Letters to Holly

Friday, September 21

Walking and Talking

Today's fast-food supper: Arby's. One worry of theatre is eating badly and putting on weight. This is especially bad after you've been measured for a costume. Unlike the last show, where I had an hour commute after rehearsals and performances, the warehouse is just five minutes from my house. I should go home, snack, and drive to the rehearsal. But at home I'm distracted by mail and cats and the sweet allure of Pardon the Interruption. And there's the subsequent danger of my lawyer sounding like Tony Kornheiser.

We walk through Act Two tonight, and it starts with a very long broad comedy piece with a Swedish housekeeper excoriating the defendant as a greedy hussy. The defendant then takes the stand to explain how she met and fell under the spell of the deceased.

Someone brings a Wiki bio of Ayn Rand, and the cast take turns glancing at her life and philosophy. These comes as a surprise to many, especially the defendant. She starts to understand how Rand wants her female characters swayed by the heroic menfolk. And her testimony is packed with comments about her happy, wanton obedience. Many small conversations overlap about her connects to Alan Greenspan, her 50-year marriage, and her hatred for feminism. It reminds me of the Hot Lips quote from MASH: "I could never love a man who didn't outrank me." Some of us have read Rand; some have never heard of her. Most of us don't know how to pronounce her name (Hint, it ain't "Ann." Really. Stop it.).

I should mention the age spread of the cast. There are three or four young recent grads, me and the defendant at 30-40, and then a pack of silver hair. The latter is accompanied by a significant lack of hearing, and conversations take a while. The judge, who has the script in his lap, constantly misses his cues. On the other hand, a young actor has yet to show up and read his part.

One of our first play-related conversations involves costuming. The play stretches over three days, but there's no reason for us to leave the court, change, and come back in. It will just elongate the show. The mock-up of the courtroom unfortunately blocks the jury with the defense table and creates a small nook next to the witness stand. It makes strolling the court and working the jury awkward. Don't block the witness, cheat out to the audiences, don't stand in front of the other attorney and the defendant. We're hoping to get into the courtroom soon to physically see the floorspace. The producer, who saw and documented the courtroom, has taken ill and will miss the entire show. We need the director to rethink the practice space.

I'm also told to make my character more arrogant, to "strut" about the trial. I know I'm not yet steeped in the Denzel; I'm coasting a bit while I try to plot movement and inflection. And in a show that can become broad, I don't want to walk like Vince McMahon storming the ring. I'll be able to concentrate on posture and flow once I get this damn script out of my hand. Yes, I'm saying this just a week into rehearsals. I would love to get Act One memorized by Monday, but that's quite a chore.

I'm consistently getting laughs with the one bit of comedy Flint has: He laughs at his own joke, and the judge silently chides him. It's a moment of deflation dependent on puffing up the attorney beforehand. This is the act where the attorney shows more liveliness, and I have obvious moments of lighthearted mocking of accents and criminal behavior.

I'll spend the weekend running through Act One, braking the script down witness by witness and trying to get a handle on the sprawling opening argument.

Marking the Floor


First Night
Second Night
Third Night
Fourth Night

Picture of the Day
The epitome of awesome.

Thursday, September 20

Marking the Floor

I read over the opening arguments during dinner at the local Japanese steakhouse. It's set up in what used to be a Southern diner, and the decor hasn't changed. It looks like a roadside chicken shack but they feed you mounds of shrimp sauce and sir-fried chicken. I adore this place. And it's here that I start to memorize the script. Except I'm doing it in the hardest manner: I'm just sitting and quietly reciting it. I have no movement or vocal flow to work as mnemonic devices. Also, the director could always make changes to the script. And frankly this argument needs it. The DA strangely fails to identify the deceased even as he describes him, and he does so in an unsympathetic way. It's weak writing, but I blame the editor, not Rand.

At the rehearsal, we again sit and read Act One. We still have no private eye, and the widow isn't here tonight. The handwriting expert and the rookie cop are though, although they arrive late. The reading takes about half an hour.

We then mark off the floor in measuring tape to the measurements of the courtroom. The reference pictures show a modern courtroom where I expected a 1950s-style Southern room. We are presumably setting this in the 1930s, so that design would have worked. But this new style will be slightly incongruous. Then again, we don't have to set this in the '30s. The swindled money is still significant and there's no anachronistic technology involved. On the other hand, we are supposed to be in New York too. The director proposes the attorney tables be turned around so we sit facing the audience. This puts our backs to the judge and the witness stand, which seems awkward at best. I'm hoping we change that.

Having this marked-out dimension lets us get a notion of workspace. We won't be able to rehearse in the courtroom. Our first crack at it will be with our first audience. Also, we presumably won't have a practice jury to work with. I wonder how those who have to address the jury (me included) will handle it. Remember the jury will be made up of volunteer audience members, and we have to convince them of our cases. The defense attorney, with whom I'm talking shit all night long, is going down.

I appreciate the working space so I can tinker with walking patterns and posture. Already, the acting improves across the board, and it's only our second day. I'm still working on projection, and I may be overdoing it. I fear I'm talking on a flat keel, and I need to vary my tones with each witness. I continue to imaging Denzel Washington in the role.

