Monday, June 8, 2009

Shape Shifting

I'm not a sci-fi geek, but I have long heard of "shape-shifters," who are supernatural beings able to morph from one form to another at will. I wonder, though, if there is a term for a person who causes shape-shifting to occur? If so, the names "Warner Crocker" and "Steve Przybylski" would be mentioned in the Wikipedia entry describing the term.

Last week, we began our third and final week of rehearsal for Man of La Mancha. We were a mess. Well, that's probably putting it too dramatically; we weren't a MESS, exactly, but we were clearly under-rehearsed and headed toward opening a merely serviceable production of this classic show. We were running out of time. Outside variables (such as sharing Warner and Steve for two weeks, a subject about which I refuse to shut up) added to the intrinsic difficulty of putting such a huge show onto the compact stage at Wayside. Progress at the beginning of the week was hampered by a number of things, including the necessity of re-staging much of the combat and dance movement which had been choreographed the previous week. Those earlier rehearsals were unfortunately conducted without the benefit of music, either live or on tape, so the synchronization of the music to the movement stalled the progress Warner had hoped we would be making. (He writes about the panic in the eyes of the actors here.)

Wayside has always had a limited rehearsal period, and who hasn't? I'm reminded of a tale I heard in grad school, of a production of Hamlet being directed by Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theatre. He rehearsed the damn thing for a solid year. On opening night, someone asked his opinion of the show. He replied, "If we only had two more weeks..."

So, the early part of the week had its share of stress. The lovely and talented Vaughn Irving was feeling a lot of it, as he choreographed all the fight and dance movement in the show, despite declaring over and over, "I'm not a choreographer." Sorry, Vaughn, yes you are. Get used to it.

Vaughn is one of the many success stories to come out of the Wayside Theatre intern program. He was an intern the year I first appeared at Wayside in Black Coffee, and since then has returned many times to its stage. He is a fine young actor (with a booming voice perfect for his role as The Captain, where he summons Cervantes to be questioned by the Spanish Inquisition), and is also a skilled and versatile musician (he spends most of our show in Pitland, playing a variety of percussive instruments). Vaughn's choreography for the show is both hilarious and harrowing, and includes a comic combat sequence, a gypsy dance, a stylized number with mirrored shields, and a frightening rape ballet.

Oh, and horses who hoof. The first big number of La Mancha comes after a lengthy dramatic scene which opens the play, and in a startling bit of stagecraft, Vaughn, Warner, and Steve (our musical muse) created a moment which brought spontaneous applause from the full theatre on opening night. Yes, after a rocky start early in the week, Warner and Steve, our "shape-shifters," did not surrender; with a positive and optimistic outlook, they pressed onward, and the week ended with two solid preview performances on Saturday (I'll relate the story of my huge gaffe during the first preview in a future entry...believe me, it's worth waiting for...).

The final proof that our show had shape-shifted from a tame production of a creaky chestnut into a dynamic illustration of the power of Live Theatre came on Sunday's opening night. As Cervantes and his manservant mounted those prancing actors wearing horse heads, and became Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Defenders of the Right, our opening night audience exploded.

It's one of the most memorable moments I have ever experienced onstage.

David Marks

The DC theatrical community lost one of its leading comic players last week, with the fatal heart attack of David Marks on June 3. David was a 1987 graduate of NYU's prestigious acting program, and was a company member at Arena Stage for 11 years. He earned five Helen Hayes nominations and won the award in 1990 for Briar Patch at Arena. He was a regular player all over town, and excelled at boisterous, over-the-top characters such as in Olney's The Rivals (at top) and the Folger's Midsummer Night's Dream (above right). I did not know David personally, but enjoyed his performances whenever I encountered them. I particularly enjoyed his appearance as Pompey in Measure for Measure at the Folger a while back, where he held his own opposite the puppet playing Mistress Overdone (left).

David leaves behind his wife, producer/dramaturg Garland Scott, and son Harris.