The Unfinished Work Which Haunts You, Part Two

See, I think if you rehearse a play or film and then if you don’t take it to its intended conclusion, its orgasmic peak–or organic peak–then the universe is disordered.

That intended conclusion is the working out–through the period of 6 weeks shooting condensed into 90 minutes viewing–or through a 14 week run each day for 90 minutes–of a conflict between characters and the resolution of that conflict.

So, if you don’t end up performing a play that you have rehearsed–or if the film for which you have prepared doesn’t get shot or is shot but doesn’t get out of post–the actor has a psychic disruption.




A fragmentation, a lessening of the whole.




The circle has a bite chunked out.


In the rehearsal process, I become very much the character.  The line is blurred.  Michelle for very long periods becomes merged with the character.  And, too, the character’s relationships with other characters and with the actors who embody them are worked out not only on stage, but also in the real world simultaneously with the rehearsal process.

An example of this.

Susan and I wanted to perform a Tennessee Williams story, “The Mutilated.”  She was Trinket; I was Celeste.  There was no question about this: the characters fit us like two slinky nightgowns.  Trinket: always aware of the impression she creates on others, prim and pretending to be upper-class.  Celeste: insecure about her friends, needing attention, manipulating truth to stay in control.

We cast the rest of the play, all smaller roles, with appropriate small actors.

The rehearsals took place with me and Susan alone.  Concurrently we searched for a director.

“The Mutilated” is one of the more obscure Williams plays; it was critically panned when it first opened and it has hardly been performed in the half century since.  Critics still don’t like it. Perhaps they see it as a lesser piece of literature compared to the rest of his oeuvre.

“The Mutilated” is a weird work with mixed metaphors.  A religious epiphany, with embodied angels and singing and all that frou-frou, shows up out of nowhere at the end of the play, the first 2 ¾ acts having been spent in seedy hotels and dingy bars in a sodden part of N’awlins.

It is an uncomfortable play.  Neither of the characters (I can say that now that this process is ten years behind me) is likeable.

I said all that to explain that it was hard for us to find a director.  The polite directors told us they had other projects.  The blunt directors said they wanted to choose another Williams play.  Some directors, afraid that our feelings would be hurt if they didn’t like the script (why?  We didn’t write it), didn’t even call us back.


Susan and I continued to rehearse bits and scenes on our own during the director interview process.  We also took our rehearsal process into the acting class which we had been taking together before, during but not after this aborted play.  The way we both liked to work was to lose ourselves in the play during the entire several-month rehearsal period; so “The Mutilated” was the only work we took to class during that period.

It was the only thing we talked about sitting at her kitchen table looking at the ocean during my unemployed and her kept woman days and during our art-infused weekends.  It was the only thing our friends knew heard smelled tasted about us for months.  We spoke lines from Celeste and Trinket at Coffee Shop Santa Cruz; we wore Celeste and Trinket clothes to the theater; we shopped for Celeste and Trinket wine.  “A big bottle of California Tokay, so big you can hardly drag it down the street to you room.”

The way our acting coach likes to work is similar.  He blurs the line between character and actor.  Sometimes that’s bad, but that’s a topic for another column.  Often it’s good good good good. So, the way he’d work with me before I performed a scene with Susan in class was to take me aside and talk to me about Susan’s rich husband and how she had so much more money than me and why was she expecting me to pay half of the production costs when she had so much more money and I had lost my job.





That is true about Susan, about her husband and about me.





It is also the exact relationship between Trinket and Celeste.


Celeste the broke drunk is basically living off Trinket the trust fund drunk.


Celeste has to suck up to Trinket so she can keep boozing.  Just like Michelle had to be nice to Susan so Susan’s husband would keep paying for costumes, rehearsal space and the like.

So, David would whisper in my ear about Susan/Trinket’s money before we performed a scene (I’m sure he did the corresponding trashing of me to Susan/Trinket.) On the days between classes, he would call me on the phone and egg Me (Trinket) on about how Susan (Celeste) was such a snoot.  It was very effective preparation.  All the scenes we rehearsed were real, honest, true, and deep.  They were moving.  They received applause from our jaded classmates.  We had real tears.

And kept getting deeper.

More unresolved issues in each performance.

More expectations between the characters.


In the Act III, the characters in “The Mutilated” become reconciled to each other and to themselves.


Since we never found a director who like the play, we dropped it.

We found a director we like, Mr. Steven with the Leopard Rug (horrors) who liked us (well, he liked Susan, not me.  Nobody really likes me.


Can you blame them?)


but he hated “The Mutilated” so he ended up directing us in a triptych of “The Jewish Wife,” “The Stronger” and “Lemonade.”

My resentment towards Trinket was never resolved by performing The Mutilated.

Since we never got to perform the reconciliation scene between Trinket and Celeste, my friendship with Susan forever after remained in the state of Celeste-is-jealous-and-resentful-of-Trinket.  Susan and I have not been close since then.

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