15 July 2012
After the Fall
I recently worked on scenes from After the Fall, by Arthur Miller. He wrote it two years after his ex, Marilyn Monore, died. It's his most autobiographical play that takes place, as the stage directions say, in his protagonist's mind. Quentin, 40, puts himself on the witness stand to understand his own life, to struggle to a way to live honorably, authentically, justly. He addresses the audience directly as his memories play out.
Many of the scenes center on betrayal -- his mother of his father, himself of his father, and later, he weighs his own integrity during the McCarthy era. And, finally, his relationship with a beautiful and sexually charismatic singer who plunged into drink and drugs and whom, finally, he could not save.
We had three actress play Maggie, the character based on Monroe. Stole it from -- no, wait, I mean "inspired" by -- Bunuel's Obscure Object of Desire. After all, one woman, desired, is many women; Monroe herself had several faces both in public and in private: coquette, sex bomb, naif, comedienne, martyr.
We were really lucky with the actors. One sings well; we had her cover "Little Girl Blue", a Hart song that, according to the play, was Maggie's big hit.
I learned a lot from this. That you can't ignore icons -- you have to address them, either by subversion or incorporation. Thus the mix you see in the photos of the Wig. We didn't land hard, and we should have chosen -- but we justified the back-and-forth by the many faces of Eve idea. Not sure it played.
Curiously, sexuality is a huge block. The women, who in daily life are far from prudes, really had a challenge getting in touch with their inner seductress, in channeling blatant sensuality. Maybe it's an antique notion, maybe it's because they're too American, but making them into 50s torch singers with all that flirty, sexy hints of raw desire, that was tough. They had a hard time going there. The men, too, were awfully shy about just being horny for the girl. For all the supposed openness about sex and all the frankness, we really have lost a directness and a respect for desire. We're still, on some level, buttoned up Puritans, and I think, judging from the lit and the reading only, we're more prudish than we were. A paradox.
Also: There were a few tics and choices that I should have done more to eliminate. My old mentor Brusilovsky said that directing was like training bears to dance. He has a point.
It's fascinating to see the effect of adrenaline on a performer. The quality always makes a leap upwards. The nerves add electricity, focus, life. But, at the same time, the performers tend to fall back on their "tells" -- their habits. What was good in rehearsal, what we'd worked on getting rid of tends to creep back in under pressure.
But the audience liked the performance; it went over well, and that's what counts.