June 8, 2010

Gaev, Liubov and Varya

Firs and Lopakhin

Gaev and Liubov

Firs and Anya

We did it.  The play has opened at last to a terrific Opening Night!

So wonderful to have an audience at last, and hear them laugh.

I am sorry to say I have no more energy for this blog, now that my focus is on the performance.  It has been wonderful to blog about our journey along the way.  Please come see the play, if you can. 

 Remember:  “The play is the thing.”


May 24, 2010


Sometimes there is no explaining why things finally just start to CLICK when doing a play.  A moment when the actors, and the few technicians watching (when they can) start to feel that they may have a show.  A magical moment when suddenly there is a sneaking suspicion that moments on stage may be funny or tragic or moving and that a whole story is being told, not just fragmented thoughts.  We had such a rehearsal the other night.  Rachel put our costumes in order and everyone looked totally transformed, even in the tangle of quick changes and limited room in a tiny corner with no privacy.  Thanks to Chris Singleton we had real stage lighting and faces could be seen.  Marla and David had set up our props on real prop tables and Q’s could be heard over the 4 baby monitors that work as our means of hearing what lines are being said on stage.  In short, we were PERFORMING A PLAY! Two more Dress rehearsals, a Preview on Thursday, and Friday is Opening Night.  This is the home stretch, and it feels good to be approaching it at last!

 As Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare In Love, when asked HOW the play will turn out well in the end, says,  “It’s a mystery”.

Babies on Parade!

May 20, 2010

Pa rum pum, Pa rum pum,  Waa! Waa! Waa!

Come on, Actors!  Stop whining and just grow up!

Learn your lines.  Take your notes from your director and make the adjustments needed.   Take you line notes and blocking notes from the Stage Manager and make the adjustments.  That is your job as an actor.  That is what you have been hired to do.

Stand up, and walk on your own.

Okay, enough said.

What is an Ensemble?

May 20, 2010


Jimmie Green on book

If you look the word up in the Webster’s New World dictionary it says 1] all the parts considered as a whole; total effect 3] a company of actors, dancers, etc.or all but the featured artists – their performance together. This is what all theatre productions aspire to accomplish.  Even movies, like those written and directed by Mike Lee, who is known for the movie Secrets and Lies among others, can accomplish this unity and closeness. Gone are the days of the “star” vehicle and even plays that have star names attached strive for an ensemble.  Plays like August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, which had a long run on Broadway are all about families and large casts working together. Upstaging, backbiting, tyrannical directors, divas who rule the stage and leading men who continue to relate only to the audience are not what is currently in vogue.   

The Cherry Orchard cast is slowly becoming an ensemble.  Most extraordinary to me is the work of Jimmie Greene.  As the senior member of the cast, it is amazing to me how giving he is, and what a “trooper” he is.  The other night when many actors were struggling with the dark of the outdoors, limited lighting, and accuracy with their lines – he immediately just sat down with the script and played SM until our real stage manager, Marla, was able to arrive. What a hero! At 84 years old, it was simply miraculous how WELL he was able to read the lines, and call them out immediately, loudly and clearly when we needed them. 

Here’s a little you may not know about Jimmie- just something I wrote recently to spark the interest of a local editor in LA.

“Of greater interest, and I believe a story worth hearing about, is the fact that Jimmy Greene aka James Nolan Greene (listed on imdb as James Greene) is playing in the role of Firs.  Jimmy is 84 years old and began his career in 1951 on Broadway in Romeo & Juliet starring Olivia De Havilland. He has been acting in the theater, in film and television for the last 59 years.  He is not a star, but an accomplished actor who has worked with such famous artists as Sidney Lumet, Geraldine Page, Faye Dunaway, Leo Penn, Fritz Weaver, Tom Bosley, Jason Robards, Marlon Brando, Tony Randall, Paul Muni, Blair Brown, John Housman, Barnard Hughs, Jose Quintero and Ed Begley to mention only a few.  He has starred in over 100 movies, 40 Broadway plays, 50 Off Broadway plays, and more than 40 TV shows.  More amazing to me is the story of why he always wanted to perform in the play The Cherry Orchard, and why he decided to come to our auditions.  He is a perfect gentleman, consummate actor, modest and talented professional, with a mind like a steel trap!  It is a great honor for us to have him among our cast.

