Tim’s Blog: #11

So very nearly there.

Six more actors and then that’s it. The week begins with a bike ride to Santa Monica with my dear friend Brian Parsons and then supper with Brian and my other old, old friend David Bridel. Three Brits in LA. I don’t want to say goodbye to them, but I’m looking forward to going home.

Wednesday night is Rich Sommer. I am terrible television watcher – and I haven’t seen Mad Men. I will seek it out from now on because it has lovely people in it. Friends in the UK have been super excited that I have two actors from the series playing consecutive nights of An Oak Tree. Rich is the first. He’s lucky because he’ll be able to watch the second. He confesses to having arranged it this way. We have a great time. He is clear and honest in the play – his ego dips under and the story emerges. His openness allows the play to fill the stage. I am very happy. In the bar afterwards he describes the experience as being a little like when he lost his virginity – an understanding (and a contiguous sadness) that he will never do that again!

Thursday night is the second Mad Man – Michael Gladis. Rich had phoned Michael after the show the night before. They had established some cryptic code – neither would talk about the show, other than a simple call on who would buy whom a drink after the second performance. Rich had simply told Michael that Michael would be buying the drinks… Michael is another treat in the play. Immediately after, he confesses that he felt that he was playing ‘a little behind the curve’. It was a beautiful confession. I replied that it is not possible to be on the curve in this play. It will not let you settle in – it constantly pushes you in to the moment, a moment that cannot be approached with any leisurely consideration. The story moves fast and our job is to always be a little behind the story. Michael is like a sponge to the story. I see it visibly enter him and soak deeply in. At times he is lost, at times we both just stand there as the play is poured into us by the audience. It is a most absorbent performance! He takes his time, he finds his way. I find it very moving. Rich comes back stage immediately after. He says that he felt jealous watching his friend do the show. He wanted to have the instructions again! Michael said it felt like grief – knowing that the experience could not be repeated. We decamp to the San Francisco Saloon on Pico – Rich, Michael, Michael’s cousin, a woman who sells ladybugs – and others. We’re there till midnight, making bonds with each other. It is a fine night.

Friday night is Megan Gallagher and new things happen. Theatre operates in our conscious and unconscious minds. An Oak Tree accesses both areas – giving instructions to the conscious (or rational), whilst allowing the subconscious to submerge into the story. Some of the instructions I give are in opposition to the story. I ask Megan (and the audience) not to volunteer for the Hypnotist’s show and then, in character, the Hypnotist asks for volunteers. Usually it is the audience who are wrong-footed and get up to join me. Tonight, Megan’s subconscious overrides the rational and up she gets – despite unequivocal instructions not to. It’s lovely. The play has to stop, the fiction is ‘parked’ whilst we work out the rational framework that under-pins the production. Than back we go again into the subconscious. It happens with Megan a number of times – with stoppages each time – until she finally works it out. And then off she goes! We have a talk back after this performance in which an audience members says he was convinced the stoppages were intentional. Unless you see the show more than once, you will never know. Clancy Brown, who was the second actor in my first week in LA said that only after having been in it and seen it twice did he feel that he had finally ‘seen’ the play.

Saturday matinee is Alex Kingston – coming to the show through my co-director, Karl James, whose old friend, Winks, is married to Alex’ sister. Alex arrives late. Just over half an hour before the show is due to start. For a moment before she arrives Dan and I talk about alternatives – Tracey Burns from the Impro Theatre is coming to see the show. She could do it if Alex fails to show. Or I could just walk on stage and ask for a volunteer. I always get excited at this latter prospect, but it’s never happened. And it doesn’t happen this time. Alex arrives and she is magnificent. She is a listening creature – taking in my edited pre-show chat, sharp, alert, dazzling. Before the show she asks if she can perform in bare feet – she says she always does this in rehearsal, it keeps her grounded. I can’t refuse – and grounded she becomes. New things. So many new things. She volunteers for the Hypnotist’s show waving her arm in the air and bouncing up out of her seat. She just goes for it. In the monologue I feed to her she starts with a ring-master’s ‘ladies and gentlemen’ and then proceeds to pick up all the chairs that are on their sides. She sits on one close up to the audience and batters them gently with ‘nod your head if you understand’. I look in her eyes and it is as though time stands still. She takes her authority! She trusts her instinct. She is so free, the play just pours out of her. At the end of the show Michele comes to thank her with tears in her eyes. Friends of Alex’ have had to leave the theatre without seeing her because they are too upset. We go to the San Francisco Saloon and talk about this and that. The play has passed through her and I am floating on air.

Saturday night is Wendie Malick. She seems like a Hollywood essence – impossibly slim and glamorous, a long career with many awards and nominations, a house in the hills, a view to the ocean, horses, good causes. I feel impertinent, asking this essence to get down and dirty in the 99 seat space of the Odyssey theatre. But Wendie is up for it. She is connected – her voice strong, her presence clear. She runs with the offers, crouching in the corner of the stage, holding moments, burrowing her way into the story. Her ninety year old father is in the audience, visiting from Buffalo, New York. He thanks me for giving his eyes and ears a stretch… Wendie heads off with her family and I head off to the bar – where lovely Michael Gladis joins us. Michael’s character in Mad men smokes a pipe. I like to smoke an imaginary pipe sometimes. Last night, Michael has a present for me of a corn-cob pipe, a small amount of English mix tobacco, a box of matches and a pipe cleaner. He packs it for me – the child, mother, father method. We stand outside the bar and puff away. I do not inhale. This is my last night at the San Francisco Saloon. I will miss Kim the waitress. I will miss the Sam Adams and the whole wheat BLT.

One more show to go.

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