Friday, April 24, 2009

A Blast from Remy Bumppo's Pinter Past

Oct. 2001 Review of No Man’s Land
Review by Mary Shen Barnidge

They met in a pub earlier that evening. Spooner is a garrulous down-at-heels poet given to soliloquizing after the style of T.S.Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Hirst, to whose home they have repaired, is a laconic square who responds with polite deference to his guest’s vulgar speculations about their respective marital histories. After imbibing an extraordinary amount of undiluted liquor in dainty nibbles, Hirst literally crawls off to bed and Spooner proceeds to steal all the cigarettes from the humidor, only to be interrupted by two rough-trade houseboys who warn him to watch his step. The next morning, Hirst is revealed to be a prestigious Man of Letters whose literary status soon reduces the arrogant Spooner to an obsequious acolyte pleading for favor.

Or so one may interpret the dynamic in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. Spooner and HIrst might also be a pair of poufs dancing around the closet door. Or a couple of impotent hets crying over the women who left them. Or maybe their claim to have been school chums is genuine and this encounter a big-chill lament for their lost youth. And what’s with those domestic guard-dogs, Briggs and Foster, and the latter’s boast of hustling—girls, of course—in the fleshpots of the Far East? Pinter, renowned for his enigmatic iconography, offers us no overt signposts, instead inviting us to impose our own contexts on the action.

Neither does Remy Bumppo director James Bohnen nudge us in one direction over another, but allows us, if we wish, to ignore context altogether and just enjoy David Darlow and Joe Van Slyke in roles originally created by (and perhaps for) John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Together these seasoned players generate a tag-team sensitivity—how often do actors actually LISTEN to one another?—that transforms the long and almost exclusively two-character first act into a symphony of starts, stops, silences and significant stares.

Giving them a breather from time to time are Nick Sandys and Mark L. Montgomery as the ominous caretakers. Kudos also to Tim Morrison and Allison Boland’s excruciatingly tasteful d├ęcor whose very tidiness shimmers with suppressed menace.

Pictured above: NO MANS LAND: Nick Sandys, Joe Van Slyke, Mark Montgomery, David Darlow (2001)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nick tells us about Tech Rehearsal!

Well, we managed to tech the show pretty much like we blocked the show—IN ONE DAY! Wow, luxuries—and unheard of! But this gives us lots of time to keep tuning the show, keep shifting the balance of threat and playfulness, of mask and revelation, of history and present. It is really proving to be one of the toughest assignments I have faced, not because of the physical demand, merely the mental. The play demands absolute focus, absolute concentration, no mental relaxation for a second, because the emotional stakes are so high. The strain on listening is immense—and this means that any noise, and I mean ANY, feels like a slap in the face. And it means I am not feeling emotionally comfortable—and I have to face up to being uncomfortable for the next six weeks. This play feeds on some of our darkest emotions, but not by putting the characters through extremis. Instead, these people are just going through mid-life crises, sieved by Pinter into an existential 70 minutes of doubt.

The set looks great—very simple and elegant, and yet floating in a void—and JR’s lighting, as always, really enhances the atmospherics, playing up the ghostly woods and the distant horizon, and, as James has commented, creating little Cornell boxes, “cages of infinity” (in Michael Billington’s phrase). The last moment is excitingly theatrical and haunting—I will say no more at this juncture. You’ll have to come and see me tortured from the inside for yourselves.


Monday, April 13, 2009

The View from My Seat - OLD TIMES Stage Manager Baleigh Isaacs

1. Couches - There are 2 couches in this show, and there they are. This is a rare glimpse into what they look like before you’ll see them onstage, all cleaned up and reupholstered.

2. Water Bottle - It’s very important for everyone to stay hydrated during rehearsal. Unfortunately, this bottle is currently empty. I should probably remedy that.

3. Calendar - Some of my paperwork. It is the schedule of all rehearsals, performances, and special events. It can be tricky business trying to work out a schedule that fits everyone’s lives, particularly when folks work on multiple shows around town. Yikes! Tech week is coming up so soon!
4. Tape Measure - Not always on my table, but we had to measure the couches to get reupholstered...and so I can accurately draw them in the script. Also useful for “taping out the floor”, when we put spike tape on the floor of the rehearsal room, indicating the set.

5. Playbill draft - We all have to review the final draft of the Playbill before it gets sent in for publishing...check for typos, etc. A lot of people put a lot of work into it.

6. Multi-tool - More helpful at the theatre...but good to have in rehearsal for making templates (see 12), putting together Ikea furniture that we don’t end up using, fixing eyeglasses, etc.

7. Eraser and Eraser Dust - A good eraser is a stage manager’s best friend. If you look very closely...go ahead, press your face against the can make out the large quantities of eraser dust scattered everywhere. That’s a sure sign that we’ve had a productive day in rehearsal.

8. Chocolate - Another rehearsal necessity. In my rehearsals, I make sure to have good dark chocolate. I tend to keep it for emergency use only, but in this show, we’re also using it as a prop.

