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We’ll let you know …

A curious thing this, whenever they tell you in an audition how good you were, it’s more or less a solid guarantee that you didn’t get it.

Subtext is involved. In a screenplay it would look like this:

THE AUDITION

by

A. N. ACTOR

(c) 2016

INT. DAY. A LARGE REHEARSAL ROOM.

FADE IN:

At the far end there is a long table behind which sit, the DIRECTOR. He/she is accompanied by an ATTRACTIVE ASSISTANT, there are as many as three or four other IMPORTANT & PERCEPTIVE PEOPLE.

Off to one side sits the READER, this is an actor (just happy to be working) of either gender who reads with YOU, the one auditioning.

We enter the scene a moment after YOU have uttered the final words of the material you’ve prepared. There is an indeterminate silence as the ROOM waits for the DIRECTOR’S verdict.

DIRECTOR
Fantastic! Thanks for coming in.

YOU
You’re welcome. (What am I gonna do? Stay home?)

DIRECTOR
Terrific work! (But you’re not the man).

YOU
(Self-effacingly) Really? (Should I linger and schmooze this guy?)

DIRECTOR
(With huge conviction) Outstanding! (Why doesn’t he leave?)

YOU stumble to the door, everyone in the room wears an encouraging (but distant) smile.

DIRECTOR
Really excellent work! (I thought he’d never go).

YOU
(Confused. The atmosphere in the ROOM indicates that YOUR presence is surplus) Er … Oh …

DIRECTOR
Have a great day. (Have a great life. We’ll never meet again).

YOU, walking backwards as if leaving a royal presence, collide with the door as YOU turn to exit and ANOTHER ASSISTANT enters with coffee for the DIRECTOR.

YOU
(With hand to BLOODY NOSE, as you cross the threshold out into the world) No, no, it’s nothing.

DIRECTOR
(To ATTRACTIVE ASSISTANT) Remind me to never compliment an actor. So needy!

General laughter from the ROOM.

CUT TO:

YOU walking down hallway hearing laughter.

YOU (V/O)
I should have gone to law school.

FADE TO:

The STORYBOARD image in YOUR head.

art

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Theatre theatre criticism

What if a new Tennessee Williams play came to light?

When I was fifteen I played Tom in The Glass Menagerie. It was an experience that opened the door on poetic language for me.

Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Zachary Qinto as Tom, in The Glass Menagerie
Cherry Jones as Amanda, and Zachary Qinto as Tom, in The Glass Menagerie

When I was sixteen I saw A Streetcar Named Desire in the West End. Claire Bloom played a fragile Blanche, Martin Shaw was a virile Stanley, Joss Ackland a sympathetic Mitch, and Morag Hood a sisterly Stella. Doors on acting — and windows too — opened then.

In the second year of acting training at Central in London, it was American plays. Even though I was playing Harry Brock in Born Yesterday, I was still among those who would revisit Streetcar in empty rehearsal rooms and practice yelling ‘Stella!’, and then, ‘Stella… Steeee… eeee….elllaaaa!’

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I heard a story once from Professor Charles McNulty about how, unable to get into a musical next door, he stumbled into the very first preview of The Glass Menagerie in Chicago, starring Laurette Taylor of luminous legend. He spoke of the stunned silence at the end. That first audience was small, but he had been so gripped by the play that he had ended up kneeling between the seats leaning forward, intent on not missing a word.

A student production of Camino Real, directed by Tony Falkingham, was a revelation. A kind of underworld answer to the transcendence of Our Town, or the poetic portraiture of Under Milkwood.

When the National Theatre in London did Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I attached my old American friend, Jim Franz, who’d been to college on a sports scholarship, as football consultant to the production. Jim recorded his thoughts and insights on a tape and sent it over. When Ian Charleson as Brick, said “…all summer long we’d pass those long, high balls that couldn’t be intercepted by anything but time…” the speech was transformed.

Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Becky
Paul Newman as Brick and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat

 

As we all know the great trio of Menagerie, Streetcar and Cat are foundational in the canon of world 20th century drama.

 

 

And now here is Baby Doll at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

Susannah Hoffman as Baby Doll. Photo Richard Termine.
Susannah Hoffman as Baby Doll. Photo Richard Termine.

