Embedded at Endgame

Tech began a week ago on Tuesday for Endgame. First came the barrel fittings. Speaking of barrels,  for me, let alone Jimmie, this whole month has been akin to climbing into a barrel and jumping into the water. April rushes by at USC with the ferocity of a Class IV- river.

Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. …Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult.

Wikipedia International Scale of River Rating

In spite of knowing the river quite well, there are sudden fast maneuvers under pressure that challenge even the best “kayakers.” We closed our last three shows last weekend, after 10 days of tech and dress for two of them and only 3 days for the workshop of a new play by MFA Dramatic Writing student Inda Craig-Galvan. As of now, we are out of the rapids for a while.

Meanwhile, Jimmie finished his tech rehearsals for Endgame, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, beginning previews last Sunday, April 24th.

Lindsay-Allbaugh

Lindsay Allbaugh of  Center Theatre Group

The CTG staff, headed by Associate Producer Lindsay Allbaugh, have taken exquisite care of Jimmie and his fellow actors on the journey through rehearsals thus far. Production Stage Manager, Susie Walsh, and Stage Manager Brooke Baldwin treat the actors like royalty. There are special considerations that are not obvious when dealing with elder actors and she and Brooke have handled those, incorporating the accommodations into the daily routine without missing a beat. One of the first things she did was provide me with a backstage pass to be able to come in to rehearsals whenever I was able, so I could assist with getting Jimmie to and from the rehearsals around my work schedule. Tuesday, I took advantage of my embedded access to watch the barrel fittings going on.  I arrived just as Jimmie was finishing his 2nd fitting. There is a complex sequence of lifts and platforms  in the under stage area to get them into place so they can raise the lids of the cans. The crew was working hard when I arrived, talking the actors through the intricacies needed to position them for their scenes. John Iacovelli, the Scenic Designer, sat in the front row of the house with director Alan Mandell, Assistant Director John Sloan, and Lindsay, watching the rehearsal of the barrels. IMG_6081Costume Designer Maggie Morgan watched Charlotte and Jimmie working in their nightcaps, with the action of raising the barrel tops with their heads. Cambria, the wardrobe crew member, stood behind the barrels as I watched Brooke, head leaning into the barrel, murmur reassuring instructions to Charlotte, deep in her barrel. Nothing was rushed. No one hurried the actors through the complexities. As a stage manager, I appreciated the calmness and deft handling of all the actors. As a spouse, I appreciated the humanity of the care accorded my husband and the others.

After the tech rehearsal, which was executed after a dry tech (tech without actors) so as to not tire the actors; the actors had an unhurried 90 minute dinner prior to their first dress rehearsal. I had jetted over from work to pick up the dinner I’d ordered at Cafe Vida next door to the theatre, and the two of us ate shoulder to shoulder at the dressing table in Jimmie’s dressing room.

The experience kind of took me back to our courtship days, when, at the McCarter Theatre,

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Els and Jimmie share a romantic dinner at the Kirk Douglas dressing room

Jimmie was playing Scrooge, and I was on the props crew, and we frequently hung out together with his professorial dog, Jasper, in his dressing room during the dinner hour. Jasper was an astonishing dog.  We never used a leash on that dog, and we lived on 71st and Broadway. We’d take him to Central park, and every time we got to the corner of Columbus, Jasper would sit down and look up at Jimmie. When the light changed, Jimmie would say ‘Ok,’ and Jasper would tear across the intersection, waiting on the far side. One day, when Jimmie was standing in line at the bank with Jasper, a woman said to him,

Your dog looks smart enough to do math.

I remember once at the McCarter Theatre, during Christmas Carol, one of the young child actors, a young girl of about 12, appeared at Jimmie’s dressing room door, there to visit Jasper, and seeing me there, asked sort of churlishly,

Why are you always here?

I imagine that the staff at the Kirk Douglas are probably thinking the same thing about now. But I like to consider my embedded status on Endgame as akin to those journalists in March 2003 who became embedded during the U.S. Invasion of Afghanistan. Well, of course, with much less danger involved.

There were a few friends watching the final dress rehearsal today. We sat amidst the tech tables, I house left to be better positioned to see Nagg and Nell’s action. The play began, punctuated by the sharp shutter sounds from photographer Craig Schwartz’s camera. I worried for a moment that it would prove a distraction to the actors. But soon the camera faded as I became mesmerized by scenic designer John Iacovelli’s penumbrous stone room. The world as created by John and lighting designer Jared Sayeg and sound designer Cricket Myers is impossibly confining, and Clov’s rhythmic shuffle around the room caused me to laugh out loud within the first few minutes. From the bloody “stauncher”draped over Hamm’s (Alan Mandell’s) face, to the jaunty straw boater perched on Clov’s (Barry McGovern’s) head for his final entrance, Maggie Morgan’s costumes convey the film of dust and grime implied in the impermeable prison that confines these four characters of “Endgame.”

Hamm’s cheery devil-may-care attitude about his own decrepitude, and Clov’s brutal intensity held our interest. Nagg’s and Nell’s scenes were heartbreaking, and Nagg’s final speech destroyed me.

NAGG:It’s natural. After all I’m your father. It’s true if it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else. But that’s no excuse.….I hope the day will come when you’ll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice.(Pause.)Yes, I hope I’ll live till then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope.(Pause. Nagg knocks on lid of Nell’s bin. Pause.)Nell!(Pause. He knocks louder. Pause. Louder.)Nell!(Pause. Nagg sinks back into his bin, closes the lid behind him. Pause.)

