Unmasking The Malcontent: v. XI

“At your service, by the Lord, la. Shall’s go to supper? Let’s be once drunk together, and so unite a most virtuously strengthened friendship.”
–Malevole, THE MALCONTENT, Act II Scene 5

JD Cullum and Possum Friend. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

I hinted before at the four-day lag between Sunday afternoon and Thursday night’s performance being dreadful and terrible to overcome. It’s not for fear of growing rusty in my lines and blocking that those four days move so slowly; it’s only (and this is just between you and me, understand) that I miss everyone. Luckily, we soften the pangs of the four-day distance through long and serpentine email chains which spring I know not from where. This last one started innocently enough with an email from our Stage Manager about our call times for the week; 75 messages later, we had concluded (amongst many other not-blog-appropriate things) that “‘Is’t pity” is a dangerous array of syllables to re-arrange, that Adrian LaTourelle prizes the safety of his children over punctuality (hack), and that JD Cullum is retiring from the stage to pursue a full-time career writing witty one-line emails (it’s an art).

The Cast. Working Hard. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

Casts are an odd social construct that can most closely be compared in dynamic to a family unit. By nature of the double casting, ours is an extended family holding weekly reunions at which you never know exactly whom you’ll see; it even comes complete with your Crazy Aunts, your Drunk Uncles, your Favorite Cousin, and your Cousin You Think Might Be the Unibomber (I’m not going to attach names to these: they know who they are). With that also comes all of your usual family tensions, of course, but we keep remarkably well-composed for such a large group of talented people confined to so small a space. I think this is due entirely to Cast Love.

Adrian LaTourelle and Ramon deOcampo in disguise. Photo: Abby Wilde

Cast Love is a certain blend of powerful, binding affection that weaves its way into all the best of performances. It is built on an intricate foundation of many-layered inside jokes within the script, miniature romances that start onstage and end just a few feet off, vestigial remains of past-cast alliances reignited in rehearsal, and a few private friendships which only serve the purpose of safely gossipping about everybody else. Cast Love is what breeds dressing room drama, intermission philosophy, back-seat directing, and Showmance. Cast Love is what keeps everyone at the theater hours after the curtain comes down getting steadily more inebriated and shouting White Snake medleys at the top of our lungs, accompanied by the only three of us who know what they’re doing with a piano. Cast Love is what makes everyone else in an actor’s non-show life seem further away by comparison, and the days away from the theater so long, lonely, and languishing.

Sadly, Cast Love almost entirely evaporates within three days of the final curtain call.

Adam Meyer and Bo Foxworth. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

It’s not to say friendships made during a show will no longer exist after, or that none of went on during the show counts for anything in the Real World. But take the show away, and what will we gossip about? What reason will we have to spend hours in each others’ company every weekend? What innocent excuse will we have to regularly see each other almost completely undressed? It’s a sad truth of the profession that many of us will run in to each other some weeks after the show is closed and have only three things to say: “How have you been,” “That was a great show, wasn’t it,” and “See you soon.” Cast Love is temporary.

But until that final curtain, it is strong, beautiful, makes wonderful memories, and most importantly, lays the groundwork for casts to come. I am sad that this show will soon be over; but I simply can not wait for the next one.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, continues to share her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the eleventh installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org

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Unmasking The Malcontent: v. X

“But for our souls, they are as free as emperors; there goes but a pair of shears betwixt an emperor and the son of a bagpiper; only the dyeing, dressing, pressing, glossing makes the difference. ” — Malevole, THE MALCONTENT, Act IV, Scene 5

Lynn Milgrim and Marisol Ramirez. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

At the pick-up rehearsal before the first Becco performance last week, Ann Noble (who plays Maria in the Cuckolds cast) told me she was irrationally nervous all morning: “But then I got here, and realized ‘Oh! It’s all my friends from tech. Cool.'” It’s true; we’re not all that intimidating once you get to know us.

It’s also true that, in spite of completing the entire rehearsal process as one unit, the two casts of THE MALCONTENT have been as two ships passing in the night ever since tech week; even watching the other cast at previews every night, the fourth wall stood firm between us (though, if you’ve seen the show, you know I use the term ‘fourth wall’ broadly.) It’s hard not to get competitive about it, either; we’ve already discovered that one cast is already faster, one cast has a darker interpretation of the play, and that it’s very difficult not to feel a twinge of betrayal when you learn a friend has chosen to attend the other cast’s performance and not yet yours. In spite of the competition, though, there’s simply no way not to miss your friends from tech; artfully assorted though the two casts are, we’ve all had to give up certain character relationships and bits of schtick in the separation. Thank god for Becco casting.

