Thursday, June 16, 2011
Last Tango in Los Angeles: The Interlopers by Gary Lennon, opens tomorrow nig...: "So we open this new play, The Interlopers, this Friday. Tomorrow, in fact. And I have to say, I have not worked with a finer bunch of ac..."
So we open this new play, The Interlopers, this Friday. Tomorrow, in fact. And I have to say, I have not worked with a finer bunch of actors and crew in quite some time. There are no weak links. There is an old adage which applies to the theater, "A show is only as good as the weakest actor in it." And, although perhaps a bit harsh, it's true. And to be completely honest, there is usually a weak actor. I am beside myself with satisfaction to note there is no weak link in this bunch, a startlingly talented group of artists. I am, quite frankly, delighted to be involved.
From the top on down, playwright Gary Lennon has written an astonishingly original love story. Jim Fall is directing with a sensitivity rarely seen in this sometimes garrish business. Diarra Kilpatrick, Trevor Peterson, RD Call, Tara Karsian, Paul Ella, Leandro Cana and Darryl Stephens are, quite simply, as good as it gets. The show is impeccably cast.
Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt be a tad surprised at my unabashed optimism. But it's all absolutely true. Having done about 120 or so professional productions over the years, I have come to deeply appreciate it when a cast comes together like this one. Everyone is on the same page, everyone is, well, just good at what they do. In addition, it's the funniest bunch of theatre artists I've run across in a long, long time. We just finished two marathon rehearsals incorporating all the tech stuff, lighting, sound, projections, costumes, transitions, and I can't remember laughing so much during this unavoidably tension-laden juncture of a production.
I thought about this a bit last night and I think one of the reasons this is the case is because I see no second guessing taking place. There is an inordinate amount of trust in this piece. Trust of the writing (which is top notch), the directing (which is most definitely assured and muscular), the acting (which honestly just doesn't get much better), and the tech (which is all there when it should be there and what's more, perfectly pitched to the play itself).
Now, the unvarnished truth is, ninety nine percent of the time in this business, there's usually that one guy that's disgruntled, a little Napoleonic, a bit of a control freak, that poisons, however slightly, the whole shebang with his (and when I say 'his,' I mean 'his' or 'her') attitude. Reminds me of a stage manager I once had, used to always say, "Wanna hear an actor bitch? Hire him." Well, not so here.
My wife said to me yesterday, "I have never seen you so calm during a rehearsal period." She's right. And it is precisely because everyone is so damn, well, GOOD, at what they do. Now granted, I'm not carrying this show as I did the last two I did here in LA, but that's not it, either.
In the last thing I did here there was that one guy that, for whatever reason, was under the misguided impression he was running the show, that his work was far more important than everyone else's, that he alone possessed the secret formula to a successful play. And of course, over time, this attitude infects the entire proceeding with a layer of negativity. This happens more often than not with younger artists, that haven't yet learned that they are responsible for mowing the grass in their yard only, that other people will take care of their own lawns.
And usually the only thing to do is to say, at some point during the process, 'Hey, just stop. I've got this. This is what I do. You do what you do.'
I have no idea whatsoever if we have a hit. I think we do. But one never knows. We have a preview tonight and we'll probably get an inkling as to where we are. And of course tomorrow night in front of a full house. But over the years I've developed a sense for these things, through sheer trial and error, and if I were a betting man, I'd put money on this one.
Another aspect I've noticed over the past couple of weeks is the clear difference between ego and confidence in this bunch of artists. It's a fine line, but unmistakable. When casts like this come around it's such a pleasure to just sit back and enjoy it. Yes, there's ego, there's always ego. But it comes from someplace. It comes from a history of excellence. It's good ego, positive, assured, not annoying. It doesn't come from fear. Everyone's lawn is spectacularly manicured.
I was chatting for a brief moment with Gary, the playwright, last night before I left. He said, quite casually and off hand, "I think everyone knows just how they fit in." That's a deceptively powerful statement. To the layman it may seem self-evident. It is not. It is a pronouncement of awesome confidence. In fact, it strikes to the very heart of the business of theatre...'everyone knows just how they fit in.'
RD Call, one of those actors that's forgotten more about acting than most of us ever learned, is giving a performance so grounded and intrinsic as to be sort of frightening. He's a force of nature, a quiet volcano that erupts now and then and makes us involuntarily gasp. Tara Karsian, in a supporting role both heart-breaking and hysterical, absolutely owns the stage when she steps on it. And in addition, has that wonderful ability to undercut a line like nobody's business. There's always that glimmer of chaos and mischief in her eye that keeps one riveted. Darryl Stephens (whom I'd met a year or so ago when I was doing Praying Small) has taken a role that would, in lesser hands, be a cliche diversion, to a sort of tragic understanding. It's a remarkably intelligent performance. Leandro Cana, a very big guy with the soul of a small guy, does one of the hardest things to do onstage, be terrifying and gentle all at once. Quite a coup. Paul Ella, a new actor to LA, is in possession of one of those rare things in the theatre, the mysterious 'likable' factor. You just LIKE this guy, no matter what. Again, a small thing to the layman, a huge thing to the actor. And finally, Trevor Peterson and the extraordinary Diarra Kilpatrick in the two leading roles are seemingly incapable of being dishonest on stage. Trevor is doing something damned near impossible, playing shy but powerful all at once. And Diarra, one of the most talented young actresses I've seen in about ten years in this business, is miraculous. There's the old cliche about actors 'becoming' their characters. A misunderstood process most of the time (thank you Lee Strasberg) but in this particular case I suspect Diarra is in no danger of being recognized on the street as her character in this play. Her nightly transformation is, quite simply, stunning.
And there you have it. A very rare love letter to my fellow partners-in-crime. And all from the heart.
Our director, Jim Fall, is known as one of our finest, fearless, original film directors working today. He tells me he doesn't do a lot of theatre anymore, although like most true artists, he adores doing it and in some ways finds it more satisfying than film. Well, his lack of time to direct live theatre is our loss. He's got the eye. And very few people have 'the eye.' I can count on one hand the number of directors I've worked with over the last century or two who legitimately have 'the eye.'
I don't usually plug a project like I've just plugged this one. But I mean every word. This one is what theatre is supposed to be like. The kind of project that makes us all remember why we do this in the first place...the kind of play that makes us want to devote our lives to this silly business. It's kind of like playing golf all your life in the hopes of that one, great shot. Doesn't make sense to a lot of people. And that's okay. because it makes sense to us. This one is that one, great shot. The one that makes us get up the next day and play again.
See you tomorrow.