Letters to Holly

Friday, January 19

Day Twenty-Five: Calamity

It's the stage manager's birthday, and we present her with a cake and a giant signed card. Because Mae and the kids sing Happy Birthday to Big Daddy, she leads us in serenading the manger, followed by a round of "Skina-ma-rinka-dinka-dink," the second and diabetic song they sing. We do all this early in the evening so the cast can eat cake before donning the costumes.

Someone has unearthed photo albums of past shows, A Few Good Men, Christmas Belles, and Wizard of Oz, and they are perused by all. They are huge Easily 50 pictures each album. We're to take our show's pictures after this Sunday's performance, which strikes me as a rough assignment. This will take place after the ninth performance within a week. Normally they do this session during the second week's run, but it was moved here for some reason I never hear. I prefer it to be done during tech rehearsal. Taking pictures after a show means you have to reapply make-up and straighten the clothes you've slogged around in for three hours. Also, I am desperate to catch the Patriots-Colts game Sunday evening. We have already been assured that our set strike on the last night will not last long enough for us to miss the Super Bowl kickoff. I need to mention that the photo albums reveal a design that makes Hot Tin Roof look like a Broadway production. Our one set allowed the crew to go crazy with details and light design.

This is Preview Night, when local reviewers attend for their columns, and from what I've seen in those albums, the local reviewers are of the rah-rah variety. You might notice that daily papers, when they run reviews of shows, are positive to a fault. Literally. You can't trust them to provide anything but an glowing advertisement. The weekly papers are where you find objective articles. When I worked at the Spartanburg daily, I was told the paper's policy is to in no way discourage the people volunteering their time for the shows. Know you this: Most daily arts reviewers know nothing about art, and their comments are analogous to your Aunt Yvonne telling you your giant abstract painting of the horrors of war is "nice" and "certainly colorful." The audience is also made up of employees of theatre corporate sponsors. The companies get a free night of the show in return for their monies. I've yet to see such a show well-attended.

As the show starts, they are formal and quiet. Maybe the actors are a little flat. Last night's audience may have spoiled us. And this is the fourth night of doing this show. Maybe we're dragging a tad. That might explain how tonight became a series of calamity.

Mae and Brick sound good for Act I, but we're down one Gooper daughter, and another kid is pulling double duty. This never seems to be a problem. When the stage-left manager moves to activate the offstage phone, she accidentally body slams her metal stand, and it crashes to the floor. The actors onstage seem to drift right past it like pros.

The crowd warms up to Mae and the kids and really take to Big Daddy. He has them in complete control for the night. But in Act III, we seem to lose our focus. We've had constant problems with the stage-left door. It works fine, but it's created a distracting amount of choreography. Last night, the director asked me to close it when Gooper says "we can talk," and I practiced my lines all day by adding the direction "close to door" when I say that line. But as we move through the act, a weird moment emerges. Mama instructs Gooper and Mae to open the door to let in some air into this summer-swaddled Southern plantation. But the door is standing wide open. To their credit, they know this. Mae makes a comment about keeping the door closed so Big Daddy doesn't here. She closes it, and then Mama says to open it, and it's re-opened. The audience probably never notices. It may even look like Mama is unknowingly countering Mae and Gooper's plans. But to us, it feels like bomb defusing, and the moment lasts forever.

This takes us off-guard for the rest of the act, and we never hit a flow. Indeed, we can feel the audience pulling back from us. When Gooper is to say the line "Mae took a course in nursing during the war," I apparently have some sort of stroke and can't get the line out. It's embarrassing and seems to last as long as a parade. I finally spit it out, and we move on. Then Mae reverses an insult directed at Maggie. Then Big Daddy has trouble with his two-page-long elephant joke. Then, as we line up for curtain call backstage, a stranger walks up to the kids. It's the littlest girl's grandmother, and she has blithely strolled onto us before the show is over. The child wrangler and I, standing right there, shoo her away, and off she walks toward the back of the set -- a set with no back wall -- and we whisper-yell for her to come back before she walks onstage.

I feel stupid for my line trouble and joke about it after the curtain and while we change clothes. But I hear the stage manager yell for us to receive director notes, and the director is there with all of the Act III folks, and they, well, it feels like they pounce on me. The director has the same direction from last night, concerning the door, and makes a mantra out of "now we can talk, close the door" and leads the other actors in reciting it. I'm baffled. I did that. I stood up, said my line, and closed the door. Just as he told me. I'm at a loss, and it seems like attention is focused on my doing something as instructed but discounted, when the real problem was with the earlier door debacle and my screwed-up delivery of a later line. I feel like a scapegoat for the whole act, and the happy ribbing feels cruel. I'm tired, and I take it too seriously.

I go backstage and grab my things and start to leave. The crowd has dispersed, and I track down the director out front to confirm a suspicion. Williams repeats many lines. We joke about it. It's said that if we cut every repeated line, we could finish the show in an hour. And Gooper says the same line twice. He says "we can talk" two times, and I thought the director meant for me to close the door on the second time. No, he points out, and I apologize profusely, and now I feel like shit. We had a crappy Act III on preview night (yes, even though it's just the rah-rah reviewers), and we barely escaped the stage with our lives, and it's because I didn't close the door at the right time. A small, tiny thing. But I've worked very hard to be reliable to this new group, and it feels like that's all gone, that I have to start over from scratch. Sure, the reverend and doctor may have had line trouble, but not for a real audience. And I beat myself up for it on the drive back home. Fuck.

But Friday is the real opening night, and if we're to have a night of chaos, let it happen before people pay to see us. OK, that's my one (self-)allowed moment of incompetence. The rest of the run will be good and solid and dependable and in no way indicative that my brain fell out of my head. Fuck if I'll mess up in front of Harry Anderson.

Speaking of the doctor and reverend, here they is.

Previous entries:
Day One: Reading It Through
Day Two: Act Two
Day Three: Reading Act Two
Day Four: Talking It Through
Day Five: Blocking Act Two
Day Six: Act Two Redux
Day Seven: Reading Act Three
Day Eight: The Da Gooper Code
Day Nine: The Laying On of Hands
Day Ten: Pictures and Pages
Day Eleven: Onstage
Day Twelve: Memory
Day Thirteen: The Quickie
Day Fourteen: The Lines
Day Fifteen: Act III Anxiety
Day Sixteen: Let's Just Get It Right
Day Seventeen: Molding the Gooper
Day Eighteen: Goopercalypse
Day Nineteen: There Is Not A Doctor In The House
Day Twenty: Back to Words
Day Twenty-One: Getting Technical
Day Twenty-Two: We're Ready When You Are
Day Twenty-Three: Socks
Day Twenty-Four: Our First Audience

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