Not a simple day. The toilet in the tiny cottage I’m renting is broken. There’s no cell phone reception there either. And my rental car died in a supermarket parking lot this morning, amid a ferocious thunderstorm, while I was weighted down with several bags of groceries, less than an hour before I was due in Rehearsal Room One. Of course, the Enterprise Rent-a-Car office was closed for the holiday (although it took me over 10 minutes to figure that out, since the recording I reached by phone told me that all representatives were helping other customers but that someone would be with me very soon…along with assurances that Enterprise really cares about its customers…like a schmuck, I believed them and kept holding for an interminable amount of time), as were all local towing services. Getting these problems solved took hours, with frequent interruptions of the rehearsal in progress when one entity or another phoned to offer me a progress (or lack-of-progress) report. Jim Naughton finally suggested that the Cedars team take up a collection and buy me a new car so that he could focus on his performance.
There was tension in the rehearsal process too. Today Keira wanted her father to act, to give a complete and energetic performance. He wanted to focus on nailing his lines and understanding the connecting links between dramatic paragraphs. Each kept reiterating his or her own position without quite contending with the other’s. And it got quite heated at times. When Jim, feigning patience, as if explaining theatrical praxis to a novice, suggested that professional actors often underplay their parts while mastering their roles, Keira said, “Fine, then I’ll go home, you can run lines, and just let me know when you’re ready to actually rehearse.” And at another point, Jim said, “Listen, why don’t I sit where you’re sitting and you come up here and perform the whole play to show me what you want.” To which Keira replied, “Fine, that works for me.”
What saved these exchanges from being uncomfortable was that in every case where such harsh statements were uttered, both parties were also laughing with genuine amusement. The disagreements were real, but the anger wasn’t. They were enjoying themselves and each other, despite the authentic contention. And not only is Jim’s mastery of the material increasing with every iteration, but he’s finding new colors and shadings and meanings as he goes. The high-wire energy Keira is after will come, I have no doubt. It’s already been in frequent evidence. He does tend to flag in the afternoon, as do we all. Except Keira, who seems indefatigable.
There was also an unexpectedly sweet and touching moment this afternoon. Jim usually brings his two dogs to the rehearsal, and they are very well-behaved during the long hours of work, sitting quietly, minding their own business. But today Jim had an especially passionate scene, and he performed it with more vigor (perhaps under Keira’s goading) than he ever had before. And when he was done, Harry, the older, bigger of the two dogs, was terrified. Literally shaking. Jim called him up to the performance space — the dog obeyed the summons hesitantly, not sure what was wrong with Jim — raised him up on his lap, and comforted the poor frightened animal until it understood that its master was really okay.
How do you explain theater to a dog? Even humans get confused sometimes.
Tags: Berkshire Theater Festival Cedars James Naughton Keira Naughton play Stockbridge theater