Letters to Holly

Monday, October 29

Countdown: Four Rehearsals

Before I talk about Saturday's rehearsal, I have to mention the geek bliss from Friday night.

I avoided heavy interstate traffic by taking the Biltmore Mall exit and stopping into Toys R Us. I browsed the Star wars section at the front of the store and spotted something I've waited 30 years to see: a giant Y-Wing. Not the little die-case guys. No I have one of those. This was the size of the great TIE Fighter and Y-Wing toys. About three-feet long. Came with a figure and an astromech droid.

Now here I have to admit something somewhat embarrassing: My best dreams involve me walking in toy stores and finding something I never knew existed but wanted all along. This has been the case ever since I began an allowance and started budgeting for toys. I used to get $2 a week. Star Wars figures used to cost $2.97. In South Carolina, after tax, that was $3.08. That dream scenario remains all these years. I have other good dreams: flying, athletics, wild theatre success, por wrestling. But the toy store is the King Dream, even as I drift into fogey-dom.

And it was now happening. There was no deliberation. I picked it up, browsed the back of the package for the toy details (like it mattered) and nestled it under my arm while I browsed the rest of the store. And then it happened again.

On the last aisle of the "boy" section, I found a GI Joe 25-Year Collector's pack. Two of them. One with good guys, and one with bad guys. And when you pressed the plastic star on the package, it played a snippet of the 1980s cartoon theme. The toys were revised versions of the original line characters, with all the tiny props. Oh. Oh my God.

I have to explain why GI Joe trumps Star Wars for collectibility. When Star Wars came out (May of 77), there was no notion of a broad-release toy tie-in. That happened months after, near Christmas. In fact, the toys couldn't be made fast enough, and retailers sold elaborate rain checks for the toy set that would come in later. This certificate is what the kids got on Christmas morn. When the film finally got around to our neighborhood -- 1978, saw it the day I turned six -- the toys were already out in stores. And buying a Star Wars toy was completing a puzzle. Unless you could afford to get all the toys, you had an incomplete microverse to re-enact. And it wasn't until the mid-'80s that Kenner made and sold the peripheral character toys. Bespin Cloud Car pilots came later.

But when the 1980s GI Joes came out, they not only provided more pose options with their swiveled joints and waists, but in collecting them, you built your toy universe outward. It was a Big Bang of jaw-dropping cool. The Joe toys had many accessories per figure, and each figure had a biography card written with just enough military jargon to approximate realism for pre-teen boy. Joe was more bang for the buck, and even my young brain recognized this. The line expanded at a manageable pace for kids to collect each wave of toys. And you didn't have to get every figure to make satisfying Joe toy stories. But with Star wars, if you didn't have Chewie, Han had to hang out with Leia and Luke, and that was like babysitting.

OK, back to the story: I had to have the bad-guy pack. But I couldn't bring myself to load up with both discoveries. Again, Joes gave more bang for the buck: 5 figures and the song box for $25 or a Y-Wing for $40. And so I did something I never thought I would do nor describe in a sentence: I put the giant Y-Wing back on the shelf. I almost kissed it goodbye. Swear to God. But I do not at all regret the choice. The Joe pack is insanely, ridiculously cool, and the figures are on my shelf standing with my original Joe guys.

As Your Sister was out of town Friday night, I got pizza and rented 28 Weeks Later. It's a solid modern horror film. Great fun. When she got back, I showed her the toys (she's a tomboy, you know), and I meekly suggested that it could be worse: These could be cigarettes.

I strolled the town Halloween festival Saturday afternoon and almost tripped over the booth for the theatre. I picked up some promotional flyers, and the booth folks, whom I didn't recognize, said the show coming up would be great and they hoped that I could come see it. And I got to have one of those moments of community-theatre ego as I said "Oh, I'm in the show." And off I strolled, twirling my silver-handled cane and tipping my top hat to the womenfolk.

Saturday night's full rehearsal was a last-minute addition, and some folks couldn't make it. The medical examiner, both housekeepers, and gangster were off for a birthday party, the cop was probably delivering pizzas, and we didn't have our dancer. Doc brought his son and daughter-in-law and they served as our jury. I greatly welcome this. We need someone to practice against, and a smaller jury would be more difficult to play to than a large on. When we finally get our 12-person pool, we can scan the jury instead of practically staring at two pairs of eyes. They certainly help both of us sell our opening and closing arguments. Now we're telling or selling a story, not just reciting lines. As folks try on costumes during rehearsal, I'm thrown by the multiple entrances and exits and barely muted whispering. I try to look at the audience to react organically, and it throws me off a line. I don't do this again. The inconsistent delivery by substitutes doesn't help either.

During the second act, the defendant leaves the attorney table during cross-examination to play with costumes. But we regard her during this scene. She's a needed presence, and we're watching her walk off. Eventually, the director, reading the part of the Swedish housekeeper, barks at her to get her butt back in the chair, and she indeed quietly comes back and sits. As she does, the actor/photographer/back-seat director pipes in with an unnecessary thank-you. This is the same guy I had to stare down moment before because he wouldn't stop grousing about the departure while I was speaking my lines.

As I run the play, I scratch out the names of the witnesses after I examine them. I write them out before the show starts. During the play, I make notes about lines missed, garbled, or upcoming. I also take fake notes as my character reacts to testimony. Here's the before-and-after shot:

The pad looks like this after every full run-through.

The jury laughs at the right times, thankfully, and we have the usual number of lost lines. we're creeping toward improvement. Doc did great on his closing argument, and the director makes an executive script rewrite by changing "outbreak" to "outburst." Our private eye is ailing with a cold, but he soldiers on to read the large gangster dialogue. The guy's a pro.

We unfortunately get a "not guilty" decision, and it takes me a few second to realize that there was no way they would vote against Doc. But I'm confident I'll win when we get a full group to decide the case. That closing argument is too good to be unaffected by it.

It's not until I leave the warehouse that I realize we're moving to the courthouse starting Sunday. This is my last time at our rehearsal space, and I'll miss it. Not a lot, mind you. Just a little. Leaving it behind is a sign of how close, and hopefully prepared, we are.

Official play website

Countdown: Five Rehearsals
Countdown: Six Rehearsals
Countdown: Seven Rehearsals
Clock is Ticking
My Big Speech
Punching a Cop Is Bad, Right?

Act Two Redux
Friday Through Sunday
Getting Serious
Our First Friday
Act Three Lines
Dusting Off Act One
Line Trouble
End of Second Week
'Go and Do Likewise, Gents'
Script Work
Walking and Talking
Marking the Floor


First Night
Second Night
Third Night
Fourth Night

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