Letters to Holly

Tuesday, December 19

Day Nine: The Laying On Of Hands

The Sunday rehearsal was canceled, and the Monday picture day was pushed back to Tuesday, so last night became the unofficial Sunday of the theatre week. I spent the weekend contemplating the director's suggestion that Gooper be played as a slick lawyer making a sales pitch and not a frantic brat pleading for the estate. I was not a few pages within the script when I realized that this was my chance to play Brick. All the things I had hoped to bring to that character -- a drawling charm, subtle intelligence, fuming temper -- can be used for this Gooper scene. So why not just act it as if I was playing Brick? And that was that. The act does work differently, and even more so once we got to blocking last night.

When we arrive, Brick is trying on his new fake cast. He shaved for it, and Victoria made the mold last night. She repeatedly makes fun of his skinny legs, and eventually he answers back that they got him through at least one marathon. The cast is made in such a way that he has to bear his weight on his toe, not the heel. His ankle is extended in the cast, and yes, I imagine that will make him hobble credibly.

The problem with Act Three is that it starts with a flood of entrances within five lines, and they all come in through the same door. Big Daddy is walking offstage in his fury, leaving Brick alone. Maggie walks in. Mae walks in. Two kids walk in. Gooper walks in (and walks right out to escort the children out of the play). The Doctor walks in. The Reverend walks in. It's a parade. Because Gooper is searching for mama, he gets two entrances. As soon as he walks out, he circles behind the set and enters on the other side of the stage. And he stays on this new side of the stage for as long as we have blocked this act. Big Daddy's been absent the last few days, so we get within 10 pages of the ending and star over. Tonight, we have everyone back and should be able to block the rest of the scene and thus complete the play blocking. Until we get on the actual stage, of course, and then we make adjustments.

The blocking allows for the flavor of the play to emerge. Gooper stands apart from everyone initially except a few people. He stands, crosses into center to corner and Mama and start his pitch, and then crosses back out to the edge of the stage when denied. This makes him appear to gear up for the right moment and then fume when it doesn't occur. The mae actress and I start to improv some shared looks and nods while we insult Brick and Maggie. Gooper doesn't want to use Mae's strategy of simply insulting those two, and it rattles his preparation to talk up mama. He also has to make small talk with the Reverend and the doctor. The Reverend is purely a comic relief character, but the doctor is the one Gooper has corralled into delivering the bad news. The doc quickly leaves and Gooper feigns indignation at his bad manners. Then he goes for the pitch, and this is where I was surprised.

Gooper moves toward Mama, softly selling the choices available to them and steering her to planning for Daddy's death. He eventually sits down and presents his paperwork for transfer of ownership, softens his tone, and starts the slick pitch. Mama is stunned by his suggestion and timing. And while Gooper says the magic word in his offer -- "plan" -- I found myself putting an arm on Mama's shoulder to punctuate the exact moment Gooper has planned for. And that was nothing I intended. But it felt like solid storytelling. This also gives mama something to flinch away from and begin her outrage at everybody. Gooper cracks his own deal by going that extra step, and I like that he crossed the line that started his failure here. I like that Gooper miscalculated.

As we go through the blocking, we follow stage directions unless they call for us to move inorganically. For instance, Mae and Gooper are told to swat and pick at each other in the background, but our movements have us at opposite sides of Mama most of the time. We can't reach each other. But we can grimace and gesture. Sometimes the director likes our decisions. Sometimes not. And as we establish a movement with him, the stage managers take notes for everyone so they can tell us what we may forget later. We run through this at the speed of dirt on the first try. We deliver a line, move, write our notes, and repeat this step. We don't try for acting too much.

But on the other run-throughs, we know where we're going, and we're starting to give character eye contact and expressions. Big Mama has the highest emotional height to hit in this scene, and she's trying to find where to raise and lower her intensity. when I can, I give her a little bit to work off of when saying her lines. A grimace, a stare, just something she can focus on for a second. And this seems to be what the cast has decided individually at the same time. Mae does it for Gooper. Maggie does it for Mae. Brick does it for Gooper. We're gelling (not gellin', like a felon or Magellan or our eyes are wellin'), and man alive this does seem to be a nice little production we're slapping together. I should say, and I will, that there has to yet to emerge the Jerk or Constant Wiseass or Diva. It's early. That may happen. But so far, we're professionals, and that's refreshing.

This of course is no guarantee that the final product will be any damn good.

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

Picture of the Apocalypse
They're updating the art style of Archie Comics. The original art, which served to be immediately recognizable ( a good thing for comics in a competitive market), will now be replaced by a generic and flat look.

While the attention to detail in the clothes and hair are nice, they suggest the publishers are aiming for a young female audience. Archie used to be an all-audiences comic. Well, as long as the readers were white, I suppose. Also, the humor used to be broad; the art style allowed for comic exaggeration. This more realistic style doesn't provide that, and I wonder to what degree Archie now becomes a ho-hum romance comic instead of an ensemble high-school farce. Feels like an end of an era.

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