New Hampshire Log: Days Three–Five—Where We Think We Are

Forgive the lapse. It has been three days of intensive work, with continual switches, changes, reversals—just sort of a seemingly endless exploration. My frustration with the openness of it all came to a head last night, when, after running through the second act and finding it lacking any drive or purpose, we were given an assignment to compile seven moments of the government solving a problem of media exposure throughout the play. I don’t know; maybe I was just tired after a long day, but I couldn’t pull it together to be open and fulfill the request. Fortunately my fellow actors (particularly Joe Varca) had a better attitude at that moment. It was all I could do to stay silent.

The things I kept wanting to say: It’s not about the media, it’s about the family’s descent into hopelessness; giving us another assignment doesn’t provide a solution to the structure of the story; adding bits won’t streamline the play. I got some of it said in the discussion after portraying our media moments, and Laurie has been very concerned about my reaction to the changes they’ve made to the play since last night. And, indeed, the changes they made streamlined the play into more of a story about the family. The choice to do so cut my scenes by half. I would be lying if I said that didn’t disappoint me, but when I can think about it clearly it’s a small price to pay for a more concise story, and I still count myself lucky not to have been cut from the play entirely.

Lots and lots has gone on since Day Two, but it’s hard to chart it all chronologically. You can imagine—with the gap in my writing—that we’ve been awfully busy. In some ways, it has felt like a prolonged tech day, at least in the sense that there has been a lot of time spent just being available for that unpredictable moment when one might be needed. This is in particular due to the “movement theatre” aspects of the show, which are characterized by transitions between scenes in which multiple characters enter to express some part of the situation at that point in the play. (For these moments, the director[s] have adopted a term I learned working with Cirque Boom. Charivari [shar-ee-var-ee]. In circus, it’s a term that describes the sequences typically at the beginning and end when all the acts come out at once and show a little of their stuff. The term comes from a village tradition [can’t remember where exactly, but it lives on in Creole settings] of surrounding the residence of a newly married couple to shout and bang pots and pans.) This kind of constant but uncertain availability we call “hurry up and wait.”

The pity of this is that it can feel like a waste of time, but the fact is that Laurie as creator/director, Christina as on-call playwright, Joe and Jen as all-around-technicians/designers and Kelly as actor/producer are working ‘round the clock and very, very hard. Not that the actors aren’t, but we do have periods when we can zone out for a bit (horrible practice for an actor, but sometimes it’s the only way to rest). As for me, well…. I’ve never been this muscle-bound in my life. I don’t mean that as a boast about my size; I could probably get up to 300 push-ups daily and still just give the effect of a rather slender baseball player. I mean it literally. Trying to get just moderately bigger (plus all the prolonged moments of standing at attention as we work through some sequence or other of the play) has me feeling about as flexible as a frozen flank steak.

It is having some outward effect. My fellow cast-mates are very encouraging in this; especially Kelly, bless her heart. They compliment my body with sincerity and joking cat calls. This has led to an interesting situation, in which the publicity guy we’ve hired called to complain that the pictures they had sent him for advance publicity aren’t “sexy” enough. So parts of day five were spent sweating my buzz-cut off in a separate cabin, trying to take a “sexy” photo that encapsulated the play a bit. I can’t say as I was thrilled with the results, especially toward the end of the day, when all the exhaustion of working in 90-degree weather was showing in my face. (Rather than, “Hi, you’re fascinating and I kind of want to see you naked,” my face says, “Howdy; I smell like guano and can only think about a cold beer.” I have to let it go, though. That’s just not my job, plain and simple.

The last day also started for me with filming our recreation of Matt’s capture video in Faith’s cellar. In a desert boonie cap I sat on a broken wicker chair, bare bulbs illuminating the concrete wall behind me and Alex Charington to my right, face obscured and hands grasping a reproduction M16. We tried all different versions, people kept making noise above us, and through it all I tried to maintain in my imagination the actual circumstances of Matt’s capture, and remind myself how he behaves in the actual video. It was awful and difficult. It can’t begin to compare to what he actually experienced.

It hasn’t been all tormented scenarios and constant script revision. There has been swimming at the lake, jogs through the woods and camaraderie. One of my favorite things about rehearsing here, oddly enough, is the half-court basketball set up behind the barn. I absolutely suck at b-ball, but just dribbling and shooting by myself has been a great way to loosen up on breaks (not to mention the way it keeps me away from the temptation of the group of smokers in front of the barn). Last night we even—in spite of universal exhaustion—gathered around a lakeside fire to relax and chat for a bit over s’mores and wine. This led to a mass skinny-dip in the lake, from which I abstained. Call me crazy (crazy!) but the day of rather objectifying photography took the wild hair right out of me.

Part of the cause for this celebration was that as a result of our Wednesday night crisis (and a sleepless night for the production team) we now have a play that may clock in at under 90 minutes, with what we are calling an “ending” and everything. I’m very pleased with this, of course. It means we’re better prepared to show what we have so far to the locals on Friday night. I don’t, however, particularly like the ending. I’m suspending actual judgment until I can see the whole thing together (which may not be until a week from now, once we’re rehearsing in New York), but it seems to me too technical, and lacking in the catharsis I know this story engenders in all of us. Now, one could argue that because the story itself is so unresolved, that such is how the play should responsibly end. To me, however, part of what we have to offer in creating theatre is the magic of a pure emotional release. We have all been moved to tears by this story of a missing soldier, and have to communicate that as well as the facts to our audiences.

Soon I’ll be back to subways and divorces. It will be good to reconnect with my life at home, but I always miss the sunsets and maddening, uplifting, beautiful work.