9. Cell Phone - The official timepiece of rehearsal. Also used for actors to call in when they’re running late. Also, instant treat evoker. If anyone’s phone goes off during rehearsal, they have to bring in treats for everyone in the room. It’s possible that I’ve called James’s cell during rehearsal intentionally for this purpose.

10. Laptop - The magic silver box, as James likes to call it. I use it to get instant answers to questions that come up in rehearsal (what character did Jeremy Northam play in Gosford Park?), to play sound cues, to communicate with designers and staff, to write rehearsal reports and schedules, and to keep all my beautiful paperwork beautiful. Definitely not for goofing off during rehearsal.

11. Post-it Notes - All kinds of uses for these! Lots of colors and sizes. I use them for notes throughout the script about props, running times, etc. They’re great for passing notes between me and my assistant. Especially great for reminders during the day.

12. Template - Sometimes I like to make a template that I can trace onto my blocking sheets in my prompt book (see 15). We use mini-diagrams of the stage to draw pictures of what’s going on. You can see that those 2 rectangles represent the couches at the top of the picture.

13. Scale Rule - Same purposes as the tape measure, but on a smaller...scale.

14. Prompt Key - The guide to my secret code used in the prompt book (see 15). Every stage manager uses different symbols and abbreviations when they write down blocking, so this key helps others read my method.

15. Prompt Book - Probably should have started with this thing. This is my script, where I write down where the actors move, keep calendars and contact sheets, and keep a complete record of the props, scenery, light and sound notes, and anything else related to the running of the show. When we get into tech, the script will also be filled with all the cues (lights, sound, actors). Maintaining the prompt book is one of my most important to keeping James in line.

Nick Sandys continues...

Now that we have got through the script a couple of times, have blocked it in one and a half days (unheard of for a Bohnen-meister production!), and tried to work it through, there comes the dreaded memorisation moment, and oh is this going to be fun--Not! Pinter's precision is so poetic, so rhythmic, that any word out of place, or the wrong word, just makes you hiccough in the line anyway. And what with the repetitions and the non-linear leaps, the next few days will feel like an inner circle of hell! Other than that elephant in the room, things are going well, I feel. If only I could actually have a night off to work on the lines and get some sleep, I would be smiling "fit to bust"! We are currently working on bringing the lightness to the menace, finding the places when a character feels in control enough to back off, to ease off the pointed digs and competition because he/she feels like they know something "dead." And of course, they are then undermined within a couple of pages. But this lightness seems really necessary for the play's humor to surface--and will counterpoint with the savage humor when people behave badly. And it is also time for us to dig deeper, to find the sub-basement to use James' words, so that the heavy emotions are accessible and rise up to haunt us. Always uncomfortable but exciting work.

We also are blessed by having a very smart young assistant director in the room, Sean, who not only gives James someone to tell stories to, but who also has a keen eye and has made several great suggestions already. He also gave me an essay on "sats," a Norwegian term for the potential energy that precedes kinetic action, a vital part of the threat bubbling under the surface of any Pinter play. The essay connects the writings of many theatre theorists and practitioners, who all agree on the necessity of this power to generate meaning for the audience and transmit intentions even when nothing is actually acted out--like watching a cat focus before it chases: you know what it is going to do, what it wants to chase and destroy. Now that is Pinter--none of that "weasel under the sideboard" rubbish!

Friday, April 10, 2009

If Pictures could Speak...

Hey all!

Our first preview picture of the show has come out. To think this was taken on the first day of rehearsal and already our cast is looking the part. Tension. Hidden secrets. Memories. Its all there!

Stay tuned to this spot as all three give you a taste of whats to come in OLD TIMES.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Nick Sandys on Pinter's Old Times

Saturday April 4th--first week of rehearsal!

Okay, okay, okay, here we are, deep in the Pinterlands and I had forgotten how mind-bending it can be. I feel pretty confident nowadays about delving into a script and finding through-lines and clues to the characters inner-life, and analyzing a character's specific use of language. But then here comes Mr. Pinter and makes you realise how pathetic your toolbox really is. It is like returning to Acting 101 and finding yourself without mooring, floating along in the profoundly disturbing cesspool of his characters' inner monologues--and the waters never clear. In fact, though I usually love tablework, I found that, on this one, I was massively relieved to get up on my feet--or, in this case, slump in an armchair in the corner of the stage and watch like a hawk. Suddenly, what had appeared to be an Escher-like maelstrom of dark emotions disappearing into primeval depths became more playable, more playful, and the opportunity to drive along the surface of his brilliantly bare language provided a wonderfully simple map--once you tune in. There are still multiple hidden turnings to negotiate, but it was not as frightening, or as mentally tiring, as digging into the text and debating the multivalency of his simplest images and relationships. I begin to see sunlight through the clouds--or is that the horizon through the trees--and can appreciate the amazing skill of the writing. Now I just have to brave enough to hurl myself on board this speedboat and set course for this particular Scylla and Charybdis. But hey, I get to act opposite two gorgeous women--I need to stop complaining and smell the coffee. Ahhhh, nothing like bad rehearsal coffee to get the juices flowing!