Monday, April 25, 2016

Finishing the Picture - wow

Not only did Heather Prete get a non-speaking role,
this is the only picture she's in, on the Goodman Theater's site.
Matthew Modine performed as Arthur Miller's self-portrait.
So I finally got my copy of Arthur Miller's FINISHING THE PICTURE and it turns out to be practically word for word right out of Miller's autobiography:
(Paula Strasberg) could hardly say what time it was without seeming to suggest it was secret information, and to engender awe in the innocent onlooker she wore several watches—a pendant hanging from her neck, a wristwatch, and another in her bag so she would know what time it was in London and Tokyo, Mexico City and Sydney, implying that she and Lee had important interests all over the world.
From the play:

(falls in a chair)
Oh thank God. I'll let Edna handle it for a minute, I'm washed out. What a night I had with her. This is Waterloo. The Battle of the Bulge. The Brothers Karamazov. 
Five o'clock?  

No-no, six-thirty.

(Focusing closer) 
Oh! I'm reading London.
(Focuses on one of the five small watches hanging on chains from her neck and with alarm.) 

Miller also caricatures Lee Strasberg and accuses him of letting Monroe down. From the autobiography:
“I’ll talk to her, yes,” (Lee Strasberg) conceded. I understood the rules he was laying down—he would do what he could but was not going to take responsibility for her under any circumstances, most especially not when she was on the ropes. And he was the only person she trusted. Such was the perfection of her fate.

From the play - Paul is Miller's avatar:

But she wants you to leave. 
In a minute. The question is, who is responsible for her. That needs to be settled.  

(to the bed)
No honey you can't go on like this, you will have no voice! Now please! 
(To Paul)
Clearly I can't take responsibility in that sense.

Not only is this Miller presenting Strasberg as refusing to take responsibility, but it also recalls Miller talking about Monroe screaming at him, which I talked about before:
She saw me and began to scream at me to get out... I thought to move the doctor away from the bed to stall off the injection, but the screaming was too terrible, and her distress in my presence canceled out any help I could hope to give, so I left and stood in the living room and waited until the doctor came out. He was up and talking. He believed he was the last doctor in the area to be called in, but he would not agree to any more shots of anything, fearing for her life now that he had seen what he had seen. I went back into the bedroom and she looked at me, ravaged but slowing down at last, merely repeating, “Get out,” as in a dream.
In "Timebends" Miller mentions re-writing the script of Misfits during the shooting of the film (and according to the Spoto biography, very frequently) but this is not mentioned at all in the play. Miller refuses to take any responsibility for his part in Monroe's stress. And of course when it came to his own son Daniel, born with Down Syndrome, again Miller refused to take responsibility. Maybe Monroe was screaming every time Miller appeared because she was aware of his true nature, and his self-serving was so appalling to her all she could do was scream in disgust at him.

Miller gives Paul some very nice speeches about "Kitty" - for example:

(deeply disturbed)
...I still can't understand this! - She's the envy of half the world! 
But what they are envying doesn't exist!... She doesn't feel loved, Phil, so the fluffy Kitty the world adores is a mockery, a phantom, a curl of smoke. And she certainly is surrounded by resentment now - I think she's not sure she really exists. So she stays in bed. This is all unconscious I think, not a strategy; but knowing that forty workers are praying in the lobby for you to appear has to mean you exist, right?...
But in spite of his character's defense of Monroe, what he does to the character of Kitty is incredible - the Goodman Theater provides this handy student study guide so I'll let the interview with Heather Prete, the actor who played Kitty, explain:
Question: How do you prepare for this non-speaking role? 
Heather: There are all these monologues that all of the characters come and say to Kitty at her bedside. And what I did when we were doing our table work, I wasn’t saying anything, but I would listen and I was trying to communicate with my face. So they would say their monologues to me and I would communicate with my face and just try to follow and be a good listener and reactor. Then I improvised lines in order to give the actors something to have in their head and then, of course, you can’t put in words that aren’t written, so then we’d go back to having it be less and less. 
Question: Have you ever played a part similar to this where you’ve felt the same challenges as an actor? 
Heather: No, it’s unusual to have a role where you don’t speak. 
Question: Do you get frustrated with that? 
Heather: No, I love it. It’s a lot of pressure off. I just get to watch these amazing actors and react. I don’t have to think about my lines; I can just be moved by watching them do their craft.
That's right. Miller created a character that represents Marilyn Monroe and it is a non-speaking role!

She doesn't speak but all the other characters monologue at her. And when she screams when she sees the Paul character she is not heard even then. She is entirely mute.

I was just talking about this recently - how Monroe's characters in her movies were objects rather than full characters - but at least she got some fucking dialog in them! Monroe was very bitter about Miller's taking away her character's speech about killing horses in "The Misfits" and instead had her throw "a screaming fit" - and here Miller does not even let her character scream out loud!

Absolutely mind-boggling.

Poor Heather Prete. She is trying to be positive when asked if she is frustrated about playing this shitty mute role. Of course she isn't going to complain - Arthur Miller was involved in the production and he is a theater god to most people. Admitting how she really felt could hurt her career.

And a lot of good it did her - she doesn't even make a living as an actor nowadays, she's doing meditation coaching stuff.

If I ever get a chance to do a decently-funded production of my play I will certainly try to get Prete for the role of Norma Jeane. She deserves it.