Posts Tagged ‘michael perlmutter’

I had the dream again last night.  OK, I didn’t.  Well, yes, I had a dream but not a recurring one.  (It’s just “a dream” isn’t quite as exciting an opening as “the dream” so I opted for a little theatrical license here . . . you still with me?) Then again: I’m not one of those guys who dream a lot or remember their dreams when they do happen. So why should you care?

You don’t.  But maybe, just maybe you’ll listen because it’s been one of those years.  I thank God for my health (though I did break off a bit of tooth into a f****ng piece of bread on Sunday (Bread!!?)–At first I thought it wasn’t mine then I sent my tongue around and yep, there it was(–or wasn’t) so: no lawsuit there.)  Oh, and I’ve been out of work for over a year now.  Yesterday I was told to my face that I was too over qualified to be considered for a $12 an hour job.  Otherwise I’m told repeatedly that they (fill in your company name here) want someone with more experience.

The fact is, at 55, I’m a card carrying member of the wouldn’t-it-be-nicer-if-you-just-went-away society of unemployed.  We’re considering Bankruptcy.  Seriously.  It seems the Unemployment checks just go to pay the bank anyway and they’ll be gone soon–SO WHY THE HELL ARE YOU WRITING AND WHAT IS THIS DREAM?

I’m glad you asked.  I, like you, graduated from an Arts School (that and $4.75 can get you a Venti cup of coffee at most Starbucks around here).  I put my career on hold to pay of student loans and then raise a family and then started back up again just to be hit (again) by more age discrimination (we want to encourage young new talent under 30) and then the Great American Ecomedy started and I’m tired of it (or I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore–if you recognize the line then you’re old enough and can relate).  So, I woke up this morning from a dream (yes, THE DREAM, shuttup: I’m getting there) echoing in my head regarding a play I started and put aside over the last I-don’t-want-to-tell-you-how-many-years-ago and picked up again cuz’ it was time and I finished it up about a year ago.

1865 is a two act play about mob mentality and being in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the dream (if dreams have any merit) I was being urged to send it out  and get it on its feet no matter how.  As I said, I generally, don’t take stock in dreams but what the hell–what’s the worst that can happen; Bankruptcy?  So, I’ve downloaded the entire script onto my website http://www.directinghamlet.com for anyone to take a look at and see what happens.  I’ve got other plays there as well but for now I’m keeping their postings at ten pages.

I hope all your dreams are coming true and feel free to send on this desperate plea to anyone fool enough to listen.

And back to the job hunt . . .

1865 cover

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Why?  Why write another adaptation of THE SEAGULL?

Well there really can only be one good reason: to get it right.

So, here’s the history behind the project:  Running a staged reading series (introducing new/original works every second Sunday of the month and presenting classics every fifth Sunday of the month) we were due for a little Chekhov (overdue in my mind . . . but enough about that–don’t get me started).  So I had scheduled a reading for my personal favorite THE SEAGULL.  I knew that David Mamet had penned adaptations of Chekhov’s greater works so I went in search of his version of THE SEAGULL as I assumed, he being a great playwright himself, his version would probably be the best.  Unfortunately Mr. Mamet had adapted versions of UNCLE VANYA and THE THREE SISTERS but had not done the same with THE SEAGULL.  Oh well.  I reposed myself to use an online version.   I wasn’t happy with it.  It was a translation.  And as translations go there are two trains of thought: literal translations; which tend to translate word for word and theological translations; which attempt to present thought for thought.  While each  style has its pros and cons what tends to be missing is an actual theatrical voice and presentation which breaks down into thoughts and further into beats and those things left unspoken (the basics of which pioneers such as Chekhov and Ibsen were just toying with when THE SEAGULL was first written).  Chekhov’s brilliantly crafted humor was probably the greatest casualty of the translations I had at my disposal. So before we set course on the reading I put out a plea for someone to come forward with a better translation (or adaptation if you will–a description more apt to be used in this case:  as I do not read Russian so I can’t say I’ve translated the play from it’s original state).    Meanwhile I set about to format my own adaptation while waiting on a better version.  Is there one out there?  I can’t say there isn’t but I never received it so we went ahead with my own.  We then went forward and edited out a half an hour of the work in order to bring the playing time into two hours.  We settled on two hours and fifteen minutes (which is still better than almost three–which is where we were at).