The judge improves his ability to follow along, and we make our comments to the pretend audience. I imagine faces in the chairs (well, faces attached to bodies and those bodies sitting in the chairs; I doubt we'll have a jury made up of multiple Re-Animator Dr. Hill heads), but the table closest to the jury blocks my access to them. I can only work those 12 people in an arc, moving from end to another of the jury box while also keeping halfway turned to the side so the audience can see me.

Standing at a 45-degree angle from the person you're addressing is called "cheating." If the director needs you to turn your body more to the audience, you'll be told to "cheat out." And now your head is turned 90 degrees from your body to make eye contact with the other actors, less if they're standing between you and the audience.

We run through Act One while skipping the parts of actors who aren't there, and we're quickly done. With this strolling and standing, I can start to cement the lines in my head, even if they're edited later by the director. We have a short rehearsal time; I can't wait too long to learn the script. Besides, I want to make a good impression.



First Night
Second Night
Third Night
Fourth Night

When I got home, we ignored the TV and sat on the couch, yakking it up for hours. It was a couch date, and we should do it more often. I worried that we watched too much TV anyhow.

Picture of the Day
The first official pic from the Sex and the City movie. The first thing I notice is that Carrie has cleaned up a bit. She always exhibited a touch of New York trash, the outlandish accents of a perpetual fashion hound. And here she's working the natural look with her makeup. I hope this is a sign the character is growing up a bit.

I'm still angry that this "committed writer" didn't bother to jot down one word while she lived with Alexsander in Paris; really, no one would have run a column by a transplanted, published author/love columnist who worships fashion and spends all day shopping? No one?

Speaking of Paris, I love that purse. When I shop with Your Sis -- in my position as Official Wardrobe Engineer -- I constantly see items I would gobble up if I was a gal, and a purse like that would be in heavy rotation for my various hypothetical ensembles.

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.

Tuesday, September 18

It's Not Much of a Cheese Shop, Is It?

Kathy and Travis came over with Anna Claire. She's walking now, but not for very far at one time. She staggers for a bit and then drops to the floor. But she's a quiet child and seems happy. We can't agree on whom she favors more.

Kathy and Travis are back from Germany and visiting the family of their exchange student. She told us they tried a lot of cheese, some of which was too fuzzy for her to munch. Your Sis suggested she read Monty Python's "Cheese Shop" sketch, and I dusted off the script books I bought in high school. Then I remembered I also have a CD set of sketches, and we all stood in the big room listening to Palin and Cleese recite as many cheese names as they could. Then we returned to football and wrestling.

Kathy brought Your Sis some tiny German incense cones to burn in her equally small gnome candle. It smells right nice.

I showed Travis the highlighted script, and he asked how I was going to memorize all the lines. I told him I'll have to break down the script into chunks of events and learn how my character relates to each witness. It's feasible. But it will be work.

Before all of this, I mowed the yard and kept a wary eye on the yellowjacket nest in the front yard. I need to buy a bug-bomb of some sort to burn out their underground clubhouse. The weather is considerably cooler suddenly, and that will help me sneak up on them. I don't think I'll have time to do that before I go to the read-through tonight.

Picture of the Day
Time lapse photo of a circling helicopter.

Monday, September 17

Bad Luck

We shopped for new clothes Saturday before watching 3:10 to Yuma, a quick and cool Western remake. Great acting, clean script, nice soundtrack. Your Sis really liked it. Then again, her head could have been swimming from the successful shopping.

I had less luck. For virtually all my life, a 32-inch inseam meant a 32-inch inseam. Apparently, no longer, no. Now, a 32-inch inseam equals 34 inches. Much like my hell of shirt shopping, I now can't assume pants will fit if they have the same measurements as the clothes I've worn for half my life. I managed to find some jeans once I tried on smaller pairs. I also snagged a freakishly cool shirt in Hot Topic, a store I'm almost too old to shop at despite their continued offering of items only my generation would appreciate. A Darkwing Duck shirt, for instance. What person under the age of 20 would even remember Darkwing Duck?

I took a highlighter to my script lines, and, wow, do I yap a lot in this play. I'll need a notebook to track my mnemonic devices.

While shopping, I happened to glance at a pancake spatula, and I remembered we have a new stove-top griddle. So I offered Your Sis a breakfast. I woke up Sunday and drove to the store to get the ingredients, and after a larger mess and longer time than necessary, I delivered fresh pancakes and bacon. Not bad, I think. But the meal filled us up for virtually the whole day and reduced her to naps. I watched my fantasy team dissolve after a horrible day of games.

The NFL Contest
NFC: New Orleans (0-2), St. Louis (0-2)
AFC: Indianapolis (2-0), New England (2-0)

NFC: New Orleans (0-2), Carolina (1-1)
AFC: New England (2-0), San Diego (1-1)

The Saints seem to have remembered that they are the Saints. Dammit. Once again, New England salvages my fantasy team.

Picture of the Day
MacGyver Punch!