Sunday, February 20, 2011

busy theatre weekend

This has certainly been a busy theater weekend between THE SLASH performances on Friday and today and the Playwrights conference on Saturday.

I did get some insight into JULIA & BUDDY at the conference, the structure of the play etc. The first and and the second act are still not properly integrated.

But I will never do a cold reading of this play again, or allow it to be cast with actors I don't know. I lucked out with the actor playing Buddy - he did a better performance of the Shakespeare bits than anybody who has performed the role to date. And he loved doing all the accents, he really went to town with the Scottish headmaster.

But the actor who was recommended to me for Julia (and I think she was recommended purely on the basis of being the right age) was horribly miscast. She would have been miscast even if it wasn't a cold reading - she reminded me of Victoria Jackson (from her SNL days, not the current crazy right-wing Victoria Jackson) which is totally not right for Julia, who needs to be closer to a Tina Fey.

But also, there are words and names in the play that require a higher level of cultural awareness than the average American has - for instance, it helps to know that the composer Richard Wagner's last name is pronounced "Vahg-ner" not "Wag-ner."

Had this been a reading at NYCPlaywrights, I would not have asked for feedback after the reading - having an actor in your reading who is terribly miscast skews the entire play and the audience has not received a proper rendering of the play - and in fact I tried to get out of a feedback session by saying that since there was a time crunch for the readings (the schedule was running late) it wouldn't be necessary to give me feedback.

But they insisted on it anyway and since I was trying to be agreeable (it was early in the day) I agreed. Most of the feedback was useless - most people will give you advice when they have no idea how to write a play themselves - but a few of the comments were useful - when commenters said what bugged them, personally, which is the best feedback.

For instance, the guy who played Buddy didn't like the line "Now it's your turn to open up to me" in this section of the first act:

But it’s very important. The world needs people who know how to keep company - more than it needs philosophy professors, or actors, or even maintenance men.

(He considers for a moment.)


Now it’s your turn to open up to me.


That’s fair.


I wasn’t imagining it, right? My poor damaged brain wasn’t playing tricks on me. You really were checking out my butt.


I confess. Your butt was on my radar.

I thought it was clear that by asking if Julia was checking out his butt, Buddy was deliberately subverting the portentousness of the question through the unexpectedly crass follow-up. Apparently not, at least for one person.

My reading followed a reading of a really bad play about Louise Nevelson (or maybe not about Louise Nevelson, maybe it was more a generic take on mothers and sons, the playwright didn't seem to know) that just sucked all the air out of the room. It had all the standard faults of a bad play - no coherent theme, underwritten, unnecessary characters, and lots of telling and not showing. And Louise Nevelson as portrayed was just a tiresome hard-drinking diva with nothing of interest to say about anything.

And as with all bad plays at conferences such as this, several people said how great it was. But it was so bad that the group actually managed to eke out a critique - someone mentioned the "show-not-tell" issue.

Many of the people in the audience, who were bored out of their minds (including the playwright's ten-year-old son, whom I seriously doubt would enjoy even a well-written play about Louise Nevelson) probably thought - well, if this is an example of a great play, I guess I'm just not a theatre person because I was bored out of my mind.

And thus the cult of no-standards continues to destroy the habit of theatre-going among the population.

So the bad Louise Nevelson play wore out the audience, who wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there once it was over, so there was hardly anybody there for my play. Which, given the miscasting, was probably just as well.