Letters to Holly

Thursday, September 27

'Go and Do Likewise, Gents'

I recited my first 20 pages as I drove to work and found a lovely surprise when I got home: IFC was showing GlenGarry Glenn Ross. This is the muy macho salesman film by David Mamet. Within the first half hour of the film is this magnificent scene -- virtually a monologue -- by Alec Baldwin. He's a home office representative who utterly decimates the branch-office sales group by threatening their jobs unless they improve their numbers. You can see it here (NSFW language).

Baldwin has never been better, and this is exactly the kind of pre-rehearsal scene I need to watch. My character has similar long clutches of dialogue, and he has to make his point to a group of people. I don't have this kind of anger or language to toss around, but I need to steal that level of confidence and carriage for my guy. So, yes, my guy will be a bit like Baldwin as he tries to bring the jury back to his version of the murder and not the (probably true) conspiracy. He's going to slam the female defendant even if he knows she isn't guilty of murder. The scene worked so well on Your Sis that she watched the rest of the movie.

We run Act One tonight, and I arrive practically twitching from anxiety about the memorization. The pressure comes wholly from me, but I would much rather get this stuff early then try to learn it all at the last minute. That's when big mistakes are made. Also, the sooner I put the script down, the sooner I can focus on the body language and floor movement. The attorneys constitute virtually the entirety of movement, and we need to choreograph this stuff to the inch.

Because some folks aren't here tonight, the assembled cast skews young. The widow, the handwriting expert, the rookie cop, and my secretary all look younger than 25. That leaves the judge, Doc, the defendant (a late arrival, she doesn't talk until the end of the act), and the medical examiner. The secretary doubles as the clerk and then the absent Aunt Jemima housekeeper, and the cop also reads the lines of the private eye, who we really really really need to cast. The younger gang makes for a looser, lighter atmosphere. They're having fun, and it's infectious. We're working with noir material with patches of goofiness, and when we step on those, we crack up.

My character cranks up about three pages into Act One, and I don't do so well with my lines. I stumble early and have to use the script to regain my mental footing. I recite, peek, recite, peek the whole way through, and then go to the script exclusively when I hit page 22. I apologize for the screw-ups, but the director just thanks me for starting the memorization. When I chat with the examiner between runthroughs, he assures me that lines always go better at home compared to the first time they're tried in rehearsal. I set myself up for it, and I let myself down. But we are only in our second week, so I can't beat myself up.

The act ends with a weird moment as the defendant is allowed to question the widow, and it makes for awkward positioning. We run through it a few times. Also, the judge is --- look, he seems like a nice guy, but he can't follow the script when it's sitting on his lap. When he's reading it. When his lines are highlighted. He's just not paying attention. We start to stomp our feet on the concrete floor to create the sound of the gavel he's supposed to rap on his desk. The gavel in his hand, the gavel with its specific stage directions in the midst of his dialogue.

Because the defendant arrived after we started the first run, she's shocked when I start the second run without my script. I hear her gasp and whisper to Doc, sitting next to her. I do pretty well until I switch the metaphors for heart attack and earthquake. The other actors yell out the right words, and I crack up laughing. They're giving me shit for the mistake this early in the process. And we all crack up as I thank them for not throwing lettuce. The rest of the act goes pretty well for my lines, and I do get to concentrate on my footwork for a few minutes. The rest of the night is practically slapstick as the substitute actors try broad accents and sometimes sing their lines. The director is letting them run with it. It's not like they'll play those other roles, and we can't cement scene direction until those actors are here.

Script Work
Walking and Talking
Marking the Floor


First Night
Second Night
Third Night
Fourth Night

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