Tim’s Blog: Rain and Shine

My third week in LA begins in Las Vegas. A five hour drive from LA in the teeming rain. En route we pass animated tumbleweed playing dare with the traffic, burnt out cars, deserted water parks, ghost towns, snow flurries, Mad Greeks. Vegas is just more of the same, only more expensive. Our first experience of the city is an In and Out Burger, and it all goes downhill from there. Because Joe is ten, we can’t loiter near the gambling. So we walk and walk and we watch and we watch. The fountains at the Bellagio, the Volcano at The Mirage, the Grand Canal at the Venetian, Cirque du Soleil at the Aria. Money falls away from us like ballast from a balloon, but I don’t feel any lighter. On the morning of our return we wonder what else we would have done if we’d had another day – and the answer was ‘nothing’. Two days was enough.

This is the last week with my wife, Julia, and our youngest son, Joe. The week is full of the tension of their impending departure. It also chooses to rain and rain and rain. All this, coupled with the cranking up of work from the UK that can’t be deferred. My evenings at the Odyssey develop a lovely rhythm – setting up, pinning the Polaroid of the previous night’s actor onto the cork board in the lobby, ironing my shirt, a peppermint tea, a chat with my wonderful producers, the meeting with my actor, the play, the debrief, a glass of Sam Adams and a BLT at the San Francisco Saloon on Pico Boulevard, the drive back to my apartment and a sleeping wife and child.

Wednesday night, Peter Van Norden. Such an experienced actor. The kind this play was written for – an opportunity to release and trust and work moment by moment. Peter accomplishes it all with wit and consummate skill. He presents living action and reaction – taking each moment of the play at it is fed to him and trusting his response. I feel balanced and relaxed with him. He seems to have a good time. I have a good time! We talk theatre in the bar afterwards. At moments like these I feel immensely privileged and hugely protective of stage actors. They put themselves out there, they embody the transformations. It shocks me sometimes that theatre actors are treated so badly – particularly, it would seem, in LA. They are often the last to know and the least to be considered. An Oak Tree feels like a love song to stage actors this night.

Thursday, Stu Levin. All the romantic thoughts on theatre triggered by Peter Van Norden are intensified with Stu. He is immaculate, soaked in the history and tradition of theatre. He’s worked with some of the world’s greatest. He knows his craft and loves his craft. At times, I feel almost embarrassed about the more reflexive and self-knowing moments of my play – they feel almost unnecessary with Stu. I feel a little like a young whipper-snapper, teaching a master something they already know. The play moves quickly, sometimes too quickly, but Stu is with it and on it. I feel that there is something precious in the middle of this performance and that it needs looking after. Thank you Stu.

Friday, Jason Alexander. Here’s the man my co-director Karl James has been most excited about. Karl is a huge Seinfeld man and he wishes he could be there. I, however, don’t watch much TV. And anyway, I find it impossible to make the bridge between a face I see on a screen and a person I meet in the flesh. Jason and I sit and chat, as I have done with over 260 actors before him. He is just lovely – down to earth, engaged, interested, a contributor. He’s thought a lot about acting and he clearly understands that there is nothing to lose, that the more you put in, the more you get out. In one sequence of the play he approaches a young woman on the front row and invites her on stage. It’s a joy. Jason has a twinkle in his eye yet still manages to mine the play for its emotion. In the theatre lobby afterwards I meet his wife and two sons. The eldest son hugs his dad. In the bar later Jason performs close-up magic tricks and we talk about families and work and acting and Vegas. He poses for photos with strangers. He even poses for a second Polaroid for me, on which he inscribes the words, “Karl – it’s very well directed.”

Saturday is Peter Macon. Peter is an embodiment of the kind of actor I am a little in awe of! He is living it! He arrives in biker boots and leather pants. His bike is in store in San Francisco and he’s on route to a season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Much of his belongings are in his car. He currently has no permanent home but moves with the work. He is, to quote Lear, ‘unaccommodated man’, and feels all the more authentic for it. He’s played many of the Shakespearean greats – Macbeth, Othello, Oberon, Caliban. He seems to be made for the stage – his presence is huge, his voice comes from the earth, his eyes are those of a poet’s. He’s thoughtful and considerate and connected in the play. I feel like a lightweight beside him. At one point, he shouts and I shout back! He takes an instruction at the end of the play and delivers something that no one has ever done before – moving us both into a new configuration. I am thrilled when this happens – genuinely responding, throwing away the rules, finding new patterns.

Sunday, Stacie Chaiken. Stacie is luminescent! She’s responded to the horrors of castings and auditions by taking her destiny into her own hands and making her own work. We have a lot in common in this respect. She has thought and thought – working here and in Israel, teaching, performing, writing. And yet, when she walks on stage as an actor in An Oak Tree, she is in her element. Her husband, Marty, says afterwards that watching her in the play was like watching a cat with catnip. She devours it! I make the same offers to every actor in the play and every actor responds differently to those offers. Stacie eats my offers for breakfast! At one point I find myself trying to dislodge her from between the back wall of the theatre and the speaker stand. She convulses and collapses. At one point I wonder if we should stop the show for a few minutes just to check if she’s okay! But, of course, she is fine! Her commitment throws the graphic equalization of the characters into a new relief. The Hypnotist becomes a monster in front of this ball of emotion. There is no civility left. It’s almost gladiatorial. Extraordinary. Afterwards, in the dressing room, we hug. It feels like we’ve both been somewhere special. We repair to the San Francisco Saloon for a much deserved beer – and we chew the cud of what happened. Questions, inquiries, sharing. With us are her husband and friends, and also the playwright Phyllis Nagy, whom I have admired for many years and who now, through facebook, I am finally meeting! Good old facebook. Good old LA! The sun is now shining.

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