Letters to Holly

Thursday, March 13

Day 19: We Can't Dance

I took some clothes to the clubhouse for the director's OK. He picked up a few blazers for me to wear, including a nice brown one. This might determine all my stage clothes, and I volunteered to bring in some khakis and loafers to complete the outfit. The murderer was given a bright red blazer that freaked him out, and my Captain Kangaroo reference was totally lost on the youngster.

In one of those odd coincidences, I encounter two people from the courtroom show, and they both played housekeepers. The first called before rehearsal asking about a dress rehearsal tonight. I told her she was a week early. The other came in to help with props and see the show fresh. We started at 7:30 sharp and were asked to treat this as a performance, asking for lines only in an emergency. That unfortunately wasn't heeded by the prop mistress, who continued to talk in her normal voice while we ran the show.

It wasn't a good night for her. She "whispered" comments from the audience throughout the show, and I suspect that the director is biting his tongue instead of replacing her at this late date. The three youngest cast members (including me) are grousing about her; the fourth stays to herself and leaves after her first-act death. The prop lady made cheese and crackers again, and seems unhappy when I don't gobble them onstage. Again, I tell her I can't; I have a healthy chunk of dialogue and nothing to drink. She also continues to interrupt the director with details that he's already addressed or announced he'll tackle later. The murderer and I are backstage making throttling gestures.

During the second act, she yells for me to grab another glass when I'm pouring the sherry, and I come very close to going off on her. As it is, I yell back a sarcastic thank to the "Mystery Voice." When I'm backstage, I continue to fume about this until I see her walking toward my wing to organize props. I joke that I'll grab the right glass next time and give her a fake smile, and she returns it. Just as fake.

So, in the last act, I got her back. My character reads a note from his mistress (a note hidden by the murderer) and tears it up in despair. The prop lady made a lovely hand-written note , which I discovered when the other actor handed it to me onstage. I open the envelope, scan the letter, and, after about three second of internal debate, rip it into pieces. I hear her in the audience, "Oh, he's ripping it. Don't rip it. I didn't know he was going to do that." And this, everyone, is why you read the damn script. I didn't have to, of course. I could have pantomimed it. But if we're worried (out loud, verbally) about sherry glasses, we're going to worry about following the script. She bemoaned it a bit after the play, and I shrugged it off. As far as I'm concerned, we're even.

Also, during the first act, the director hopped onstage to turn out a porch light, and it completely threw me off. I stumbled over my lines, and the wife actress was in the same trouble. We stumble and ad-lib through it, but (and I don't think I'm going diva by saying this) why the @%$* did he have to run onstage like that? I'm able to cover other subsequent awkward moments fine. I ad-lib past some lines forgotten by other actors. But I manage to dump half a can of Coke onto the coffee table when I didn't account for the liquid. I'm so used to practicing with empty cans. It was a weird night. How weird? When I fire the gun to close the play, a spark flies into the eye of the other actor. He's OK, but it terrified the director. And the courtroom actress didn't get why we kill the wife twice, even when she's told the first time was an enactment of a conversation. It was that kind of rehearsal.

We do manage to slice seven minutes off the first act, and I bet we can double that. We have the next two nights off, and then Hell Week begins. We open in eight days.

Moving Picture of the Day
Ed Norton stars in the new Hulk movie. There's nothing comic-related to win me over by Norton, William Hurt, and Tim Roth make for an intriguing cast.

Wednesday, March 12

They're Back

Around 1:30, as I finished cleaning Your Parent's house, I called the travel agency to get their flight number. The woman who was supposed to pick them up bailed on us, and all she had was an arrival time of 7 p.m. I wanted more info in case of delay. About two hours later, the agent called me back to say her information was different; they were to land at 3:30 in Charlotte. I explained that we had the later arrival time for a few weeks now, and she offered to call the airline to confirm. When she called back, she said they were now scheduled to arrive in Asheville at 5:30. She gave me the flight number, and I left work early to meet them. And I ran into my first gridlock in months.

Luckily, I got there about 5:10 and waited. Fifteen minutes later, out they strolled from the only terminal and were surprised to see me. They expected the other lady. Also, they barely made their flight because they also thought they had a later departure. All was OK. They took me out to dinner, and I dropped them off at the house almost half an hour before their original arrival time.

I picked up Your Sis when I drove home , and we ate dinner out, and I woke up this morning still full from two meals. Today, I am sporting one of the shirts Your Parents picked up for me, a right nice Hard Rock Rio shirt.

Picture of the Day
I think it's a statue.

Tuesday, March 11

Day 18: She Needs to Calm Down

Dad called to say his chemo went well. He didn't sound tired at all, just three hours after. He was told they won't zap his armpit tumor with radiation again unless it grows back. Despite his increased diet, he's still 12 pounds lighter than when he was first diagnosed. That suggests he has a cancer somewhere eat at him. But they can't find it. They questioned his unusual meals stretching back to last August, including the meal we made at Christmas. That floored me, the possibility that I cancered my Dad. That stuns me each time I consider it.

Your Parents return tonight, and I'm picking them up at the airport. I'll do a sweep of the house before I drive to the airport. I already cleaned up the litterbox room.

Act One, our strongest half of the play, doesn't need much tweaking. The trickiest part involves the murder: We see it play out as the murder thinks it will go, and then we see it as it actually happens. They differ a smidge; the wife is much smarter than he expects, and he has to think on his feet. That changes the order in which he cleans up the crime scene. The previous 20 pages of the play are pretty much locked in. My character invites the wandering kid inside, argues with his wife, falls into the murderer's web, and agrees to help kill her.

