13 February 2007
I'm Ready for My Close-Up Now, Mister Strindberg
James Lipton strikes again (see 2/12/07):
"If you haven't yet seen the Manhattan Theatre Source's production of August Strindberg's Miss Julie, go directly out and attach your nipples to a car battery until you can smell the burning of your own hair. It . . . is . . . A DELIGHT."
Sadly, as I type this entry, they are closing the last show of this production. So if you didn't see it, you have officially missed out. For those of you not familiar with the play, it's an intense, three-character exploration of power, desire and class inequality. And it is funny as hell. I had no idea it was funny as hell before I saw this production. Without compromising the stakes at all, the director and cast made for some very funny moments, and they kept me laughing right up until the title character convinced herself to commit suicide. So yeah: It's dark. But definitely funny, and I wonder if this doesn't relate to some of my theories regarding humor (see 1/24/07). I must admit my bias here, when it comes to lauding the production. I have worked with the director of it three times before, twice directed by him and once acting with him, and I have performed with the actress playing the title character. Nevertheless, I like to be honest with my critique, in particular when my friends are involved. Laura and Daryl, in addition to being an amazing couple, seem to bring out the best in each others' theatrical work.
It was quite a contrast to sit in the audience for such a tightly woven live production last night, then act in the second half of the film class at NYU today. I had to switch mental gears, and it was a bit like the first time my friend Barbara tried to teach me to drive a manual transmission. Today the work was not about well-timed, crisp dialogue, nor drastic status shifts, but ultimate naturalism and hitting the marks. Yet somehow it was my job to make as much truth of that scenario. It's no less artificial than the conventions of live theatre, I suppose. But I've had almost twenty years of experience with those conventions, and virtually none with those of film and television. At its most complex, in a physical sense, theatre can have arena or environmental staging, which requires the actors to move in circles, face each other, make sure any group of audience can at least see somebody's face. Acting for three independently mobile cameras, alternately behind me or behind the person I was facing, reminded me of trying to learn how to use an PlayStation controller for the first time.
(That's not quite clear to everyone, is it? 'K: I grew up playing DOOM on my PC, mostly, which was [still is, in fact] a "first-person shooter" game in which I used a couple of fingers to navigate forward, backward, right and left. You could jump and climb stairs too, but as far as aiming control went, you were pretty much concerned with general direction--everyone was on the same plane. When I finally got back to exploring such games, suddenly I was faced with a controller that had more in common with a starfish than a remote control, and included two thumb joysticks in addition to about 74 buttons. Suddenly, too, my first-person shooter was a multi-dimensional world in which enemies could come at one from any ol' direction, and in which I had to use them thar sticks to pick one, specific point of a complete sphere of motion at which to fire. It was then that I surrendered any aspiration I still had to become the morally justified hit man of movie fame.)
I believe that amazing ability to track multiple movement points and still deliver a line as though one's life depended on it can be developed. In the meantime, I will provide nigh-endless amusement for undergraduates learning to operate their cameras. Today I had to deliver a line of great import ("I'm just dropping off my stuff..." [but you had to be there]) whilst getting a door closed and placing a suitcase and shoulder bag on the right place on the floor, all in time to look in a prolonged, meaningful fashion at one of my fellow actors. I got the door closed, I got the bags to the right place, and I engaged in the requisite four-second eye contact with my scene partner . . . and realized I hadn't yet let go of the strap of the shoulder bag. Perhaps that doesn't seem so bad. It was. I had at least half of the crew in stitches, presumably over the awkwardness it lent the would-be meaningful moment. Funny how such simple mechanics can influence that work. And here I am worrying that I'm using my eyebrows too much.
Two appetites battle in me. Perhaps they're not mutually exclusive. I hope not. Some part of me wants to have worked very hard on that relatively unobserved Miss Julie and just know in my heart that I did good work that had something to say. Some other part of me wants to have a job in television, with a crew I joke around with and stories that turn not on a series of lines, but on a glance, or raised eyebrow. The moral of this story? If you are reading this: I WILL TAKE ANY WORK. I AM AN ACTING WHORE. USE ME; ABUSE ME; CALL ME YOUR DOG AND MAKE ME RESPOND TO "ACTION!"
I am at this moment reminded of the immortal Mitch Hedberg:
"You know, I'm sick of following my dreams, man. I'm just gonna ask them where they're going and hook up with them later."