First off, last night I went to see The 39 Steps with my friend, Wayne Henry (Pepi Pisano from Johnny on a Spot), and it was BRILLIANT! Truly, anyone who wants to see high quality work on Broadway should head over to the Cort Theatre, because this show is exceptional!
4 actors bring about 150 characters (so billed) to life in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece about an average fellow in London who gets mixed up with a beautiful spy and begins a wild goose-chase to clear his name of... murder. Hitchcock even gets his famous cameo in one of the chase scenes! Hysterical!
What's incredible about this piece is that it's basically a trunk show. There's no set - just bare brick walls - which reminded me of the show I did this summer Off Broadway at Cherry Lane, Kaboom - and the props are minimal. But what is there is brilliant! There's great use of the red velvet curtains that open and close the show, and there are simple pieces of furniture like a moving door that gives you a sense of being in a cavernous mansion.
The show is brilliantly brought to life by the stellar cast who are all tip-top with crystal clear characters, various dialects and precise physicalizations. Plus the lights and sound and the music (gorgeous!) all create the proper mood. Very Hitchcock! Great style! Mmmm!(L-R: Sam Robards, Arnie Burton, Cliff Saunders, and Jennifer Ferrin)
One of my favorite scenes was when the hero makes a daring escape on a train, which consisted of a few trunks, but the cast made every part of that train real - from the individual cars, doors, windows, tight squeezes... to the great chase on "the roof." Really exceptional!And I said to my friend, Wayne, "This is why I love theatre! You have to commit 100%. You can't do any of this half-baked!"
(me and Wayne backstage on the last show of Johnny on a Spot)
And that brings me to Part 2 of "Taking the Plunge."
After last night's show, I went home and worked on my scene from The Dark at the Top of the Stairs for today's master class in film directing at Columbia University. The director for the scene was a 2nd year grad student named Sally Liu, and she had found my name in the casting files for Columbia and asked if I could do this scene for her. We only had 2 days to work on this scene, so it was intense work, especially for this highly emotional scene where 2 sisters are coming to each other with their troubles. Just getting 10 pages of text memorized in 2 days was a challenge, but I was excited to take it.
We presented the scene to the class this morning, and the professor, Emmy Award winner, John Erman, gave us amazing adjustments. He had us improvise the scene and actually flipflopped the characters a bit, which made me discover the softer side of my big blousey character. He also was very kind and complimentary and encouraging and showed the director how she could achieve what she wanted with the scene by trying a few different things like improvisation. He also mentioned how important it is for a director to dig deep, to help an actor "plunge into the pit" of an emotion. It was brilliant work! I learned so much! And I feel so honored that I have worked consistently with directors this year who have helped me to "take the plunge," to be big and bold in my work and to trust my instincts, to just go for it!
Like the hero says in The 39 Steps, When you are thrust into a situation, you often can amaze yourself with your own inventiveness, or something of the sort. :)
So here's to the next step! And the next!