Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"Hell Is Empty, And All The Devils Are Here! "

The first day of rehearsal of any play always seems like the first day of school to me. I wear a clean pair of pants and a nice appropriately faded t shirt. I don't wear my rehearsal togs- clothes I don't mind rolling around on the floor in and spongy knee pads- Those will come later, when we get down to hammering out the physical bits or Lazzi as they're called in Commedia- and Lillian, our director reveals the first day that she has a respect that borders on worship of Commedia, and her sparkling brown eyes flash over at me since I'm playing Stephano, one of the clowns that teams up with Caliban in the play's comic subplot.

This is going to be fun.

The first day there's usually a lot of sitting around. There's a meet and greet, an equity meeting where the union members select a deputy, a design presentation of the set, costumes and sound and then we'll probably read thru the play.

Actors are an interesting brand of people. When we get cast in a play, especially one with a large cast like this one, we join a family.

A tribe.

The tribe then prepares for battle for about three weeks and then the performances start. The tribe sacrifices itself nightly upon the Alter of Thespis. When it goes well, especially in a comedy, we say "we killed 'em." When it goes poorly we say "They were dead." We win some and we lose some, but in the process a great comraderie developes. We have thrown ourselves to the lions and survived. Together. Great friendships are forged. Alliances are sealed. Secrets are shared.

And then the curtain comes down on closing night.
And we all go our seperate ways, to join new tribes, create other families on other battlefields.

That is why, when I step into the rehearsal hall on Hienz avenue for our first rehearsal I'm so pleased to see a lot of familiar faces. I've worked with many of these folks before. We've been in battle together. It may be a new family, but these are my brothers.

Some quick impressions:

Andy Murray's hardy handshake. He played the Antipholi to my Dromios last year. Really knows his Shakespeare.

L. Peter Callender's brilliant smile. He reveals to me he played Caliban in Julie Tamor's production of the play in an aside during the read thru. We were both in Much Ado a couple of years ago.

Athony Fusco's charming lack of pretension. He's playing Prospero and even in the first read he exhibits a thoughtful and earnest respect for the text that is at once funny and touching. He says he wants to find the humor in the character and believe me, he will.

Young Anthony Nemerovski's enthusiasm. This young man has proved himself the most reliable of actors. Someone you can trust in battle.

Stacy Ross's fashion sense. This is our third show together. I am a huge fan. We both drive Miatas.

And Finally...
Lillian Groag.
We had worked together many years ago at the Taper in L.A. in a production of Vaclev Havel's Temptation. She was acting, not directing but the same qualities I remember from her there are all in full effect here. This woman is passionate about the work and smart as a whip. In her opening remarks she works without notes and speaks eloquently about the themes she wants to bring out in this production. She speaks of Justice and Forgiveness and how they relate to the many Betrayals that are laced thru the The Tempest like threads in a tapestry. She reveals the playful sense of fun she invisions for the spirits who haunt the island. She challenges us to pare down the non-essential in our work and strive for simplicity. I'm reminded of the quote from Picasso: "The fewer the lines, the more important each line."

Annie Smart's set design mirrors this asthetic. A bleached wood platform. Sand. A sail. A color palette reminiscent of Hokusai's woodblck prints. Clean. (A perfect place for me to do pratfalls off, I note.)

Meg Neville, who, let's face it, is gorgeous and talented says the costumes are going to include alot of actor input which I'm thrilled about and resident sound designer Jake Rodriguez says he's been looking forward to this production all year.

And we start our first read thru.

I don't know why we do these things. Every time I do a Shakespeare the first read thru feels like a long slog thru a bog of words. Everyone's head is down, buried in the text. Only Triney Sandoval, as Caliban, works up some acting heat. I like a guy who leaves flecks of spittal all over the pages of his script on the first read-thru. As for me, I feel like I'm forcing the comedy and all I manage is an occasional chortle from Fusco who's just trying to be helpful. We break for lunch before we can get thru the play and I'm released for the day.

But the Tribe has assembled. The Family has reunited. The Tempest is brewing.

Next stop:


Robert Estes said...

Hey, it's September, time for a new episode! Vent Trinculo's!

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Dana Mathes said...

It's so great to get the actors' perspective on everything...down to the meet and greet. Thanks for your writing, Ron!