Today should prove interesting. We’re meeting in the afternoon this time. The plan is for Jim to go straight through the play from beginning to end, twice, ending just in time for the company barbecue, scheduled by happy coincidence to take place right outside the rehearsal room.
He went through the play that way once on Saturday, and something unexpected occurred. During the fourth of five scenes, the most grueling of them, he became anaerobic. Light-headed, dizzy, shaky, and — surprisingly — giggly. He insisted on completing the scene, even though Keira and I pleaded with him to take a break first. But he did it from a seated posture. After completing the scene, he recovered in a couple of minutes, and explained that with all the hyperventilating he was bringing to the performance, and the torrent of words he has to expel, he simply wasn’t letting himself take in a sufficient quantity of air. He promised to pace himself better from now on. I suggested he also have some oxygen handy backstage that he could inhale between scenes, and Betsy, our stage manager, said she would take care of that.
Had he not been laughing so hard during this episode, it would have been more disturbing. But since he was able to laugh, it clearly wasn’t a major crisis, and besides, laughter is contagious. We were all laughing uproariously, even while urging him to take a literal breather.
After a short discussion about what had just happened, he went on to complete the fifth and final scene, which he managed with aplomb.
Still, it will be interesting to see how things go this afternoon. He’s such an experienced professional, he’s usually in perfect control of his instrument. My guess is he’ll be fine. But we’ll all be watching anxiously.
Saturday night was the opening of the Festival’s production of Michael Frayn’s Benefactors. A very good production, directed by Eric Hill and starring David Adkins, Corinna May, Barbara Sims, and Walton Wilson. Frayn is such an intelligent writer that even when he’s not at the top of his form — and I don’t believe he’s at the top of his form in Benefactors — his work is never less than worthwhile. Still, it’s hard to believe he’ll ever again equal the riotous inventiveness of Noises Off.
Yesterday, Sunday, with no rehearsal on the schedule, I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum. An amazing place; you feel like you’re drowning in Saturday Evening Post covers. And what an extraordinary draughtsman Rockwell was: He could have given the Dutch masters a run for their money. But in a funny way — in what you might call an equal and opposite way — his work raises the same aesthetic questions for me as the music of John Cage. To what extent is technical skill fundamental to artistic excellence? To what extent is it sufficient? To what extent does its absence negate the possibility? I don’t have answers, but these are interesting questions to ponder.
Tags: Benefactors Berkshire Theater Festival James Naughton John Cage Keira Naughton Michael Frayn Noises Off Norman Rockwell play rehearsals theater