We worked so long and hard on this production that, by the third performance, I didn't have it in me to sit and watch it's total progress night after night. Instead, I would find myself slipping out of the theatre to sit in the foyer, only to slide back in occasionally because there were certain scenes I could not not watch.
To begin with, I loved our opening.
The curtains opened in darkness. A shaft of white light cut across the stage from left to right (I am speaking of the visuals here and not the stage conventions of Stage Right or Left). That was all the audience saw for about ten seconds, an empty, partially lit stage. Then, before anyone could think that something was amiss, Keith Launey as Tom Wingfield would step into the light and start to cross the length of the stage as he made his way carefully to a little table set on the auditorium floor to the right. That cross and the way Keith made it made it clear that Tom was in a bar in some port city, that he was not yet - if he ever would become - a successful writer, and that he was in the middle of a progressive binge. When he reached the table, he set himself carefully down, taking his time to settle into his chair before looking at the audience and smiling. He reached out to a half-full bottle of rum, unscrewed the cap, and poured himself a shot. He drank it down, caught his breath, and, finally, smiling at the audience again, he said, "Yes, I have tricks in my pockets ..."
I don't know many local actors who could have managed that length of silence, but Keith has worked with me before and trusts me. Whether that is something good or a bad mistake on his part, I cannot say; but I've never knowingly made a fool of him onstage.
I also believe he's not the kind of actor who is dependent on dialogue alone. He perceives the world created by the dramatist's whole text and places himself with its confines and learns it's geography. That way, he inhabits his characters and is free to behave as they would within the terms of the story being played. In hand with that ability to occupy a role, he is able to deliver on my notions of timing and rhythm as opposed to pacing as it is commonly understood here in New Orleans.
Pacing is a major component in the local style of acting, and it is understood by its practitioners as speed and the picking up of cues. That definition should have died with old George Abbot, but then New Orleans is a city of the dead.
When I am working on a play, I hear rhythms and tempos, active silences that bridge two movements. One scene might require a mood best described as being played by dark woodwinds while another might be played by yearning strings, and still another, a pounding timpani. This requires an actor to be continually alive throughout the passage of the play, both while active and at rest.
There aren't many of those, and they're not terribly well-regarded by the privileged cliques around town, but I've been fortunate to have been able to work with some of the best of them. And some of the best of them performed in this Menagerie.
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