Ann Noble and Adrian LaTourelle. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

Every Thursday and Friday, the Becco cast for that evening is called for a pick-up rehearsal; this has always been the practice in all Antaeus productions to compensate for the week-long hiatus, but it’s even more pressing for us in that we need the extra time to negotiate the Wittol-Cuckold disparities. We speed through our blocking and dialogue, interrupting ourselves occasionally to confer (“Oh, you go there now…” “Yes, but I can stay over here.” “No, actually, I love that. Keep it. Where were we?”), and in such a start-and-top fashion cobble together the choicest bits from either group. For the most part, the blocking isn’t what’s terribly different, but the timing and intention. As, for example, Saundra McClain and Lynn Milgrim both play the role of Maquerelle, and though for the most part their traffic pattern remains the same, they’re so different as actors, that their rhythms and speech patterns give completely different flavors to their performances. Saundra and I are both Wittols, and as such I am most accustomed to her delivery; hearing the way Lynn says the same speech is like hearing a new scene altogether.

The wonderful thing about Beccos performances is that they perpetuate the atrocious acts of theater theft we thought we’d left behind in rehearsal; the stuff we bring back from the Beccos to our own casts (coupled with the fact that even on a Wittol or Cuckold night, someone has jumped the fence for the night for one reason or another; it’s nearly impossible to see a pure incarnation of the Wittol or Cuckold cast) make every night new, unpredictable, and slightly dangerous. But altogether, my favorite feature of the Beccos cast is resurrecting all those stage-relationships left behind, and finding them even more fun than we remembered them.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, continues to share her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the tenth installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org

Unmasking The Malcontent: v. IX

“Now, good Elysium, what a delicious heaven is it for a man to be in a prince’s favour! O sweet God! O pleasure! O Fortune! O all thou best of life!”

Mendoza, THE MALCONTENT, Act I Scene 5

Mark Doerr and Adrian LaTourelle. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

It’s not every theater company that faces the ordeal of opening night more than once; Antaeus is charged with that challenge all of four times (unless you count previews, in which case I’d call it a grand total of six). It’s been my experience that near the beginning of the production process, actors always seem not only to be ambivalent about opening nights, but ambivalent with a ferocious passion; they both long for and dread opening night with an all-encompassing intensity and complete simultaneity. Over the course of the rehearsal period, that balance shifts back and forth swiftly and violently until it finally settles somewhere for each particular actor sometime during previews.

In general, I think I can say that we did not settle in the side of dread. In spite of varying levels of stress tempered with exhaustion brought on by the rehearse-act-rehearse-watch-repeat schedule, I can only think of two out of the 28 actors who may have seriously doubted whether the show was any good (those two actors of course were leads, and we all know the emotions of lead actors the week before showtime are subject to no law found in nature. They are rarely to be trusted as barometers of theatrical fitness, at any rate.) By the time previews were through, the majority of us knew the show was ready to open however many times it took.

Each cast was allotted two openings: one for friends and family, and one gala benefit for company, board members, and donors. The friends and family events were catered in true Antaeus fashion by the brilliantly clever Ms. Abby Gail Palanker and an elite squadron selected from whichever cast was NOT performing that night. It was already surreal to be at the theater at show time without watching or performing in the play; a whole new level of oddity came from sitting in the Deaf West office chiffonade-ing basil and skewering mozzarella throughout the whole thing. The galas were thrown by the Chairman of the Board and his wife, the darling and lovely Kiki and David Gindler — catered this time by a platoon of black-suited and eerily quiet waitstaff, lurking in the shadows to offer excellent wine and food to any unsuspecting guest wandering too near. It was everything a girl could want from a gala; delicious, festive, an excuse to wear a pretty dress, and attended by excellent company; amongst this last category, members of the press.

Bo Foxworth and Bill Brochtrup. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

I’ve been advised on many occasions never to read reviews of a play I’m in until after it closes, and I understand this warning — but I just can’t help myself. Not only are the reviews quickly coming in, but they’re glowing. We’re a hit! Our 400-year-old, rarely performed piece of Jacobean court satire is a hit! All this time, we’ve been trembling in our boots that no one was going to understand this play (Marston’s language makes Shakespeare look like Dr. Seuss), and now, not only is the play understandable, but they LIKE us! Listen to this:

“Elizabeth Swain takes the helm, panning through the impenetrable-on-the-page language to ensure all the actors—and the audience—understand every word and enjoy them. She creates a world simultaneously Jacobean and modern. Her stage pictures are sumptuous tales in themselves.” –Dany Margolies, BACKSTAGE

