Letters to Holly

Saturday, March 8

Day 16: A New Stage

The set was moved to the clubhouse of one of the many, local gated communities. We're performing at the usual haunt for this company; they don't have their own theatre space, but this clubhouse is the closest thing to it. And when I say clubhouse, you need to imagine the swankiest conference area of a major hotel chain in a large city. This is a huge building, and our stage is inside a multipurpose room.

The stage is on wheels, and skirting hides them and makes that half of the room look like a solid structure. The set looks small surrounded by blue drapery, but it feels like just the right size for this kind of play. I did a version of Barefoot in the Park about ten years back, and this is a show set in a tiny New York apartment. But our staging took up the entire stage, and we were loping about when we should have been scrunching past each other.

It was a trick to get to the community tonight. I met the murderer early so he could follow me there, and as soon as we hit the mountain back roads, the fog dropped in, and we had to drive at a snail's pace. It was dumb luck that I managed to turn on the right roads to find the community and then the clubhouse.

We walk the set initially to adjust. The coffee table and sofa are much closer now to avoid the curtains, and the chandelier will need to be raised so we don't bop into it. The floor squeaks in spots, and we'll need to remember where the loud seams are, or we'll sound like we're aboard a pirate ship. We have tea acting as whiskey for the first time tonight, and I spend the show trying to ration it and pace my drinking. The murderer is desperate to practice drinking Coke onstage so he can time his belches. We joke that he'll need trucker buddies hidden around the stage too. We practice our projection in this new space too.

I muff some words late in the rehearsal, but by this time, we're almost an hour past our allotted time. We stop a lot during the night to fiddle with this and that, and the other actors are having a hard time with lines. They're so anxious about this that the director has to pull them aside and calm them down. This is why we have a line-reader, but we won't have her for too much longer; we have to grow away from that crutch. It's a light-hearted rehearsal thought as we ad-lib over mistakes and react to ill-timed sound cues. When I pick up the phone for the first time, I'm halfway through my lines when the recorded ring blares out. "Hold on, Sheila," I say, "I've got a call on the other line."It's that kind of night. The mistress actress and I are getting chummy, and I think our scenes will provide a relief from the play's tension. This would be a great cast for a comedy, by the way, and we could easily make this play into one if we had the notion. I joke that, because my character drinks the entire play, I should do one performance imitating Dean Martin.

I again get some compliments on memorization, and I joke them off. The memorization timeline looked daunting and felt daunting, but it was feasible, after all, proving again, this director knows what he's doing. I can't say enough how encouraging and patient he is with our mixed failings, and he gently tempers that with admonitions to study the lines. I think he's going to talk to me next week about over-emoting in the play's conclusion. I worry I'm getting hammy.

Did I mention there's an 8.5 x 11 picture of me onstage the entire time? That I spend a lot of the play looking at myself? That I feel like an egotistical magpie for staring at it every once in a while? Are you surprised to hear this from a guy doing community theatre?

I also meet the stage manager, a guy I saw a few times during the last play, and one of our prop masters. Well, "prop mistresses," but that always sounds weird.

Friday, March 7

She's Handy

After another winter rainstorm that lasted three days, Your Sister noticed a roof leak in the laundry room. She checked it out while I was at rehearsal and went into the attic to check it out. Seems one of our methane-trap pipes was letting in water near its seal. We figured we'd need toc all a roofer to fix it.

Cut to today when I come home to find her holding the ladder next to the house and her common evil grin. She had gone topside and seen that the pipe's rubber seal had cracked. She called our handy-man pal and he suggested caulk could fix it. So she gooped it up. We went back up on the roof to survey her work, and she was giggling with competence. She loves to be the tomboy, she does. And that might be that.

I scanned through the script yesterday and began to mentally skip around the scenes to see if I could start reciting at random. And I can. I'll give the lines another look-see before the rehearsal tonight.

Lost may have seemed slight this week, but I dug it a lot. here's what I wrote on a message board:

Is Ben's pre-Juliet flame Penny? Can we go destroy the possibility of a Des/Ben/Penny triangle? I don't think Ben would still obsess over Annie, his childhood galpal, but we don't know what happened to her since she was young. I assume we would know by now if she was gassed along with the Dharma crew.

If it's a Linus/Widmore war, that puts the Freighter Four and the Survivors in the middle, taking sides based on incomplete information. Widmore's search for the island ties into last week's auction and maybe his world sailing race.

