22 October 2007
As They Say In This Biz, That's All There Is...
So Prohibitive Standards has had its last call. Yesterday we ran the scenario for the last time, and received our last applause. I have, of course, work coming up to comfort myself with. This weekend is the The Office convention at which a large group of TNT actors (including this guy) are performing, and then there's the chance of participating in First Look again, the acting company of NYU's graduate playwriting class. That latter comfort is doubly so, as the playwright providing the material in this case is an old friend and comrade of the boards, Avi Glickstein. Thereafter, no work is waiting, and my intention (the which we hope will finally be fulfilled in part owing to publicly confessing it here) is to enroll in an audition class to brush up the old chrome. All good things. Still, one goes through a feeling of some grief whenever a show comes to a close, especially when it's one you've made yourself.
Some retrospective analysis is owed, too. I realized, just before we opened, that I was playing three-and-a-half characters (I'll explain in a minute) and that each of them had something to tell me about where I stood with myself right about now. When a "creactor" works on a show with his or her fellow "creactors" and "crewriters" and "credirectors" (Nat: my readership may never forgive you that term) some of that creactor's personality and personal life inevitably end up in the show. Get closer to the particular contribution of the given contributor, and you get closer to his or her story. In the case of the creactor, this is his or her character creations. So: My characters . . .
My primary character (that is to say, the one with the most involvement with the story) was Joe "The Barber" Barbara. This was an actual gangster of the time, about whom you can read more at the Prohibitive Standards research 'blog. I made great efforts to steadfastly ignore and refute any historical accuracy in my portrayal of the goon. I think it's probably very unlikely that he was even in Scranton in December of 1933. So my Joe ended up being a rum-runner on the run with his girlfriend (Heather Stuart reprising her most popular role of Miss Dimple) making a last shipment to the Jermyn on their way to settle down in Kansas. He was a control freak, accustomed to using the threat of violence to turn negotiation to his advantage. He also suffered from a strange phobia, whereby he passed out whenever anyone touched him. His arc was to bluster about trying to beat everyone at everything, gradually realizing throughout that control isn't terribly satisfying, and that to be truly safe he has to allow himself to be a little vulnerable.
My secondary character was Buddy "Bud" McPherson, a Scranton cop who had a working relationship with the owner of the Jermyn's supper club. Bud was an orphan with strict morals who grew up under the tutelage of the church and savored stage performance all his life, from vaudeville to musical theatre. He also was a teetotaler, and prided himself on his ability to stay on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, he was also a total coward. Bud feared just about anything that moved, and only succeeded as a cop in how amenable he was to compromise (a suitable tactic in the permissive nature of Prohibition-Era Scranton). His arc was thinly penciled into this show, as he was more of a device than a fully formed character. Most of his transformational experiences took place offstage, in the form of finally resorting to drink to try and overcome his cowardice. Every time he entered, he was a little more intoxicated, until finally he makes his last entrance to confess his failing. In so doing, he comes to realize that nothing was quite as bad or threatening to his person as he had made it out to be in his imagination.
Finally, my tertiary (and a half) character was an anonymous hobo. Anonymous, that is, until the end, wherein it is revealed that he is in fact John J. John, long-lost husband of Rosie O'Grady, the supper club's owner. That revelation ends a series of revelations in which it is revealed that Joe and Bud are also their long-lost sons. (The men of the family all fell overboard off the Titanic, feared to be lost for all time.) But before all that, the hobo is just a hunched, obscured, mumbling and shuffle-footed vagrant who wanders in off the street. No one can understand a word he says, but he's on a mission to find John J. John (having no idea that he is him) in the hopes that he can return the man's bond certificates to him and acquire from him some information as to his own identity. For twenty-one years, J.J.J. has had amnesia and scoured England and the east coast of America for hints as to his true identity, but he makes no real headway until he drinks the scant remains of Rosie's bathtub gin (brewed from a batch of perfume called "Total Recall") the which instantly returns his memory of himself as a sophisticated, articulate and successful businessman.
Above all, the hobo was my favorite role to play. There's something about a (virtually) silent character that I find very appealing. I think, to me, it's a bit like classical music, the way it invites the audience to have their own experience, rather than spend effort trying to interpret a lot of verbal specifics. Plus, it's just beautiful. People gathered in a room, in silence. It was a welcome contrast to much of the rest of the show. My second favorite character, Joe, also ended up in an unspoken scene with a character we included who represents a young (and uncharacteristically slender) Orson Welles. The thing that was great about Joe was that he was literally all talk. Threaten as much as he liked, he could never actually touch anyone; until, that is, he let go of the need to get his own way. Bad was fun at times, those times mostly having to do with when I was working against his cowardice. J.J.J.-realized had a mere cameo, but he did allow me to say, in my own take on David Niven, "Where the devil am I?!"
What does it all mean? Well, I think I'll leave it largely up to interpretation. Them what know me probably read along and thought, "Yeah, that sounds a lot like Jeff." I find it interesting that I ended up creating and playing characters who all--one way or another--didn't know who they were. I also find it interesting that I played twin brothers, one sensitive and cowardly and the other a menacing blowhard, and never the twain shall meet. Beyond that, I think my creations and interpretations were largely very similar to my efforts in recent years to move past the doe-eyed, milquetoast type in comedies. Last Zuppa show it was a lazy drunkard git cum tarnished opera diva, and now Heather and I are aiming to make a show based on the Punch & Judy tradition. I may never leave behind the Harold Lloyd/Pedrolino type. I guess I wouldn't want to, not wholly. It's just good to try to explore all the angles of one's self, especially in a medium so conducive to that exploration.
Prohibition is over, the noble experiment concluded. Who needs a drink?