It's a smaller crowd today as we go through Act One. Except for short interruptions by Gooper's wife, mom and kids, this is all Brick and Maggie, and Maggie easily dominates. As I flip through the script, Act One runs from page 17 to 63, and I'd say 75% of the text is Maggie's lines. I think we have a good Maggie, someone who can (as Williams commands in his stage directions) hold the tension until the first intermission. Williams also says she has to talk in a sing style, always a little out of breath, and with the cadence of a liturgical preacher. This constraint of style seems daunting at first. Williams is known for psychological realism but character abstraction. This means movement and dialogue may seem nonlinear and even nonsensical, but the cumulative emotional wallop is supposed to ring true. And our reads prove that despite Brick virtually ending every sentence in Act One with "Maggie" and her tendency to sway so quickly from resolved to silky to frail to desperate. From what I've heard so far from our Maggie, she can pull it off.
So tonight it's her, Brick, Mae, Mama, Doc Baugh, and me. Baugh and Gooper do not appear onstage but act as a Greek chorus with their comments outside the mansion. While Brick and Maggie argue about securing Big Daddy's estate or having kids, everyone else is outside playing croquet and making parallel comments about competition and strategy. The actor playing another character, Reverend Tooker, has yet to appear as he has a family illness to contend with. Susan the stage manager reads his lines and that of the kids.
Before we start, Leslie the director offers his philosophy on direction. There is no finalized version of the production in his head, and we're free to work with him to create our characters. For the leads, well, they're pretty well defined. But the supporting actors have leeway, and he notes that kind of freedom can terrify volunteer actors. I've seen that before. Some folks, while they enjoy the rigors of performing, want to follow a strict definition provided by the director. Without it, they become anxious, and that makes for insecurity among the cast. How much can they allow for accidents and the chemistry and performer? Is that person gonna freeze up? Can they adapt onstage to mishaps? I have no idea if we have any such people in this cast, but everyone seems experienced enough for that to be a concern. They don't know me, however, so I need to prove quickly that I'm not a loose cannon (the original definition, not the '80s cop movie version).
I look forward to building Mae and Gooper with Lysa. She seems sharp and clever, and I think we'll be able to define these characters into something fun to play even if we avoid obvious comic relief. They have to be conniving and unctuous to contrast with the sex and power of Brick and Maggie. Ideally Gooper should be a short, fat guy. But I can bring a desperation to the role that underscores his need to prove himself against Brick's universal appeal. Leslie makes reference to "unschooling," a home-schooling theory of allowing the student to pursue his own studies of interest. That's what we'll do here with some discipline when necessary.
He notes that this is the third version of the script Williams created, and this debuted for a 1974 New York production starring Fred Gynne (Munsters, My Cousin Vinny) as Big Daddy. I would have paid big money to see that. Because times had changed since the original stagings, Williams could add harsh language, but he didn't change the details about Skipper and Brick's alleged homosexuality. He wanted it vague, but in my readings I think Brick is proven to be a heterosexual but sensitive man lost in social standards of machismo. He never fucked Skipper, and I don't think he would ever have considered it. But do we keep that rough language? We'll see.
We talk about the setting of the play, and Leslie thinks 1950. But some of us get confused in the references to pro football, television, and specific places. This is a needless concern for me. We all agree that Williams doesn't stick to physical realism. In Glass Menagerie, he commands that the events proceed in a dream-like fashion as the play resides totally in memory. This production should exploit the hazy establishment of place and time, to be as mercurial as Maggie's logic, Big Daddy's passion, and Brick's confidence. We're not sure what music to play before the curtain rises, and Victoria offers to Google some time-appropriate tunes. I'd go with Ray Charles, the early stuff.
During the read-through tonight, Gooper is mentioned more than he speaks, and I note the comments made by Maggie. Before you ever see Gooper, you hate him. Maggie denounces his horrible children and obvious movements to take the estate. It's a lot like my role in Glass Menagerie; the gentleman caller is built up for an hour before he walks onstage so you got to live up to that. Gooper's offstage lines here are pleads for Mae and Mama to come back outside, and I can deliver them in high and whiny Southern tones. That's my plan now, but of course as we mold the play, that may change.
I get a rehearsal schedule for the next two weeks and see I have, in that period) only three more dates to rehearse Acts One and Two. That gives me a lot of time at home to memorize the lines. That'll be easy. I also learn this is the third time our Big Daddy has played the part, and I confess to the assembled that I was terrified he was bringing that kind of resonance to a cold reading, a measure of how much he would eclipse whatever skill I may have. Thankfully, no, so the chasm between us isn't that broad. That curtails a measure of intimidation I have working with this group.
What I feel mostly is a rush of glee. I'm back in a theatre, and we're working as a group to put on a show. This is exhilarating.