In the process  I found there was a lot more humor in the piece than I had originally given Chekhov credit for and I mention this because I don’t think I’m alone in this misperception.  The comedic brilliance is often lost in the misguided casting of TRIGORIN, the writer, often thought of as Chekhov’s own alter ego.

Before I delve further on TRIGORIN let me note that Chekhov, for some unknown reason (well, unknown to me at least), did not identify the ages of his characters.  TREPLEV, Arkadina’s son, tells us that he is twenty-five and we have no reason to disbelieve him,  DORN, the retired doctor, admits to fifty-five and SORIN, Arkadina’s brother admits to sixty-five as the play opens.  Arkidana however is quoted (by Treplev) to admitting to being 32 when her son is not around and 43 when he is.  She later guesses Masha’s age as 22 and states that she herself is “almost twice that age” (which would fit with the number 43–if it weren’t for the fact her brother is 27 years older than that.  No, Arkadina is most likely in her mid fifties at least or maybe even closer to her brother, Sorin’s, age).

I bring this matter up because traditionally I often thought of Trigorin as being age appropriate for Arkidina (whatever age that might be)  but NINA asks TREPLEV (in ACT 1) whether Trigorin is young to which TRELEV replies (in a poor translation: “yes”)  “Yes”?  What could this mean?  Well, simply put I think he’s saying: “Yes, too young for my mother!”.  So Trigorin would be YOUNGER than Arkadina but not so young as to not have had lost out on his own youthful days (which he ultimately explores through his relationship with Nina–between the acts).  This was realization number one that profusely changed the dynamics of the play–for the better I might add.  The second (and somewhat smaller point of thought) is what type of writer is Trigorin?  “Clever and witty, clever and witty” is the quote I kept reading in these translations.  In other words:  he writes comedies.  He is a comedian along the likes of a nineteenth century Neil Simon or Woody Allen.  And the mere mention of the name Woody Allen brought about epiphany number three:  What if–(and I think it is the case)–what if: Trigorin is not the suave, debonair ladies man that we often see cast in the role?  What if  he is an awkward, maybe even slightly neurotic character that could actually be brilliantly played by Woody Allen himself (if Mr. Allen was still thirty-five to forty {his Annie Hall years]).  The comedy comes leaping off the page and is richly intensified by this re-envisioning of this key character.  There are of course similar realizations to each character which adds to the rich tapestry of Chekhov’s homage to Hamlet and this comic masterpiece but Trigorin’s casting as a weak man (a term used several times to describe him [even as Trigorin describes himself]) is a key element.

As for the language:  I took it upon myself to add contractions.  Why?  Because they fall less distractingly on our present day ear.  A note regarding contractions: You will find through most of the script that I have replaced proper grammar with its contracted counterpart. Such as it’s for it is and Let’s for let us. My reason for this is scansion. To our modern ear we are thrown by the proper speech of yesteryear when in reality the contracted version was probably closer to the sound of the spoken word as emitted from even the actors at the turn of the previous century when The Seagull was first presented. Also, as actors we tend to emphasize the uncontracted speech in such a way as to impart a special meaning on the otherwise uncontracted words to wit the statement “Let us go to the store” comes out either as “LET us go to the store” or “Let US go to the store”. When all that was meant by the original text is “Let’s go to the store.” So in order to avoid these lofty interpretations I’ve taken away the guess work.

