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.

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