The movie of that name was derived from Williams’s one-act play Twenty Seven Wagons Full of Cotton. The movie starred Karl Malden and Eli Wallach, and Carol Baker in the title role, and is a dark not-so-funny tale of revenge.

Williams returned to the theme and the characters in more than one version including another one-act called, The Long Stay Cut Short or The Unsatisfactory Supper, experimenting with different perspectives on the story.

The production at the McCarter in a new version, developed by artistic director Emily Mann (who also directs) in partnership with French playwright Pierre Laville, elevates the nuance in the story, finds all the Williams elements of passion, desire, desperate tension and latent violence, and is played with pitch-perfect subtlety by its cast.

Full disclosure; Trish Conolly (Three Blanches, a Stella, one Maggie, a Laura, an Amanda, an Alexandra del Lago and an Esmeralda) plays Aunt Rose Comfort inhabiting a storyline that embodies one of Williams’s “… birdlike women without a nest…” —nibbling at — “… the crust of humility…” is a close personal friend of mine, sometime professional colleague, and er yes, also related to me by marriage.

Patricia Conolly as Aunt Rose Comfort. Photo Richard Termine.
Patricia Conolly as Aunt Rose Comfort. Photo Richard Termine.

The rest of the cast (who are all new to me, and to none of whom I am related) are: Bob Joy, who plays to the life an uncouth man of the reddest neck, Dylan McDermott who, poised and dangerous as the Sicilian, commands the stage, and Susannah Hoffman, who as Baby Doll gives us magnificent work in a detailed performance that should be seen everywhere.

Brian McCann playing the cameo policeman brings with him the danger of the 1950s Delta. And special mention must be made of the real live chicken who plays ‘Fussy’ in her stage debut.

From the set, which is both substantial and ghostly, to the evocations in the lighting, to the delicate underscoring of the soundscape, to authentic costumes and props which complete a production rare in its unity of accomplishment across all elements, we get as exciting an evening in the theatre as if Williams himself had finished this text yesterday.

I could say more about the acting from the entire cast, but I won’t, beyond that it is about as superb as I’ve seen. But here’s the thing. This play (as with all Williams) would be easy to do badly.

Even the finest actors benefit from inspired direction. Here, the play is impeccably directed. Rhythmically it finds variety, and quicksilver turns, in tone, pace and mood. Good direction leaves clues in standout performances. Great direction is scarcely visible because the ensemble takes precedence. Kudos to Emily Mann.

In the ephemera that is regional theatre who knows what happens to this play after the 11th of October 2015, but if you can get to Princeton before then and get a ticket, do yourself a favor.

http://www.mccarter.org/babydoll/

It’s actually like seeing a new play by Tennessee Williams

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Not From The Stars Do I My Judgement Pluck …

It’s about the middle of my 58th year of life, and as, as we know, the orbital period of the planet Saturn is 29 years and change, I’m in the onset of the second Saturn return (lucky me).

I’ve embedded a video from youtube. If it’s just a single image, go ahead and play it, if you haven’t already seen it. Sometimes it shows up as four astronomical samples, the one in the upper left quadrant is an artistic graphic impression of solar motion. It illustrates what Kurt Vonnegut Jr. talked about in Slaughterhouse 5 and The Sirens of Titan, what Rodney Colin Smith had to say in Theory of Celestial Influence.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jHsq36_NTU&w=560&h=315]

Simply put, every 29 and some years, the planet Saturn will be in the same position relative to the Earth and the Sun as it was when you were born. Bearing in mind that everything else will be in different places, what does this mean and why does it matter?

Time was when astrologers, alchemists, and seers were respected professionals. One thinks of people wandering about with phials of lead which they were trying to turn into gold, dressed like something in an episode of Wolf Hall.

Time was, on the other hand when actors were vagabonds.

When James the first of England (Sixth of Scotland) came to the throne, things took a rum turn for the metaphysicians (although it was still a good decade for language, theatre, and Shakespeare). In the following centuries though, there was a loss of public confidence in the arts of the signs and the planets, and the consequent rise of charlatans and quacks brought the business into disrepute.

Charlatans and quacks abide still, if you don’t believe me, go and order a report for $29.95 at random off the Internet, then stand back and watch as you get a zillion emails explaining that it’s just crucial that you order the full deluxe package because if you don’t you’ll miss your chance at greatness for another many several rounds of the Sun.

