reaching for the lines.
So we're up and running again this weekend. And I so enjoy this cast. They are really a rare bunch; complete professionals and just about as easy-going as it gets. Seasoned pros, all of them. And a pleasure to play with.
So here's what I'm going to suggest: I think we need to hire another actor, one with a big, booming voice, a James Earl Jones type voice, to sit in the fifth row and whenever a quiet, emotional moment in the play comes around, have him repeat all the lines very loud, with perfect diction. No inflections, just sort of bark them out. Sort of act as an interpreter. Just sit there and with no explanation whatsoever, simply bellow the lines out during the soft spots. I think it could work. Oh, sure it's unconventional. But in the end possibly a very satisfying theatrical experience.
My other idea is to use the scrims. Instead of throwing projections of various images up on them, we cut all that and put the lines up there, like sub-titles. I think that could work, too.
We're going in early for a quick speed-thru today. I'll suggest it then.
See you tomorrow.