Ok, so the gas ... was it active when Desmond was found by Joe Linman? Was that always a ruse (Des noticed the rip in Linman's suit and followed him out the hatch)? Was Linman taking precautions against Ben's first gas attack or was there another since? Was the suit meant to scare off any Widmore operatives who may have found the island, and was Desmond perceived as one of them?

Now, if the gas was a Dharma measure to cleanse the island in case of -- I dunno, time mutants and sentient fogbanks -- that might explain how Widmore and the Frighter Folk knew about it: They got Dharma plans through Hanso (either the had Hanso himself or a lackey), and Hanso's weaponry would explain how Dharma had the gas to begin with.

The question then, finally is this: Who's the fucking good guy here: Ben or Widmore. If it's neither, and all the nice people are trapped between two gods of chaos, I'm fine with that. The flash-forwards suggest the Oceanic Six are subservient to Ben to throw Widmore off the scent because their friends are under Ben's thumb. Sayid would then be literally gunning for Widmore at Ben's behest, and one wonders if he would use Penny as a hostage or fall back on his job skills on her to get to Daddy.

Picture of the Day
The creator of D&D died this week, and in tribute, here's the game's first catalog of prostitutes and courtesans. I didn't do very well at this game in high school when I jumped into a pre-existing gaming group. I didn't catch their groove, and the DungeonMaster, as usually the case, was an asshole. But I was introduced to Little Caesar's pizza, and for that I'm grateful. Mayberry doesn't have one, sadly.

Thursday, March 6

Dad Update

UpDade? UpDad?

He had his port installation yesterday and called to say he felt fine. He had his hair cut short so his hair loss won't clog up the drains. Dad's only had one haircut since I was minus-8 years old, but I've had my hair shorter than his for a while now. His hair has a weird consistency due to, no joke, repeated lightning strikes, and I'm eager to see his new look this weekend. He was told his immune system's OK to be out and about, so we might be able to take him to dinner. We'll have to go down on Saturday because Sunday will be taken up with rehearsal. I realized I won't be able to catch the WrestleMania (the year's biggest wrestling party) as the last performance and cast party falls on the same Sunday.

The gas prices have nudged my boss to again suggest telecommuting or using 10-hour, four-day work weeks. We'll see. The hamster-powered internet in our town makes working at home hinky, and uploading through a satellite dish is really no better than dial-up.

Picture of the Day
I always wanted to know just what kind of advantage Lando allegedly had to make him think he was safe in betting the Falcon. And I don't see Han holding a better hand so much as bluffing Lando off the table. I'm sure there's an expanded universe story about this, but I want Lucas or Kasdan canon, not the scribblings of a third-rate scifi hack. Did you ever try the novel that filled in the holes between Empire and Return. Awful.

I remember my high-school girlfriend asking me if I ever read scifi novels, and I mentioned I tried a few Star wars books. You could actually hear her eyes roll.

Wednesday, March 5

Day 15: Conquering

This will be a sit-down line-through. No movement, no sound cues. We just recite our lines around a table. The trick to this, at this point, is that I've started latching my lines to movement. I ran my lines at lunch and during the commute home, hoping to improve on Monday's weakness. I was thinking earlier in the day that the reason the theatre mounts so many plays with older characters is because the actors would mostly be retired and have much more time to memorize their lines. The murderer said he skipped school today to give his brain a rest, and I don't blame him.

He's thinking of his costume and wants to ape Heath Ledger's Joker outfit in the final scene. He's also using the character as a template for his own. I'm not sure how that will play or if he can reconcile the wilder behavior of the Joker with the early subdued scenes of the play. We're told that we will have Wednesday off, giving us two days' break before Friday's runthrough at the stage location. This might be our last night in the warehouse, and we'll have ten scheduled rehearsals before we open.

While we run our lines, the director sits with a script and makes marks on a sheet as we go. This is very much a test, and he's keeping score. Maybe it helped me, because I had the best night so far. I bobbled some words, but the lines were there. I was on a divine roll after hours of certainty that I retained nothing. The others were complimentary to the point I got a bit embarrassed, but I felt better when the mistress joked she wanted to kick my ass. She and the murderer were reading their scripts as we moved to Act Two. I cracked my script open to mark the words that gave me trouble. The director was, as usual, supportive and understanding but gently pressuring us to get on the ball with lines. I joked that I did so well because my brain was amped on panic and terror.

