Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dinner with Friends: Initial Impressions

I have already mentioned that I am to appear in a one night only staged reading of Dinner with Friends, by Donald Marguiles. (At the Winchester Little Theater) We have a practice read through this Saturday, and perform it the day after. Today was the first chance I had to go over it in depth.

Specifics of the play can be found here.

I have to say that sometimes as an actor you can admire a piece, without necessarily enjoying it. I find that it is, for the most part well written, from a dialogue standpoint. It is a bit thin on action and plot, and what action it does have is not, in my opinion particularly interesting or unique. And while possessive of a certain degree of realism, none of the four characters comes off, in my first read through, as overtly sympathetic. I would say that I would not choose to try out for a main stage production of this piece. (It was a cattle call audition that landed me this role, i did not audition for this play itself, nor did I know that it was under consideration by the company at the time of my try-out for the staged reading series.)

However, I am intrigued by some of the specific challenges of doing this piece, at this time, as a reading.

Given that I will only be performing it once, and will in fact have the benefit of the script, I went against my standard practice of reading the whole play all the way through at first. I have opted instead to only read the parts in which I appear. I normally read an entire play, not only because I prefer to know the entire arc of a story, but also attempting to avoid knowledge of scenes wherein your character does not appear is usually silly given the endless rehearsals and performances of a play for which you as an actor will be present.

For this play, however, a very large segment of the theme revolves around conflicting perceptions among people over the same event. Particularly in the first act. The idea of some being absent, while others are present. I thought that only reading my scenes today would give the reading a possibly invigorating one-sidedness that I usually don't choose to make use of. Fundamentally a weak approach for a standard play, but a very effective one for this play. not only because it suits well with the theme, as mentioned, but because it is a one time only staged reading...a production which shall posses unique energies in its own right, due to the short prep time. My approach, i am hoping, will add to that visceral quality, for me and for the audience.

Another challenge for me is the character himself. At least at first blush, I can say with confidence that "Tom" is in the running for the character that is least like me, ever. I've not conducted an in depth comparison, and don't plan to. Suffice to say, I have played bigots and murderers, and not felt as isolated from them as I do this character, this far.

Before alarms start firing off in your head, allow me to state the obvious; I do not condone murder or bigotry. However, I recall being able to latch on to specific causes and motivations within myself that could, if approached in the wrong way, lead to villainy. So, the concept of finding something to relate to, and sympathize with, even in a villain, (see my most recent post) is a large part of my method.

In this case of this character, Tom is not only NOT a villain in the truest sense of the term, but his motivations and desires are very far removed from what I am familiar with. This is the point of acting, to portray someone to whom you feel little initial connection. Otherwise, evil characters would never be portrayed. And as I said, this is the least connected to a character that I recall feeling in a very long time. As an actor, I am trained to present a well formed character, and I will do so. I always do so, given enough time to look inward, to meditate on the piece, to absorb lines, and such. And I will this time. But to require such a large amount of that kind of work, in such a small amount of time is, without a doubt, a bit of a gauntlet to run. But this is good for the actor sometimes. Keeps one sharp.

More difficulty with the piece lies in the fact that it is depressing. There may be some hope sprinkled here and there, but by and large, it is a heavy play. A sad play. I am usually not a fan of plays that have sadness as there overall mood. Tragedy I can deal with an even admire. It is an all too common mistake to make "tragic" and "depressing" synonymous. They are not. Tragedy points to something larger than the bad events around it. A higher theme. A depressing play exists, it seems, just to point out that depression, or those sad events, without a real tie to anything greater than itself. Dinner with Friends is the latter. By no means do I think productions should always have a happy ending, (No true Shakespeare fan could want that), I am convinced that my theatrical constitution is, by and large, not entirely at ease with "rainy day" plays. (See also, Willy Russell's Blood Brothers).

Plus all of this is being done during one of the busiestweeks I have had in 2008. The crush and rush is on...and I think it is terrible and exciting at the same time.

One thing that annoyed me about this script is not atall unique to it. The playwright sticks his nose where it does not belong.

Yes, this can happen

First off, there were constant, (and distracting) parentheticals in the script, which call for any given actor not only to overlap what another character is saying, but specifying on what word such overlap should begin. Talk about micro-managing.

Secondly, there are "author's notes" as the end of the script. Essentially telling director's and actors how to play any given scene, and what to avoid in performances.

I hate when playwrights do this. I have always felt it was the playwright's job to write, not to direct or act. Those playwrights who feel the need to include direction on how to perform a scene show little faith in directors or actors, and really should find a way to let go of their work a bit more.

That is all on that for now. I shall return with another entry tonight, as it happens to be the night of our first read-through of a Christmas Carol, over at the Full Circle Theater Company. I very much look forward to that, and the production as a whole.

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