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.”

“So it’s a biography…?” I ask, scanning a nearby bookshelf for my copy of Common Sense.

“No no, Pain without an E” he clarifies. “Not Thomas, just Thom. The play isn’t based on anything historical. It’s based on nothing. You don’t know Will Eno’s work?”

“I guess not…”

“It’s a devious little script,” Jerry promises. “And all I need you to do is show up every night, sit down in the audience and five minutes after the curtain goes up, get up and walk out.”

“Wait a second….” I wither. “An audience plant?”

“Exactly,” Jerry says. “It’s a clever, subtle thing. You pretend to be a patron, mingling in the lobby, drinking some wine, and reading your program until the play begins. When your cue comes, you just stand up right in the front of the entire house and stroll out, quickly and quietly.”

“Sounds maddening.”

“Yeah. The character, Thom, he goes livid. He curses you out of the room. It’s pretty raw….”

I hear Jerry thumbing through the soft pages of a fresh script. When he finds the line he reads it slowly, savoring the kiss-off:

Au revoir, cunt!” he shouts. “That’s the big one. That’s where he really lays into you.”

I wheeze with tired laughter. I’m interested but a tad wary of the one-month commitment. Having just returned from a long writing sabbatical, I should be looking for work. Real work, with real hours. But this is fast cash, no resume required.

“You’re not paying hourly, I hope,” I say warily.

“No, though it’s not a huge stipend,” Jerry clarifies. “But it’ll be fun. Really.”

I tell him I’ll have an answer after lunch, thank him, and hang up. After breakfast I circle the dates in my calendar. Thirty-five walk-outs, give or take. One more excuse to hold off the hunt for a while....

Read Part II

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