Friday, December 20, 2013

Ghosts of Christmas Past

So I was last here in Louisville ten years ago.  I played a 1930's magician's assistant in a beautiful play called "Orange Lemon Egg Canary."  That's me in the shorts.  The title refers to a magic trick in which the magician peels an orange and inside it he finds a lemon.  He peels the lemon to reveal an egg.  He cracks the egg and a canary flies out.  Cool trick.

I have been trying, since I arrived, to overlay my memory of being in this this theater...with my experiences of the last week.  Merging the map of the city in my head with the streets I'm walking--like superimposing Google maps and street view.  We were here 11 weeks in 2003.  I should be able to remember something.

And I have been failing miserably.  I can't remember which rehearsal room we used ten years ago. I  walk to where I remember the door being, and hit a wall.  Admittedly, the city itself has changed significantly.  We're not staying in the same building we stayed in before.  An effort has been made to revitalize the downtown and there's a HUGE stadium, the KFC YUM! Center (I wish I were making that up) across the street from the theater.  Beyonce sang there not too long ago.  But it is downright disconcerting to know that I was here, know it for a fact, and not remember much of anything.  The Starbucks is where I recall it being--but it looks totally different inside than my memory of it.

And then there's the fact that I did "Our Town," the same play I'm doing now, fifteen years ago.  And much like this city, I remember some of it crystally.  I remember loving being on top of the ladder and listening to the choir practice in the first act.  I remember sitting at the soda fountain.  I can hear the voice of the woman who played my mother loud and clear.  I have to resist falling into some of her line readings.  And yet.  I have been racking my brain and I have absolutely no memory of who played Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs.  I can't picture the kid who played my brother.  The stage manager's words just lurk somewhere right at the back of my head.  Vaguely familiar.  I can taste them in the back of my throat.

I have lived long enough that there are parts of my adult life which are absolute complete blanks.

We have zillions of people in this play.  All 19 young actors who form the theater's apprentice company are in the show.  When they tumble into the rehearsal room, it's like I'm suddenly surrounded by puppies.  Puppies with lots of facial hair and plaid shirts and big glasses and stocking caps.  I have to stop myself from grabbing them and saying, look, I know I seem to you like some forty year old lady who is playing the mom...but about thirty seconds ago I was an unpaid intern and moving the furniture.  Last week I did the scene up on top of the ladder.  Just blink and you'll be Mrs. So-and-so, too.

You'll be finding yourself saying the exact, and I mean the exact, words your mother said to you.  Your fictional mother or your real one.  Or both.  You'll catch yourself saying those same words exactly as she did and trying to at least change the inflection.  After all, you're doing things your own way.  You'll be alone in actor housing five days before Christmas, watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and seeing scenes you swear have never been included in the televised broadcast...and checking twitter to see if this year they're doing some uncut longer version that they've never done before.  Because since when do we see George Bailey as a kid? And finding out that no.  You just simply don't remember it.

Ghosts of Christmas Past. 

In the play "Orange Lemon Egg Canary" the actor playing Great, the magician, does the magic trick on stage.  He peels the orange and lo and behold there's a lemon.  He peels the lemon and reveals an egg.  He cracks the egg...

and it plops to the floor in a sticky mess.

Funny.  I could have sworn a canary flew out.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

So an hour after I published that last post I got a text from Doc Hubby.  Bean had a temp of 102.

Are you friggin KIDDING me?  This week was jam packed full of holiday activities! Open ballet class on Tuesday for Granny and Pops to attend!  A family gathering at school.  Pajama Day.  Macy's windows!  Christmas shopping and a poker game for Daddy.  So much everyone wanted to do this first week I am away.  This last week before Christmas.

Yesterday the fever rose to 103.  And then Bean got an itchy rash on her butt.  At that point I urged Doc Hubby to text a pediatrician friend.

"Is there something going around...103 fever, mild sore throat, rash...?"
"As a matter of fact, yes.  Lasts 48 hours or so."

Can this please be some weird rashy virus that only children are susceptible to and adults simply cannot get?

We started blocking the play today.  Always feels like jumping off a cliff.  But miming making an entire breakfast in a 19th century kitchen.  Um.  So what does an ice box look like again?  And how exactly do you string green beans?

Lucky for me, Kameron with a "K" made a video to help out with that one.  I think it bears sharing.

Here's what I learned today.  All Mrs. Webb (the character in OUR TOWN that I'm playing) wants to do is to raise healthy children.  This appears to be her primary goal in life.   Yet (spoiler alert)... both kids and her best friend will be dead before her 45th birthday.

Sucks to be Myrtle.

The best laid plans...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mama's Gift

Mama is back in the act.  Acting.  Playing a Mama.

I am doing "Our Town" in Louisville, Kentucky.  A theater where I first worked a little over ten years ago.  Before I was a Mama.

Bean has known for months that I was going to do this play.  We talked about it and did our best to set up a framework in which she could feel comfortable and included in my leaving.  I will be back for Christmas.  She will come down and see the play.  And then I will come home.

Still, Doc Hubby had to peel her, screaming, off of me yesterday when I left for the airport.

"But do you really absolutely have to go do the play?"
"I do.  They are counting on me."
"Do you absolutely have to go today?"
"I do. I'll be back in just a week for Christmas, okay?"
"It is NOT OKAY!!!"

Fifteen years ago I played the daughter in this play.  I loved doing this play.  I loved the soda fountain scene most of all.  I also loved playing the third act but I struggled to find the emotional depths.  The playwright says that Emily sobs when she goes back home and sees her Mama "so young."  I never sobbed.

Today I couldn't get through reading the last act without tearing up embarrassingly.  And of course, Mrs. Webb can't cry.  She's just making biscuits or oatmeal or bacon or whatever Emily's favorite breakfast is.  Because that's Mama's job.

I just spent about 45 minutes trying to figure out what Mrs. Webb's birthday present to Emily in the third act would have been.  Emily turned 12 in 1899.  I have no memory of what I imagined it was when I was playing Emily.  Something Mrs. Webb had to send all the way to Boston for.  Something they didn't even have in Concord...the capitol of New Hampshire.  What in the world can this be? I have some ideas.  They all sound vaguely silly.

I left to come here yesterday...the 15th of December.  All of Bean's Christmas presents are ordered and 90% of them are wrapped.  That's what Mamas do, isn't it?  Find the special presents.  Wrap them.  Send to Boston if you need to.

Do I really absolutely have to come and do this play?  As I was leaving yesterday I just wanted to say "Nope.  Mistake.  Wrong.  Just kidding. Take the suitcases back inside I don't have to go."   I mean, how can I leave her?  She's six!  Our little family is so precious and it's a big world out there.  And after all, it's Christmas.

But I remember that when the offer came to do this play, my heart leapt and I thought "yes!" I think I will be a better Mama if I come to Kentucky for two months to do this play.  I told her that.  I told her that Mama is a storyteller and I need to come and tell this story.  But I can in no way explain my decision to Bean in a way that will satisfy her.

So as much as it is a gift to me, to come here and do this play, I really believe it is a gift to her too.  I had to send all the way to Kentucky for it.  I had to go away and pretend to be someone else's Mama for a while.  And pretend to be part of a different family.  And it's because of my actual daughter, I think, that I could now go back and do the Third Act as Emily.  And begin to glimpse what Emily can see from beyond the grave.  After all I'm fifteen years closer to it.

But it's too late.  I can't go back and be Emily now.  I'm the Mama.

I think that's kind of what this play's about.