Panachepost 6: re-collections

The Siege

What is it we cherish about being in plays? Doing what we love, doing it well, certainly. Having a job in a fickle business. And all the subterranean urges and desires I have written about before: the narcissism, the escape, the replacement love.

Antoine de Gramont, The Compte de Guiche, act 1

I related to all of these in Cyrano. The first four months of 2012 were such a tornado of busy-ness for me that coming to the Arden six times a week, and having to put everything else aside except the journey of his haughtiness, the Compte de Guiche, was a relief. I had four hours in which my life became blessedly, mercifully simple. Is that surprising? That I might call an intricately choreographed and directed play, and a complex character arc simple? But once it’s all been learned it is. You show up, you prepare, and you do it. And it’s never the same one night to the next.

But there are other things we love. Experiences and revelations the audience never sees. Let me share some of them with you.

Lord Rodriguez in a contemplative state

Balsacque Manor. Luigi and Justin apparently weren’t getting enough acting in the play, so they created another play in the dressing room. I would turn around and see them locked in some intense moment and think they had gone off the rails, or were secretly in love, or having an argument, but no. They were performing in a soap opera we came to call “Balsacque Manor”, in which Luigi played the Duke Rodriguez, and Justin his faithful servant Pelligrino. Gradually, the rest of cast was pulled into it to varying degrees. David was the evil Lord Bobbington. Doug was the cockney groom Bryon (who was constantly being dismissed, and then not knowing the way out). Justin would double as Lady Lordlamma, a strange creature one was never sure was living or spectral. I doubled as Lady Lordlamma’s retarded uncle Squat, resurrecting Tomas’s fake teeth from The Imaginary Invalid, and then made a cameo as Pelligrino’s long-lost older brother Soda Gun Seltzer, exiled to the American West and but now returned to claim his inheritance.

I am bound and determined to produce Balsacque Manor at The Elkins Estate next fall. Stand by. By the way, it’s pronounced Bal-sick, but alway comically mispronounced Ball Sack.

Internal cue on stairway. As I stood on the spiral stairs during the opening scene, staring at Roxane, there was a subtle internal light cue which brought up this golden light on me. I always loved that cue.

“I was drawn here by sensational stories . . . “

The cadet lounge. This was my favorite scene to play. It was de Guiche’s first big entrance in the play. I have written about the acting lesson about objectives in it for me. But it is also one of those scenes in a play in which a character comes on stage and changes everything. The story takes a hard turn, in which the hostility between Cyrano and de Guiche is born, and this scene is the hinge. The scene was full of lovely suspended moments between Eric and me, as Cyrano and de Guiche measured each other, and we had the audience of the cadets to take us in and amplify us for the audience of the Arden. The last time I had the opportunity to play a scene with similarly high stakes and nuance would have been Up at Bristol Riverside. But this was a better play.

Two entrances, two exits. Sometimes a show gives you markers which define your character’s journey. For me de Guiche had a beautifully clear and symmetrical beginning and ending points: first the entrance and exit from the cadet lounge, and last his entrance and exit from the last scene of the play. In the former he strode on and off stage with strength and command and stared everyone down, the alpha male of alpha males (or so he thought). In the latter he hobbled, unable to hide his physical and emotional damage, unable to look anyone in the face for very long.

Dale Girard, fight choreographer, works with Eric Hissom, Cyrano.

The 100 man fight. This was perhaps my last stage fight. I’m getting to that age when I can say things like that. And the fact that it was choreographed by a guy I hired in 1993 in New York to stage the fights for a production of the first quarto of Hamlet I was directing and starring in, made it all the more special. We hadn’t seen each other since, and on the first day of rehearsal we stared at each other, dumbfounded by the expanse of time between our meetings. At the beginning of the run, I would leave the fight so winded I was worried I would plotz offstage. I’m glad to say that by the end, I was breathing hard, but my recovery time was greatly diminished.

Wooing Roxane. Unsuccessfully.

The marathon. From my second entrance in the balcony scene, to my final exit, I had about 30 minutes of nearly-continuous stage time, punctuated by two quick changes. I called this stretch the marathon. Three back-to-back scenes which each challenged me in different ways. In the middle was the long siege scene which taxed me nearly as much as the 100 man fight. And in that scene, there were more delicious moments, some subtle, some over the top, and some internal – meaningful perhaps to no one else but me. It propelled me into my final transformation.

The poem and the thorn bird. This was my second favorite scene, when de Guiche appears at the convent 15 years later and tries to redeem himself. Jessica, Keith and I shared some moments in this scene which, for me, were sublime.