But …

Although a natal chart is cast from a Terra-centric viewpoint giving a snapshot from earthly perspective … and although such a picture is the merest slice from the unique loaf each human life describes …

And …

Because I once played the great physicist, Neils Bohr, I’m able to tell you that a sub-atomic particle can also be a field, and not that I knew Zoroaster, but I know people who knew people who did, and I think he got it right when he said: “As Above So Below.”

And because, as you see, the dance of the planets is a spiral one.

And because an approximation of the orbital period of the planet Uranus is 84 years, and there was a stock market crash in 1929 and subsequent trouble for quite a while, and the 2000s were ripe with global crises …

Maybe some of us will look to consultant astrologers again.

I did so myself recently.

I found a British lady and via the magic of Skype we chatted. I was impressed.

It’s not editorial policy to make commercial recommendations in these pages, but here’s an exception: http://www.claremartin.net

Shakespeare on the span of a human life:

“A breath thou art, servile to all the skyey influences …”

MILKYWAY

Or, for a more prosaic instance; I recently got into a minor altercation with a “hare-brained rudesby”. I was waiting in a checkout line and one of the six clerks appeared to be free. The Rudesby, two places behind suddenly shoved my elbow, while at the same time ordering me to go forward. When I explained that I had seen what he had not, namely, a previous customer returning with new items for payment, the Rudesby grunted, and muttered in a language I do not know. We had an exchange:

Me: And you know, Mercury isn’t even retrograde until the 18th?

The Rudesby: (Aggressively) What!? I don’t know what you’re talking about!

Me: No.

The Rudesby: (Proud of it) I don’t believe in any superstition.

Had he chosen to quote from King Lear, the Rudesby could have expressed himself more elegantly … “I should have been that I am had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.”

What has all this got to do with acting?

Good question: I was wondering that myself …

Shakespeare knew of course (no surprise there):

“… that this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment.”

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Dancing With Hyphens

The hyphen has flipped. This is where I work now.

The Writers Room before the rush
The Writers Room before the rush

It’s called The Writers Room and it’s on Broadway and Astor Place on the Washington Square/East Village border In New York City. It’s convenient as everywhere is in Manhattan to (among just about everything you could want in a city), subways, eateries, and hookah emporiums. It’s 2500 square feet of loft space, vacant as you see in this iPhone snap taken against the light, in the early morning. Once the writers arrive, the window spaces go first.

Before I was an actor I washed dishes in an ultra-chic French restaurant in Deauville, France; I planted Olive trees in Crete, Greece; and back in London, I waxed a limousine that once belonged to Idi Amin.

Seeking greater job security, I trained for the stage.

When I graduated I became an actor/something else. The something else was, in phases, painter, driver, barman, all the way to that most traditional of acting auxiliaries, waiter; later: actor/writer

The hyphen has flipped.

I have an interesting writing project, and am working as a writer for hire. So for now have now become writer/actor. I like it. Ready to become writer/something else if necessary.

Creative and commercial considerations prevent me from going into detail. Seriously, I know that it’s not a good idea to let the steam out of the bottle before the soufflé has risen. Have you ever had an idea and you told someone and the next thing you knew there it was all over the Internet?

Looking towards the Empire State Building
Looking towards the Empire State Building

This is the distracting view from my favorite window at night. The Writers Room is a great place to work because where acting is agreeably social, writing is solitary. It’s good to see other people tapping at their keyboards. The rule of the room is silence and people are pretty scrupulous about it, but you can talk in the kitchen where there is coffee.

So does this mean these pages will no longer chronicle the jobbing actor experience? Possibly …

I believe the time is ripe for a slightly oversized — alright, moderately oversized, British/Australian detective on the telly. Precisely the category of work that all jobbing actors understand partakes of the jackpot. This could be where the New Year resolution to eat more Kale comes into play …

Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution and lost it soon after?

Me too.

The end of January and the beginning of February is the Celtic festival of Imbolc. Sacred to Brigid, patroness of Poets, Bards and Smiths, it is a festival of new beginnings, of plans for the coming year, also of elevated states — inspiration. This may be where we have gone wrong. After a season of frolic and frivolity, and celebrating at the solar festival of Yule, it may be an idea to let the party spirit subside for 5 or 6 weeks until Imbolc — Easing into it, do you see?

