Friday October 16th, 2015
Still reeling a bit from last night’s opening. A long road to get here but really was a triumph on all counts. I so enjoy doing this play and adore sharing the stage with Tom and Dan and Rory and am so thrilled that audiences are liking it so much. I know I said that reviews aren’t that important but happy to report that the New York Times and Ben Brantley himself gave us a rave! And we are a critic’s pick (which I guess is a big deal..honestly I didn’t even know what that was I’m embarrassed to say). Hope that means we will have full houses for the next month.
It was great to celebrate last night after the show and meet folks on the Board of Directors at Keen as well as to meet friends and loved ones of everyone involved.
As cheesy and cliché as it always sounds we do create a sort of strange dysfunctional family when you do a show and the relationships are forged very quickly and intensely. So it is fun to meet the husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings, parents, agents…etc.. of this new strange family of ours.
So, now we enter a new phase of the show. No more rehearsals. In the biz we say the show is ‘frozen’ though not in a negative way. The goal is to keep the show alive and fresh night after night. By frozen we mean there are no more changes the director and designers can put in. It now belongs to us under the care and maintenance of our Stage Manager Kara. Often the director disappears at this point never to be seen again. Since Jonathan is the Artistic Director at Keen we will still (thankfully) be seeing lots of him and I imagine from time to time he will give us notes on our ‘improvements’. It can be a real trap for an actor (especially with comedy) to push things over the edge. It’s the feeling of “Well, if you liked THAT how about THIS?!?!?!” But what happens is you may briefly get a bigger laugh but then one day you push it just too far and the laugh is gone completely. Plus it may also just throw off the balance of the scene, the show, the storytelling. Particularly with this show...the tone and care of the storytelling is so delicate that anything that veers off of the tracks could have disastrous effects on the whole piece.
Here is my favorite story about comedy. Most actors have heard it until they are blue in the face but a. many non-actors haven’t and b. actors can NEVER hear it or be reminded of it too much.
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were at a time our country’s greatest living actors. Sadly many folks do not remember them as they made their living and their careers almost entirely on the stage. I know there is a film version of The Guardsman (one of their signature pieces) that I have seen but otherwise if you weren’t around then to see them onstage you may not know them. They do have a theatre named after them but with the way they keep renaming theatres who knows how long that will last. Anyway, they were old school actors who did a new season of shows on Broadway every season and then immediately took them out on the road and toured them throughout the country. They were buddies with some of the greats…Noel Coward, Helen Hayes…etc.. etc..
So the story goes that one night Alfred came offstage after a scene and said to Lynn
“I don’t understand Lynn. I used to get that laugh every night when I asked you for the tea and lately I just don’t get it. I don’t feel like anything’s changed or I’m doing it differently. What is wrong?”
Lynn’s response was right to the point.
“Darling, I know exactly what it is. You are asking for the LAUGH. You are not asking for the TEA!”
So for those of you who don’t understand that exactly it is really about truth. Being honest and truthful in the moment each and every time. For the first time.
Each audience (assumedly) is seeing the show for the first time. Experiencing what the characters are going through for the first time. And audiences are smart. Smarter that we often give them credit for. They can read falseness like nobody’s business. What made the audience laugh in that particular moment was the way Alfred’s character asked for the cup of tea. Not the way he hammed it up with the expectation of making them laugh. BTW I have no idea what show this particular ‘tea’ bit was from or even if it was from a show or if the story is true. But I do know that, as an actor who has done primarily comedy that asking for the laugh is a bad road to go down.
Makes me think a scene in the play with Tom when I am playing Miss Keene. We are actually having tea and I am preparing it for him and at the end I ask him if he would like sugar and most every night it gets a nice laugh. If ever there was a moment to really enforce and learn that famous lesson it is in that scene. So, when you come to Travels I hope you’ll enjoy me asking Henry if he takes sugar and NOT asking the audience to laugh at how funny I am doing it.
Ciao for now,