Tim’s Blog: #10 (Penultimate Blog)

This is a long one.  Make yourselves a cup of coffee.

Courtesy of Jason Alexander, who performed magic both during and after his performance in An Oak Tree, we get a guest invitation to the Magic Castle. http://www.magiccastle.com/ For Jason, the Magic Castle has been a dream place since he was a teenager and it’s not hard to see why.  A creaking Gothic interior that looks like it hasn’t changed for fifty years – walls crammed with old posters, caricatures of magicians, portraits whose eyes follow you as you walk past.  Like a Hogwarts sitting on Franklin Avenue in modern day LA – an anachronism.  We meet up at 6.30pm – me and Producer Dan, the mighty Dave Bushnell, my friend Quincy, Jesse who did the show with me in January, my stage manager Rachel and my friend Brian’s girlfriend, Dana.  Dan brings me a tie to wear.  You’re not allowed in without a jacket and tie.  We all look so smart.  We dine like grown-ups and spend the evening in various states of disbelief in what we see – from cheesy illusionists to a magic piano who plays anything you ask it to – even a rendition of Radiohead’s Karma Police. The highlight is sitting at a low table with a regular member of the Magic Castle, Howard, who slowly and effortlessly blows our minds with impossible close-up card tricks. We leave at midnight, reeling into the night air.  Thanks, Jason.

Also this week a visit to The Museum of Jurassic Technology http://www.mjt.org/
What amazes me is how few of my LA friends have ever been there. I go at the insistence of the mighty Dave Bushnell, producer Michele’s partner.  I go with Dave and with two previous second actors from the play, Stacie Chaiken and the previous night’s Kathleen Early.  The museum has a unprepossessing front – like a terrace house on a bustling Venice Boulevard.  Made all the more unprepossessing by the teeming rain. Entry is $5 and $5 takes you into a surrealist’s dream world you will never forget.  I could spend the whole blog describing it.  The whole place is an art work, although every exhibit is genuine.  It takes you into a world of counter-knowledge and understanding, but does so with an aesthetic rigour and beauty that is hard to describe. Here are some of the names of the collections:
Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge and Hypersymbolic Cognition
Lives of Perfect Creatures: Dogs of the Soviet Space Program
Rotten Luck: The Decaying Dice of Ricky Jay
Athanasius Kircher:  The World is Bound With Secret Knots
If you live in LA and haven’t been to this place yet, SHAME ON YOU.  Thanks Dave Bushnell.

Before Christmas I get an email enquiry from my producers – how would I feel about a transgender actress performing in An Oak Tree with me. Sure, I say.  This play is about people.  As long as the second actor is a person – and an actor – then I don’t need to know anything else about them.  The play feels cleanest when I don’t know who’s doing the show with me until ten minutes before I meet them.  This Wednesday, then, enter Alexandra Billings! http://www.alexandrabillings.com/
Alex is a phenomenon.  I don’t know the history of her gender and I don’t need to know.  Here is a beautiful woman – a shock of strong hair, flashing smile, clear eyes.  A force of nature and will.  She is like a giddy girl – over-excited at the prospect of doing the play with me.  We talk beforehand and her face lights up.  This, she says, is what she’s been dreaming of.  She is a Viewpoints Associate at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago and teaches Viewpoints in LA.  (I have never heard of Viewpoints before – and my stage manager has lent me a book by Ann Bogart and Tina Landau which I am working through.) In An Oak Tree, Alex is a man again, a grieving father with a bloodshot eye.  She passes through the play in flashes – releasing and holding, releasing and holding.  A powerful energy able to be many things, bringing with her her own story of transformation that locks into the heart of the play.  When we exit the stage she bounces round the green room like Tigger.  We both bounce.

If this performance were an exhibit in the Museum of Jurassic technology, perhaps it would be titled:  Anthropolymorphic Alex: Resisting logio-deduction in Gender Ascriptions.

Thursday is the ineffable Kathleen Early from Dallas Fort Worth. Kathleen was slated to do An Oak Tree in New York back in 2006/07, but she got bumped.  She’s been waiting for three years!  So here she is at last, and she was worth the wait.  Slight, beautiful, with a steady gaze and a strong actor’s instinct.  This is not a showy performance.  She is held, internal, sensitive to text and moment.  At one point a tear falls onto the black Odyssey Stage and takes the rest of the play to evaporate.  In my mind this wet mark becomes like a tumulus, a sacred site; I move around it, it becomes a marker for the play.  In the San Francisco Saloon I meet Kathleen’s agent, Hannah. Hannah has been responsible for bringing a number of actors into the play.  There’s a lovely sense of closure to this evening.  Kathleen can now read the script!

In the Museum of Jurassic Technology this performance could have been titled: Sacred Scenographic Sites: The Topography of Tears.