So, this is why.    Check out my adaptation at www.diretinghamlet.com.  You will find the first ten pages to both the full translation as well as a slightly abridged version (cutting off about a half an hour or so of the playing time from the original.  Contact me thru the website if you’d like to see more.  Enjoy the brilliance of Chekhov’s characters.

‘Directing Hamlet’ is rich with subtext

A probing look at life and the theater

By Rita Moran

Thursday, June 23, 2011

“Directing Hamlet,” Michael Perlmutter’s well-wrought and well-acted drama,  is in the Backstage space at the Santa Paula Theater Center, but is surely  destined for a main stage. Perlmutter, whose career includes acting, directing and playwriting, is on a roll locally. Another of his plays (“My Perfect Alibi”) was staged recently at  the Bell Arts Factory in Ventura.

But there’s nothing hidden about his talent, which shines in the sophistication of the subject matter and dialogue in “Directing Hamlet.” Dealing with a has-been director and a novice actor (played keenly by Joe Boles and Curtis Cline, respectively), Perlmutter turns a coaching session for Shakespeare’s tragedy into a probing look into life and theater, mixing and matching the old saying “Art imitates life,” or occasionally, “Life imitates art.”

Boles as Lee, the grumpy, sometimes preoccupied director, and Cline as Brian, the young man at the beginning of an acting career, enjoy a rough-and-tumble relationship from the very first word of Brian’s attempt to recite “Speak the speech, I pray you ,” one of Hamlet’s singular moments.

Perlmutter’s pair of actors is charged not only with speaking the speech but also with conveying the subtext of each man’s shaping moments and relationships offstage, the incremental revelation of which leads to an understanding of what the brief coaching sessions are really about.

Despite the serious undertone, Perlmutter provides wit along with wisdom. The opening scene, in which Lee overruns every attempt by Brian to finish a line, or even a phrase, is as amusing to the audience as it is frustrating to the young actor.

But the point is made, missed so often in performances both professional or amateur, that Shakespeare’s lines actually mean something and should be delivered less as declamatory speeches and more as conversational communication.

The lesson dawns on Brian to some satisfaction for Lee, despite the answer to his original question about why the young man wants to play Hamlet, surely one of the Bard’s most difficult roles: “Because it would look good on my résumé.” That’s not the soul-searching response Lee wants to hear, but it is honest, and probably rings true for many actors.

Despite the gap between the two men in age, philosophy and to some extent, life experiences, they find their way to understanding through the inch-by-inch personal exchanges pushed by Lee. A final revelation is abrupt, though not totally unexpected. Perlmutter might add just a few more lines to make that final point, though the shock effectively leaves audiences gasping.

Boles, who near the conclusion of the play gets to recite the great “To be or not to be” lines (and aces them), and Cline do well by Shakespeare’s text, and by Perlmutter’s. Audiences are bound to want to hear more of the latter in future plays by the skilled writer.

Email Rita Moran at ritamoran@earthlink.net.

John Nichols/Contributed photo<br />
A grumpy director (Joe Boles, left) and a young actor (Curtis Cline) eventually find a bit of common ground in "Directing Hamlet." Michael Perlmutter's play takes a probing look at life and the theater.<br />

Good week.  Good stuff.  Great actors.  We’ve covered a LOT of ground.  Now comes the fun start.   But like operating any plow we’re still going to have to tear up the soil a bit, even if we did just smooth it out, it was so we could tear it up lay down seeds and run over it again.  Water it, then weed it, then . . . Ok we’ve run that analogy into the ground.   Either I’ve corrected my own course well or Joe and Curtis have altered their expectations of me.  Probably a bit of both.  Suzie (Stage Managing) is a Godsend.  I write a miserable note on my highschool composition book I picked up from the 99 cent only store and refer to some obscure line and she can call out what page it’s on before i even finish my thought.  Maybe my thoughts are too long-winded.  Well, we forge ahead.

Looking forward to how this all comes out in the end.

