Letters to Holly

Friday, December 15

Day Eight: The Da Gooper Code

We read through Act Three again with many pauses to solidify our (here comes the cliche) motivations. Victoria has brought lots of food to eat, including black sesame crackers, cookies, and long green beans. The theatres begins its production of The Santaland Diaries tonight, and it's being performed right over our heads. Big Daddy is not here, so we read up to his entrance and go back over the beginning of the act. I sit next to Mae so we can physically act our martial crabbiness a bit.

We finally have the Gooper Talk, wrestling with what he's trying to do here and why the dynamic between Mae and him works the way it seems to. Gooper is itching to start his sales pitch but Mae cuts him off. This happens a few times. Eventually Gooper begins telling her to shut up. He also uses Doc Baugh to deliver the cancer new to Mama so she won't tune out Gooper immediately after.

While Gooper's pitch was the audition piece, I didn't realize until last night that I was doing it all wrong. The director asks me how I'm approaching it, and I admit to the Frank Burns template. But I admit that I don't want Gooper to be so broadly funny; I want the humor to come from his sincere aggravation with everyone working against him to deliver this planned appeal. But I have been too desperate in the delivery. The director wants Gooper to shift into lawyer mode for his pitch, and it makes all kinds of sense. It was something I considered, by using the Kevin Spacey template, but feared it would be too similar to Brick's subtlety. But the script gives Gooper enough frustration where that isn't a problem. Plus, Brick is virtually absent from this scene. So Gooper can be quieter.

The trick was something I realized in the second read through. He's not appealing to Mama, he's talking down to her. And one line clenched it for me. Mama realizes that Gooper is worming his way to the estate and literally stands up to him. She even channels Big Daddy by calling it "crap," a word she's ever been too gentile to use. Mae feigns indignation, but she's really just panicked that they've lost the deal. But Gooper says "something is me is deeply outraged [Williams' emphasis] at hearing you talk like this." I had said that before as if he's really stunned by it. But if he instead says it like a disappointed parent, that opens up everything else he says to a similar interpretation. I had before read his breaks in sentences as if he's desperately fumbling for words (for about two minutes I considered aping Jack Lemmon in Glen Gary Glenross, now immortalized as Gil the Hapless Salesman on "The Simpsons"). But now he can be cautiously choosing the easiest words for her to understand. He's a lawyer talking to a jury, making his argument and avoiding the legal terms.

The director asks me and Gooper at the same time if I can be narcissistic enough, if I have a big enough ego to act like the scene revolves around me. My mind flashes to two replies:
1. I'm an actor. Are you kidding? Obviously I've been two polite and deferential in these rehearsals.
2. I just wrote my program bio today. I'm swimming in the magnificence of my career.

Can I take command of the scene? Can I be a fury of confounded logic amongst a gaggle of Southern harpies? Can I chew these lines a bit and maybe flash some of the Big Daddy flamboyance? Shit, yeah. (As Your Sis said later that night, "Did you tell him you're a Leo?")

And with that deliberation, Gooper's a new character. And I am jazzed. These are the kinds of moments that make acting more than just a search for applause. The mental construction, the pattern assembling into logical foundation, and the code cracking before you. It's as if I bumped up an enlightenment level in the Buddha chain. I can actually feel the sides of my brain widen a bit.

I also had a second flash: Mae and Gooper represent a third vision of matrimony. The first act let's us see Maggie and Brick, with her as the dominant one. Act Two gives us Big Daddy laying' down the law and lording over Mama. But Gooper and Mae in Act Three are equally stubborn and clashing in ways the other people don't. When Brick and Maggie have their big fight in Act One, it ends with the two laughing at themselves for getting so carried away. In Act Two, Mama blithely sloughs off Daddy's insults until he tightens his focus and really hurts her. And in Act Three, Mae and Gooper fight to a draw as they use different tactics to hit their goal, and they exit the play with the same defeated mindset.

So, yeah, it was a big night. And I can't wait 'til Sunday's read through to try out the new angle.

Previous entries:
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Day Seven

Picture of the Day
I think I want this a lot.

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