Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 18, 2010

Anne Keefe
Playhouse Artistic Advisor

I’m at my desk in my little office, still reeling from the fun of last night.  The audience for the Script in Hand Playreading Series is truly inspiring.  I love the fact that there is a wonderful group of people coming together on a crisp fall night to sit in the dark and use their imaginations!  No sets, no costumes, just a really good script, some excellent actors and there it is in our minds – a fully realized production!

We were incredibly lucky this time. This has been a favorite play of mine since I did a production of it at Long Wharf Theatre many years ago.  I have always known that doing it as a reading meant securing a first class cast. I ran into long time friend Ed Herrmann at the Playhouse Gala in September.  I knew he would be perfect for the role of Hugo Latimer, but not that he would be right down the road at Yale doing A Delicate Balance, right up to the 14th of November.  I asked him on the porch that night if he would be willing to come and do the reading and was bowled over when he said yes immediately.  I already had Mia Dillon in my mind for Hilde because I had seen her do a production of the one act version of the play at The Berkshire Theatre Festival a couple of years ago, and was stunned at her insight into the part.  Kathleen Chalfant, with whom I had done Wit at Long Wharf years ago was playing Ed’s wife in the Albee play at Yale, so it was sort of a no brainer to ask her to do Carlotta.  It only remained to come up with a handsome young man to play Felix, and it took only seconds to think of Kieran Campion, who I met when he did our amazing Playhouse production of Journey’s End.  He was also the perfect Young David in David Copperfield in 2005.
We met as a group for the first time the day of the reading and rehearsed for about 5 hours.  This is the time Actors’ Equity Association allows us for the readings.  It certainly presumes the actors would have at least looked at the script before arriving, and of course this group of consummate professionals had done just that.  Both Ed and Kathleen had closed a very taxing show the day before, and looked weary as they rolled into Westport, but rallied as we started working on the piece.  Because the cast was smaller by a lot than the previous readings in the series, and not a bust out comedy, we all realized that we needed to energize the piece with slightly more movement than usual in order not to feel static. And we actually decided to use a prop (the letters in the final moment) because I knew Ed would be able to act that pivotal moment better than having the stage direction read.  We read through the play once and ‘blocked’ it (figured out what the movement would be); we talked about certain moments and how to make them work for an audience that wouldn’t necessarily know the play.  Then we read the first act again, just to iron out a few things and figure out how long it ran so we could tell the front of house staff so they would be ready for us at intermission.  And that was that! We ate a quick dinner in the Greenroom, the actors changed into clothes they had brought from home that they thought would be ‘character appropriate’ (I love that Kieran wore a red shirt, reminiscent of a waiter’s jacket.  And it made him noticeable as the subtly pivotal character he played), and it was time to hit the stage and read the play.
I sit and watch it a little differently from most of the audience.  I have in my mind what I want to see and hope that with so little time, the actors will have been able to have assimilated all the notes we discussed – especially with the pressure of performing it in front of a large audience!  They were just super – in spite of a malfunctioning music stand that caused Mia to have to carry her script and which forced Kathleen to act with one hand while she held the stand in place with another during the entire first act.  And of course…with the distraction of the #$%$*&@ CELL PHONES!
These readings are so ‘friend dependant’ – they are peopled with actors I can call directly and not have to go through agents (a process that is time consuming), and their willingness to come to our wonderful Playhouse is so heart-warming.  I am truly blessed to have 40 years worth of terrifically talented actor friends!
In fact – Bill Irwin is coming to the Playhouse as a result of a request I had made to him to do an earlier reading.  He wasn’t available, but wanted desperately to do something for the theatre because of his complete and total respect for our Artistic Director Emeritus, Joanne Woodward.  Let’s make that the topic of our next blog!
Remember -  there will be so many fun things coming to the Playhouse during the holiday season including the next Script in Hand Playreading on December 13th of a never before seen holiday play with music called The Greatest Gift, written by former Playhouse playwright in residence, David Wiltse with music by Denis King, sung and performed by Playhouse regulars (Jeremy Peter Johnson from She Loves Me, and Luke Sauer from A Christmas Carol), new to the Playhouse Broadway performers (Howard McGillin from The Phantom of the Opera, and Stacie Morgain Lewis from Wicked), and Westport local, the adorable 9 year old Orly Salik.  Bring the family and share the fun!

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