Well, the read thru went very well thank you much.  Then, the next night, we started in on ACT I.  Slight problem: I got more involved.  Kinda like a three-year old with a puppy I tried to play it to death.   Or trying to swan dive into the kiddie pool.  The actors were superb and listened and did their best to play along as if I actually knew what I was doing.  In a sense I did.  In a sense I know these characters like an old lover and I was visiting a pair of prostitutes trying to turn them into the girls who got away.  There is a dance and no matter how much you may want to lead you just can’t dance a tango while the orchestra it tuning up.

That aside we got quite a bit of work done.  We laid out some skeletal blocking.  And I believe we did establish some baseline for the characters.

In my defense it was my hope that, rather than force feeding character upon the actors and by doing so limiting them to the straitjackets I was fitting them for, that my input would offer them a springboard from which they could safely jump off from.  We were at an airport, on that I think we can all agree.  And while we were all staring at the runway, where  I thought I was showing my pilots where their flight plans might take off from, they were hearing me tell them where to land.

I think the biggest problem is you need to take the plane out of the hanger before you fire up all the engines.

So, we’ll return to taxiing on Monday.

I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason.  It is our job to figure out what that reason is.

Okay, this is why I hate bloggers and Facebook.  To read their trivial crap, about their trivial day in a world of “who the – – – – cares?”  So, humor me.  Tonight I was leaving ten, fifteen minutes early for our first readthru.  Little did I know it wouldn’t make a difference.  However, I didn’t leave early because as I was walking through the living room to leave ‘Naddie’, my son’s dog, decided to pee on the living room sofa.  So, needless to say I stripped the cover off the cushion and put my son to work to clean the cushion itself.  He decided to try to soak it out and the ring out the cushion and leave it out to let it dry.  So . . . I left on time.  I had an easy thirty minutes to make a twenty minute drive so I’m fine.  Until I hit the free way of wall to wall carpeting at a sporadic 0 to 3 miles an hour.  It seems a trash truck met with an RV and nobody was moving.  Meanwhile I don’t have anybody’s number in my phone because I was using a backup cell phone while I was waiting for a new charger I’d ordered online so I could keep using my regular phone who’s charger was “not available in any store near you”.  Now, it only goes to understand that my car wants to overheat.  It loves to overheat.  And to make a long story . . . yeah, well, it overheated.  Twice.  The second time it wouldn’t start up again. Meanwhile we  cancelled the rehearsal that was supposed to be our read thru since one of the actors (in a cast of two) was also lost in the traffic tie up and my car wasn’t moving anywhere.  Luckily people called me since I had no numbers by which to call them.  I did however have my Triple A card.  However due to a computer screw up the triple A account was now in my wife’s name and not mine.  My wife could not be reached.  Triple A had my balls in a vice about getting any help but thank God a policeman came by and gave me the jump my car needed to get back on the road again.  “To hell with you triple A”.  Although the personnel at Triple A were very nice and understanding, their policies were less so. But as I said we were able to avoid them.  I drove home as it started to rain.  The drying couch cushion outside is now a giant sponge.  And how was your day?

As I said I believe everything happens for a reason.  Unfortunately I also think that reason could be, “just that God thinks it’s funny.”  We will start again Wednesday.   Which is the day they pick up the trash on my street.

DIRECTING HAMLET is a two act character driven drama that examines our motives as artists, in other words: why we do what we do. 

As the play opens, BRIAN, a nineteen year old actor is busy being verbally attacked, prodded, cajoled and anything but coddled by THE DIRECTOR (Lee), a middle aged theatre veteran.  As they stumble their way to bring Hamlet out of Brian both men are brought to their wit’s end. 

Through the progress of their rehearsing one of theatre’s most intriguing characters both men explore their own potentials and limitations, what it is to be a alone in the world and in need of a family, and why each of them have chosen this career path of artistic expression.   Why is art, after all?  What are we celebrating, what are we looking for, and what are we hiding from?