Friday, January 7, 2011
THIS - blog 3 - Ron May (director)
WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?
The jokes never die.
“So, Ron what are you working on?”
“THIS. The show is called THIS.”
At auditions for THE VIBRATOR PLAY last summer...
“What show is Ron directing?”
“OH. I didn’t know he was directing THE VIBRATOR PLAY, I thought he was doing something else.”
“No, THIS. The name of the play is THIS.”
Mildly confusing title.
But a gorgeous play.
I spend a majority of my time directing at Stray Cat. There, a lot of what we traffic in are existential crises of people in their teens and 20’s. Something we’ve been doing since we started the company 10 years ago.
Needless to say, 10 years later – I’m not that age anymore.
I read THIS in American Theatre magazine in one sitting last winter while I was at Stray Cat babysitting the building (it sounds weird, I know...but I really was). The second I finished it, I texted Matthew (Wiener – Actors Theatre’s Artistic Director) and said he should read it.
I’m really glad he did.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been afforded the opportunities I’ve gotten at Actors Theatre the past 5 seasons. It’s not just any professional theatre who will take in a maverick director with virtually zero pedigree and let them do their thing.
THIS, though (pun not intended, though, inevitable) is the first work I’ve ever had ownership of from the word go. I’ve never selected the shows I’ve directed for Actors Theatre before. Which, to be frank, is frightening and exhilarating all at once.
But the million dollar question is always, “What the hell is THIS?”
I’ve read that it’s Jerry Seinfeld-like.
Which I kind of get.
There’s no PLOT, per se, but the show is not about “nothing” and plus I think it’s crazy funny. I never thought Seinfeld was. (Sorry.) Though to be fair, if you DID think Seinfeld was a riot, I’ve been told you will absolutely LOVE this show. Who am I to argue?
I’ve heard it compared to thirtysomething.
Which I’ve never seen so maybe it is. Somehow. (especially since thirtysomething was based on THE BIG CHILL which brings me to…)
Ollie (in his blog) compared it to THE BIG CHILL.
Which on a number of levels I agree with.
Dramedy – check.
Amazing cast – check.
Fractured marriage – check.
Death of a member of their group – check.
But the death happened a year ago.
And thematically it certainly traffics in similar territory – the reconstruction of hope, the discovery of how all your idealism of the past has real life limitations…blah blah.
No Kevin Costner, though. (Which I’m more than OK with.)
It’s always muddy, for me, addressing what it is about a show that ‘speaks to me’ or whatever. I’m just not that good at it. Sure, I write down a bunch of stuff before I go into rehearsal so I sound smart when I talk to the actors for the first time but I think it was Peter Brook who talked about his “formless hunch”. There’s something in the play that catches me totally off guard and moves me to laugh, cry...whatever...and I may not be entirely sure what that is…or why…but it’s something that says I have to do it...cuz maybe it’ll help me figure it out.
I know, cerebrally, that the play speaks to me on a number of levels:
- I, much like the characters in the show, am fumbling towards middle age. Seriously I’m like a year off. Am I really where I thought I’d be? Am I doing what I should be doing? Can I tell you how many people I tell them what I do for a living and they look at me like I can’t possibly be serious or ask “So why don’t you do movies?” It’s exhausting.
- I, much like Jane in the play, have dealt recently – not with the death of my husband – but with the death of a peer – someone the same age as I am – as well as my mother – who was always my strongest support system. My rock. All within the span of like two months. And it all happened about a year ago. Exactly like the timeline in the play. Trust me. This kind of stuff pulls the rug out from anyone at any stage of life. But there really is something a little more profound when it happens during middle age. I think.
- I, much like Alan in the play, am gay, about to turn 40, and terminally single…and wondering how much hope there may or may not be for some kind of fulfilling relationship in the future. I’m not a Debbie Downer “waaah no one thinks I’m pretty. Waaah.” I have self-esteem. I know I deserve someone amazing. I know I have the capacity to love beyond measure. But. I have an insane schedule. Youth is still valued above most else in society. I don’t make a ton of money. I could afford to lose a thousand pounds. I have a co dependent cat. Plus, I’m also a picky bitch. So...now what?
- I, much like the entire group in the play (save Jean-Pierre), have a very close knit group of friends that I have known since college – (many of us actually started Stray Cat together – and yet over the course of 10 years, as of this season, I’m now the only “founding” member left.) So we all are now approaching middle age and babies are introduced and relationships are splintering off, and I sometimes wonder what it is that keeps us together. There is obviously that common denominator of what we all were doing together in the PAST…but we’re all such different people now. We became friends under very different and younger circumstances and now it sometimes feels like we’re hunkering down together and just praying we’re dressed for the storm. Or whatever’s coming. Or something.
That...stuff that you so urgently want to address but words always seem to fail when you try.
It’s my THESE, really.
We all have them.
And that’s what the play is.
A group of close friends – people who have spent arguably too much time together – all with a rolodex of “THIS”es – trying to navigate their way into middle age and wondering if the hand they thought they were dealt are actually the cards they’re holding.
I don’t know that any of what I’m saying illuminates what the hell the play is. Or what it’s about.
But I do know that no play in recent memory has affected me as immediately and deeply as this one has.
And I don’t say crap like that lightly.
I don’t know that anyone will like it or feel the deep ache I feel watching certain scenes or laugh as hard as I do at certain scenes or well up like I do at certain exchanges or get goosebumps like I do hearing certain things in the play...
But I’m hopeful.
Because THIS...has it all.
And I look forward to sharing it with you in a few weeks.