Jimmie never talks about his roles, his auditions, the actors he has worked with or famous people he has known.  Unless you ask him to relate a story about his life in the theatre, he is perfectly silent and present as a person.  He is modest beyond belief.  He arrives on time, never complains, and has never asked to have an understudy in case he should be cast in television or film during the run of the show.  He is a deeply committed and hard-working artist, a true professional.

So, that’s all for tonight…

Fun In the Sun!

May 19, 2010


actors on the patio, a stage of sorts

Ahhhhh….the joys of outdoor rehearsals! It was really HOT today and although some of the actors had hats or shades on, there was really no escaping the sun entirely. 

Now we have complaints about some mosquitoes in the yard.  I thought there were NO mosquitoes in Los Angeles! 

Wow!  Some of the actors are making some really funny and interesting choices.  Just when we stop cracking each other up, because we have seen it too many times, then we will have an audience in place. 

 Too sun drained to say much more…. 

 Sadly I am failing miserably as a blogger!


May 14, 2010

One of the themes that runs though this complex and volatile comedy is death. Part of the history of this emotional and dysfunctional family is the death of the little boy, Grisha, Liubov’s son, only 5 years ago.  He drowned in the river that runs through the property. Chekhov is deliberately unspecific about the events of this day.  He does not detail who was supposed to be with the boy, if he was alone or with family, or if he was there to swim or not.  However, Trofimov, who was the Grisha’s tutor, has specifically returned to see the family again when he hears that Liubov will be returning to the estate.  In many scenes, through various references, Chekhov gives the actors a clear blueprint regarding their guilt in this incident and their inability to get over it.  He makes it clear that the mother, Liubov, does not blame anyone but herself, or at least has forgiven them completely.  As a parent myself, I know that this is the worst nightmare for any parent to live through – the accidental death of a child.  As an actress, I know that the strongest choice is to create a personal history and  make myself  present at the event or a reason why I was supposed to be there and was not.  Each actor has the responsibility to do this work regarding their character biography, and their character timeline according to the world of the play. The least interesting choice as an actor would be to choose that your character was not present, was not supposed to be, and has no guilt regarding the death.  It would be very hard to create any emotion off that scenario.

There is another obvious death in the play – that of the Cherry Orchard.  This, of course, involves the death of many of the intimate relationships that exist on the estate. 

And there is another death, which would be unfair to mention, for those people who have never seen or read the play.  No one likes a story to be told in full, or to be robbed of the experience of the story slowly revealing itself in full.  Suffice to say that only a master playwright, in his final play ever written, could manage to pull off the dramatic depth that The Cherry Orchard offers, within the context of a Comedy.

Strange rehearsal tonight.  One actor was not able to be there, two actors were forced to be late due to events beyond their control, our stage manager had to stay late at her “day” job given no notice at all and was not present, and another actor left right before the director arrived without ever saying why or even explaining if this was an “emergency”.  James Carey tried to make do with the cast he had, and no stage manager, but decided the most logical use of time for rehearsing Act 4 would be to sit and do several line-throughs.  We did get up and walk through some of the blocking but James could not stand in for all the missing actors and this became tedious.  Several actors took turns being on book, mostly Karen Foster, who plays Charlotta.  Without Marla’s blocking notes it was hard to continue. Those of us who were present got a great session in line work, however, which is always so much better than studying your lines on your own and trying to cover up the page with your hand.

SEX in the Orchard

May 12, 2010

Eden Malyn and Chris Smith

People always think that actors are constantly sleeping around and having sex with each other during rehearsals and performances of plays or movies.  Is this true?  I WISH I knew all the dirt of who is sleeping with who behind the scenes, but the real truth is I just do NOT know at this point.  I suspect trouble is brewing, but nothing has happened yet.  I could predict, as I do see some MAJOR attractions and a lots of joking and kidding and cheesy behavior –  like a nameless person in the ensemble taking a close up photo tonight of a young girls ass! – BUTT I will leave that for when the buzz starts backstage! 

