Moments from Recent Weeks that I've Been Meaning to Write About

[Actually, many of these I have already written about, in my letters, when I my unlucky deeds relate. But no more of that.--paulmonsterEd.]

  • I couldn't resist. I spent $60.00 at Powell's the other day. I work at the Library, I have 36 boxes worth of books already, and I still blow the bulk of my paycheck into more books. I'm such a loser. And it's so worth it.
  • I'm riding down the Long Gentle Slope of SE Hawthorne on my bike, knees tucked in and my torso low over my handlebars, slightly off the seat to take the knots and whorls of the buckling roadway. I'm daydreaming about rare books and watching the colors painted on the sky, and, yeah, okay, maybe I was watching one or two beautiful women walking by. A white Toyota Corolla bucks out of its parking spot looking to make a U-turn across the breadth of the boulevard, and the grey Honda Civic immediately to my left, in the next lane, swerves but takes the Civic's left front fender on the back quarter. I swerve and hop onto the curb like Steve McQueen on his motorbike in the rolling Swiss hills. And I notch another tally on my Near-Miss count. I stick around, direct traffic around the disabled vehicles for a little bit, wait for the police to show up. Which they wouldn't have, since, thankfully, no blood was spilt, except a cruiser happened to be passing by as the insurance and phone numbers were being exchanged, and we waved them down and made it all official-like. Made me late for everything that day, but that's a small price to pay for the grace of Providence...
  • Am reading a beautifully moving book, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which recently won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. I literally cannot put it down. Go. Get it and read it, with all deliberate speed. Obey, I say.
  • Last night I was told, at the last minute, that I was not called for that evening's rehearsal. Suddenly, an entirely unoccupied evening sighed open before me. I almost danced a little jig, for joy. Then my roommate G. and I impulsively decided to go see "The Great Escape" at the Laurelhurst Theatre-Pub, arguably my favorite drinking establishment in this fair city. Hence the McQueen reference above. Due to the deteriorating quality of the 1963 print, the last 20 minutes of the movie's sound were about 5 seconds behind the action, which made for a surreal experience after two beers, three slices of pizza and a couple of chocolate chip cookies. Irregardless, I highly recommend it. Richard Attenborough is a bad-ass rockstar. I love to hate Gestapo assholes, with their leather trenchcoats and their supercilious, portfolio-snapping, sinister obsequiousness. Who knew Charles Bronson could act? Impulsive adventures are the best kind.
  • My Swiss pocket-watch stopped. I'm unmoored and deeply perplexed, lost and adrift without my redoubtable timepiece. (Ha. Ain't no way I've ever been punctual in years, timepiece or no timepiece.)
  • A phrase and some sentences from some recent letters I've sent, of which I'm most proud:
    • "...coloring the colorless in shades of grace..."
    • "I think of setting off in search of my Grandpa, to speak with his shade in the tunnels and the deep caves facing the ocean, to ask the questions I could never ask of him, sharing a bottle of his favorite gin with his grave."
    • "[The books in my Library truck] sit packed in crates, color-coded and securely strapped, held in readiness to be deployed, like so many NASA satellites, into the dark, wild universe of our Library's patronage, a multitude of lonely little volumes bravely illuminating our barren hearts."
  • Wandering Housemate S. was telling me some weeks ago, about how she was describing me to some of her castmates in northern California, one of whom, unbeknownst to either of us, happens to know me from elsewhere. "Is he hot?" they ask. "Well. Hm. He's kind of like a Filipino-Superhero-Bear, all in one." Without missing a beat, the Unbeknownst Acquaintance asks, "Is it Paul Susi?"
Yes. Yes, I am.


And May the Wandering Bark Climb Hills of Seas, Olympus-high...

I was driving the Library trucks this morning, on the Sunday route from North Portland, across the Eastside, and from thence across the river into Hillsdale. It was a light load this time, only about 50 or 60 crates' worth of books to be distributed along a route of Libraries that typically receive around 80 crates on this day.

Last night's performance was, perhaps, the strongest I've enjoyed of Othello. A crowd of nearly 180 saw the first half, and of those only 20 or 30 departed at intermission, driven away by the unseasonable cold as much as anything. In numbers like these, for an outdoor performance in a public space, I've been quite surprised. I'd only expected audiences of 20 or 30 per night.

I noticed, as I readied for the final scenes by the pool immediately above our playing space, that the pair of ducks who live in this Fountain were gone this night. They sleep with their heads tucked under their wings, a tender pose that always strikes me with its vulnerable, trusting quality, the tumultuous world around them as familiar and comforting to them as the sheets on my bed. In the dark, their low, still forms almost disappear in the shadowy reflections of the pool. I'd looked for them every night of rehearsal here, a kind of reassuring stillness that readies me for the catastrophes of the final act.

This night, I suppose our chill evenings have driven them elsewhere for the time being. I hope they have not left our Fountain because of us.

Act 5 suffered none of the small disasters that plagued our previous night's performance (dropped lines, errant lights, missing stage elements). I'm happy to say that in each performance I succeed in discovering and exploring further nuance, further elements within the rudimentary structures built in rehearsal, enough to enervate and challenge me profitably each night. Always an important sign, at the end of the show I felt especially exhausted by the effort of it. It's a tremendous thing to engage the collective energy of so many in the audience, in addition to the prepared engagements with castmate and text. I forget, sometimes, not to understimate this. Understimating the audience is like underestimating the Power of the Dark Side (or suffer your father's fate, you will).

This morning, driving my truck with my load of books, doing the rounds, listening to the radio and sipping my coffee; a kind of exhausted contentment settled on the knots in my shoulders. A satisfaction at having invested myself as wholly and completely as I've succeeded in doing. My books reach their appointed places. Othello travels his catastrophic journey twice a week now, which is as it should be, as I doubt I could sustain much more in addition to the hours I spend at the Library. The cold clouds and the the grease on my hands and the thrum of the truck's engine and the stacks of books strapped down behind me, the bridges over the dark river and the sleeping Libraries and the balletic flow of traffic, all of this resolved into a hushed satisfaction, a small, tired smile under my growing beard. "If, after every tempest come such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death..."

The ducks came back this afternoon. I came by to check on them after finishing up at the Library and with rehearsal for my next project. They stared at me, with their heads cocked at the slightest of angles, a silent, quizzical regard common to small birds, monkeys, scientists and quiet children.


Exchange Me for a Goat.

We walk into our cluttered downtown core, looking for shoes. E. is one of my best friends, we've known each other for the better part of a decade, and we're an unlikely pair to be seen shopping together. E. is fashionable and lovely and bright, I'm dour and clumsy and funky. There is great affection between us both.

We haven't seen each other in nearly a year, and we both agree this is frankly untenable. We amble along, exclaiming at the proliferation of silly hats and the sad disappearance of legendary establishments. I teach her how to tie a bow tie. She helps me find a sash for Othello.

I'm looking for boots. Dark crimson, 14-eye boots with which I could strike out into the wilderness, or drive Library trucks, or storm the hills on my bike. We find some near misses, but nothing quite right.

She's looking for sneakers. E. is remarkably adept at narrowing the wide panoply of colors and prices and fashions and qualities into a single, magical pair of sneakers, that would serve equally well in her running kit and her party dress. We ramble for hours, over beers and tater tots, hashing our love lives and work anxieties and the general dross of being grown-ups. And eventually, fitfully, I come around to my worries about Othello.

E. quietly encourages me out of my moping, desultory mood. "'Othello' will be great," she says, "even if it isn't."

My friend the playwright S. echoes this same advice. "It is impossible for you to fail because it's impossible for you to succeed." He agrees with all of my reservations, my anxieties, my insecurities. "Of course you're too young. Of course you're too inexperienced. What better way to gain what you lack than by doing it?"

S. and I are sitting on a bench outside of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream store on Hawthorne, near where I live. S. is dressed in black, with a black-banded straw hat, rather like a post-modern G. K. Chesterton complete with umbrella-(sword?)-stick. I'm in my cycling kit with my lightning-streaked helmet and my REI knickerbockers.

We're talking about Kurosawa films, and how the only "concept" productions of Shakespeare plays that have ever been notably successful have been the samurai-zations of King Lear and Macbeth, that are 'Ran' and 'Throne of Blood', respectively. Since they could not directly render iambic pentameter into Japanese, Kurosawa's ideas and visions about those plays were liberated into the dynamic, thrilling, violent, frenzied films that they became. They are not definitive productions--indeed, they are more properly sui generis works than they are versions of Shakespeare. But they are entirely worthwhile in their own right.

And it brings me around to reaffirming that my interpretation of Othello will only succeed by embracing the fact that I am not what I am (a la Iago). Theatre liberates the artist by frankly embracing other identities, and it is the magical paradox of being and not being, both at once, which most inspires and catalyzes everyone's imaginations, artist and audience alike.

We're opening tonight. The weather threatens everything. There is much that I'm nervous about. Ain't nothing to it, just to do it, rocking and rolling, roller-coasting, stepping on out on the good foot.

You're all invited, front row seats, compliments of the house.




Pause awhile.

Long days make for long delays. 16 waking hours spent driving Library trucks, sorting crates and crates of precious books, making Cyprus tremble...

I have much to speak of, and much I would share with you, but I am so utterly empty, so spent right now. We open in one week. My pride is swelling with wounds.

A favor to ask; those friends of mine, here and abroad, please indulge me, and send me something in the mails, I beg of you. I have much need of your encouragement. A card, a token, a postmark, just a postmark is all I need. It is so much to remember who I am, what I'm doing, what I'm about, I'm so easily lost in a maelstrom of petty bickering things, made brittle by these exhilerating, consuming challenges. Two plays, now, rehearsing concurrently. An opening to focus on, as my work schedule and my family overwhelm me with their quotidian demands.

Those of you who would criticize me now, please wait just a moment. I know my lifestyle and my means of going about doing what I do upset you, I know, I know, but wait please. We must all of us engage in small, daily miracles to make our imaginations true and real, to live lives that transcend the sad heartbreaks of our imperfect worlds. I need every miracle I can get.


The Reply Courteous.

[What follows is a reply-comment I posted, copied from below, carrying on a bit of a colloquy between myself and a learned Australian. I do beseech you all, continue to comment as you see fit. I learn a great deal from these exchanges, and I would encourage all comers to break out their soapboxes and lend voice to their wits. Please. Much thanks, --paulmonstereditorializer]

Yes, the internet is a funny place, isn't it?

I should step up and say right now that I'm quite familiar with Patsy Rodenburg's works, I've read a number of her books, including her latest, and I've trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and the British-American Youth Festival Theatre in San Diego. I've performed in regional professional theatres here in Portland, OR, at Berkeley Rep in the Bay Area, at Vermont Stage Company, and with Stacja Szamocin in Poland. My respect for verse is as deeply rooted in training and experience as I believe it can be, at this stage in my development.

In this discussion, I think it's important to distinguish two distinctively compelling theatre ethics at work in my perspective: the first and foremost, rightly so, is my loyalty and passion for this Text, which it's evident we both share. On this point, I believe we actually don't have much to disagree on. What you find provoking, on the other hand, is what I interpret to be the secondary--but nevertheless important--sense of loyalty I feel to this individual production.

It is my job as an Actor, to serve two masters--my text and my director. Now, since the director serves the text, too, this presents no difficulties on its face. The director is always my Caesar; where s/he commands, I obey with alacrity. I dig deep and bring out the everlasting whup-ass whensoever they beckon it. I'm not a mindless automaton; but I do believe that demonstrating consistent discretion and trust makes those moments when I do question my directors that much more compelling.

Now, critics and audience, artists or not, are entitled to call things as they see it, and, as you mentioned, it's not unknown for directors to revoke their trust. Hence why I distinguish the two masters.

My purpose in these posts has been primarily to elucidate, for myself, the causes and courses I pass as we inch ever closer to Opening (within two weeks' now, Christ on a stick!).

I rely heavily on these posts. Written words, language, the stuff and substance of ideas and imagination made manifest, these are the voices of Whitman's multitudes pouring out of all of us. Of course there are contradictions, of course there are inconsistencies. I say that I serve two masters, but the point of all of this is to say that really, at the end of the day, I only serve the Text.

I have negotiated every unavoidable cut. I have strived to preserve as much of the verse as possible, and I have been at particular pains to protect the scansion. Every hour in rehearsal is accompanied with twice as much working alone on my text, exploring the wilderness of scholarly criticism, listening to BBC recordings of Paul Robeson and Olivier and so forth.

I would love to have more training. But I'm not going to shy away from serving this play solely because I'm not fit for it. Of course I'm not fit for it. But this makes me no less determined to serve it.

Thanks for commenting, and please keep commenting as you see fit.


A Response from Up The Creek.

You have a very powerful point, Nigel T.

I do not deny the primacy of the verse. I do not pretend that the verse is in any way unnecessary or superfluous to the acting, nor the action of the play.

My (albeit poorly phrased) intention was to address the problem caused by the number of awkward, intricately tangled constructions in Othello’s verse. His passions contort and inflate even the most straightforward of his sentiments to truly epic proportions.

The problem becomes one of pacing, and of that which is possible. I am the first to admit that I’m nowhere near the capability necessary for this role; the fact remains that I was cast purely out of necessity—there are perhaps 4 actors of color in this city—and the fact that I’m about two decades too young doesn’t help much, neither.

An example:

Act 1 Scene 2 Lines 17-24 read:

Let him do his spite;
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints. ‘Tis yet to know—
Which, when I know that boasting is an honour,
I shall promulgate—I fetch my life and being
From men of royal siege, and my demerits
May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune
As this that I have reached.

Our script simply has,

Let him do his spite;
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints.

I’m certainly eager and willing to play the former. But I recognize the necessity of reducing it to the latter. If, by attempting to articulate the necessity of reduction, I inadvertently tossed my paddle over the side of my kayak, why then I suppose I’ll just have to learn how to swim, now, won’t I?

I suppose I’m a bit provoked by your comment, Nigel T., if only because the last several weeks have seen a number of steady rearguard actions conducted in defense of Othello’s verses, against powerful voices in my cast who advocate further streamlinings, further economies in the script. I’ve been very anxious to preserve the integrity of Othello—the integrity of the verse, of the characters, of the actions, etc. It is not willingly that I have drifted beyond the balmy currents of Patsy Rodenburg and her venerable ilk.