Shrewpost 7: diets and the journey into laughter

Okay, true confession time. I’m dieting for this play. Why? Two words: bike shorts. You know, those tight, lycra things that go from mid-thigh to waist. It’s what I wear in the play, under the, well, you’ll see, won’t you? I wondered about my vanity today. Is it unmanly of me to worry about what my ass will look like in bike shorts? Is playing a woman making me think about my body in new and unusual ways? I actually began dieting before I learned about the bike shorts. But playing Kate was the initial motivation. I’m playing a women, I thought, I want to be smaller. Then I’ll be all cut and sexy for the spring time. For the record, I’ve lost eight pounds. Thank you South Beach and YMCA. But would I have dieted if I had been cast as Petruchio? Grumio? Hmmm . . .

It’s all women on top in our all-male production of the sexist play: director, stage manager, fight choreographer, literary manager/assistant director and managing director – all female. Maybe if we get attacked from the feminist fringe for one choice or another, we can point to the assembly of women in charge and say “It was their idea!”

I continue to ruminate over the “actor” issue. I mean the “actor” I play as part of the the company of actors who arrive to perform the play. I know we only see “him” for a minute or two – but who is he? And why isn’t he me? We explored this choice recently and made some adjustments with the “I want to play Petruchio” conceit. Now, I’m just a sullen, moody actor who has to be massaged into playing Kate. Wait – maybe it is me . . .

Griffen came to rehearsal recently – another childcare snafu – but it was fun to have him. He went backstage exploring and the first thing he asked was, “How do the actors get back and forth?” He couldn’t find the crossover right away and was concerned. I was so proud – my little theatre brat. I thought of my time with Fava last summer, and the continual presence of his son Farrucio. I’m glad and grateful to be raising kids in the arts, snafus and all. Later, Griff and I watched The Empire Strikes Back at home, and I thought: if Mark Hamil can act with a big puppet, then by God so can I.

Speaking of Fava, I’ve seen the tendency in our rehearsals I noticed in his workshop: actors getting really loud and “grabby” when confronted by comic territory they don’t get yet. I mean big, noisy acting and the urge to physically touch one’s scene partner. Then, the slowing, calming and specifying.

Ceal and I drop into a stripped down, super direct communication style which is both refreshing and challenging. It’s challenging because we put each other on the spot so quickly and with no chit chat. Part of it is that we know each other so well and so can dispense with the pleasantries. Part of it, I’m convinced, is that we are both Quakers. Speaking simply and with integrity, you know. We were joking during a break about our mutual habit of taking off-hand intros like “What’s new?” literally, and having an awkward pause as we stop and try to formulate honest responses. Part of it too is that Ceal is sick, and she has no extra energy. I’m worried about her.

Over the weekend, and into the beginning of this week, we have been confronting the end of the play and the way K and P’s relationship transforms. The key is in 4.5, when K agrees it is the moon which shines so bright in the middle of the day. It was agony trying to make this something other than K caving, K submitting, K losing, K just playing along so they can get to Padua. Initially, I was drawn to the “where two raging fires meet” choice: some kind of enormous fight about the sun being called the moon resulting in a screaming crying tantrum by K, followed by tenderness from P. We worked on this approach for two grueling hours. But finally, I think we realized the danger in trying to torture the text in to something it just isn’t. Now, we’ve arrived at something more true to the play, which has more to to with the “journey into laughter” idea and P’s continuous exhortations that K “be merry”. You’ll just have to come see it to see how this choice turns out . . .

Ironically, the big speech of 5.2 is turning out to be not as much of a worry as 4.5. After some intense homework, I’m finding my way through it, tracing who I feel like she’s speaking to, chunk to chunk. By “not as much of a worry”, I mean that if, by the time we get to the big speech, we can convince the audience that K and P have a relationship they can respect, or at least be charmed and not offended by, then the big speech won’t grate quite so much. It is what it is. There’s nothing I can do to hide what she’s saying. I’m just trying to make what she’s saying make some sense given the world she’s living in and the people she’s surrounded by.

Tomorrow, we have our first run through. Deep breath.