Being a record of my journey as I undertake a new role that, unlike many others I have played, fills me with a sense of immense challenge and a promise of growth, both as an actor and a seeker.
I did not know the play, but I knew that it was on the Rep’s spring schedule, and so my heart immediately set to thumpin’. The prospect of a job is always exciting to me, even before I know much about it. I was already familiar with, and a fan of, both the playwright and his writing, having performed two readings of one of his earlier plays, for theatre companies in New York. Now it appeared I was going to be offered the lead in the West Coast premier of his new play, which was just finishing up a successful run at Playwrights Horizons.
I read the play in one sitting, something I recommend to my students. (See SCENE STUDY STEPS: A Primer for the Amateur and the Pro.) When I came to the end, my impressions were hazy. Certain plays lay themselves open to me almost completely upon first reading. This is not to say that they are simple or shallow. Certainly no one would say such a thing of Dinner With Friends, for example. But if the mind of the playwright is exceedingly simpatico with my own pertaining to the subject matter, the undercurrents of the play are often readily apparent to me. Not so with The Whale. Considering the plot and the main character that I would be playing, it seemed on first read that it should be depressing. Yet for some reason I felt a dense layer of hope lurking in its depths, under some distant thermocline. I was glad for that, as hope is a quality I much prize in work I undertake. I also knew that I could not begin to understand the play at all other than by going through the process of working on it. Even then, perhaps, my understanding would be only partial, as a four week rehearsal process coupled with a three week run does not allow for the deepest exploration of all aspects of such a rich and detailed work as this. And so, armed with the knowledge that the journey would be to some extent incomplete, despite my very best efforts, I immediately called Joanne and told her that I was in. I would be their whale.
Charlie, the character I will be playing, is an on-line teacher of expository writing. The play deals with loss, failure, death, the search for redemption. Moby Dick, The Book of Jonah, Mormonism, homosexuality, estrangement from parents, lovers, and children are explored. On some of these themes and topics I have a multitude of experience, on others a dearth, and so I will be doing much reading and research.
Another of the challenges of the piece is that Charlie weighs in at 600 pounds and suffers from congestive heart failure. In future entries in this diary I will detail how the matters of weight and physical infirmity are to be handled, both by myself with exploration of the physicality and movement, and with photos of the work of the creative team giving support in the way of prosthetics.
For now, I am sitting in Starbucks, reading Moby Dick. I’ve never read it before. I have written a paper on it, at least one, in high school, and perhaps another in college. Listening carefully to lectures and skimming always served me well enough. Now as an actor, assaying a new role, my work ethic is different. Having finally settled on the path that I truly want to follow, I will be more assiduous in my efforts. I hope this diary will prove instructive, as well as inspiring, to my students, and to such others as have an interest in the actor’s craft. I will also note that the style of future entries will not attempt to imitate, however poorly, that of the great Melville, whose words I am now enjoying for the first time.
The Whale will be performed at South Coast Repertory from March 10th through March 31st, 2013. Information and tickets are can be found following this link.