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Wednesday, 07 July
That Good Night
I've started rehearsals for a new show going up in a month or so. It's called Red Noses by Peter Barnes, and it's set in France, 1348, so it's plague-tastic. The basic plot is, a (possibly unhinged) priest founds an order of buffoons--the Red Noses--who combat the plague by wandering the countryside clowning around, making terrible jokes, and putting on ridiculously absurd morality plays. It's a measure of the play's sensibility that one of the first victims (and there are dozens of victims, many of which manage to walk onstage, gasp out a few lines, and then die) is named First Attendant, who complains that it's difficult to care about the little people, like First Attendants, who die before you get to know them. "I'm an extraordinary person!" he exclaims. "I'll tell you a secret!" Then of course he immediately dies.
The director of the piece, with whom I've worked before many times, obviously has a complete understanding of my comedic talents, because out of a 40+ slew of characters, which run the gamut from bawdy nuns to murderous mercenaries to malignant corpse-gatherers to syphilitic priests to expressive jugglers, he has cast me as . . . the po-faced, humorless pedagogue. This may have been due to the pre-casting discussion I had with him: "I don't want to fucking learn how to juggle. And I'd rather not sing. I certainly don't want to do any goddamn Theater 101 buffoon work. Jesus, don't even talk to me about mask work." Basically, I was saying to him: Don't make me work. Well, problem solved. For most of the play, I just stand around being a complete pain in the ass, which, I must admit, I can do.
(I'm exaggerating, of course: I do love the role. But I'm not exaggerating much.)
Last night was first readthrough, which is just what it sounds like, and just as thrilling as you might imagine. The actors introduce themselves around, and then read the damn play right off the page. First reads are wholly useless except for two things: One, for some reason, they are very good for predicting how long the final show will end up being; and Two, much like day one of any grade school year, you have to start somewhere, even if it's just wasting time to get it out of the way. And it might as well be with some good laughs as people botch lines, burst out laughing at jokes, and hearing people innocently butcher unfamiliar language. This play is good for that, for many reasons. One, Barnes was a wordy motherfucker who never used one word when he could riff with five; two, the play is filled with mouthbreaking French names and locations; and three, sometimes actors just aren't familiar with certain terms. Favorites from the first read included things like "anathema" being pronounced, many times, "an-a-THEEEEE-ma!"; "Genoese" pronounced as "Genovese," which introduced a tantalizingly weird Mob element to the proceedings; and, my favorite, "Oyez! Oyez!" being pronounced phonetically. OH YEZ! OH YEZ! I don't know why it cracked me up so. I imagined it to be the sound produced by an orgasmic harelip.
So we're off and running, and well, if my posting habits start to slip, then you know why. I'm out making ART! On the STAGE! (Well, grass. This is an outdoor show, a new experience for me.) And pretending that live theater isn't a DYING FORM! Which let's not pretend it isn't. But it's okay. The patient is critical, but it seems to be a tenacious fucker--it'll still probably outlast little old me. But more and more, I think of live theater as that poor First Attendant, crawling and beseeching the audience to listen, because he's an extraordinary person.
He says, "I'll tell you a secret . . . " And then he quietly dies.
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Have fun with the new show. It sounds like a blast. But please update with the occasional hilarious rehearsal story...I need someone to live vicariously through, as I love the theatre but cannot act worth a damn. Besides, you can make anything funny. C'mon, please?
Fantastic image of theatre.
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