Monday, June 18, 2007

Hell hath no a good Shaw play!

Here we are at the end of the second week of "Man and Superman" rehearsals and we have finsihed the initial staging of the play. This is quite an accomplishment, since this is a long and difficult script.

Jon Moscone is directing this production and he and I spent an entire month before rehearsals started making cuts to the script. Uncut, the play runs over four and a half hours long. Woof. Many productions cut the third act entirely. This is the act that contains its own self-standing one-act play called "Don Juan in Hell." It is a dream sequence in which the hero of "Man and Superman," Jack Tanner, imagines himself as his ancestor, Don Juan, from the opera version of that legend by Mozart, "Don Giovanni." In hell Don Juan encounters his old love, Dona Anna, and, of course, the devil. (The devil is played by Cal Shakes' Associate Artist, Andy Murray. How's that for perfect casting!!) "Don Juan in Hell" basciallly contains Shaw's whole philosophy about love, marriage, procreation, war, econonmics -- you name it, it's in here.

I understand why people often cut "Don Juan in Hell" entirely when producing "Man and Superman," but it seems to me the thematic framework of the play is largely lost without.

Our solution to the problems encountered by a text this long for a production with only 4 weeks of rehearsal and which will be performed in an open-air ampitheatre with extreme temperature changes was to cut a little from all four acts rather than cutting all of act three.

We accomplished this by going over the play with a fine tooth comb individually and coming up with our own recommended cuts. Then Jon and I met four or five times before rehearsals started and went through the play together word by word. We compared his sugestions for cuts with mine. Many times we agreed. Other times we cheerlfully negotiated. Other times we argued. Somtimes we even got snippy and had to slug it out. This process probably sounds like water torutre to many of you, but it was actually fun.

At the end of all this, a month later, we had a version of the script we were ready to take into rehearsals. We hoped for a three-hour version of the script for first reheasal. We knew it would change. Script edits always change once you get into the rehearsal hall. When you have the actors in the room who are playing the parts, you begin to make discoveries. There are always sections of text you didnt' think were important back when you were locked in script editing combat that seem vital when you DON"T hear them in rehearsal. Then there are things that seemed necessary that don't appear so vital once you hear them out loud. It's a journey of discoverey, actually, and it's quite exciting.

Now at the end of the second week of rehearsal, the script has undergone more changes. We restored some lines we cut some others. It is really starting to look and sound terrific. And we feel confident that it is at a playable length -- hopefully between 3 and 3 1/2 hours. We'll find out for sure the first time we run it from start to finish.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bloggin' with the Stars: An Interview with L. Peter Callender

I'm sitting here in the rehearsal hall with one of my favorite people at Cal Shakes, Associate Artist L. Peter Callender. Peter was last seen at Cal Shakes as both the good and bad Dukes in As You Like It last season. Here is a picture of Peter and I at the Inside Scoop for "As You Like It" in August 2006 taken by our wonderful board member, Jay Yamada.

LH: What have you been doing with yourself since "As You Like It?" You've been acting all over the place. Tell us about it.

PC: Soon after "As You Like It", I went into rehearsal at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco for a play called Rust by Kirsten Greenidge. I played an old shop owner who sells African-American memorabilia and is haunted by his choice of livelihood. What fun that was! Soon after closing – three days to be exact, I began rehearsal in Kansas City, MO. (KC Rep) in a play called "The Syringa Tree" by Pamela Gein. I played seven or eight different characters in a lovely, painful play about a little South African girl telling story about growing up under apartheid in South Africa during the 1960s. A brilliant cast and a great production directed by Sharon Ott ("Restoration Comedy" at CalShakes). I left Kansas City and began rehearsal for "Man and Superman" one week following the close of "The Syringa Tree."

LH: What is your favorite aspect of working at Cal Shakes?

PC: Now in my ninth season, being lucky enough to play such diverse roles in front of the smartest audiences in the Bay Area. Also, to be a part of a company of actors working hard each season to create theater we are all so very proud of; in a company of artists and artisans completely dedicated to the creation of new and exciting work each year.

LH: Of all the roles you have played at Cal Shakes, what is your favorite?

PC: I have many: Vincent Crummels in "Nicolas Nickleby," Orsino in "Twelfth Night", Dr Chausable in "The Importance of Being Earnest" (my first non-Shakespeare role at CalShakes), Bolingbroke in "Richard II" (with my good friend and fellow artistic associate Jim Carpenter in one of his greatest roles as Richard II). I loved playing these because of the variety of physical and vocal stylings, and the fine casts I've had the pleasure of sharing the stage with.

LH: What's your favorite role of all time that you've ever played anywhere?

PC: Yank in Eugene O'Neil's "The Hairy Ape" at the Pittsburgh Public Theater. At that time, I was the first black actor to play Yank since 1932…Paul Robeson was the first.

LH: What is the dream role you have yet to play?

PC: Othello and Iago in "Othello." I would like to be in a production in which the actors switch off between the two. I think that would be tremendous theatrical event and a tour-de-force for the actors. I would also like to play Leontes in "A Winters Tale." To begin that play with nine months of pent up anger, fear and jealousy, turned into rage and madness, and then to come around to truth, love, and repentance. Oh, my…take a bow, Mr. Shakespeare!

LH: I can't believe nobody has ever cast you as Othello. Somebody should get on that, I mean, geez. Hello? American Theatre? Anyone home? Let's talk about this current production. Tell us something about your characters in Man and Superman?

PC: Roebuck Ramsden is a sort of straight man for Jack Tanner, his nemesis. He feeds off of Tanner's verbose opinions about everything and disagrees with all of them. He fights for his ideas and opinions and argues every point with clarity, and the wisdom of a staunch upper-class Englishman. I love his language, rhythm, and position in the story of the play.

LH: You've been in a production of "Man and Superman" before. Where was it and who did you play?

PC: It was at Baltimore Center Stage over 16 years ago in the 1989-90 theatre season. I played Mendoza (The Brigand) and the Devil in the "Don Juan in Hell" sequence of Act Three. This production was directed by Stan Wojewodski. E. G. Marshall played the part I am playing in this production, Roebuck Ramsden. He was wonderful. We did the full uncut version of this play which ran well over 4 hours. Yikes!

LH: Yep. CalShakes audiences can be eternally grateful to Jon and I for not making them sit for over four hours in the freezing cold or boiling heat. (See previous blog entry on cutting the script for production.) One last question, Peter. Who is your favorite dramaturg of all-time in your bright and astonishing career?

PC: You are, Dr. Laura of Great Hope.

(Editorial note: Yes, he had to say that, or I threatened to make cuts to his lines. Sometimes its good to be the dramaturg.)