Did I write SEX in the title just to make you read the blog?  Is this a cheap marketing strategy? Am I trying to lure an audience in with the promise of intrigue?  Damn straight! 

In reality there is a lot of SEX in this play, but as Chekhov is such a brilliant writer, we only get to see the foreplay, which, of course, is the most interesting part.  Above you can see a photo of Eden, as Dunyasha, and Chris, as Yasha, in their very comical seduction scene, but that is only for starters.  Anya and Trofimov have an equally steamy scene under the moon and stars where they Varya’s watchful eye and escape down to the river. We can only imagine what happens next!   There is also a bazaar sexual manipulation scene that is, a seduction of sorts, between Liubov and Lopakin.  Not to be forgotten is the heartbreaking non-romance of the dance played out by Yepikhodov and Dunyasha.  This is a classic unrequited romance.  Lastly, there is a total failure at seduction between Varya nd Lopakin, both comic and tragic, it reflects a scene many of us have acted out in our own lives. 

So if you are looking for ROMANCE, SEX, HEARTBREAK or TRUE LOVE, this is the show for you!

To quote Michael Frayn, “Chekhov is a writer who inspires love, and love is an awkward burden.”

Lopakhin, The Shovel

May 10, 2010


Jerry Clarke

 It is Mother’s Day and we had an excellent rehearsal of Act 2 this morning.  I intended to write about mothering or the role of the mother, or the mother that Chekhov presents us with in the form of Liubov – I just can’t do it today.  I feel too emotional and sensitive about my own mother, the mother I am, and mothering in general today.           

So instead, I want to brag about THE ROCK in our cast – Jerry Clarke, who plays Lopakhin. I deliberately chose this photo of Jerry because he is always doing something to be helpful and move this production forward.  In this photo he is serving water to everyone on the porch during a meeting the director, James Carey, called to assemble the cast before one of our rehearsals.  I wonder if I can possibly list all the things Jerry has done and continues to do to ensure the success of The Cherry Orchard.  For starters he has almost single handedly transformed the backyard  on the “estate” on Ridge Way in Angelino Heights from a wild overgrown backyard plot to a multi leveled, sodded, pastoral garden.  This has involved working with a pick ax, pitch fork, shovel, spade, rototiller and a lot of brute force. He has done everything from tree removal to nurturing a strawberry patch into existence.  He created a rose garden in the front of the house.  He is currently painting the “nursery” inside the house.  He will be installing, with the help of some other cast members, a hand rail on the main staircase – to ensure the safety of all the cast and audience members.  It’s a full-time day job, in addition to the one he already has.  And last, but not least, he prepares the “set” each night we are outdoors, by placing furniture for cast and crew and offers water and refreshments to the cast.  His partner, Karen Foster, does the same thing and they both play the perfect hosts night after night when we all invade their home for rehearsals.         

Most amazing is how perfect Jerry is in the role of Lopakhin. First let me say that Jerry is not only an actor, but also a very accomplished artist (painter and sculptor), a musician and songwriter, and a massage therapist.  He is a large man and a strong man, and definitely has a noticeable presence when he enters a room.  It is not therefore hard to imagine him as Lopakhin, the only character in the play who actually works for a living (with the exception of Varya) where many of the others only talk about the importance of work.  He is the new Russian man. He is the new middle class.  He has risen from the ranks of former slaves, then peasants and common laborers on this estate, to become the new businessman – a true capitalist.  Lopakin is a modern man and Jerry is very modern in his interpretation of him, and thoroughly believable.  With his booming voice, big gestures, firm handshakes, and bear-like hugs he dominates the stage in a way that dwarfs all others around him.  In Act 2 Lopakin asks Trofimov, “Well, answer me one thing.  What do you think of me?”  To which Trofimov responds, “I think you’re necessary.  You’re a rich man and getting richer.  The cycle of nature requires carnivores to eat whatever comes their way. It’s called the conversion of matter.”  Everyone laughs.  Jerry has made the choice to laugh along with us.  He easily plays Lopakin as an open, giving, very modern, and intelligent man, even though he may not have been schooled for very long.  A lesser actor may have chosen to play him as a simpleton, but Jerry has not.  His Lopakin is a man of great confidence and practical knowledge which serves him well in a world where he is consistently rewarded for his common sense.  Working with Jerry on stage is always a rewarding experience because he is not wedded in any kind of repetition from past rehearsals, but embedded in the reality of the moment that is actually happening on stage.  Always exciting.       