And THIS one:

“It may have been written over 400 years ago, but this is a marvelous production of a seldom-seen classic work of theatre that despite its complex poetic language feels fresh, contemporary and accessible. Highly recommended.” –Pauline Adamek, ArtsBeatLA

I think this one might be my favorite, though:

“This is glorious theatre that must be acknowledged by increased audiences – do yourself the favor and go.” — Dale Reynolds, StageHappenings

You heard the man; he called us “glorious,” and “glorious” indeed we are. Come see us! Then come back and see the rest of us. Then bring everyone you know and see the Beccos. The box office is offering half-price tickets to every show this weekend (which you can find more about through our Facebook page or Twitter @AntaeusTheater), but I’ll tell you the same thing I’m telling everyone; tickets are going to sell out soon. We’ve only just opened, but we also only run for one more month (for now) and it’s an intimate theater, after all. Don’t miss it!

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, continues to share her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the ninth

installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org

Unmasking The Malcontent: v. VIII

“And, Celso, prithee let is by thy care tonight to have some pretty show to solemnize our high installment…Why, any quick- done fiction. …Some far-fet trick, good for ladies, some stale toy or other. No matter, so it be of our devising. Do thou prepare’t; ’tis but for fashion’s sake. Fear not, it shall be graced, man, it shall take.” — Mendoza, THE MALCONTENT, Act V Scene 3

Previews have been met and soundly defeated one by one, and (as I know you’re wondering) I found them eerily identical to Alex’s description: frightening flashes of awkwardness punctuated by illuminating moments of discovery.

Bo Foxworth and John Achorn. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

Bo Foxworth and John Achorn. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

The alternate casts took turns this week, one cast rehearsing all day and performing at night while the other cast came to watch the show. The following day, the two would switch places and the second cast would endeavor to put in the changes they’d watched the night before and adapt to the new tweaks of that day’s rehearsal. Keeping it all in the air is difficult — watching the other cast perform, you couldn’t be sure if the differences you were noticing were new directives from Liz or random accidents of the moment, until you were at liberty for a whispered conference with your doppelganger after the show (“No, that was totally an accident, I just stepped on her skirt…why, do you think I should keep it?”).

The next day you would be called in for your own rehearsal, hours before your performance. You’d begin your day by receiving notes from Liz, a mixture of those from the counterpart-cast the night before (these notes focusing on the placement of actors and the flow of the story) and your own performance the night before that (these notes, just for you and unique from your counterpart, focusing on your own particular choices as an actor). For the following 3 hours, you and your fellow cast members got to work solving those notes; characters would be added to or removed from scenes, lines added out of thin air (or worse, words in existing lines re-arranged ever so slightly), comedic bits pumped up or trimmed down. (“You keep cutting all my schtick!” lamented Saundra McClain, the Wittols’ Maquerelle, to which Liz Swain could only retort “Oh, and God knows you haven’t got ENOUGH schtick already.”)

Joseph Fuhr and Saundra McClain. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

During the show, the actors keep a running commentary going backstage after every exit; what’s the audience like, how is the show going, what’s working, what isn’t (and whose fault is THAT). Our lifeline is the backstage monitor, speakers perched on the piano in the library that give us a direct audio feed from the stage. There is no sound more terrifying than that of complete silence coming over the monitor, for it can only mean one of three things:

1. The monitor has gone dead, in which case we are at a loss to keep up with the play
2. An actor onstage has gone completely blank on their lines and the entire show is at a standstill.
3. An actor backstage has completely missed an entrance, the entire show is at a standstill, and that actor might be YOU.

In a moment, another voice is heard, the show resumes, and we all heave a small sigh of relief as we continue towards curtain, at which point we are finally allowed to smile, look at one another and say “I think that went rather well, don’t you?”

You see, even now, two months into the process, the play continues to crystallize and clarify. Either watching or rehearsing, I walk away with a new “aha!” moment every time. It’s a unique brand of difficulty working on a classical play that none of us have performed before. Everyone has ideas about Hamlet and everyone has ideas about Antigone, but no one is an authority on The Malcontent. We continued to argue back and forth on questions of tone and story before, during, and after every show. Still, intimidating though it may be, it’s a gift to be given show like this to be interpreted for virtually the first time. In spite of all our innate actorly insecurities, it’s a powerfully good show. I do not feel we’ve had a “bad” performance yet, and (regardless of how scared we may feel), I think every one of us is more than ready to open. And open we shall. This very night.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, continues to share her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the eighth installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org