Monday, July 29, 2013

Friday Dance Party: I'm Gonna Wash That Blood Right Outta My Hair

This week's Dance Party comes as my summer activities reach the two thirds point, and by activities, I mean the productions in Manhattan in which I am performing.  I am spending my summer acting up outside, in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  I worked with this scrappy little company, called Hudson Warehouse, last summer too, in a production of Richard III (I wrote about that experience here and here too).
The Hudson Warehouse loves blood, and even more, they love splattering it all over me.  In both Richard III (above) and in this year's King Lear, I had blood spouting out of various orifices.
This year, I agreed to perform in two of Hudson Warehouse's productions, back-to-back.  In one, The Three Musketeers, I will be playing a small, comic relief role, and we will open that swashbuckler Thursday. But up until yesterday, I have also been engulfed in the dark and hubristic world of King Lear
As King Lear's Earl of Gloucester, I had the privilege (if that's the word) of being on the receiving end of one of Shakespeare's most gruesome atrocities:  my eyes are gouged out.  Hudson Warehouse loves blood, and I was drenched in it every night, so much so that I had to dash home for a thorough shower to remove it from my hair and beard.  I think there's still some in my goatee.
King Lear was plagued with lousy weather (ironic, considering much of the play occurs during a storm).  During our final week of rehearsal, which included all our tech/dresses, we were continually aborted by rain.  I mean torrential downpours which kept the cast scurrying toward the nearest overhang, attempting to protect costumes from the gales of rain.
 
Our King Lear opened a month ago, on the opposite side of this
monument, against some substantial odds provided by Mother
Nature.  All rehearsals and performances happen in this
outside space.



Elegant 1980s clothes were not made to wash and wear.
Rainstorms plagued our rehearsal period.
The weather interfered so frequently that we added a rehearsal the afternoon of our preview performance, just so we could run through the full show once before audience members showed up.  And show up they did, with one of our biggest houses.  This preview was on the Fourth of July, and I wonder how many viewers actually meant to be there, and how many others had arrived early for the fireworks display which was to happen on the river once the sun went down.
This is the climactic showdown between my two sons, the legitimate Edgar who was tricked into being disowned, and the bastard Edmund who manipulated his father and brother.  This subplot concerning the Gloucester family runs parallel to the tale of Lear and his daughters.
We had plenty of fireworks on our own, mostly provided by our dynamic King Lear, David Brown.  David was fiery and robust in the role, and I loved playing our scenes "on the heath," when Lear has gone mad, and my character, Gloucester, has been brutally blinded and is wandering around trying to commit suicide.

Oh, but rain was not our only weather issue.  The New York area, as with most of the eastern seaboard, was hit with record breaking heat for days on end. 
With the heat index reaching triple digits, and humidity higher than the Empire State, we canceled two shows.  The Heat was the big news that week in New York City, and the Daily News picked up on our cancellation.  While we were all impressed that our King Lear received this publicity for NOT doing our show, I wondered aloud if we would ever get any press for actually DOING the show.  This comment was not met with much enthusiasm from the Hudson brass.
And in the end, Mother Nature had the last word.  We were to conclude our run yesterday, Sunday, but we were rained out.  Luckily, our Saturday night performance was one of our best, with a very full audience who were very appreciative.  Still, Closing Night Performances (like Opening Night ones) are special, and to be handed one retroactively made the experience feel a bit unfinished.

I did not feel a strong connection to my role of Gloucester when we started rehearsal, but I grew to love the scenes I shared with Jake Russo, above, who played my son Edgar.  I disown him; then, after my blinding, encounter him again as he is disguised as a bum.  The resulting scenes are among the most poignant in the Bard's canon, and I think we played them well.

What does any of this have to do with this week's Dance Party?  Our Friday night performance was also a good one, and it had an unexpected participant, at least for me. 
I've got something in my eye.

During the show, I made several loops around the monument to cross from stage right to stage left.  During one of those trips, I passed a charming family seated on the lawn, having a picnic.  The mother was hugely pregnant, and there was a husband and toddler there as well. Unfortunately, I had removed my contact lenses by then (I learned early on that I could not be wearing the lenses during my "blinding" scene, as copious amounts of blood squirted everywhere, and turned my contacts pink). 
I was pleased to work with Laura
Frye again; we appeared in Taming
of the Shrew a year ago. Go here for
that report.

So, everything was pretty much a blurr as I loped around the monument to make my final entrance.  I was wearing the sunglasses which my character wore after losing his eyes, and my shirt and face were covered in stage blood.


This spot below our playing space was a prime picnic spot.
On Friday, a Manhattan family spread out their blanket,
and listened to the performance of King Lear happening
on the cement stage above them.

I was set to ignore the family seated on the blanket enjoying the evening, but the mother piped up, "Hello, Gloucester!"  I was pretty impressed that she pegged my role from the blood and sunglasses, clearly she was up on her classical theatre.  I was to learn a moment later, from one of my castmates, that the woman on the blanket was Broadway headliner Kelli O'Hara.  In her honor, she stars in this week's Dance Party.
Kelli O'Hara has an exceptional ability to bring new life to older iconic roles.  The Pajama Game, Bells Are Ringing, Sunday in the Park with George, and of course South Pacific (above) have all been reinvigorated by her presence in their revivals. She can take an outrageously corny role such as Nellie Forbush and make you believe such a person actually exists.
Other than this momentary meeting in the park on Friday, I have never seen Kelli O'Hara live, but her performance in the hit revival of South Pacific has been preserved on DVD, which I own and enjoy. 
O'Hara has created her share of musical roles, notably in Light in the Piazza, for which she earned one of her four Tony nods.  Right before she recently withdrew from the theatrical scene to have her second child, she starred in the new musical adaptation of Far From Heaven (above).  She received glowing reviews during its Off-Broadway run;  if the show has a further life, she will surely be attached. 
Kelli was born and raised in Oklahoma (and trained by the same vocal coach who taught Kristin Chenoweth), which may give some clue as to how she can so thoroughly inhabit down-to-earth characters. 
Kelly O'Hara as the 50s suburban housewife
in Far From Heaven.

In this week's Dance Party, she attacks this well-known song so enthusiastically, you can't help but be won over.  If only I had been wearing my contacts last Friday night, I would surely have responded to her sweet greeting with an expression of my admiration of her work.  Perhaps this will do.

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