Mm. Hot, tasty french fries.
This quote (the real one, not the fast-food version) encapsulates nicely the craft of acting, as well as the art of living. We begin with an openness to discovery, be it in developing a story or approaching a script for the first time, and throughout the process we strive to give ourselves over to it entirely. Both aspects are challenging, at least for those of us not born with some supernatural talent for finding and believing. (Equating belief with abandoning oneself to life and/or a play is probably an entirely other 'blog entry.) There's the need we feel to be perceived as experienced and knowledgeable, which blocks most possibilities for discovery. There's just plain assumption and bias, and the little "truths" we live with from day to day as people that help us get by, but may have nothing to do with the world of the play. There's just being plain acute enough to perceive discoveries, and open enough to accept them from others. You get through all that, and then there's the part of your heart.
Damn it. This stupid play has me making inappropriate, obvious rhymes.
It's not a stupid play, however. It's a very intelligent and visceral play. Ideas and feelings clash with one another in fascinating ways, and on the whole it is posing some of the more fascinating "unanswerable" questions of human existence and behavior. Why can't we shake the yoke of needing to please our parents? Why, when we love, can it be so difficult and insane? How do we live with a love that consumes us? Why can't we all just get along? What is wrong between women and men? Why is America the way it is, violent and obsessed and often delusional? What is true? I love questions, particularly ones that we can never quite answer to our own satisfaction. They give me hope, in an unsettled sort of way. They help me believe that there are great discoveries yet to be made.
But this business of the heart . . . it's difficult. I'll be very frank (or Frankie [oh God I kill me][somebody has to]) and admit that I'm having trouble at this stage of rehearsal with giving myself to it with all my heart. Why? Well, it's probably a terribly involved question I ask on your behalf, but foregoing the venting of intense personal details (and collective sigh...and GO: "Aaahh...") let's us just trace the journey of Frankie for a moment. Who knows? Maybe we'll make a discovery or two. Come along with me!!!
He's one of Shepard's sensitive, intelligent brother characters (already I enter in judgment, eschewing discovery). The play opens with Frankie on the phone with his brother, Jake, trying to sort of talk him off a ledge, emotionally speaking, and get his brother to tell him where he is and what's happened to put him in this state. He keeps trying to calm him down. Eventually, it comes out that Jake has killed his wife. Then he hangs up, leaving Frankie to shout into a dead line after him.
The next we see Frankie, he's joined his brother in a hotel room somewhere and is trying to get to the bottom of what happened. He tries to comfort his brother, but also doesn't buy Jake's explanation of the events and criticizes his brother for always shifting blame for his own actions. At the height of this confrontation, Jake passes out suddenly. He comes to as Frankie is trying to understand what happened and help him, then explains that he feels as if he's going to die without his wife. Frankie offers to go to her family to find out if she's dead, or alive, or what, and Jake forbids it, then pleads with Frankie to stay with him, which Frankie agrees to.
Frankie's next scene occurs three days later, when his mother and sister arrive at the hotel at his behest. Jake's been deteriorating, talking to himself and shaking uncontrollably, for the entire time. Their mother comes in and tries to take over immediately, protesting that Jake is just "play-acting" over Frankie's objections. Jake wakes and imagines his sister is his wife, growing aggressive with her before passing out again. In the end, Frankie convinces his mother (it isn't hard) to take Jake whilst he goes off to find out what happened to Jake's wife, Beth. This drives their sister out of the house; she doesn't feel safe with Jake around. So it's off to Montana for Frankie.
When he reappears, it's about two days later at the home of Beth's family. We know from dialogue that he tried to convince Beth's brother to let him see her, and he refused. He doesn't appear on stage, however, until Beth's father, Baylor, comes dragging him in. Baylor's accidentally shot Frankie in the leg, having mistook him for a deer. Much follows in the rest of the scene, but for Frankie it's mostly about dealing with pain, shock, discovering Beth is indeed alive, trying to figure out what's wrong with her and beginning to perceive a resistance to his leaving, even if it's only to get him to a hospital.
It's unclear how much later we revisit Frankie on the family couch, but he and Beth are alone and she has taken off her shirt to wrap around his wound. He seems to be focused, past the shock, and claiming the bleeding has stopped. (How that's possible, what with nobody properly bandaging the wound, is a question for Mr. Shepard.) The scene that follows is an involved one, mostly between Frankie and Beth. He begins just trying to get her to put her shirt back on, and what follows is a kind of "getting to know you" scene, in which he's trying to get to understand the extent of her injuries and if his brother's story is true, and she's trying--well--to fall in love with him, basically. (This is also a scene in which something positively surreal happens; the characters have a discussion about acting, and playing a character.) Their interaction mounts until Beth is seducing Frankie by way of an assumed character, and he rejects her. By the end of their time alone, he is struggling to either make a phone call or leave of his own volition. The rest of her family...except her dad...huh...enters separately, none of them willing or able to help Frankie escape. Beth goes to bed (it's daytime), her brother goes out to hunt more deer (he's brought in one carcass already) and her mother comments on the snow and leaves Frankie alone on the couch.
- Frankie is in love with Jake.
- Frankie is actually gay, but hasn't admitted it to himself.
- Frankie always wanted Beth.
And one from the director:
- Frankie dies at the end, either after Jake leaves, or possibly before, and the scene between them and Beth is a kind of hallucination of what everyone wanted the chance to say, but never got to.
That's all well and fine. Great, even. 'Cept Shepard's plays don't exactly run on hydrogenated concepts; more on crude Texas gut emotion. When it all comes down to it, it works best when one puts all of their heart into it and takes it on faith. I suppose some understanding may help with that, but it's an issue more of identification-with than understanding-of. It doesn't matter that it doesn't make sense that Beth would love Jake intensely inspite of him almost beating her to death; what matters is that she just does, on stage and in front of us all. And whether or not Frankie would do more for himself in the course of the play, he doesn't. He's there for Jake, fighting for Jake, putting all his heart into Jake. And in the end, his heart gets broken.
Couldn't I just give you some french fries, instead?