In this play, which constantly pits “old school” thinking and traditions against new ways of speaking and behaving, the actors and their characters must choose in which world they wish to live.

Varya – a tragic character within a Comedy

May 9, 2010

Zoey Sidwell

Today was an excellent rehearsal for Zoey Sidwell, who is playing Varya.  In our transitional slogging through the script, where some actors were trying to work off book and others were not there yet, Zoey had done substantial work on her character.  In Act 3, when all of the family is waiting for Lopakhin and Gaev to return from the auction, Varya’s future lies in the balance of this sale.  James Carey, has given her an interesting activity as she waits on the porch – I won’t tell what it is, as this would only give away the surprise, but I will say that I have NEVER seen a production with this twist – and she has some very revealing speeches.  Zoey is a Native New Yorker, and so perfectly cast a Varya, given the abrupt way she has of speaking and the no-nonsense, almost dry delivery of her lines.  However, we saw today a new side of her abilities as an actress as she began to explore the anger, impatience,  frustration and deep emotional scars, that make Varya such a complex character.  It was so exciting to be on stage with her today and feel that volatile and fragile emotion just below the surface of what she allows herself to say.  

We can only vaguely predict at this point WHERE audience members will be standing in Act 3 each night, and that is what will make the performance so improvisational, so flexible and ever-changing from night to night.  Because it is a PARTY – all the audience members will be in the play with us, as invited guests at the home of the Ranevshaya family – this act is truly interactive and will require great focus and relaxation on the part of the actors!  We will, at times, literally be pushing through the audience with an “excuse me” or “pardon” or maybe even a quick turn about the room, or a dance move – who knows!  So exciting and terrifying at the same time.  As Marla Du Mont, our Stage Manager, said, “No knocking over the elderly.” 

As you can see, this blog is getting shorter and shorter because I have lines to learn.  Must go back to the script now.  

I leave you with a quote from The Dramatic Imagination by Robert Edmond Jones : “It is my right as a member of the audience to find men and women on the stage who are alive.  I want to respect these players, to look up to them, to love them. I want them to speak well, to move well, to give out energy and vitality and eagerness.”

The Curse of The Cherry Orchard?

May 6, 2010
The House – The play’s 12th character

Everyone knows  the curse associated with “Macbeth”, by William Shakespeare.  Some believe,  some do not.  Either way, the possibility of jinxing one’s theatre or play is so stong that no one is allowed in a theatre to utter the real title of the play, and is required instead to speak only about “The Scottish play”. 

I wonder how many people believe in a curse surrounding THE CHERRY ORCHARD?  Legend has it that Chekhov and Stanislavski had a HUGE parting of ways and disagreed terribly about the direction of the play.  The play was first produced at The Moscow Art Theatre  in 1904, with Stanislavski directing.  Chekhov saw the play as a comedy; Stanislavski tried to persuade him it was a tragedy.  Chekhov’s attitude caused a great deal of  puzzlement, and has been widely ignored by directors throughout time.  WE are embracing the play as a Comedy, but not a slapstick farce, which has been a mistake in the past.  This play is about a FAMILY, which is what James Carey has been talking about from the first rehearsal. Today we would call them a dysfunctional family, but simply put, they are a family.

My bigger question is about this history of enormous DRAMA behind the scenes of the comedy being presented on stage.  In this regard, our play fits the bill to a T.  You want drama, on stage and off – we got it!  My fondest desire is that no friendships are lost in the wake of this monumental undertaking…

History need not repeat itself.