Thursday, April 22, 2010

Conan McCarty on Becoming George W. Bush

Icarus Continued...

It was a magnificent honor to meet Lee Blessing on this project...

4/19: First Monday off after we have opened and I am engulfed by a tsunami of guilt for not writing a blog entry in ages. Such things can happen during rehearsals and opening week; especially with a play such as SEA. Yes, it is only 85 minutes long, but it is a very dense piece and demands its players bring their ‘A’ games and as much versatility as they have as it slides from comedy (almost farcical at times, satirical at others) to thought provoking drama. Lee Blessing’s plays are always very smart, this is no exception. Lee visited for a day of rehearsals and then came back to see an early technical run through, and it was a thrill to meet him. I was amazed at his trust, but then he has already had two works produced at InterAct, WHORES and GOING TO ST. IVES, and he also knows Paul and Seth well. This complete trust he exhibited and hearing him laugh at his own jokes during the run gave the three players a great deal of confidence in our work.

We now have the benefit of a few performaces under our belt. I look very forward to the rest of the run. There have been announcements at each performance since opening that we are moving the production to New York for the month of June, but I have been around long enough to know that until there is a signed contract, nothing is definite. Still, the opportunity to fine tune our show is very welcome, and we have a full three weeks (at least) to mine as much richness as we can out of this wonderful piece. And if the New York run happens, we will be that much better prepared.

I am very pleased that the reviews out so far have understood what this play is about. Oh, yes, I have the flashy character, a president who elicited very strong feelings from both directions; but Lee is more interested in those who returned him to office. As Lee himself wrote in a written interview with InterAct’s dramaturg, Becky Wright, ‘I wrote this play not because “W” was our President. I wrote it because he’ll be President again. He’ll have a different name, but make no mistake- it’ll be him. Our inclination to forget what our politicians did to us and “move on” is what every politician counts on.’ I know that I went a long way down the round in understanding the play when at a certain rehearsal I realized that if Lee were to change the circumstances of his piece, it could also be written with Ronald Raegan, or Bill Clinton, or even Barak Obama on the hot seat. In fact, almost any of the giant presidents could be the focal point of the piece, though I don’t think Millard Filmore has much to worry about. The point is that we tend to deify a great leader and allow him to take far greater charge over our lives than we should. The Tea Party, while I think its members are generally misinformed and seven years late, is an attempt for the common man to have greater voice in our government. Such is the central question of Lee’s play. A good play should not answer such questions, but rather force the audience to compare points of view and examine their own lives. As I said in an early entry on this blog, ‘theatre’ means the seeing place.

And then there is the nuts and bolts of the thing, learning how to make it run like a Swiss clock six times a week for however many weeks it winds up being. And many theatre-goers are unaware how important their contribution is to the process. A very wise mentor once told me that theatre happens where the energies of the production meet the energies of the audience. There comes a time when players need an audience as badly as someone lost in the Sahara could use a bottle of Evian, not to mention a whole bunch of sunblock. Especially for a play that is as funny as Lee’s is. The director and stage manager and all the technical people have heard the jokes so many times they yawn through them. The players need the energy of laughter to get the play airbourne, so to speak (‘Houston, we have lift-off!’). And an audience will always tell you that half the jokes you worked so hard on in rehearsal aren’t really that funny,and that it’s the ones you didn’t really pay attention to that work the best. The jokes in this play seem to me to have particular value, because this script goes so quickly from comedy to drama. Therefore, the further we can take each extreme the greater journey the audience will take.

So a constant check-in is required. You must leave a third eye open at all times to see how this particular audience is at this particular performance and calibrate your performance appropriately. There is a moment very early in the show (it is actually on the first page of the script) that I have found to be reliably indicative about how quick and verbal the audience will be throughout that particular show. Basically from that point I have an idea of what kind of pace I can take through the first scene, which is the longest and one of the most difficult in the play. Not that the show is radically different each night; there are different things happening at all times because the players must be free and alive to what is happening to them, and the variables that can occur are numerous. But still we have only varied about two and a half minutes running time of the show since we started before an audience, which I think is incredibly consistent.

And we are all finding new things in our characters; greater depth and more simplicity. It makes it exciting to go to work each night and just see what your colleagues are going to show up with and how it will effect your work.

This is a wonderful script to work on and I do hope the New York run comes through, because I doubt I will be content to finish this play on May 9, and I think Lee deserves a longer life for his wonderful script. The New York Times actually carried an announcement in the paper this morning (4/20), so it looks as though we are a few steps closer. Hope, hope, hope…

- Conan McCarty

Read past entries of the Icarus Chronicles:
Parts I & II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

Links to more information:

Purchase Tickets for InterAct's WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA

WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA Moves to Off-Broadway!

Read Wendy Rosenfield's Inquirer Review

Read Robert Zaller's Review

Play Description, Artist Bios & Performance Calendar
(including a talk-back with playwright Lee Blessing)

An Interview with Playwright Lee Blessing

InterAct's 20/20 New Play Commission Program

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