We set up shop in the law library behind the courtroom. It's a bookshelf-lined room filled with legal encyclopedias, and I hang my shirts and ties in the back corner. The actors chat and read their scripts and polish their costumes. For the first time, we count down to show time, and the stage managers give us time cues (15 minutes, five minutes, etc.) We realize we haven't practiced the show start, the curtain rising for the show, but we wing it. We just pour out from the hallway and into the courtroom to our various stations. The witnesses fill half the front row.
This is an open dress rehearsal, and we have friends and family to watch. A nine-person jury is called, leaving about five people in the audience. And off we go.
It was during the fourth witness that I blanked. I know now what happened but at the time was was utterly confused. I go to the evidence station five times in the play. Three of those times are with this witness, the young cop. I hand in a letter, a gun and pictures of fingerprints. When I handed in the gun, I jumped to the line after the fingerprints. That threw the cop, and he meekly asked for line. I improvised his lines into questions, and he jumped right into it. Very smooth, but I had now jumbled our scene and found myself now back the the moment where I had to ask the line I had already said.
And that is where I had the nightmare scenario. I turned to the clerk and whispered "I need a line."He didn't react. I said it again. I caught a glimpse of his script, but it wasn't turned to our scene. I then wandered to the judge, who I knew had his script. He slid the page toward me, but reading it threw me because I didn't know where we were. I read the line I was supposed to say but my mind was screaming that I already said that. The judge had to be mistaken, I thought. And after what felt like a year, I said the line again, and we went one.
Describing it doesn't do the hollow fragility justice. I was shaken and mortified. This is a rehearsal, true, but we had an audience, albeit a very supportive one. The scene ended. I sat down and started writing out the script to find the missing lines. It took a while to remember the line I replaced, but once I did, I knew exactly what happened. From now on, I have to scribble the different evidence-table lines along with the other mnemonic devices I jot on my legal pad before the play begins.
Backstage during intermission, I apologize to everyone I could find. I assure them I know the other acts, and, after reading a copy of the script, I confirm the derailment. I also missed a line with the first housekeeper, but it's a very small line, and one that doesn't affect her lines at all. Nevertheless, she won't stop talking about it. She's not malicious; she just won't change the subject. I'm throwing on my second shirt and tie, and folks are talking about the crater my mental hiccup caused and she's going on about the line in her scene. And I just want to strangle myself. The director comes backstage for an unrelated note, and I apologize, and she jokes it away ("You don't have to apologize to me. You do have to apologize to the audience.")
I'm indeed OK for the rest of the play, and I make a note to try harder to get into character before Act One. That's what I think is the primary cause here, and I'm inclined to blame the novelty of everything: the costumes, the entrances, etc. But, ultimately, it was my problem. I wasn't alone in this, however, as other folks call for lines when they freeze. Perhaps there's a truth in the adage of "bad rehearsal, good opening." If we work on the lines on Thursday's day away from the play, Friday can be a good beginning. I' certainly scanning my script in the meantime. The judge prompts those needing help (irony!), and I remember my "sidebar" idea to call the lawyers together and read his script to get us back on track. I'll do that in the run if need be. There are some moments when the witness and I wait for Doc to object to questioning. Sometimes he doesn't, and we improvise around it. In another moment, the judge starts to dismiss a witness early, and I stand up and ask to question him first. Completely improvised. Don't know where that verbal patch came from, but it was just right.
Doc nails his closing argument, and I feel good about mine. The jury leaves, but the actress who starts the parade of witness lines forgets to begin. There's dead air. I catch the eye of the actor sitting next to her and pantomime nudging her to start. He does, and she gets the hint and begins the scene. The jury comes back and declares "not guilty." The play ends, and everyone exhales like we just defused a bomb.
The audience and actors blend together for conversation, and some say very nice things to me, and I thank them for their help tonight. I congratulate Bob. This is the second jury to give a "not guilty," and I wonder if I can do anything in the play to alter that trend. The clerk tells me the vote was 8-1.
I'm one of the last to leave, and the defendant and I compliment each other and trade notes and talk about the director arguments compared to how other theatres operate. She's tempted to find another theatre, and I tell her I don't intend to come back. It's the first time I've told this to any one of this gang. It's also the best conversation we've had, and I think it's euphoria from getting close to starting this show. We all had good moments amid the problems tonight. It wasn't all bad.
Hitting this very low point greatly inspires me to have a clean run from here on. I hit my nadir, and really it can't get worse that that. I won't let it. I actually have an angry arrogance about this. I'm going to slay this jury with my lawyer sexiness. I think I found my swagger without trying to imitate other actors. This might be the best thing that could have happened.
Official play website
Countdown: Two Rehearsals
Countdown: Three Rehearsals
Countdown: Four Rehearsals
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
Our First Friday
Act Three Lines
Dusting Off Act One
End of Second Week
'Go and Do Likewise, Gents'
Walking and Talking
Marking the Floor