Letters to Holly

Wednesday, September 19

The Readthrough

I drop by Wal-Mart to buy a small notebook before arriving at the warehouse. The local constables have set up a checkpoint right after the warehouse driveway. I turn on my turn signal to show that I'm heading off before I pull up to the cop a few cars ahead. What's odd is that he sees my signal, points to the parking lot, and nods his head. There's no effort to check whatever it is they're looking for -- license, inspection, seatbelt, etc. The other cops don't follow me in.

Lesson learned: If you need to duck a checkpoint after getting blotto at the local Hooters, pretend you're pulling into a rehearsal.

As I walk to the building, three older folks introduce themselves (and I've of course forgotten their names as I type this) and they ask after my Matrix. They're car shopping, and I praise the mileage and handling. Doc is there too, and we all walk in together. The assistant hands out instructions on turning in our playbill bios and headshots and verifies our contact information. After a bit of conversational murmurs, the director tells us to form a circle with our chairs so we can start reading.

There are no round-robin introductions nor is there a schedule of our rehearsals. This is a mite informal compared to what I've seen before. Obviously some of us know each other from previous plays, but others appear to be complete strangers. And we don't have a full complement. I don't know who's playing what until they start reading their lines.

Let me here tell you the story: The Night of January the 16th concerns the trial of Karen Andre, accused of killing her business partner and possible lover, Bjorn Faulkner. Bjorn recently married Nancy Lee Whitfield, daughter of a great philanthropist. Bjorn fell, or was thrown, from a penthouse rooftop after being shot. The question then is whether this was a very thorough suicide or murder. We see a bevy of caricatured witnesses: a Swedish housekeeper, an unrelated shady Swedish bookkeeper, a rookie Irish cop, a poor housekeeper (originally written like Aunt Jemima), a gangster, a PI, and a stripper.

But the trial has a twist. Andre and the gangster admit that they were trying to pull a swindle with Faulkner by faking his death, and the body actually is that of a rival gangster. Faulkner, the first gangster, and Andre were stealing money from Whitfield and were going to vanish in Buenos Aires, but Faulkner's plane crashed, and now he really is dead. The trial becomes a question of whether the gangster and Andre are lying about the conspiracy to get her off the initial murder charge.

Ayn Rand wrote this, but it has been "edited" by another writer, and the latter seems to have tried to make this a comedy with goofy accents. There are tiny Rand touches throughout, but any Objectivism present is reserved for the detailed morals of the filthy rich.

Clockwise from my left are the judge, the accused, Whitfield, the medical examiner, the Swede housekeeper, the gangster, the director, the shady Swede, the poor housekeeper, the widow, the stripper, the defense attorney, and back to me.

And we read. Doc does a fine job. His natural speaking voice is perfect for the quietly clever lawyer. The Swedish housekeeper nails her lines. The de-blackified maid and the Gangster are good too. Other folks may not have seen the script before. As with every reading, folks stumble over certain words. I have to learn the correct punctuation of "Rennsalaer." The director reads the parts of those not present. The judge gets lost, and we joke that the attorneys will have to nudge him awake when its time for him to speak.

The play has two endings depending on the verdict rendered by the audience-culled jury. Both endings have the same last lines by the judge accusing the jury of ignoring certain evidence and striking their named from the jury rolls for five years. But it's only a funny punchline if you know that both endings are the same. The accused actress approaches Doc after the reading and pleads straight-faced "you've got to get me off every night." Doc and I exchange raised eyebrows.

It's a two-hour read, and I make notes as to which words to emphasize in my delivery. Almost all my lines are questions, and I need to vary the cadence. I also have to adjust my tone depending on whose witness I'm questioning. I've listed my favorite lawyer roles in films (Denzel, Pacino, Newman, Tracy, Hackman), and I'm imitating them at various times in the play, mostly Denzel. I assume that my innate lack of fucking cool will keep the Denzel impersonation unrecognizable.

We start rehearsing Wednesday night with Act One. Two of the actors will be gone for ten days, but they play smaller witness parts. We can work around it. I won't worry about imprinting the lines in my head until we're sure there are no further director-mandated edits to the script. I've got my pen for notebook scribbling, my pencil for writing on the script, and my highlighter for stage directions and lines. I feel like an uber-prepared college student.

Picture of the Day
I've officially logged in 10,000 miles on a car I've owned five months. Your Sis is horrified and wracked with guilt over my commute. I'm OK with it; I have my Ipod, loaded with podcasts and disco.

No comments: