By Vicki Weisfeld
Washington DC’s Theatre J has a new Zoom course on the play rehearsal process, led by the theater’s artistic director Adam Immerwahr. If you, like me, have wondered how a creative team goes from black type on white page to vibrant, full-color theater, from page to stage, in just three to four weeks, this class is a brilliant idea. Helping Immerwahr are popular husband-wife actors Cody Nickell and Kate Eastwood Norris.
The class began with a session on the table read, the first time the director and all the actors in a play get together to go through the play—“the first time the words are shared,” as Norris described it. If you were cast in a play, you might find at the table read that you know some of the actors well, and some—say, the person playing your mother, or your lover—may be complete strangers. At the table read, you also may have a chance to see mock-ups of the set and the costumer’s ideas, a sort of tangible creation of a new reality.
The table read also suggests how the other actors work, their process. A few may come to the table with all their lines learned, “off book,” as they say; others will still rely on the printed text. Norris said she may have ideas about how a character should present herself, but since each character should be shaped by what the other actors do, she tries “to be respectful of other people’s choices” or, as Nickell said, “to stay as open as possible to the room.”
In this course, the play we’re walking through is Neil Simon’s 1969 comedy, Last of the Red Hot Lovers. If you’ve seen this play (or movie), you’ll recall it involves a nebbishy middle-aged husband who decides to spice up his life with an affair. Trying out his powers of seduction with three different women (in three acts) proves disastrous in each case.
Immerwahr’s pre-rehearsal pep talk gently guided the actors toward his ultimate vision. If you remember this play, you won’t be surprised that Immerwahr admitted up front that the play has challenges. Not only is there some racist language in act two, but it’s misogynistic and might have trouble being appreciated by “Me, too” audiences. Immerwahr hoped to lessen the negative stereotypes of the women characters—the sexpot, the crazy lady, the moralist—by having one actor play all three. This not only suggests different sides of the same person, but opens the possibility there are many others. In other words, “women have many sides; we’re showing you three.”
Immerwahr further held open the possibility that at the end of this fictional production, in the scene with the man’s wife, she too be might played by the same actress, as if “he was looking for his wife all along.”
Finessing the racism also would be tricky, and Immerwahr advised staying firmly in the era of the play. Evoking the world of fifty years ago “will be our friend.”
See the Theatre J website for other classes being readied for spring.