29 March 2010

Nostalgia I

October 2001. I'm in Leipzig staying with Andrea, a recently discovered "friend of a friend", exploring the city before I head for my final destination, Prague. Leipzig is an invigorated little onion - ornate Englightement center, brick and mortar Socialist middle, glittering glass capitalist outskirts. Of all the cities I have ever visited, its history is the most overt, written in its expanding strata like geological layers. Andrea is a fine and enthusiastic guide through it all. She's fairly new to the city too, so we explore together.

One evening we return to her place and she offers to cook dinner for the both of us. Three months prior, she'd been in Italy studying the language and absorbing the cuisine. Now she knows the recipe for a good marinara. When she conjures up all the necessary ingredients she holds up a fine ruddy tomato and says, "It's hard to make good marinara with the tomatoes in America. You can't taste the sun in them."

26 March 2010

Axiomatic I

Art is the revenge we take on our senses....

23 March 2010

A Raymond Chandler Evening....

Having just finished two of Raymond Chandler's novels - Playback and The Big Sleep - and a fantastic collection of early shorts called Killer in the Rain, I have concluded that all of his detective characters are imaginary portraits of frustrated artists procrastinating their way through a series of daydreams in which their Art takes a back seat to their Attitude. It's much easier to "feel" than it is to sit down and "do." I think most of us have known this impulse at one time or another. What is the old saying? That most writers hate writing; they just want to have written. This is Philip Marlowe in a nutshell ... strands of crackling, scintillating poetry shoot from his mouth five times a minute like sequined rubber bands. He doesn't have to work at being a smart ass, it just comes naturally - the secret dream of all writers.

According to wise Wikipedia, critics apparently feel Playback is his worst novel, which made me eager to read it immediately after finishing The Big Sleep, if only to form a basis of comparison - to plant the poles, so to speak. And I loved it. It meandered into strange places only tangentially related to the plot, it allowed minor characters to dominate entire chapters with their own voice, and in the end the book's central mystery wasn't so much a mystery as a misunderstanding. It's as if Chandler was retiring the genre altogether, with Marlowe slipping away into a sustained fantasy. The woman calls, the music swells, the whiskey is wet and it burns on the way down. Last time, with feeling.

16 March 2010

Tale of A Part-Time Supplemental Extra, Part VII

Opening night, at last. The theater is bustling from the box office to the bar, teeming with subscribers in their in their Wednesday’s best. I dress more quickly than usual and bolt into the lobby, sinking into a desperately demure stance the first time my eyes meet a real patron. It’s an involuntary reaction, a sort of shy restlessness on my part. I am simultaneously brimming with desire to pull off the gag and almost totally convinced that everyone is already in on the joke. It’s hard not to feel that I am giving off some obvious signal, spoiling the joke before I’ve told it. Am I glowing, or blinking, or grinning too broadly? What?
I loiter for as long as possible tonight before tiptoeing down to B9, having been told a few nights before by a Rep staffer that I “was an obvious plant” because I was one of the first people seated, and sitting alone to boot. It’s an unnecessary precaution today, though. People have taken their seats early.

Tale of A Part-Time Supplemental Extra, Part VI

The preview shows run smoothly. I begin to notice a pattern in the audience’s reactions to my exit and Thom’s subsequent tirade. They come in two basic flavors, a camaraderie that strengthens or dissipates when Todd let’s the French fly. Each time I rise from my seat, I imagine a few hundred stomachs flipping in unison, and for those first few seconds I’m the biggest asshole in the room. But once the audience hears that invective—“Au Revoir, Cunt!”—there are only two basic reactions: Guffaws or Gasps, the behaviorist equivalent to a Yea or Nay vote.

Tale of A Part-Time Supplemental Extra, Part V

On the evening of the first official preview, the audience is made up primarily of college students and friends of the cast and crew. Most of the students have come from Cornish, a local art college, and they’ve scattered themselves evenly throughout the theater, but none happen to be sitting in my row. Smooth sailing tonight, but there will be no foils to my hidden performance either—no witnesses to my ruse unless I attempt something bolder, with more visual flair. As soon as I am settled, I stir up a melodramatic fatigue that consists of me repeatedly dropping my head forward in drowsy, stuttering steps, before snapping suddenly awake. Yawn and repeat. But no matter how dedicated I am tonight, it borders on vanity to believe that someone is actually watching me closely enough to elicit anything from me other than passing amusement. It’s a strange feeling to be a qualified nobody with the largest secret in the room, acutely aware that in just fifteen minutes I’ll be the center of some unsavory attention. Like some horrible accident I have been warned about, but cannot avoid, my destiny is not open for debate and of no interest to anyone.

