Friday, April 27, 2012

TIME STANDS STILL - Blog 2 - Kerry McCue (Mandy Bloom)

We had our “First Rehearsal Party” for Time Stands Still on Tuesday night. That’s where we invite patrons to come to the theatre for an introduction to the play in progress. When this tradition started, it was actually on the night of the actors' very first rehearsal. Nowadays, we do it after we’ve been rehearsing for a week. Matthew Wiener hosts the event and introduces the actors and designers and they speak about their roles in the production and about the play itself. Then we perform the first 15 minutes of the play with an improvised set, and a few props. Then we have a discussion where the audience can ask the actors and the director any questions they have about what they’ve seen. And then we eat some good food (Thank you, My Big Fat Greek Restaurant!)

My discussion topic was “The Oeuvre” of Donald Margulies. My apologies to the 40 patrons who have heard this already, but I got a really good response so I thought I would do a recap for the rest of you. Here it is:

I am an avid reader. Novels, plays, and some non-fiction. When I read something and like it, I will often go back and read everything that author has ever written in chronological order. I love it when I can see how the author has evolved as a writer. When I was cast in Time Stands Still, I gathered all the Donald Margulies plays I could find and dove in. So, with a very few exceptions, I have read all his plays. Here’s what I discovered: Margulies writes what he knows. This is classic author advice and with good reason. And what the writer knows changes as time passes. Here is his progression:

Margulies started with his childhood. One of his very first plays is called Found a Peanut and it cast is composed entirely of children. It would be REALLY hard to produce this play, hard to find that many professional child actors and then there are all sorts of rehearsal restrictions and special circumstances when working with children. But it is a great play. The children show this microcosm of the adult world in the roles that they adopt in their little gang.

His next phase dealt primarily with Jewish family life. What’s Wrong With This Picture?, The Loman Family Picnic, and The Model Apartment fall into this category. He examines the relationship between parents and children, usually between father and son. Margulies admits that he used his plays to work out issues that he had with his own father growing up.

By this time in his career he had started to achieve some renown in the theater world and his work reflects that. In the plays Sight Unseen, Collected Stories, and Brooklyn Boy, he began to explore what it means to be and artist, a writer, and the affects of fame. But the through-line in ALL of his work is relationships. He writes relationships really well and has a knack for nailing the dialogue. The greatest example being Dinner With Friends, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Incidentally, Time Stands Still is the 4th Margulies play that Actors Theatre has done. They previously did Sight Unseen, Dinner With Friends, and Shipwrecked!, which is a total departure from all his other work, so much so that I don’t have time to go into it here. So I won’t.

So is his career he has explored childhood, family, Judaism, art, and fame. And now with our current show he opened up to topics that affect society as a whole. He has kind of reached out and embraced the world with his themes in Time Stands Still, while still maintain his attention to relationship because the play is essentially a love story.

For me, personally, the most interesting insight I received from all this research has to do with my character, Mandy. In three different plays, Margulies has written three completely different young women that all have something in common. The have a tendency to end perfectly good declarative sentences with question mark. It is so poignant. The older woman in Collected Stories has a monologue about it. She describes us as having evolved “a non-regional accent of American youth.” It is disheartening to hear perfectly intelligent girls begging to be listened to. Seeming to say with every sentence “Can you hear me? Am I being heard?”

Donald Margulies has some great plays available at your local libraries. Come see our show and join us for one of our post-show discussions.

photo: John Groseclose

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TIME STANDS STILL - Blog 1 - Kerry McCue (Mandy Bloom)

Once again, I find myself pregnant. My character, I mean. In a play. I'm in a play and my character is pregnant. This is not new for me. I've played pregnant at least 5 times before, at three different theater companies and in an indie film. I think my favorite was playing the pregnant goddess Ceres in Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, regally displaying a huge belly, scarfing pickles dipped in ice cream (really) while deciding the fates of puny mortals. My upcoming role in Donald Marguiles' Time Stands Still is my second pregnant role for Actors Theatre. Last time I was "Izzy" in David Lindsay Abaire's Rabbit Hole. When the costumer heard I was cast this time around, she simply pulled my former pregnant belly out of storage. A "belly pad," as it's called, is an interesting costume piece. It looks like a flesh-colored, one-piece swimsuit with a round pillow on the front and extra padding in the bust. My favorite touch is the snap they sew on to simulate an "outy" belly-button. You pull it on over your head and it snaps at the crotch. Too much information?

I've played pregnant women before, but have never actually BEEN pregnant myself so the the physicality is something I have to work hard on. You don't want to be stereo-typical or have your role come off as a caricature. You can only stretch your back and rub your bump so many times. You must re-learn how to carry yourself, how to walk without being able to see your feet, how to sit, and (my favorite) how to lever yourself up from a low couch. And you have to find a way to make "actable" the protective feeling that mothers have about the life they are carrying inside them.

But my character is more than just a pregnant lady. She's a ray of sunshine, funny and open and honest. And she briefly touches on the highly charged working vs. stay at home mom debate that has been in the news so much of late. It adds an up-to-the-minute vibe to this play with is already very topical and highly relevant to what's going on in the world today. Plus is essentially a love story, the most universal of all themes. Don't miss it.