Tim’s Blog: In the Swing

Friday night was Lisa Wolpe. Oh my. A strong strong woman with an incredible body of work with the Women’s Shakespeare Company – Iago, Shylock, Leontes, Richard III, Hamlet, etc. A determined and self-determined artist who has probably played more Shakespearean male leading roles than any woman in history. And here she is, playing a 46 year old grieving father – hardly Shakespearean, but a lovely connection for me. In theatre we can be whatever we say we are. Lisa is phenomenal in the play. I will not forget the sight of her eyes welling and flooding. She rips it up and leads me on a journey that takes me to entirely new places. In the central speech in the play – fed to her through her headphones – she slightly mishears the first line and transposes it in to the present tense. As a result, I continue that transposition and the speech acquires an immediacy and urgency that I have never felt before. This is alive for me – re-writing as we go, a call and response between the playwright and the actor. It is thrilling. Afterwards, Lisa invites us (my producers Dan and Michelle and Michelle’s partner Dave) to a soiree at her place – actors, writers, directors, wine, beer, food. In the spirit of cross-dressing I show them a YouTube film made by my 10 year old son. It seems to befit the mood. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4dkUoMxNBI

Saturday was John Rubinstein. John is delayed by phone calls and real life! We eventually sit down together 40 minutes before the show begins. Throughout the course of the evening I watch him slowly come into the experience. It is a very moving thing to watch. What starts as a stumbling vulnerability gradually grows to a beautiful sure-footedness. He finds his stride and the story starts to ring out as clear as a bell. I have the pleasure of meeting his four children after the show. I often wonder what it must be like to see someone you love go through this play. When Geoffrey Rush performed it with me in Melbourne in 2008, his wife said that she had seen things in him on stage during An Oak Tree that she had never seen before. I am always humbled that people place themselves into the unknown with such generosity and artistry. Thank you Mr Rubinstein.

Sunday matinee was Kurtwood Smith. Later, I get an email from an American friend who is sad that I never told him Kurtwood was going to be working with me as he is a huge fan of That ‘70s Show. But I’ve never watched That ‘70s Show, and I didn’t know Kurtwood was doing my show until a few minutes before we meet. Kurtwood is bang on time and we sit and chat. He has the most marvelous steady gaze. His daughter’s husband is his manager – and also Clancy Brown’s manager. The son-in-law watched Clancy perform on Thursday and then was sworn to secrecy not to say a word to Kurtwood. Today it’s Kurtwood’s daughter’s turn to watch the play. And I hope she is proud of her dad. He is luminescent. Most wonderfully, he is not afraid to get close to me – his eyes search me out, his nearness is overwhelmingly moving. At one moment we hug. There’s no hug in script; there’s never been a hug in the production. But Kurtwood and I hug as I whisper the next instructions. I envy the audience for this one – form and content marrying seamlessly, emotion and order.

The Sunday matinee is delayed a little as we’re waiting for a member of the press. All I know is that his particular reviewer travels on a bike, and the Odyssey Theatre’s press officer, Jerry, is scanning Sepulveda Boulevard for a cyclist. Eventually one arrives – flustered and sweaty. He apologies and I reassure him that we won’t start without him. It’s a good thing that we wait for this reviewer. His name is Steven Leigh Morris. He writes for LA Weekly. And he has a good time.  http://www.laweekly.com/events/an-oak-tree-805063/

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