I think the most impressive thing I observed today was the excellence of all of the acting – all 334 years of acting experience, which is a lot of time to perfect one’s craft. But in addition to that, these are all extremely challenging physical roles. Not once did we stop because someone 89 was sore from being scrunched in a garbage can. In this age of inclusion and diversity and access, it moved me to see the entire cast navigate this play with good humor and the sheer will to make it as good as it possibly can be. After the run, I sat in Jimmie’s dressing room, cranking the monitor up so that I could listen in on the notes. A fly on the wall.

Later, as Jimmie and I headed out the stage door, we ran into Jason Martin, from the CTG press office, who had been there with Nancy Hereford for the photo run. I realized that I shouldn’t blog about any details of “Endgame” using any information gleaned during my embedded status without clearing it first with the Press office. I hope I have intrigued you enough to come check out the show.

Get your tickets now! 

 

Kobe’s and Beckett’s Endgame

I live in LA. Tonight, April 13, 2016, everyone, even those people who don’t care about basketball at all, like me, are watching Kobe’s final flings at Staples Center. Some of the fans have paid up to $55,000 for a pair of tickets. Not me. I’m sitting in my nightgown on the couch in our apartment. I’m pretending to watch the game, enjoying the testimonials from all of Kobe’s fans a little more than the game.

Today was my day off. It is tax season, as well as the middle of  major and important things happening at work. In April, we open 8 productions. We have, thus far, opened and struck 4 of the 8, with another 2 in tech this weekend, one play playing this weekend, and a strike for three shows next weekend, wrapping up our 13 play spring semester.  In addition to our fevered pitch of production, it is the season when accepted students are determining if they will come to USC.  It is always gratifying to see the prospective students come to the Open House, see the Spring Musical, and meet students and faculty to make their final decisions by May 1.

Last weekend, the weekend of the Open House, it rained, necessitating a complete reworking of the events, which were, of course, planned as outdoor events. Our tireless Director of Special Events, Marissa Gonzalez, in the span of 48 hours, totally reworked the events to happen in the North Gym of the PED building, nothing short of miraculous. The student Ambassadors were there, visiting with prospective students and sharing their good cheer with them.

Jimmie has been in rehearsals for Endgame for about three weeks now. He has had the service of daily drivers ferrying him from downtown to Culver City, both ways, and the rehearsal days have been short enough to not wear him out. I am his daily driver on Wednesdays, because I am not working that day and I take advantage of the ride to and fro to catch up with Jimmie and hear about the work. Today, after dropping him at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, I did some errands and then went back and got to watch a tantalizing little bit of rehearsal.

This morning, Jimmie had an appointment with his primary care physician, a soft spoken man we had met about a year ago at Good Samaritan when Jimmie had bad bronchitis. It’s hard to imagine going to the doctor when you are not sick, but when you get to the age Jimmie is, they want to see you every 3 months or so to make sure you are still going strong. Jimmie’s doctor reminds me of my childhood doctor in Pennsylvania, Doc McKelvey, who’s manner was kind and unrushed. When we first walked in today, he asked,

How are you doing?

I chose the moment to brag a bit on Jimmie’s behalf.

He’s rehearsing a play. He opens at the Kirk Douglas Theatre the end of April. He’s in an ash bin.

I reached for the script to show Doc C. what we meant by ash bins. His eyes widened a little more and he looked at me like I had told him I had just stuffed Jimmie into an ash bin.  We explained further. Samuel Beckett, “Endgame.”

Dr. C sat down in his chair and begin to quiz Jimmie about the preparation for the role. When had he started learning his lines? How much rehearsal did he  have? How long did it take to put something “like that” together? He said something about Jimmie’s optimism and I shared the fact that three of the four actors were over 88. I think we might be selling some tickets here.

Anyway, we left there and returned home where I paid the taxes, mailed my Dad’s birthday present, and checked on some prescriptions before driving Jimmie to Culver City. I decided I’d knock out the errands I had before picking him back up.

What does one do on a day off? Repaired a few watches. While those were getting repaired, visited Nordstrom’s Rack, where I found some cute tops, then stopped by Babies ‘R Us, first calling our son to determine the proper size of garments. On the way back to the Kirk Douglas, I stopped at my favorite place in Culver City – Orchid Fever, a low-slung non-descript building filled with the most gorgeous displays of orchids.

Having blown my budget on fun things to do, I texted Susie Walsh, the stage manager for “Endgame.”

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I waited in the hall until Susie poked her head out  and invited me to come sit at the SM table. Jimmie and Charlotte Rae were in their rehearsal barrels, having just finished their scene together. Alan was giving them notes and I gathered that things had gone quite well.

Alan came over to say hi, and I got to meet Barry McGovern for the first time. Alan and Barry stood together in front of the table and discussed the fact that today was Samuel Beckett’s birthday, April 13, 1906. He’d have been 110 today.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Mr. Beckett’s birthday than to watch Kobe Bryant score 61 points to win his final game. Cheered to the finish line by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnson and even me, no longer pretending to watch, but genuinely involved in the theatricality of the event. That was quite an Endgame.

Meanwhile there are some very happy actors in barrels at the Kirk Douglas. We will get to see their Endgame soon.

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James Greene in his rehearsal barrel. Doesn’t look uncomfortable, right? He looks happy as a clam.