Tale of A Part-Time Supplemental Extra, Part IV

Over the next couple nights my rehearsals are rote, while those performing real jobs barely have time to stand still before some tumult pushes them forward again. I tell no one of my pre-show fluffing scheme to subtly grease this drama’s wheels before the curtain rises. Whenever I see Todd backstage, I am compelled by a fear of silences to ask him some banal procedural question: am I leaving the theater too quickly? Too slowly? Too late or too early? Todd dismisses every worry with a slight wave and a grin. By the time Wednesday rolls around we’re exactly a week from opening and a single day before our first official preview. But when I arrive I find the lobby teeming with two dozen well-dressed yuppies clutching programs and brimming cups of beer and wine. This, I learn from the house manager, is ‘The Crew’, a boozy cadre of wealthy twenty- and thirty-somethings who pay a fee to slip into the theater prior to the first preview run. My stomach flutters at the sight of them. I hadn’t expected an audience until tomorrow. Tonight will be my first official performance.

15 March 2010

Tale of A Part-Time Supplemental Extra, Part III

Monday. It’s my first day of work, and just ten days from opening. Tonight I meet Todd Jefferson Moore, the man playing Thom Pain. It’s clear the role is in capable hands. At first glance, Todd is an unassuming human creature. Crumbling into middle age, he is slender with the rough bronze patina of a Rodin sculpture. There is an underlying gentleness to him, in the measured lilt of his talk, and his barefoot loping to and fro across the stage. All this subtlety disarms any notion that he contains the oceanic undercurrent of rage that Jerry is determined to tap for this production.

After our initial introduction, Jerry dives back into his work. Lighting cues are still being fussed over, blocking isn’t solid, and Todd’s modish suit hasn’t been wrinkled correctly. Jerry sends his stage manager, Amy, to speak to the costume department. “I want crumpled trousers,” he clarifies. “Crumpled but not violently creased.”

14 March 2010

Tale of A Part-Time Supplemental Extra, Part II

A few days later I’m backstage at the Rep, clomping down a long hallway of concrete and countless metal doors. Every footfall reverberates like a beer cracking open in a cathedral. A woman wearing a limp ribbon of measuring tape around her neck appears from somewhere behind me and scurries past, an emerald green priest’s vestment flapping over her forearm. I follow her to an open door labeled “Wardrobe”, enter, and pause to scan the grid of sewing machine stations filling the room before knocking on the doorframe. By the rear wall, seated at a desk cluttered with pins, papers and bobbins, a young blonde woman in a bright blue jacket and skirt waves and moves to greet me, her grin unwavering. I step into the room to meet her halfway and introduce myself as “The Thom Pain Plant”. She welcomes me, says her name is Shannin, and clarifies my job description: “Technically, you’re a Supplemental Extra,” she says. “It’s an Equity thing.” The redundancy of the phrase is both amusing and deflating.

12 March 2010

Tale of A Part-Time Supplemental Extra, Part I

Fading awake and bleary-brained, I’m on the phone with theater director Jerry Manning and halfway through a yawn when he offers me a part in the new play he’s directing for the Seattle Repertory Theater. Will Eno is the scribe and Thom Pain is the drama, a fresh work just a few years into the wild. Stunning runs in Edinburgh and New York have stirred so much buzz that the west coast wants a shot. Jerry wastes no time selling me his predicament: the show opens in twelve days and he’s man short.

“It’s a rambling seventy minute monologue, basically,” he explains. “A one-man show….”

That’s easy math. I’m one man. But this feels like a set-up. I’m thirty-one and haven’t acted on a stage since the eleventh grade, ticking and stuttering my way through one of the lead roles in a forgettable nineteen-forties parlor farce. What misprint on fortune’s call-sheet has dumped this honor on me? But Jerry insists: “You’re perfect for this.”

Hello World

Here I hide things in plain sight.
Here I hide things in plain site.