Letters to Holly

Saturday, March 1

Day 13: Stumbling

Dad called Sunday to say he's doing OK. A Friday checkup showed reduction in the white blood cells and a small elevation with the red. He's starting to lose some hair, but the armpit growth has shrunk considerably. He's taking a liquid to increase his appetite, and he says it works. We might see him this weekend if he feels up to it. Your Sister still has a lingering cold, and I don't know if she can visit him.

I got as far as page 53 in a 61-page script. We're due to be offbook on Wednesday, and I'm pretty sure I can nail down my four remaining pages by then. We were scheduled to run the whole play tonight, but as I arrive, I learn that the mistress can't stay. She found out about a friend's death within the hour and had to leave.

As I walk in the warehouse, I see the stage progress. I have a huge pulpit of a bar in the back corner. The wife brings in some soccer trophies from the local college that look like racing awards. We also get a new phone (cordless), and the director shows us the new gun. Instead of a cap gun, this is a starter's pistol. It's much heavier, and I enjoy that weight. He also tells us of plans for the blanks and shoots once to show how loud it could be. He plans to use half or quarter rounds; a full blank rings our ears. The murderer has to be shot onstage, and he's a mite concerned. He's too young, I think, to know of the stars of Brandon Lee or Jon-Erik Hexum, both killed by blanks. And we show him that the gun has a capped barrel. We quickly run the final scene, and he takes the shot, and I get to fire it. It's much more dramatic. Oh, and he lived.

The wife has also brought in the wigs, and she lets the murderer try his too. They're shoulder-length blonde wigs with flip ends. It's very much like a news anchor or First Lady. The director asks me if I have gray slacks for my character, and if I don't, I'll run out to the local charity stores and find a pair. After about half an hour, we get going on Act One, the act without our mistress.

It's a catastrophe. We focused on Act Two lines, and we stumble through, calling for lines often. We lose our movements and paraphrase often. It's our weakest effort yet. It's so bad that when my first-act responsibilities end, I walk over to the couch and talk to the director for the usual post-rehearsal notes. I was so determined to get to the mea culpas that I forgot the act wasn't over, and the other actors had two pages left. Off I went, and on they went. Then we get our many, many corrections and warnings. We open three weeks from tonight. We're not supposed to be offbook yet, but we have to put the hammer down to refine this play.

Speaking of which, I found reviews from New York and London for productions of this script, and I discovered that it's a commonly reviled play.

This is from the New York Times in 1984:

These facts, which are presented early in the play, are so improbable that they manage to turn this thriller into a comedy, but they do not impede this plot from becoming even thinner.

Instead of believable characters, Miss Cox has written movable cardboard figures who wear telltale mannerisms like Girl Scout badges. The husband waves a gun around several times, so we know the gun is eventually going to be used. The homicidal maniac is a cola-addicted homosexual who is also a pathological liar. The girlfriend is an actress who can't cook and who wants to wear the late wife's nice clothes.

The only believable character is the wife, who is level-headed enough not to want to finance her husband's affair. Unfortunately, she gets murdered almost immediately.

This is from London:

The Murder Game is an old fashioned thriller of a type which I thought had been safely buried in obscurity. Written by Constance Cox (a playwright better known for her dramatisation of the classics and translation of foreign plays) it was first produced in 1946 and I can assure you it has not worn well and shows every year of its age.

The plot owes more to Patricia Highsmith than originality on the authoress’ part and creaks so loudly as to be deafening.

We know it's a stilted play, and we have changed pages of dialogue. The reviews go one to cite the stereotype of a psychopathic gay murderer. We've discussed his sexuality before, and there's nothing overtly sexual. But the play, as a relic of the mid-century, seems to confuse homosexuality with transvestitism. I argue that the murderer dresses as a woman to torture the husband. There is no mention of sexual pursuit or appetite. But my character does accuse the murderer of being "an obvious fairy." Then again, he's not the brightest bulb, and he's prone to panicked accusation.

The question arises of how our audience will perceive this. Are we perpetuating an outdated paranoia? Will the older attendees carry those outdated notions or will they laugh at them? The kid has to work the cross-dressing seriously, or he'll turn this into a comedy. The director also has to make sure he veer that direction. I still hold that the murderer is more a vampire than gay, and I hope that comes through.

Picture of the Day
Scary Star Wars-fan love letter.

Thursday, February 28

Two Days Off

Lost was awesome last night, as was the supercool Iron man commercial.

Online, I've been discussing Daniel's journal, which includes this metaphysical diagram.

Questions abound about the time sickness hitting Desmond and George and the crew of Rousseau's boat. Also did the destruction of the hatch in Season Two displace the island through time instead of its previous displacement in space? The Black Rock trivia we got last night suggests the island grabbed that boat while popping across the globe.

I'm on page 52 of a 61-page script, and I should be able to finish memorization by Sunday night.

Moving Picture of the Day

Italian Spiderman. It's genius.

Wednesday, February 27

Day 12: Act Two Fragments

Dad called to say that they are inserting a port in his carotid artery to ease the IV. This will be an outpatient operation, taking maybe 30 minutes. He says his red and white blood cells are rebounding nicely, and the armpit growth is shrinking a bit. That's just after chemo treatment.

A longtime reader anonymous asks: "wait, what does apple juice do to YOU?"