Here are my predictions for 2015:

The bees will need protection.
Increasing numbers of people will want greener fuel.
Those put here to make Nostradamus look good will defend the indefensible.

Happy New Year!

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Purple is the new blue!

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From Miami to Jupiter is about eighty miles by road. The distance defines the south and north ends of the coastal megalopolis on South Florida’s Atlantic side and the drive is not for those without extensive hi-speed video game experience. The mode of driving on I95 or the alternative Turnpike, is of ducking and weaving across lanes, tailgating at 30% beyond the speed limit, and giving signals is seen as a sign of weakness.

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‘Dial M For Murder’ at The Maltz Theatre, Jupiter, was a spirited and stylish production. All praise to our designers who achieved a unity of style. Michael D’Amico displaying his usual virtuosity with the set, Robin McGee coming up with a truly stunning dress for Claire Brownell who played Margot with an understated grace, also achieving in her performance a rare period authenticity threaded with genuine inner life (possibly the most difficult role in the play). Costume designer Robin, also chose her suits for my character so well then when offered a deal I immediately purchased them both. And special kudos to Paul Miller who did the lighting.

Do you recognize the silhouette?
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It’s a moment of homage to the late great Alfred Hitchcock whose name is more associated with this 1952 thriller than that of its author, Frederick Knott. And in a quasi-accidental moment during tech I passed in front of a lamp and the director yelled “hold it!” The resulting shadow was incorporated into the final tense moments of the play, giving an unexpected humorous twist, and a unique reference. Audiences loved it.

The Maltz as helmed by Andrew Kato is an impressive operation. They’ve taken special care to make their visiting artists feel valued, included and at home. Little touches like the bottle of water and the orange which greet you off the plane! It is also flourishing after an extensive renovation with plans for more development to come. It’s great to see a theatre sufficiently valued by its community to be able to expand, and not as is widely the case presently, to be scaling down operations.

Florida has been good to me, and I love going there to be in plays. The mighty United States has a few actual theatrical companies. Nothing like what you could guess at or hope for, given the might and wealth of The Republic. But South Florida has a core of talented actors who work up and down the strip from Miami to the Maltz weathering the closing of Equity theatres (ones that can pay something meaningful) and the springing up of non-Equity ones (that cannot). The effect, and I don’t think it was anybody’s plan, is close to a company of actors. A mobile, a fluid one that spans half a dozen venues. It’s always good to work with actors who know each other. There’s a shorthand. Todd, Greg, Jim, and Dan… do you know what I mean?

Whilst in Jupiter, I got a call from David Arisco, artistic director of the Actor’s Playhouse in Coral Gables, south of downtown Miami. Would I be interested in reading for a part in the show about Judy Garland that played to great acclaim in London and New York?

David offered me a role in 2003 and I wasn’t available, and I’d always wanted to work at his theatre. Besides, I knew there wasn’t really enough excitement in my life, so I hired a car, got a free upgrade to a sleek late-model Cadillac and cruised down to Miami getting the complete hazard experience on the road. I stayed one night in Miami Beach. Nowhere in Florida does pastels better. The limes, the magentas, the ochres …

I packed in a hurry and forgot to take a fresh shirt. In the morning the one shirt I had with me had lost its appeal and there may have been a coffee spill on it too. “I’ll buy a new shirt.” I told myself.

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” So said Henry David Thoreau,19th century transcendentalist. Perhaps if he’d seen the South Beach pastels he’d have made an exception.

I entered a gentleman’s clothing store and explained that I was looking for a shirt to wear to an interview. I was slightly pressed for time.

“Oh!” said the assistant.

I explained that it was to audition to play a Scottish homosexual who accompanied Judy Garland.

“That sounds exciting!” he said and pulled a dress shirt in bright purple with a price tag beyond what I normally would have spent.

“I’m not sure about the color.” I said.

“Purple is the new blue!” He exclaimed. “I will iron it for you.”

It was all worth it. The dangerous drive, and the retail time pressure that made me an easy sell, because I will return to Miami at the end of the year to play Anthony in ‘End of the Rainbow’.

Purple is the new blue. Gay is the new straight. But if Antarctica melts, Florida and all its pastels will be the new Atlantis.

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