Friday, January 7, 2011

The Big Picture.

You know, if I were to be entirely honest with myself, I'm not exactly sure what this play I'm doing, Adding Machine, is about. I mean, I know what it's 'about' but I'm not really, really sure what it's 'ABOUT.' I was thinking about it last night and I finally came to the conclusion that it's really not my business, in the capacity of an actor, to know what it's about.

'Well,' one might say, 'It's about reincarnation. It's about the Hindu philosophy of returning to the physical plane of earth over and over until one gets it right. It's also about the inherent greed in big business - capitalism trampling the little guy.' Okay. How do I play that? Because that's really all that matters. How do I play it?

You see my point? Actors can't play 'ideas.' Actors can't play 'philosophies.' But what actors CAN play is moving across the stage to pick up a fork. Or crossing down center to make the bed. Or covering one's face to avoid a punch. That's what actors can play.

I've been asked to do a radio interview in a few hours to talk about the play. It's somewhere over in Hollywood. The director, the venerable Ron Sossi, and myself.

I suspect this is why some of out better film actors don't do interviews. Angie has been in the business, the film business that is, for a long time and she tells me that sometimes major film stars don't have a choice. It's in their contract to promote the film. Of course, I knew this. But some actors, the DeNiros, the Streeps, the Pacinos, the Hackmans, the DiCaprios, the Malkoviches...these guys only do it if a gun, figuratively speaking, is at their heads. And I really think it's because they understand that it's not their business to know what a film or a play is about. They may know what it's about, but it's not their job to comment on the big picture. I don't know. That's just a thought. For all I know, Robert DiNiro may not do interviews often because he just hates talking about his work. I suspect that's partly true. But I also suspect it's because he doesn't feel comfortable talking about the whole house when he's only been in the bathroom.

So, as I said, I'm not entirely sure exactly what the play's about. Naturally, I won't say that in the radio interview. I'll pretend to know what the play is about. I'll offer my own high-falutin' ideas about what it's about. I may even yammer on a bit about these ideas. But ultimately, Gentle Reader, it's really just whistling past the graveyard.

Early in the rehearsal one of my co-stars, I think it was Kelly Lester (the brilliant actress playing my wife in the show) but I don't really remember, began talking about the original play by Elmer Rice that the musical is based upon. The source material, as it were. She said something like, "Oh, wait, I'm confusing what happens in this script with what happens in the play." She then asked me what I thought. I said something akin to, "I haven't read the play. At least not for about twenty years." She was a little confused. "Why not?" I said, "Because it has nothing to do with what we're doing here."

And I meant it.

I am reminded of a wonderful quote from Stephen King in an interview I once read. The interview took place in the study of his home, apparently. He was asked if he was angry or resentful about what Hollywood has done to his books over the years. He said, "Hollywood hasn't done anything to my books. See? There they all are." He pointed to the bookshelf. "They're fine."

I liked that very much.

My job in this play is to make the next moment in front of me come alive. To play it as honestly as I can. To execute the next action in order to move things along. To speak clearly and with enough volume so that everyone can hear and understand me. And therein lies the mystery to acting in this play or any other play.

Adding Machine - The Musical paints on a very, very large canvas. A massive canvas. I'm only in charge of, say, the blue shades. That's all. The canvas itself, the whole painting, the big picture, the 'meaning' of the play, well, that's somebody else's job.

Understanding this, I'm always a little amused when I hear an actor waxing poetically about the awe-inspiring ideas in a play or television show or film. Now, don't get me wrong, the actor has every right to have an opinion about all of that. But is it relevant?

Brando was on record as saying he had no idea what 'Last Tango in Paris' was about. He said he enjoyed the movie very much and thought it was probably important, but in the end, he really didn't know what it was about.

Olivier once wrote he was 'not an actor but rather a purveyor of plays.' I think he meant that he was not there to BE the story, but rather to TELL the story. An astute remark, that was.

So, off to do the radio thing. Should be fun. I'll write about it tomorrow.

See you then.