Letters to Holly

Tuesday, November 28

Day One: The Read Through

Last night saw the beginning of the rehearsals for the play. The curtain opens on Jan. 19, giving us just under two months to be ready. While that will not be a problem for me, the principals will have to shoehorn in a shitload of monologues into their brains. Maggie and Big Daddy especially talk and talk and talk some more. I actually feel a little bad for the guy playing Brick; he has to spend the majority of stage time listening, which can be boring for an actor.

And just so we're all on the same page, here's what happens in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:

Maggie and husband Brick are staying at his father's house for the latter's 65-year birthday party. Big Daddy owns land, lots of land, under sunny skies above, but doesn't know he's been diagnosed with cancer. Neither does his wife. In fact, they've been told the opposite; Big Daddy thinks he only has a spastic colon but otherwise is in prime health.

Brick's brother Gooper and his wife Mae are positioning themselves to get Daddy's estate. To that end, they have plopped out five children (with another on the way) and sucked up to Daddy and Mama. Brick and Maggie have no kids and many suspect he's gay. He won't even sleep in the same bed with Maggie and has started rinking heavily. The gossip is that Brick lost his will to live after the death of his best friend (and suspected lover) Skipper. In many ways, Brick is barely present. He just wants to drink himself into tranquility. This is why much of his time is spent listening to his wife and father ramble on about his decline.

Big Daddy confronts Brick about this and forces Brick to admit Skipper's death has diminished him, but Brick states Skipper's friendship was the only good thing he had in his life. He can't stand Maggie. And because Daddy wrenches info out of him, Brick drops the cancer bomb on him. Daddy goes apeshit. Mama has to be told of the cancer, and moments later Gooper and his wife swoop in to make their pitch for the estate. Mama is in hysterics. Daddy confronts his children, but Maggie has her ace card: She tells Daddy she's pregnant with Brick's child (a lie). Gooper and Mae are outraged. Daddy and Mama are giddy. Maggie then locks away the liquor and tells Brick he can only get to drinking again is he makes a baby with her and then they can get Daddy's estate. Brick surrenders to Maggie. Da end.

I was anxious all day to get started. My stomach was a mess, and I had a headache from my perpetual vibrations. I hadn't done a play since April 2004, and this is my first work with this group, a theatre whose work I've ever seen. I don't even know what the performance space looks like. I arrived a little early last night and met Victoria, the lady who escorted the applicants to the audition room. I also meet Linda, the costumer. She and Victoria cackle it up, and I hang back. We move to the audition room which is now our rehearsal space. We set up chairs and tables as other members of the cast arrive. I know no one, and short introductions are made.

I've seen some of these folks before. All the actresses in my last reading of Gooper were cast in the parts they read. The gal playing my wife, Mae, is a spitfire; she added some sass to Mae that could leads us to more comedic performances. And that's fine. The play will need some comic relief and this scheming, sniping couple can be it. Think the Thenardiers from Les Miserables. Or Frank and Hot Lips from the first seasons of MASH. In fact, the latter parallel is not far off at all. Just like those two bitching to Col. Blake about Hawkeye, we go running to Big Daddy to whine about Brick, the drinking golden child who doesn't have to play by the rules. All the while both couples want the boss figure to vanish so the whiny male can take over.

Turns out the calendars we picked up at auditions are for theatre availability, not cast times, and the director will arrive half an hour after us. Linda measures us for costumes. I may get a bowtie, and that's fine because I know how to tie one after Glass Menagerie.

The director arrives and we're introduced to each other and the crew. Some of the kids are there. The actress playing Big Mama has a son who will play one of Gooper's "no-neck monsters." I give a small wave. The actress playing Mae sits next to them to get acquainted. we move into the lobby to see the mock-up of the stage, and it looks great. Williams was very specific of his sets and stage directions (there's a page-long block of text describing Brick's emotional turmoil), and the stage looks very Williamsy.

We move back to the rehearsal room and begin the run-through. Susan the stage manager times us. Act One clocks in at 42 minutes, Act Two at 53, and Act Three at 35. Maggie, a gal from Wisconsin, has a genuinely sexy lilt to her Southern accent, and a clear stage voice. She's a good choice. Big Daddy is played by a man who performed the role before (where, I don't know), and he is delivering a top-notch acting job during our first read. Everyone strikes me as solid. Gooper has a few lines scattered about until Act Three, and then he makes his sales pitch and barks at Mae. One of the Gooper children is brought in to read her small part, and she promptly skedaddles afterward.

But Brick's actor has a pronounced New York accent. And while he's doing some fair Southern enunciations, that accent comes through when Brick's mad. Especially when Brick says "fucking." And hearing this sparks the petty brain voices that say "you could have read that bit better, you could have really hit that delivery." And this isn't fair to him or me. I'm happy with Gooper. It's a sterling asshole role, and this guy looks like a Brick should. He's tall, he's handsome, he has strong eyes. But we're gonna have to work on that accent.

I don't chat too much during our first night. I watch the other people and pick up their dynamics. I'm going to buddy up with the Mae actress, obviously, and eventually that will spill over to the rest of the cast. I don't believe one has to extend any acting method to mirror their character's relationships with that of his to the other actors. I believe a close company will be more comfortable on stage. If they trust you, they don't have to worry about you onstage. That's important. I learn the Brick guy did a play in Brevard with the actor playing Doc Baugh. He comments on the commute from Asheville, the same commute I have to work. He also mentions a Brevard theatre snafu that saw a performance scheduled on the same night as a wedding in the same rented rooms. That show had to move to a matinée, and now I'm very glad I didn't try to work with that company.

The read ends at 9:45ish, and we close up for the day. The director (his name's Leslie) tells us we'll start work on Act One tomorrow. Probably simple blocking and character progressions. Big Daddy is excused for Tuesday as he's not in that act. That actor asks about pronunciations for certain proper names like Louisiana. We need to be consistent. He also asks about the harsh language. Can we say fuck and nigger? Should we say the latter after the Michael Richards incident? What about "field hand" instead? Leslie says we'll decide later. Linda walks in and admits that she had a problem with the language during our reading and objects to "goddamn." She deems it against a commandment (which it isn't), and she notes people objected to it in a run of Menagerie ten years back. She's afraid of people leaving. She's afraid of losing their audience of respectable older patrons. Leslie notes that no one walked out during their mush more recent run of A Few Good Men. Linda pushes her point, and the actors are noticeable tensing. It's not that we don't think Linda shouldn't be concerned, but she's harping now. And it's not her call. Leslie says a decision will be made later, and that gives us a chance to withdraw.

I walk out with the Brick actor (I'll have names as soon as I learn them), and we congratulate each other on tonight's reading. I get home about 10:50, scarf a bag of popcorn, chat with Your Sister, and go to bed.

You can see pics of some of my earlier productions here.

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