Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It Adds Up--a writer/director review

Last weekend was the double-evening double-bill of my and my comedy partner Jill Summerville's senior project productions.

Overall, the audience responded really well, particularly as the show progressed and the characters developed and became familiar---such as the case with character-based theater. A lot of the laughs I had calculated, but there were some surprises---ones I knew were funny but had not necessarily expected such a big reaction to.

The surprise big laughs were:

OLIVIA. But I don’t like boys.
MARIE. You do sometimes.
OLIVIA. That was a phase.

OLIVIA. I met someone and might have a thing going.
BOBBY. Might?
OLIVIA. It’s still too early to tell.
BOBBY. A nice boy?
OLIVIA. You got half of it right.
BOBBY. A mean boy?

OLIVIA. This woman is driving me crazy.
MARIE. Sandy?
OLIVIA. Is there another woman in my life that constantly mind-phucks me?

During Duffy-as-Olivia's monologue, the place was silent, still, and tense. I got a little choked up. I didn't notice if anyone else did---I was too close to the front. I am working toward the theatrical goal of making people laugh and cry at the same time. I mentioned this to India-as-Sandy, when she wasn't sure if one of her scenes was supposed to be funny or sad. "Both!" I said. That can be difficult and uneasy for spectators (and actors, for that matter), which is why there's a need to work them up to it, by encouraging them to laugh and cry---separately---a few times before the simultaneity.

OLIVIA. Sometimes I want to do the same thing, you know? Just leave this shitty job and this shitty city and... I don’t know. Where would I go? Where did she go? Did she end up in a better place? A worse one? I feel like I want to follow her and yet there’s so much... uncertainty. I am not complacent, I just... Sometimes I’m just afraid. Ok? Is that ok? Sometimes I just want to not move, to just stop and stay in one place forever and just not move. (Pause.) I could live like this. I could be comfortable.

After the show, I was hounded, as writers and directors and writer-directors are, with nothing but positive responses. People had really responded to it, on a personal level. They went beyond just liking it because it was "fun" and expressed gratitude to bringing up a lot of the issues in such a personal and accessible way. They liked the political ideas fused with every-day life, and the likability and empathetic nature of the characters, and identified with at times really specific points. The casting was commended, the soundtrack praised, the set elements questioned---in a good way; I was able to go all Brechtian philosophy on it.

LOUISE. Don’t you just wish the sadness would go away?
BOBBY. I used to think it would.
LOUISE. No shit! I was so damn idealistic when I was younger. I mean, I was pretty miserable then, too, but I thought it would get better. I thought it was temporary—everything was temporary. It didn’t matter how much I hated my life, because—I was still young. I still had time. I was taught to believe it would get better. We all were. You know—the “long dark twenties” and all.
BOBBY. “He sized things up, he was dismayed, at how the years had flown by so fast.”
LOUISE. Pardon?
BOBBY. It’s a song called “Long Dark Twenties”. By Paul Bellini? (LOUISE shrugs.) Never mind. Anyway. I always find myself jealous of people who have their shit together more than I do. After Felicia left, things just kind of fell apart for me. I never felt like I got back up on my feet...
LOUISE. “I’ll be back upon my feet, chase the morning sun to find my one and only you.”
BOBBY. Pardon?
LOUISE. It’s a song. By The Monkees.
BOBBY. Oh. (Pause as they share a flirty, shy, somewhat awkward smile.)
LOUISE. Anyway. Continue.
BOBBY. Well basically, I always assumed everyone else had it all figured out. But now I’ve realized that no matter how people present themselves, no one’s ever really... settled.

I kind of wish more of it had been questioned, so I could have explained a lot of the obscure references, stylistic choices, connections, etc. But in many ways the piece speaks for itself. It can be read both as a nuanced complex statement or as a straight-forward, politically-motivated slice-of-life story.

OLIVIA. I think I’m going to be a lonely spinster my whole life.
MARIE. Oh. What makes you say that?... Wait never mind. Stupid question.
OLIVIA. You know though, most of the time I think it’s ok.
MARIE. To be lonely?
OLIVIA. The spinster part. Like Vanessa Redgrave in that movie, Deja Vu, you remember that one? The vagabond spinster.
MARIE. (Dreamily.) The gadabout.
OLIVIA. “Gadabout”!? What the hell does that mean?
MARIE. Like a traveling hedonist, a pleasure-seeking vagabond.
OLIVIA. Wow. Good one. Did you learn that at college?
MARIE. She was hot in that, ole Vanessa.
OLIVIA. She sure was.
MARIE. (Pause.) “Spinster”. That is pretty cool.
OLIVIA. It’s wicked cool. I want to go all postmodern and identity politics and reclaim that word.
MARIE. (Laughs.) Even though it hasn’t really been offensive for like fifty years?

I still want to fine-tune the script, after seeing how my actors played with the text (with my permission)---they hit a lot of things that I wasn't able to, being too subjectively absorbed. Then I'm thinking of expansion or maybe sequel. Probably sequel. The sitcomy element of the play was something else remarked upon by a few people---one said, "I kept wanting to see the next episode."

I don't know if it'd be as good without the actors---yes, the writing. They helped tremendously. I cast them based on the 10-minute version of the play, which we all read at the beginning of the term. I had them do improv games and we brainstormed ideas. Many good ideas didn't make it---time constraints, mostly---but the ones that did were absolute gems and I couldn't have imagined what the show would have looked like without their input. A much different thing, and probably not as good. Collaboration and collectivity is where it's at!---even if it's not in a strictly pure form. So I thank my cast---it was our project, not just mine.

There'll be an encore presentation of the show, at the Antioch Area Theatre, on Friday, April 28 at 5pm. It will be opened by The Pathological Upstagers. Information: (937) 769-1030.


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