Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Wilde Week

It was a very long time coming, but Lord Arthur Savile's Crime is finally open. I bet our director (and script adaptor) Bill Largess is relieved. He must have started writing this thing several years ago, and it had two staged readings before finally reaching a full production this weekend. He's been tweaking it all along, and perhaps will continue to do so, but for now, he has furnished the world another Oscar Wilde play.

We had some challenges, many resulting from the fact that this is the first Washington Stage Guild show to be produced in the Undercroft Theatre. The landlords, the Mount Vernon Methodists, seemed happy to have a professional theatre company in residence, at least in theory. But I hear they put up some fuss when the Guild installed a new lighting grid, to facilitate lighting this wide, low space. I'm sure our Executive Director Ann Norton smoothed more than a few feathers. (Did you read the well-deserved testimonial to her in the Post? Go here.)

The Methodists are not used to the needs of a professional theatre company. No more proof was needed after Friday night, when the landlords made the decision to take four or five hours to fix a water leak in the adjoining building, beginning at 7 PM. They either totally forgot, or totally disregarded, the fact that the Stage Guild was conducting a preview performance that night. The show went on, without running water backstage or in the lobby bathrooms. Bless the handful of folks who attended, having been alerted at their arrival at the theatre that they would not be allowed to flush.

Lord Arthur... is a full Equity production, which means that we were not required to perform in a theatre without bathroom facilities. It's a tribute to our fondness for the company, and for Ann and Bill in particular, that we all voted to go ahead with the performance, breaking long-standing AEA rules. And truth be told, we were all pretty anxious NOT to lose a full run of the show, as the official opening was the next day.

We did not have a specific technical rehearsal, per se; technical aspects of the production were gradually incorporated as the final week of prep progressed. So, lighting effects were built around us during rehearsal, with designer Marianne Meadows hanging and refocusing lights during our breaks. Costumes arrived early in the week, and I admit I was concerned when I was shown the main suit I was to be wearing. Lord Surbiton, my role, is a wealthy man-about-town, the eldest son of a duke, and accustomed to the finest money can buy. This suit, when it first arrived, looked shoddy and old, with ragtag buttons hanging in odd places. I kept thinking of the suits I wore the last time I performed in an Oscar Wilde piece, in grad school. My clothes (left) were handmade, tailored exactly to my dimensions, and wore like a dream. They were spectacular pieces, and I bet USC still uses them today! Anyway, I should not have worried about my costume here, as several days later, the suit had been spruced up, cleaned up, pressed, and now seems quite right. (And the ladies of our ensemble look terrific in their gowns). I am learning it's all part of the Stage Guild routine: we don't expect everything to happen at once, but eventually, all will be well.

A similar thing happened with our set pieces, which arrived extremely late, and were not very similar to those we had expected. The light and delicate garden furniture which had been described to us turned into massive wrought-iron tables and chairs, heavy and difficult to manoeuvre. We spent much time rehearsing the frequent transitions between scenes, moving these things hither and yon (reminded me of my internship, when one of our chief responsibilities was the smooth movement of furniture. Does Uta Hagen cover that in her books?). The time spent on the transitions has paid off, as our audiences are not just sitting through them, but are actually enjoying them (one or two are even getting laughs).

Saturday night and Sunday matinee, we had some of the local press in attendance, as well as many well-wishers who have missed having the Stage Guild in full production. Judging from their reaction, the show is stylish and smart, and often hilarious. We'll see what the general public thinks as performances begin again on Thursday. It will be a challenge to try to fill this house, which seats over 140, as in recent years, Stage Guild shows were performed in a theatre seating less than 90.

But I think we're up to it.