Jumping Into the Fire: An Understudy’s Tale

During the extension week of Liesl Tommy’s Hamlet this month, actor Nicholas Pelczar fell ill the morning of the Student Discovery Matinee, and his understudy, Philip Goleman, went on for him.

This is his story.

Everyone said, “Not what you expected when you woke up this morning, huh?” And it was not: It was a whirlwind from the moment (Stage Manager) Laxmi (Kumran) called me to the minute I got back on BART to head back to work after the show.

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights as I was whisked from the green room to the stage for fight call to rework the play’s final fight; to the dressing room to get the down-low on the costumes; to the moment when I finally stepped on stage. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a wonderful, supportive group of actors, stage management, and backstage crew to get me properly through the show.

It’s a show that, from the audience’s perspective, did not seem like three hours—and it seemed a lot shorter from my perspective that day. For me, my favorite moment was coming down through the audience as Laertes, gun in hand, yelling at the King, with the kids in the audience turning to see me and exclaiming “whoa!” as I went down the steps toward the stage. That made the day for me, being there to make sure that they got to see this show and get exposure to Shakespeare.

Going on is not something you expect to happen, especially in the extension week, but you keep alive the idea and the willingness to jump into the fire on a moment’s notice. With a phenomenal show and superb cast and production crew, you know you’re not jumping in alone, and it’s something I would willing jump into again and again.

Pictured above: Goleman with actors LeRoy McClain (Hamlet) and Zainab Jah (Ophelia) after his performance; photo by Jay Yamada.

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Belated Notes from the CANDIDA “Meet and Greet” Event

By Publications Manager Stefanie Kalem

Candida art

This has taken me a while to get around to writing, which is really too bad, as the first-rehearsal “Meet and Greet” event, on July 13, for George Bernard Shaw’s Candida was inspiring, enlightening, and just plain hilarious. Ain’t no production like a Jonathan Moscone production: Our fearless leader explained, cajoled, and delved his way deep into this romantic comedy within minutes.
Below are a few observations with which I walked away.

The Play: Moscone finds Candida more complex and dissonant than Mrs. Warren’s Profession in some ways, even though this is classified as one of Shaw’s “Pleasant Plays.” This play, said Moscone, “could be explosive if it was untied; it could be an opera. It should vibrate energy just under the surface of this content world.”

Julie Eccles

Actor Julie Eccles, who portrays Candida.

The title is ironic, Moscone opined, in that the character of Candida rarely gets to speak for herself. Yet both Candida and her husband, Rev. James Morell, are either loved or hated by everyone else in the play. No one is ambivalent about this seemingly perfect pair—everyone is fanatical over them, and all the characters maneuver around the two, positioning themselves to their best advantage. Appropriately, Moscone called the set “a very complex little chessboard.”

Sets: Moscone’s frequent co-conspirator, Annie Smart, has returned. She designed his productions of The Pastures of Heaven, Man and Superman, and An Ideal Husband (as well as the Berkeley Rep and Broadway productions of In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play) so she knew of whence she spoke when she said that, though Candida is written as a classic Victorian drawing room play, a small handful of people on the Bruns stage can be hard to watch if they’re all staying in one place most of the time. So she and Moscone settle on a “room without walls” for this production, similar in theory to Smart’s 2009 Private Lives set. She opened it up, so the audience can see people coming and going.

Candida set

Set model and photo by Annie Smart.

A major source of inspiration for the Candida set is British interior designer William Morris, who was also an activist. His rooms and houses were what we call Mission or Arts & Crafts in the U.S.—very human, handmade, welcoming, which is parallel to Rev. Morell’s character, how his ideas for Christianity and mankind fit together in a utilitarian way. This room is a working room, too, so it will appear to be a very busy office that, at one point, was a parlor, but now is in service to a very busy, in-demand man.

With no walls to decorate, Moscone and Smart decided on a yellowed, parchment-paper backdrop behind a hand-stained, floral-pattered window, imbuing the whole set with the feel of a photo.

Proserpine Garnett

Miss Proserpine Garnett costume sketch by Anna Oliver. Click for more costume sketches!

Costumes: Costume designer Anna Oliver, who designed Nicholas Nickleby andRestoration Comedy for us, explained the creative team’s decision, early on in the planning process, to move the date of the action forward by a decade. The women’s silhouette in the mid-1890s was very aggressive, she said, with big sleeves, tiny waists, and severe hair. In looking for a softer, more sensual shape—in an effort to to “speak the character, not shout it out”—they landed in the early years of the 20th century.

The costumes of Proserpine Garnett (played by Alexandra Henrikson) are of particular interest, in that being a typist was one of the first non-domestic-service jobs widely held by women. Garnett wears slightly masculine dress, with a slightly silly hat to demonstrate that she’s got her own money to spend.

Candida begins previews Wednesday, August 10; opens Saturday, August 13; and closes Sunday, September 4. Get your tickets now!

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