Yesterday I took the New Jersey Transit to the end of the line (this particular line endeth at Long Branch) to participate in a reading of Justin Warner's play American Whupass at the New Jersey Repertory Company theatre. It's a play I've been involved in readings of for some time now, and I was lucky enough to fall in with Justin when he was just starting to do readings of it in his apartment. I say lucky because I really enjoy the script. It's not like As Far As We Know (formerly known as The Torture Project) or Zuppa del Giorno; there's no need for me to sell my first-born to make it happen. It's got its own momentum, and it's being spearheaded by Justin. I just show up and try to do the best job acting that I can.
The which is interesting work, because every time I read the script it's a little bit different, and adjustments are required. It's a comedy, with very broad (and occasionally coarse) humor, nevertheless Justin manages to make every character a believable person to one degree or another, mostly by way of giving them real objectives to fight for and real motivations for those objectives. It seems basic, but you might be surprised how many playwrights fail to do this. (Myself included.) The character I play, for example, is a new campaign manager on an incumbent senator's campaign. He initiates morally corrupt actions on the senator's behalf, but he does it and defends it with the utmost sincerity. He really believes it's for the best, whatever has to be done to get a good man in office.
That + professional wrestling jokes = Lot's o' fun per Jeffe.
So I take this seemingly endless (hour and a half) ride out to the theatre, and when I get off the train it is so non-urban I panic immediately. Will I understand the directions to the theatre? Will streets be numbered, or just named? Fortunately, 3rd Avenue is indeed 3rd Avenue (not even "Third," but "3rd") and I make good progress. As I walk, I reflect on my experiences of New Jersey, and begin to better understand it's reputation elsewhere for being a little, er, blah. The sections of town I'm coursing through are very reminiscent of those parts of Scranton that have yet to receive the benevolent wand of gentrificated (is so a word) commerce. Only with shorter buildings. It reminds me, at times, of the environment Clerks was filmed in. Which makes enough sense, seeing as how Kevin Smith and that whole crew hail from somewhere close by.
I finally get to the theatre--a modest enough building crammed full of performance space and show photographs--and am instantly reminded of several things I really should have thought of before making the trek. Specifically:
- The Laramie Project had its New Jersey debut there.
- Friend Briana worked there for an entire summer, thereby earning her Equity card.
- The core of UnCommon Cause (the artist formerly known as Joint Stock Theatre Alliance) probably attended this theatre whilst growing up in the Garden State.
So I go into the building, and am very kindly pointed back to where the actors are convening in the main space. There are only a few there yet, and I greet the returning actors, and I deal once again with not one of them recognizing me from previous readings (a regular occurrence in any venue, I assure you). Then I greet a new guy, and he looks familiar, and I almost start the inane "You Look So Familiar To Me Have You Ever Done Shows In The Yucatan?" game. But I don't. Some brain cell in me still operates to save my foot from being consumed by my mouth, occasionally, and fortunately it kicked in just then.
Because this guy was this guy.
Yeah. Brian O'Halloran was in the reading. As well he should be, because he works with the theatre all the time, and Friend Briana actually did another reading which I believe he directed shortly after her stint at N.J. Rep. So I should have put it together faster. As it was, I spent a good deal of time stealing looks and trying not to look as though I were trying to decide if he was who he is. Friends will attest: I am terrible at recognizing celebrities off the screen. Just awful. So I doubt the heck from myself at all times on such matters. Eventually the work of rehearsal took my mind off it completely, and then we broke for a ten. I was starving, having only had a light breakfast, but there was only time to get something from the theatre's concession stand. It was day time on a Monday, so no one was working it, and I could not espy me a money box, or jar, or bear-trap (Oh, you want to be a capitalist, do you? No hand for you!). Just as I was contemplating leaving me booty atop the counter, in swept Mr. O'Halloran to save the day. He took my money and handed me my Milky Way and presumably put the money where it needed to be. I only know one further thing about the experience:
Dante Hicks sold me a candy bar.
Yes. I have been officially Clerked. It was good for me. I'd do it 36 more times, if I could. But seriously, folks, it was at that moment, that divine conjunction of circumstances, that I became certain of his identity. Here's the thing: That's how down-to-earth he was. There was, as far as I observed, no mention during the day of his cult status, and he did a bang-up job with his part. His role was to play a variety of callers-in to various radio shows, and he made them each different in funny and convincing ways. To sum up: Modest, funny, talented and generally nice (insofar as one can tell over eight hours) guy.
And I managed not to ask him which he liked better, Jedi or The Empire Strikes Back.
The reading went very well, I think. I did feel I had done a better job in rehearsal than in actual performance, but we got a lot of of positive feedback from what we were assured was a very critical group. The whole thing was done in conjunction between Justin, N.J. Rep and a company also from New Jersey called Luna Stage. Apparently there's some hope that the show will be produced by one or both some time approaching 2008 (the big election year). It's interesting to consider a possibility so far in advance. Of course, I'm certain I would have to audition for a full production, so one never knows. If it was meant to happen, it will.
"A word of advice, my friend. Sometimes you gotta let those hard-to-reach chips go."