Tag: theatre

Othello Explains It All For You

Not a Cheeto in sight.

It’s not so much that I thought she was cheating. Even though, okay, I guess I kind of thought that. But I do realize that I didn’t know it in that way where you feel sure enough to just come out and ask someone. Even though sometimes, when it’s that moment where you’re about to ask, and you can feel them willing you not to ask, you can feel in that space between you, the silent pushing back of the question, doesn’t that usually tell you something?

But it wasn’t that so much, because that on its own we could have overcome. No, it was the knowing that even if she hadn’t actually cheated, even if she hadn’t, there was this whole universe of not going on beside me. And would be for eternity, and it drove me insane. It’s not fair. It’s like a game the whole world is playing on me and I will not have it. I just won’t. So there.

You might think that’s petulance, contrariness, but it was the rawest of pain. I felt so alone, dropped on this earth a loner instead of point man in a family, a team, a cluster. I’m jealous of sisters who cuddle on the couch, or friends who cuddle like sisters, easy with each other in the way of puppies. I’m jealous of easy loves and sloppy families ambling down the street from the 7-Eleven, sucking Big Gulps and passing a bag of Cheetos back and forth. Unhealthy yes, but together in their orange fingers and idle crunching. 

I did it because of the fingers. I did it because of the space.  

Thank you, Russ

 Most of the years I knew Russ were spent hoping he’d remember who I was. We were introduced several times, first by a friend who was in town to see Ballad Hunter and took me. Russ was in the lobby, greeting a long line of people with his raised eyebrows and deep voice. A couple years later I signed up for a class, and when I walked into the office Russ was in there alone, somehow stranded among long tables. “Downstairs,” he said. The look on his face suggested that he couldn’t believe I had just done something as idiotic as his eyebrows had just witnessed, even if it was just walking through a door. I didn’t understand then that that’s just how his eyebrows were shaped.

Over the years, I took more classes, and joined the network, and people continued to introduce us — Arlene, Trina, sometimes even me, not always sure it was necessary but seeing no sign that it wasn’t. His eyebrows would go up in surprise or dismay or maybe, in retrospect, because that’s just what they did.

Then I took a class from Russ, Marketing Your Play, and he took me to task for including both my first name and my first initials on my resume and cover letter. “You have to pick one or the other,” he said. I’d heard this before, in other classes with guru-like teachers who’d prodded us toward the just-be-yourself thing, but something about Russ’s eyebrows convinced me. I went with MT. In class next time, Russ seemed to find this no better or worse than going with Mary-Terese, though he said something about initials being a bit of trend with female playwrights.

A few more years went by of seeing Russ at readings and plays, and hearing Arlene say, “it’s great you’re directing this, Russ will notice that.” And maybe he did. He always looked at me in just the same way, like he had no idea who I was, and I’d mumble “MT,” and his eyebrows would go up like I’d said something very strange or maybe he was simply acknowledging me, it was just so hard to tell with those eyebrows.

At one table reading of a play of mine that Rich Perez had kindly organized, Russ said only, “I almost didn’t notice that nothing happened.” I’d been hoping for “brilliant, luminous,” those shiny words that writers long for. What I got was a specific opinion that was easy to dismiss. “He just didn’t see it,” I defended myself to my husband later, and included my best imitation of Russ’s eyebrows.

But as I came to see after I put the play away for a while, disappointed that it wouldn’t be winning the Tony that year, what it needed was for stuff to happen. Not because of the stuff, necessarily, but in order to explode it from tone and texture into living drama.

Then, a few years later, I got to Will Dunne’s class and sat down, and Russ popped his head in the door. “Come see me after class,” he said, furrowing his eyebrows, and I wondered what I’d done wrong. Then, in the same tone, he added, “I want to talk to you about your wonderful play.”

I sat through class in a fog. Afterward I knocked on his door. He was eating lunch, and he waved me to sit down, and set his food aside, and told me in detail what he’d found special about the new play I’d written. His eyebrows were the same but somehow they looked different. Kindly. Engaged. I couldn’t seem to hear what he was saying, and kept telling myself, “Listen, listen,” because I knew they were the words I’d wanted, but I couldn’t experience them. All I could think was, “He’s so kind. How did I not see how kind he is?”