When we get to the last ten pages of script, we move to the set; we didn't finish the blocking on Monday. Because the line-through didn't require so much energy, I was able to goose my character with more emotion than normal. Maybe too much. I shake and wring my hands during the confession and I try to shudder with anxiety as I threaten the murderer with the gun. I'm the emotional one in the play; I do the heavy lifting there, whereas the murderer has the longer chunks of dialogue. Because he has line trouble, the director suggests he needs more audio feedback, and he and I recite most of Act One for the other actor. The kid looks beat; I can't imagine doing a show this size as a high-school student. We'll have to meet on weekends to run lines, and I suggested our house for it. We can host the whole show, if need be, and sit around the place and recite lines.

Picture of the Day
Stars in prolonged exposure.

Well, that sounded tabloid.

In the News
Once again, the most telling information from the primaries lies in the partisan voter turnout. Lookee here, and remember that McCain won each primary for his party.

Democrats: 2,180,292
Republicans: 1,004,391
Obama came in second and still beat McCain and Huckabee combined.

Rhode Island
Democrats: 181,092
Republicans: 25,434
Obama came in second with 73,000+ votes, and that was four times as many as McCain's 17,000+ votes.

Democrats: 139,935
Republicans: 33,589
Four times as many people voted for Democrats. Clinton came in second and doubled McCain's totals.

Democrats: 2,807,329
Republicans: 1,317,008
Again, Obama came in second and still beat McCain and Huckabee combined.

It would take an unprecedented party scandal for the Democrats to lose the election in November. Their second-place candidate beats the GOP leader every time.

Monday, March 3

Day 14: Scattered

I used the weekend to put the whole script in my head, and by the time we started rehearsing, it was vaporized (the script and my head). When Act One starts, the con man is almost hit by a car. He walks onstage favoring his arm. The actor wants someone to punch his arm and make it hurt for that first scene. I ask him if he's ever heard of "acting." But I had the same attitude when I was his age, and my director said the same thing. (There's a movie story precedent: When Dustin Hoffman and Olivier were making Marathon Man, Hoffman insisted on using some visceral method approach to a torture scene, and Olivier admonished him: "Why don't you just act it?") We have to change blocking because the new sofa is too tall. The murder is moved closer to the audience.

The director adds a rehearsal for Tuesday so we can just sit and deliver lines. The mistress needs it; her whole weekend was shot with the fallout of her friend's death. She seems OK now, mostly tired. I'm determined not to carry the script on the set and work from memory, but we have the line-reader to cue us if we need it. And we do. A lot. Especially as we move to Act Two.

Act One is virtually locked in. I actually hate starting that act because it's boring to me, and the script is very weak here: I bring in a kid I almost run over, sit him on the couch, trade life stories, and he leaves. All within five pages. We have it cold, and I'd rather skip this a few nights to tackle the second act, where we really stink. When I'm offstage (rare), I scan the script for the upcoming scenes, and I'm stunned how little seems to have stuck with me.

And let me now lament the changing of lines, including the addition of dialogue. This brings me no joy. Some of the actors petition to alter words, and in one case we do it because the actor can't pronounce "anonymity." I don't like this happening so late in production. Now I have to remember the alteration on top of the original line I memorized. The wife requests my line about her character change from "wealthy, young -- well, youngish divorcee" to "wealthy, blonde divorcee." When the director asks me if this is OK, I say "just tell me what you want me to say." It comes off brusque, and I apologize and explain I'll say whatever we decide upon. But, no, I don't like actors changing another actor's lines. I wouldn't ever ask that.

She also wants to talk about how we're handling the argument scene and requests I lighten up my tone a bit. We sit on the couch in front of the director, and I explain that the script makes my guy react strongly to her verbal jabs, and his lack of composure feeds her desire to divorce him. He might have salvaged the marriage (and his livelihood) had he been smoother. But he doesn't know how, and he's bitter and pouty, and he digs his own hole. That affects his behavior in Act Two when he pleads his innocence instead of taking responsibility. The director likes my logic, and we stick with the way I've been acting it. Now, I in no way minded her suggestion because I'd rather we talk about where we're coming from than individually try to guess what the other person's doing.

The Act One energy is good because we had a small break, but as the act ends, it's obvious that some of us reach the end of our memorization. And when Act two rolls around, two of the actors are reading from their scripts. I call for lines when needed. But the night drags on for so long that we don't finish the play tonight. We stop about 10:30 with ten pages to go. But it's high-energy stuff on those pages, and we're dead dog tired.

I have to start work on my magnet design soon, and I'm playing with 1940s style movie posters of noir films. I'm also determined to have the script set in my head by Wednesday's deadline.

Pictures and Link of the Day
Rejected Star Wars licensed products (scroll down for the images).