July 7 and 8
A fascinating couple of days. After our Sunday break, far from returning refreshed, everyone arrived on edge on Monday. There was considerable tension in the rehearsal room almost from the start. The first few run-throughs of scenes produced real disagreements, not only about specific performance choices, but about the very purpose of rehearsing. Father and daughter might almost have beenreviving arguments going back to the director’s teenage years. It felt like a lot was at stake, and not all of it was directly related to the play ostensibly under discussion. Things calmed down considerably in the afternoon, but the vaguely oppressive air never completely lifted.
Today, though, we might almost have been on a different planet. We began with Jim rehearsing the final two scenes separately, one after the other, and he was little short of superb. In fact, he was nothing short of superb. He found new colors in almost every moment (when I told him so, he suggested that some of the colors he’d found weren’t actually on the visible spectrum), and also located the architecture of each extended beat, along with the through-line, what Leopold Mozart called “il filo,” that explains how the disparate beats connect. All of us, Keira, Betsy the stage manager, the various interns, and I broke into spontaneous applause when he had finished.
After we broke for lunch, he proceeded to run through the entire play from first to last. That wasn’t the plan, but he had astonishing reserves of energy today and insisted we just keep going, even after the rest of us were ready to throw in the towel, and some of us even begged him to quit. The fifth and final scene was a little ragged — we were all pretty exhausted by then, having been at it for over six hours — but the preceding four were exemplary. There are still some memory problems to worry about; with ninety minutes of uninterrupted speech to know by heart, Jim’s challenge in that regard is almost insuperable. And there are one or two technical questions, from the trivial to the elaborate, to be solved. But with all the open questions and persistent problems, today it seemed like we just might be okay by opening night.
Keira seemed cheered by today’s rehearsal, and Jim, in his understated way, looked very pleased with how it had gone. An hour or so after we’d left the rehearsal hall, Jim, Keira, Keira’s two-year-old son Charlie, and I had dinner at a local pub, and while we didn’t discuss the day’s events at any length, the mood was quietly celebratory. The only quiet thing in the pub, in which five television sets were tuned to the World Cup and almost all of the patrons were cheering vociferously after every goal and every save. But after yesterday, when a certain despondent weight was heavy upon all of us, today felt buoyant. I’m sure there are plenty of ups and downs still to be got through. And how the audience will react when the thing finally opens is, as always, anybody’s guess. This is not a play that offers simple pleasures. But as a writer who hasn’t always been well-served by performances over the years, I feel very lucky indeed.
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