Monday, March 06, 2006

The public reading

Saturday was a marvelous day for the drive to Chester, New York which surprisingly only took a little over two-and-a-half hours. (On the subject of traveling, it used to crack me up when I used to work in Manhattan and commute to work because my colleagues couldn't believe I rode the bus into the city daily from Pennsylvania. It was as if I told them I commuted daily from Arkansas or Texas. It was then I discovered some Manhattanites cannot get their minds around the fact that parts of Pennsylvania are only about an hour-and-twenty minutes from NYC. Of course, it must also be added that Manhattanites are loathe to travel to the other NYC boroughs for dinner engagements on the grounds it's too far. For some, the very thought of traveling to the depths of Brooklyn or Queens can induce insecurity if not actual trauma--and an invite to Staten Island is not even to be seriously considered.)

After dinner, Phil and I headed to the theater where we set up a camera to tape the reading. Set within the grounds of the community college, the Orange Hall theater is a squat sixties building with seating for about two hundred people and serves the surrounding area. The actors (all experienced in local amateur theater) began to arrive in dribs and drabs, and at six-fifteen, Phil, switching gears from playwright to director, started to go through the roles with them and let them know which parts he'd narrate so that any members of the public in attendance would understand the context and could follow what was going on because it wasn't being acted with props, etc. I already knew Phil has a lot of directing experience in regional theater, yet it was fascinating to see him in action and the actors (who'd already had the script for a few weeks) discuss lines and cues, etc.

Halfway into the first Act, I thought the play might be too long and would need cutting. By Act III, I knew it, and my mind was already pruning vigorously as I listened. It's quite an odd process, but a reading by actors really helps clarify in a way that reading a piece quietly at home simply can't. One can spot where bits of duplication exist, which lines are cumbersome to deliver, which sections can be let go without adversely affecting the play's overall message and mood. Most astonishing of all for me was the discovery that some lines I thought would get laughs did not--I think they were too steeped in Irish culture for an American audience and didn't translate--and lines I thought would not, did. For example, there's a scene where Eileen realizes it's time to tell Gabriel the facts of life and does so, and her responses to some of his questions brought the house down.

After the reading, there was some time left to discuss the play and a few members of the audience provided superb insight, pointing out areas where Gabriel lost their sympathy, or where he was telling his emotions rather than showing and thus not engaging them fully. And I fielded questions from some members of the cast who were of an American-Irish background or who had a Catholic upbringing, etc. The actors were terrific and Phil and I are most grateful to them for taking the time to do the performance--and their enthusiasm for the play was genuine and most encouraging.

All in all, it was a tremendous experience and I left the theater that night thinking, "Wow, I really have written a play."

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