(After Kathleen’s show there’s a note left for me.  An actor called Jay O Sanders (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0761587/) has come to the see the Noel Coward play in the other theatre at the Odyssey.  He’s visiting from New York – to promote the Mel Gibson movie Edge of Darkness. Jay did An Oak Tree in 2006 and he was magnificent.  His wife, Maryann Plunkett, also did the show and had an equally good time. They are a wonderful couple and they looked after me a bit in New York.  Jay knows the director of the Noel Coward at the Odyssey but he had no idea that An Oak Tree was playing there as well.  He leaves me a note with his cell phone number.  I leave him a voicemail and he arrives at the San Francisco Saloon once the Noel Coward is down.  It is a joy to see him again.  I feel a little guilty towards Kathleen as Jay dives in to the evening with an unstoppable force!  He and I talk at length about Macbeth – a role we have both played, a play that we both love.  Jay has a production in his head that sounds definitive – I hope he gets to direct it one day. Jay and I renew our affection for each other and vow to keep in touch.)

Friday night is Carolyn Seymour.  Carolyn left the UK for LA thirty years ago.  It’s so lovely to hear an English accent again and delightful to hear the way it’s been modified by those 30 years.  This woman has lived!  Her IMDB entry has 100 credits stretching back to 1970. I’d rather just sit and chat with her, but we have a play to do.  She is effortless in performance – strong, fearless, fine-tuned.  At times, she finds a new voice for the character she’s been given – a rooted English voice in balance with mine – and at times she just plays it straight.  It’s lovely to see her navigate the stage.  She’s a natural.  Work is sometimes hard to come by for a woman of a certain age – and Carolyn should be working all the time.  Her ex-husband and good friend, the film director Peter Medak, is in the audience, as are her two children.  I think they have a good time.

Saturday matinee is Floyd van Buskirk.  Floyd is a member of the Shakespeare Unscripted group I am so in awe of.  In the audience is the cream of LA improvisers, including Dan O’Connor who did An Oak Tree on January 14th and Mike McShane, who I know from the UK’s Who’s Line is it Anyway?  Floyd is perfect – he has that improviser’s inner presence.  His mind is trained to be absolutely here and now – whilst at the same time processing beyond the moment.  He is dignified and light and felt in performance.  The play sings.  Afterwards, we decamp to Louise’s Italian restaurant on Pico Boulevard. My producer, Michele, is overjoyed.  She is a stalwart of Impro Theater.  Her ‘family’ were in this afternoon, and her family loved it.

Saturday night is Kyle Secor.  Kyle arrives early with his wife.  He is relaxed and charming and tall!  6’ 4”.  In the play I take his character’s height down to 5’ 9” – to remove any literal element to his performance…  It is as though the play has been written for Kyle.  He has the most open presence, like a Swami.  But a Swami with all the technical understanding of a hugely experienced actor!  I feel like this tall, open man is looking after me! His instinct places him into the centre of the story, his eyes reddening, his voice struggling.  After the show he and his wife set off to relieve their baby-sitter and me and my producers Dan and Michele, sit in the San Francisco bar and toast to a very good day in the life of the show.

Sunday matinee is Alan Cumming.  At the time he’s due at the theatre, we get a phone call saying he’s at La Cienaga Boulevard and 19th – 20 minutes away.  He scrolled down on his Blackberry and missed a key turning on his instructions…  He arrives like a breath of fresh air.  Loose, relaxed, engaged and with painted black fingernails from the film he is currently shooting.  He and I have known each other since I took my first play, My Arm, to New York in 2003.  He saw my play ENGLAND at the Edinburgh Festival in 2007.  What I’d like to do is just sit and catch-up, but there is some work to do.  We go through into the theatre and I talk about the play – about a request for openness, an invitation to join with me in the telling of a story.  Alan gets it immediately and continues to get it throughout. It’s lovely to hear his Scottish voice engage with the language of the play.  It becomes a poetry.  He does something that no other actor has ever done in the show – when I go to get him a drink of water and leave him alone, he re-engages with the tree at the centre of the story.  When I come back onto the stage I feel like I’ve interrupted a very private and important moment.  He has taken the offer of the play and made it his own.  Afterwards, the lobby is crowded.  We head for the San Francisco Saloon and, amid the chaos that is Super Bowl, we unpick the experience and catch up on each other’s lives.  And that’s it. The end of week five.  One week left.  Book your tickets.


One Response to “Tim’s Blog: #10 (Penultimate Blog)”

  1. Karl James on February 8th, 2010 3:23 pm

    Tim – thank you for this. Beautifully recounted and beautifully written. No surprises there – but I am left surprised by how much I wish I was there. A wonderful read. Thank you.

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