Salempost 7: previews

We have our first audience tonight, and my wig will finally arrive. It has been waylaid in some currier purgatory in Baltimore, so I have been one of two crew-cut men in a cast of Puritan long hair. I’m finally digging myself out of the grip of this dreadful cold I have had for a week, and which has spread through the cast. Mark, who plays Cheever and was the Dame in the Panto, listened to the hacking coughs from the dressing rooms and shouted “Jesus! We should do Long Day’s Journey while we’ve got the plague! It sounds like a TB ward back here!” Graham, who plays Danforth, has been hit hard by it. He and I have had an intense interaction, as we and David try to untangle the degree of animosity that develops between Hale and Danforth. David feels that making it too personal diminishes the play, making it somehow about a fight between two men. Playing the lines Miller gives Hale in the last scene, and experiencing the near contempt with which Hale is treated in the courtroom in the previous scene, I have a very hard time seeing it as anything but personal. Add to this the reality that Hale feels he is directly responsible for the deaths of people he knows are innocent, and it makes for a high-octane encounter.

You see, I think Miller meant to condemn Danforth, and meant to give Hale some lines of righteous indignation. But in an effort to “complicate” things, David is trying strenuously to work against Danforth being the “bad guy”. But he is the fucking bad guy, I want to shout. Because of him and his attachment to his own authority and the rigid principles it rests on, good people are being murdered! Of course, Graham doesn’t see it that way, nor should he, nor would I playing him. So we have two, smart, stubborn, forceful actors running full tilt at each other. Then it occurs to me that Danforth resembles the Full Professor I ranted about in these pages previously: full of himself and feeding his own ego by obliterating any point of view but his own. No wonder I want to leap at him in the jail. The smug asshole denied me tenure.
Graham is a good enough actor to meet me in that weird nether world actors work in sometimes, in which the fight on stage colors the relationship off stage. We both bring that much of ourselves to what we do. I worry that it’s affecting our friendship. We have taken to making choices on stage that we both know will incense the other – Graham apologized recently for imitating me to my face in the courtroom scene, and then seeing the blind fury pass like a shadow across my countenance. I delight in excoriating him in the jail and making him wait as I squeeze every bit of derision I can out some choice words. I tried once, in response to a note from David, to go for something more spiritual, more Christ-like, but then got the note that it was playing too slow, and when pace is put back into it, it becomes antagonistic again. We have been looking for the proper balance since we began working on it nearly a month ago. Recently, David has counseled me to invest more in Hale’s heart, in his genuine desire to help people, in his intuitive sense of the character of others. This is where we began, I think, but sometimes rehearsal is a journey with its own mysteries, ones we can’t divine until three weeks into the run.

David has spent a lot of time directing me with big ideas, ones that I have engaged in. But sometimes I wonder: is it good directing to have these kinds of soul-searching conversations with actors about their characters. Many directors have been taught not to “ask for results”, like “make it angrier/softer/more grief-stricken/more heart-felt”. But sometimes this is all the actor wants. David has a wonderful phrase, that goes something like “here’s what I’m looking for, you can organize it any way you like”. I love that – it makes his goals clear and respects the inner territory of the actor. To me it is the essence of the actor/director relationship: here’s what I’m looking for, you organize it any way you want. It needs clear and articulate directors and skillful, flexible actors to make it work.