Learning How to Learn the Play, or”It’s pretty funny, watching a woman brush her teeth in a pile of earth.”

What follows is the second in a series of dispatches from inside the rehearsal process for Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, written by the show’s director (and Cal Shakes’ Artistic Director) Jonathan Moscone.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

So, as planned, Marsha and Dan braved the mound and we began staging this play. After about an hour, Marsha remarked about a conversation she had with Fiona Shaw, who played Winnie at the Brooklyn Academy of Music a year or so ago, how the first days of staging were like “cement.” Brutal. So much business tied to so many words. You’d think that’d be easy, like a naturalistic play where people take their coats off and make coffee while speaking. But no. Oh, no. This is quite different. Daunted by the specificity of what line goes with what activity (brushing teeth, checking gums, reading the lettering on the toothpaste) Marsha just went nuts. As one can well imagine.

So I decided to reformat the script with the hopes of making “business meets words” easier to recall and do and, lo and behold, it worked. Things followed things naturally and she recalled all the memorization she had been attempting over the last months. Phew. Taking Beckett apart and bringing him down to a place where we can rehearse it—that was what today was about. As Dan Hiatt remarked, “we are learning how to learn the play.”

It’s pretty funny, watching a woman brush her teeth in a pile of earth. And Marsha is so real, so unaffected that I couldn’t stop laughing. We found this a relief. The play starts with humor, lots of it. A woman starting her day as if like any other day (forget she is under the “blazing hellish light” buried in her waist) and a man joining her for a morning read of the newspaper (forget that he is barely dressed and makes some very bawdy off-handed remarks). It’s funny stuff. Makes us understand the arc of the play—what starts her “day” and what ends it.

I feel a lot more confident now that I can see the piece up on its feet, even in its infantile stage. Marsha is taking her purse with all her daily routine items home to her hotel to routine the activity on her day off and we start again on Tuesday, carving more and more out.

I am so enthralled by this experience that I cannot get it out of my mind. I went after rehearsal to a cocktail party at a board member’s house and reveled in the joyful, family feeling of people gathering together to support a theater dedicated to taking on such monumental pieces like Shakespeare, and now, Beckett.

More to come. Tomorrow is day off. I’ll see you all on Tuesday.

Jon

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