Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A Short Walk Out A High Window

I'm sitting here in a moment of reverie. The day is officially retired. Obligations met, challenges dismissed, overlong pontifications endured. Fred Neil is singing 'The Water Is Wide'. Life is about to turn into a flood of major projects and equally, insufferably important minutiae. But right now, nestled in a comfy chair with my feet perched on its brother, I feel at peace.

Casting for my short film is now, hopefully complete. It has been an interesting search and I think I have found players capable of ripping my characters away from me and making them breath. It's exciting. I just hope I have done my homework so I can do them justice. Our first read-thru is this Saturday. Our rehearsal dates are already booked, which feels me with an indescribable sense of relief. It feels like the ship is on course and heading for its destination.

Next week I have to put on a production of the key scene from Tennessee Williams' black comedy BABY DOLL. It's a good scene. I can see why Elia Kazan chose to expand it into a feature-length movie. It's got a weird, loping gait to it that is alternatively comic, vulgar, sexy and disturbing.

The story is a doozy: Jake Meighan, a middle-aged plantation owner burns down his competitor's property and gets his business. Learning of the arson scheme, his damaged rival, Silva Vicarro, chooses to rectify his sense of injustice by taking the one thing the old man prizes more than his cotton: his very naive and very disturbed nymphet bride, the titular Baby Doll...

The scene I'm doing is the key confrontation between Baby Doll and Silva. It's a juicy piece of Southern Gothic, spiced up with Williams' ambiguous presentations of his characters' motives and impulses. I'm having a great deal of fun with my Director's Notes. It's going to be hard work but I'm getting the scene into a good piece, at least in my own mind. The first rehearsal is booked for this Thursday. I would have liked to start earlier, but casting for this has been a difficult, torturous process mired in all the cliches associated with the casting process.

I've been reading Elia Kazan's notes on A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and they have been a huge help to me, especially in terms of releasing me from my fears of attacking what I feel are the flaws of Williams' text. While interesting, Williams too often resorts to having his characters blatantly highlight the themes of the story and the motivations of each character.

Combined with my desire to present a stream-lined treatment of my chosen scene, I felt free to cut and tighten the parts of the scene which would impede both its drama and (crucially) my cast's ability to learn their roles. In my role as editor I did not re-write anything. I simply cut lines which repeated and over-emphasized important points, or detracted from the scene's overall sense of impeding doom.

The most overt example of this process was the character of Jake. In the original text, Jake appeared for roughly the first 1/5 of the scene, and contributed a lengthy monologue on the attributes of his wife's large figure. After completely embarrassing his wife and Silva, he leaves to go to work. Now, in refining this role, I considered what I felt was Jake's main contributions to this scene.

- he provides the context for the confrontation between Silva and Baby Doll (such as the fire) so the audience would understand what was going on without a lengthy spiel from me.

- his antagonistic, demeaning treatment of Silva would make his actions later in the scene more understandable, while still despicable.

- he sets up the notion of 'tit for tat' that Silva takes to a most idiosyncratic and disturbing extreme in his attempts at retribution for the destruction of his property.

Nowhere could I find a justification for Jake's love of big women. And so it fell out, and Jake's role was reduced to a highly charged page of repressed sexual and racial rage. In summary, he remained a tosser, and that was all that was needed.

How successful my task was will be proved this Thursday in rehearsal, and at next week's performance. But for now, I am appeased. The cast have read through the script and no one has asked any questions, so I'll take it as an acknowledgement that my surgery was successful.

Well, that's about it for now. It feels good to have a bit of a cyber yack to myself. I hope it was entertaining in some way. Good night.