I recently journeyed to New York to see the world premiere of LibidOff. The production was entirely the doing of the play’s director, Don Williams. Great guy, smart director… and coincidentally sharing the name of my best friend from 7th grade.
Smart guy. He directed my second staged reading of the show at the Playwrights’ Center of San Francisco and felt such an affinity with the script that he took it with him to his Ph.D program in the big apple.
I felt a lot of confidence in him. He showed a definite understanding of how the play was meant to sound in the reading (fast, high energy, no room for the audience to say "wait a minute!"). On top of that, I felt our physical similarities gave us a similar emotional experience of the world.
We talked fairly frequently, especially early in the process. I joked with a few friends that he was deferring to me a little too much… "I’d like to change the word desire to the word want because it’s a little easier to say, is that okay?" Uh, yeah, sure.
Some playwrights are more defensive of their words, but I felt that Don was there dealing with the exigencies of putting on a play… all my knowledge of the show was based on readings.
It was a strange run. Two Sunday through Tuesday runs, the first at 7:00, the second at 9:30. Strange and hard to follow/market/understand. The Expanded Arts Theatre is a strange space. The stage is in between two unraked audience spaces that seat about twenty-five people a side… all the disadvantages of arena staging with none of the advantages. And, oh yeah, the play’s written pretty specifically for proscenium.
So the cast was really brilliantly directed. They found depth to those characters that I wonder if the script even contains. They looked perfect. They kept the pace racing. It was one of the tightest opening nights I’ve ever seen.
And yet this performance got fewer laughs than either of the readings, particularly on the night when all my New York friends came to watch. It was bizarre, and brought up all sorts of self doubt. I mean, what if the theatre that I’m trying to create isn’t actually half as funny as I think it is?
It ended up involving a great deal of reflection on the script, the performance, and the delicate kind of balance that goes on in orchestrating a stage play.
My antagonist, Bile, descends into madness over the course of the play. But the actor playing the role started off pretty nuts, which took away one of the play’s principle journeys… his journey from warped sanity to total nuttiness. In his case, I think that weak script analysis is to blame.
But my protagonist was a different story. His character came across as too nice, especially at the start, giving him nowhere to grow to as he discovered that women are not evil (it’s fiction, they/you are!) and that love is worth the trouble. But the choices that the production needed the actor to make weren’t there in the text for him to latch on to. My bad.
So I’m on my second rewrite since returning. Good rewrites, too. Not too sweeping, but clarifying and simplifying. Sometimes my writing rambles too much… too often a character has to spend four or five lines saying something because I, think it’s important or funny. Characters have to go after what they want or there’s an uneasy feeling in the audience that a) what they’re watching doesn’t seem real, and b) they feel like they’re being lectured at.
So now the play’s absolutely brilliant with NO FLAWS AT ALL, and I’m going to have a reading at San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre on the last Monday in February to give it another run.
Also saw a video of the premiere of LibidOff’s companion piece, Bile in the Afterlife…
But that’s a life event to dissect at another time.
©2000 Dawson Moore