The director unveils the stage to us, to show off the new lighting. The household lights work so well, we don't need the installed klieg lights. It's a warm set; the director planned out a color palette early one, and it makes for a homey set. We now have an electric fireplace that I activate onstage, and we have new tablecloths and pillows. It's a comforting scene.

What throws us off tonight is the lead prop mistress. She is a bundle of anxiety and negativity. She's always out of breath, and she doesn't know how to wait before asking her questions nor does she know how to whisper. We are constantly interrupted by her fretting over a detail (admittedly, her job), but she asks these questions seconds after the director says we'll worry about it later. For her, it must be done now. I appreciate her making the tea to imitate the brandy and sherry, and she did a great job with our fake bundles of money. But instead of our onstage snack of bread and cheese, she prepares crackers and cheese. Also, becuase we have no drinks in this scene, we're left mush-mouthed as we try to hold a conversation. Before, I was pantomiming, clearing my teeth with my fingers. Now I have to. We quickly learn to eat very little for this scene.

During the rehearsal, she's ten feet away from us speaking at a normal voice, and it rattles us onstage. When we try to start the act after the first murder run-through, she batters the director with questions and then gainsays his answers with excuses: she's old, her eyes are bad, she won't have time. We two actors are onstage quietly chuckling over this, and we trade stories of backstage dramas. Why does this woman want this gig? She's so unhappy. Did I mention she unplugged our fireplace just seconds before I was supposed to turn it on? Can you imagine how joyous this made our director? All these things lead to a much longer run of Act One than we had hoped. The director estimates the act at just under 80 minutes, and it's the shorter of the two acts. If we have all our props and are allowed to deliver the lines without stopping, we can easily cut that by 15 minutes. I'm positive of it. We have to; Act One is eleven pages longer, and it's all jibber-jabber.

In other news, I don't have black plague.

We're nine scheduled rehearsals from opening night, and some of us are still calling for lines. We have to begin ad-libbing to cover mental blanks. Speaking of blanks, we fire off the gun with a half-size blank tonight. The director is very happy with it from the audience, but it leaves my ear ringing. I can live with that.

Picture of the Stage
That's my picture on the desk. The curtains just barely clear the coffee table, and when I'm at the bar, I'm looking at myself in the staircase mirror the whole time, checking posture and hand placement.

Monday, March 10

Day 17: The First Sunday

We saw My Parents on Saturday. Dad still looks like Dad; his hair is shorter and thinner, but it doesn't look bad. He showed off the vein port. It's on his right side, starting near the collar bone and stretching up to the neck. It's under the skin and looks like he's worked out a very small part of his shoulder. We took them out to eat, and his appetite seems strong. He has another chemo treatment today, and we saw all his paperwork, including the chemo pocket chart to track his bloodwork and weight. He's down about ten pounds from when this started. Dad starting spouting so much gardening advice I asked him to write it all down. I gave them both the rundown on my play and again told them not to worry about driving up to see it. I can send them a DVD copy, and this will be an excellent motivator for them to hook their DVD player to their new HD TV.

Your Sis and I watched the Duke/UNC game, and it was, of course, the pot boiler it always is. The refs seemed to let the kids play until they had to make a call, and I applaud that. While I enjoyed the antics of Speedo Man, it took the announcers almost five minutes to apologize for the crotch chops.

The mistress actress and I tried to set up a double-date lunch before the Sunday rehearsal, but it fell through. This practice was only for Act Two, and we repeated scenes and conversations often. At times the director would suggest a different line inflection, and other times he would hop onstage and walk through a page of dialogue to show the tone and movement he wanted. I'm not bothered by this; if a director wants a specific interpretation, and this is the clearest way to communicate it, fine. It doesn't step on my toes. In one bit, we play with timing and body movement when my character is backed up and forced to sit on the couch under the murderer's glare.

He started out by telling us where he saw us as we approached opening night, and he said I was steady from the get-go with my character. I joked it off, saying it meant I was boring. But he also reminded me he was at the auditions from the courtroom play and knew I was right for the attorney role, so much so that he said he would have had words with the director if she passed me over. The mistress tries on new outfits, and we're getting closer to her show wardrobe. I still need to go through the theatre stores and see what I can find. The tea bottles were taken home, but I find one our prop bottles (an empty Glenlivet bottle) and fill it with water. It's not til much later that I notice the black mold floating in my glass, and I hope I haven't given myself the black plaque.

The clubhouse contract may stipulate that we have to clear out by 10, a deadline we haven't kept for weeks now, and this may necessitate leaving work early so we can have a full rehearsal. The boss will be OK with that, I think. I won't be pet-sitting for the parents-in-law after tomorrow, so I can just take my lunch break at the end of the day. The kitchen is right behind a set of double doors at the back of the room, and we're constantly hearing the phone ring during the rehearsal. It builds discipline for us to maintain focus during our performances. When I'm not onstage, I watch older folks use the clubhouse driving range. A few hours later, the range hosts a herd of deer, and I even see some roadside as I drive out of the gated community.

I want to mention again what a good atmosphere this production has. Not just compared to the last, quarrelsome show but alongside other shows I've done too. Half our cast skews to the early 20s, and we have that energy all the time, combined with their experience and stage comfort. The director continues to remind us of our impending opening while he congratulates and thanks us for our work. He showed us the posters to be placed around town for the show, and unfortunately, they feature a picture from the early photo session; the image tells you nothing about the show except that it has four actors.

I read my script every day but no longer quiz myself on memorization. The lines are in my head and on call. I can even feed the other actors their lines when they blank (although I worry it looks like I'm showing off). The others are asking for a number of lines, especially the mistress, and we'll have to practice ad-libbing our way around script holes soon.

Picture of the Day
We might need to pass these out to our older patrons.