He told me he wanted to help me in any way he could, and to call him at any time of the day or night. I quipped, “I’ll try not to call at two a.m.,” and those eyebrows went up, like either I’d made a bad joke or not a joke at all, or maybe like it was a fine joke and he was in on it too, and he said, “Absolutely any time at all.”

Today I’m sitting in a cabin in Oregon, far from Chicago and the reality of Russ’s being gone. I’m working on a new play, something I get to do more of now because Russ believed in me and made good things happen for me, and I’m remembering to let action in, because without it I know just what his eyebrows would do. And those eyebrows would be right.

The Art of Dramatic Surprise

Did I really say, "She talks to fairies"?
Did I really say, “She talks to fairies”?

I’d thought the make-it-up-as-you-go drama was on stage at the Annoyance—two powerful performers improvising together. The way they connected and counterpointed. The way they pushed some things and let others go. The way things came back. It was beautiful and surprising in a way that scripted drama never can be. Afterward, I got to talk a while with someone I haven’t seen in a while, and my soul felt better that it has in a while. Oh, and sitting at the bar with a very young friend, waiting for our drinks, after she had said “I feel so old” and I thought wow, my guilty conflicted love of the Annoyance probably dates back to before she was born—is that possible? Potty-trained, anyway.

And then afterward, in my ongoing desire to connect everybody and have them be best friends, I said the fairy thing which was momentarily embarrassing, but who listens to street chat anyway, and I got on the train, and Dave met me at the other end, with Django who was characteristically excited to see me for exactly one second.

And as we walked home, Dave told me about a far stranger drama. He was at a dress rehearsal for an opera, playing in the pit. They started at 7:30, did a straight run-through, then had a half-hour break, union rules.

At 9:50 they went back to the pit for the remaining forty minutes of rehearsal time. With gigs like this you only get three or four rehearsals, so every moment is precious. However, they weren’t allowed to pick up their instruments. Due to some other rules about dress rehearsals at that particular theatre, it wasn’t allowed. Also, most of the lights were turned off. At one point the maestro said something like, “Can I at least have one light so I can see my score?” And he talked through the trouble spots while the musicians followed along, light permitting, in their scores. “Surprisingly,” said Dave, “it was pretty productive.”

Which just goes to show, no matter where your stage in life happens to be, when something confusing happens and you just go with it, you might be surprised at how well it can work out.

One-minute rehearsal

No problem.
No problem.

Yes I felt kind of silly, going to the rehearsal of a one-minute play I’d written. But the director had invited all the playwrights in my clump. And when I showed up, an hour late thanks to getting sucked back into work after a month away, I was indeed the only playwright there. But the director and actors welcomed me, and sat me down, and although I felt a little foolish, over-eager, definitely not the oh-so-busy-professional who doesn’t have time for such trifles, I was also happy not to be. Happy to remember I don’t need to be. Fine just as I am, etc. AND, I got to watch and be part of their rehearsal process. Which means I got another free lesson in acting and directing.

When it came to my piece and I pulled out my script which I had completely rewritten on the el ride over, oh I’m cringing now remembering this, she listened or at least looked like she was listening to my longwinded explanation of the changes which were probably longer than the play itself – “If it weren’t in a clump of other plays about weather it would be fine, but since everything’s about weather maybe it’s too on the nose and could be more about the relationship? And also I could cut a few lines? Or maybe it’s fine as it is? I’m sorry, I know it’s just a minute, do you want to just not look at these?”

Oh, she did not say, Thank God only one playwright showed up. She did not huff, Why are you cutting into my precious rehearsal time with your needy crazy talk? “Of course,” she said, “Why don’t we just read both versions?”

“Oh, that would be great!” She didn’t seem fazed by the fact that this might be impossible, since I had the only copy of the new version and it was illegible. This puzzled me, because I would not have been able to proceed without first solving this logistical problem. And because the solution would be a pain in the ass — have me tell everyone the changes and mess up their copies with changes that might not get made? — I would have been annoyed, and I would have had to show everyone how much effort it took to figure this out and what a good director I was for making it work.

Instead, she had the cast read the first version, and they were hilarious. The play worked just fine as it was. The director had already given them a concept based on the original script, and they ran with it, and it was all good. No changes needed. “I just want to change these two lines,” I said.

“Love it,” she said, “Actors, we have a couple of line changes.”

And later, when the piece was on its feet, we were able to cut the last line because the actors’ performances had made it irrelevant. I love watching talented people in action. It just makes me glad to be alive.