Well, back when I was a boy genius, it used to open a trap door in my tummy. But when My Mom asked about this, I was about 26, and those days were long behind me.

Tonight, like Monday, we chop an act into pieces and focus on movement and tension. It starts with a stage smooch, and we're pretty comfortable with it by now. There are two face smooches and a hand smooch within 15 pages, and there's some flirting. Harmless stuff, even if the actress wears the leopard-print PJs the director is suggesting. I've been lucky int that the gals I've kissed onstage have smelled clean and been personable. I've also been slapped onstage, and that's not nearly as much fun. Also, I learned that if you're going to be slapped onstage, you don't wear a ring in your ear during rehearsals. You only need to learn that once.

We're still changing language as we stroll along. "Make a bunk" becomes "make a break," and we're drowning in "shall"s. The director asks us to provide updated playbill bios. It's not as easy to write as it seems; you usually get a word count, and it always feels like a bragging sheet. But you have to think of it as a reference for the audience. They may have seen you in a previous show but are unable to place you.

We trade horror stories from earlier productions, like the time we used a thawed turkey for a musical. The show ran for three weekends, and we used the same bird for all the shows. I had to carry it around barehanded. The murderer mentions a show where he has to eat a burger onstage, and the backstage crew sabotaged it with hair. In another show, an actor added ice to a glass of water that was to be spilled on him.

The director repeats the improv experiment with the mistress and murderer. It's great to remind us to apply a more natural acting style, but this vedy, vedy British script encourages us to go stiff and formal. The act is coming together well, and the director seems happy with our progress with so many rehearsals to go.

Picture of the Day
Did you know that, in Asia, instead of seeing the man on the moon, they see a rabbit making rice cakes? You probably did.

Tuesday, February 26

Day 11: Act One Fragments

We start the evening by looking at costume options. Two blazer suits from storage are too small for me to wear. The jackets look fine until I move my arms, and then the sleeves shrink. I can look for such blazers at the local donation stores. The director also suggested an ascot for my character, which leaves a bolo tie, a dickie, and a noose as the only neckwear I've yet to try for theatre.

We run Act One in segments to tighten up movement. Both male actors are amazed at how much is covered within 5-page increments. This script is huge and unnecessarily wordy. Too much passive voice, too many clutter words. It's clearly a British script from the '70s, and I don't regert for an instant requesting we drop the accents. That would have been too much to shoulder. The best scene of Act One remains the argument between the lazy husband and the rich wife. It's quick and animated, whereas the rest of the act is a slow con punctuated by short questions and long answers. The argument has give and take and waves of emotions. The wife actress is bringing it every night. It's such a good role: it's one act long, she rips apart her schlub hubby, and she dies twice onstage. Then she puts her feet up for 90 minutes.

One habit the director is trying to break me of is turning out to the audience. One of the fundamental rules of theatre is that you don't turn your back; you always face front, even when you're allegedly looking at the other actors. You cheat your body at an angle so the audience rarely sees you in profile. You're usually at least at three-quarters to them. When I move to the bar in this play, I'm always backing up a bit so I look at the audience and the other actor. Almost every movement to the bar has dialogue, and I didn't want to speak to the back wall. But the director says it looks unnatural. I don't mind organic movement so long as the audience can hear me. Hoepfully the words will echo off the wall and back to their ears. Also, I go to the bar about a dozen times. And I get a drink each time.

I had a similar role in Barefoot in the Park, and we used juice instead of liquor. When one performance was over, my parents came backstage while I was talking to Your Sister. My Mom asked, "Son, don't you know what apple juice does to you?" That was the first impression Your Sister had of the woman who would later become her mother-in-law.

We get a new schedule, and it's not so different from before. We get this Wednesday off. I'm within 20 pages of memorizing the script, and the extra night will give me some more time to work on that. We are to be off book by the middle of next week.

Picture of the Day
Yes, it's a robot head.

Monday, February 25

Oscar Weekend

I called Dad and learned he has a follow-up with the surgeon who removed his neck growth in January. Maybe they have an idea about what kind of lymphoma he has. (My guess: No.) Dad is also growing adamant about removing the armpit growth, which suggests he's impatient with the chemo or doesn't want 18 weeks of chemo-induced nausea. I can't blame him.

An NPR interview encouraged Your Sis to want to see Eastern Promises, despite the presence of Viggo Mortensen, whom she can't stand. And the Oscar broadcast lead her to want to watch more movies I couldn't drag her to last year. Eastern Promises is good, but no way did he deserve an acting nomination from that. Still, if it gets him bigger roles, I'm all for it.

The Oscars were very good last night. A warm, polite show that flew by at just over three hours. Jon Stewart was the perfect host and fan and everyman. Disney must have strong-armed the academy to nominate three songs from Enchanted; two of them were clearly filler nominations. And a bunch of solid actors won awards. It seemed like every winner was a solid choice and not just because I have a crush on Tilda Swinton.

Your Sister spent the majority of the weekend working. I shoved the fist scene of Act Two in my brain and suffered for it the rest of the weekend. I'm trying to nail down the Act One lines verbatim. I now have a week and two days to learn the remaining 22 pages.

Picture of the Day
Pouty astrokids will fuck you up.

In the News
Ralph Nader is a jerk.