Back in the stone age, the paleolithic period, the early 80’s in fact, when acting was what I really wanted to do but not enough to starve for it, I heard the great Geraldine Page was to teach a master class in Scene Study to be taught at HB Studios. I girded my ample loins, learned my favorite monologue from one of my favorite plays, Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer”, (a long story about the stupidity of actors in general, comparing them to trained animals, told by a washed up theatrical manager) and I got a slot to audition for that class with the great Miss Page. It was nerve-wracking-a darkened rehearsal room somewhere downtown, very little in the way of light except that which was creeping in through a broken, half-shuttered window, and the great lady herself at the end of the room in an overstuffed chair, dressed in a ratty housedress, surrounded by shopping bags filled with various detrius. “Begin”, she commanded, and so I did, fluidly telling my story in my best faux Irish country accent, waiting to hear the words “STOP RIGHT NOW” before I could get a few sentences in, and yet…and yet….I did the entire 4 page monologue without a break, without an interruption from the Lady. When I was done, there was a long silence, until finally, she uttered, “I think I can find a place for you” in that long slow throaty Southern drawl of hers, and I suddenly found myself ten feet off the ground. Things, however, are not always what they seem to be, or what you expect them to be. It turned out Miss Page was a brilliant, quirky actress; but a squirmy, vague, mumbling, nostalgic teacher who was more interested in spinning tales of days and plays gone by, than she was in critiquing young enthusiastic actors and actresses, although, to be fair, she was much more favorable in her praise of the women than she was the men, and half the time, I’m not convinced she actually knew where she was. I lasted about 6 weeks in that class, because it became obvious I could learn more watching a performance by Geraldine Page, than I could listening to her ramble on about doing a play with Louis Jordan. All of that time came to mind watching the great Alan Rickman in Theresa Rebeck’s new play, “The Seminar” about four fledgeling writers being taught, lectured to, and tyrannized by a pompous overbearing former writer teaching a seminar in a private apartment. Rickman morphed into Miss Page as they sat there, the seminar, that horrid acting class I suffered through for 6 weeks, and I managed to empathize with everyone in that room in that play, including, in the end, with Mr. Rickman’s character, Leonard, himself, finally coming to the understanding there was a chance Miss Page might have actually hated doing what she was doing. The play, directed expertly and deftly by the great Sam Gold, himself a specialist in the care and feeding of misfit characters in plays that often border on Chekhovian, is a throwback to the type of self-examinations writers used to specialize in the 70’s, post-VietNam America, and bears watching closely. It will need careful and specific nurturing to grab the audience it deserves.
As for Miss Page, I wonder what she would have thought of my reading of the soon-to-be iconic line from a recent episode of “Boardwalk Empire”, that’s gotten so much attention in recent days. Maybe you missed it. The line was….”Nice Shoes”.
The return of Jon Robin Baitz’s heartbreakingly funny new play, “Other Desert Cities”, directed by the brilliant actor/director Joe Mantello, is cause for rejoicing, now that it’s found a home on Broadway at the Booth Theatre. It is a caustic examination of the classic Republican, rich, bored, spoiled family in the desert in Palm Springs, trying to celebrate Christmas as their only daughter arrives home, bearing the gift they could have done without-a no-holds-barred expose’ of the turbulence and the mistakes made during their days of the VietNam War conflict, as it was being fought at home, indeed, by a deceased member of its own family. And now the prodigal daughter has wriiten it all down, expecting to be embraced, when dredging up the past is the last thing these right wing Republican stalwarts want, or need. This is riveting theater, expertly played by Stockard Channing, Stacey Keach, Thomas Sadoski, and two newcomers, replacing the off-Broadway production’s Elizabeth Marvel and Linda Lavin, the stringy, wired Rachel Griffiths as the daughter, and the burnt-out shell of Judith Light, expertly replacing Linda Lavin, and, at times, eclipsing a performance by Miss Lavin I thought could not be topped. Happily, I find I was wrong.
Speaking of Lavin, she recently stole the entire show out from under her co-stars down at the Vineyard Theatre’s production of Nicky Silver’s flawed but fascinating new play, “The Lyons”. Miss Lavin never missed a comic beat, her timing was deadly in its accuracy, and there she was, at the youngish age of 74, still mopping the floor with those around her.
Linda Lavin teaching a master class in Scene Study. Now that’s something I might dust off that old monologue to embarrass myself for.