Playwright in Tech

D -4 Day

The blessed Monday off from tech week.

Yesterday was the second day of cue-to-cue. And frustratingly enough, also the Los Angeles Marathon, which ran right by the corner of San Vincente Boulevard that our tiny theatre happens to live on. Traffic was murder; I've been sick and forcing fluids: obviously a potentially expulsive combination. Even with the street closings, I thought I could get close enough to the theatre to park and walk and use the bathroom, but time crept faster than the traffic, and seeing no other option, I pulled over in a residential neighborhood and used my 1.5 liter empty water bottle as a makeshift latrine. I was surprisingly more adept at the operation than I expected. I filled the thing nearly 2/3's full, meaning I was shipping an extra liter of fluid. (It's the unexpected factoids in life that are always the most intriguing.)

I finally made it to the theatre four hours later than everyone else-- stretching my playwright's prerogative a bit. I was glad to hear though that they'd finished up the cue-to-cue and after a break would start a run-through. I'd finally be able see what the actors were doing with the script.

It was a rough go, but no rougher than a normal first fully teched stumble-through. The cast is small, two men, two women. The guy playing the central character, an ex-school teacher who moves to New York to temp and drink himself into oblivion, has a pretty good take on things, though he's got to shake his film-acting habit of mumbling. The other male lead, who plays an uptight accountant from New Jersey, is playing it all a bit to broad and arrogant right now. The character, who's of Italian descent, is coming off like a Soprano right now, instead of an image-conscious corporate drone. Now I don't want to entirely lose the ethnic feel, but I want the actor to play with burying it a bit, for a much more layered approach.

One of the two actresses is nearly perfect except for the normal small adjustments, the other seems less sure as an actor, and seems to lack the natural stage ability to make herself seen and heard. She's constantly upstaging herself (i.e. facing away so that the audience loses her face and often her lines), and she seems uncomfortable in her skin. I'm hoping it's mostly just nerves that'll iron out in the end.

At intermission and again at the end of the run, I gave my director a ream of notes, though no more than usual for this point in the process. He seemed a bit discouraged, wondering aloud how he was going to approach the cast with some of the bigger adjustments I'd like to see happen. He's afraid that trying to implement such changes at this late point might throw the cast, but I know from experience that this is horseshit. Good actors, by and large, love to dig in and make changes up to and beyond the last minute. It keeps it fresh and real and dangerous for them, which is a good place to be just as you open. I reminded him that I used to ask the same thing of him when he was acting in earlier plays of mine. I think he's having trouble finding his voice of authority as a director. But find it he must, and quickly; or somehow I'm going to have to find it for him.

At this point, the show still has the potential to blow people away, but it could also lay there like a dead confusing fish. We don't have much time to make it right. But we have to.