The Night Before.

It's the eve of Opening Night already.

Since when last I posted, our cast had to replace an actor at the high-water mark of Tech. Injuries sustained in the line of duty forced us to call up Dave (aka the Uber-Theatre-Marine from Valhalla) (He plays Spider Man at Marvel Comics events, I kid you not, this guy really IS a superhero) with about 48 hours to learn the show before Opening.

It helps that he'd already played the role in question about a year-and-a-half ago. But still, with the twin monster storytelling sequences and the notorious clusterf*cks involving all three of us, it's a feat to be remembered. All I can do is watch in awe and scramble to keep up.

We played tonight before a preview audience, and Lord, let me tell you, it's a whole different piece of work. There are all these humans, now, everywhere around us, and all this energy gets washed over the stage and back again in strange new rhythms that I hardly know how to manage. It's like I'm learning the show all over again (which, in fact, is what we're doing). It takes a few moments, before you get over that instinctive aversion to presumptuous strangers who have the nerve to just walk in there and watch you progressively humiliate yourself.

At this point, we're feeling pretty happy with ourselves that the audience enjoyed the play as much as they did, and we didn't break to call for line--not even David the New Guy/Superhero. We're told that traditionally, the Preview audiences tend to be terse and non-forthcoming (the symptoms of emotional constipation are positively deadly to encounter when you're trying to do your bloody onstage job). But this audience was almost distractingly effusive in their displays.

On the flipside, Bob and I are both messing up things we really shouldn't be messing up anymore. Heavens, I even cracked up on a couple of ocassions in Act II. (I'd really really like to know how to keep a straight face during the "Muck out the cow stalls with this salad fork" speech.)

So tommorrow's Opening. The wider Burlington public is going to see me pottering about in these really really short, tight cutoff jeans and the like. (I'm a little bit disappointed that the Michael Caine hornrims didn't make it in the show, but that's okay.) (I'm actually not at all disappointed that my father isn't going to come out and see this, because it's really uncanny how I'm starting to resemble my childhood memories of him. Jesus, did they really make shirt-collar lapels THAT wide? And my hair hasn't been this thick since before I got that passport photo taken, that the Germans love so much.)

One more thing, a note for future reference; if you ever make yourself a pair of really really short tight cutoff jeans, be sure to be prepared for the shock of cold seat surfaces whenever you sit down. Let's just say that it's really discomfiting for the unsuspecting.


Like a cat carefully choosing a place to hunker down for the night, I'm slowly coming around to the idea of professionally pursuing theatre as an avocation, as a life. Watching rockstars like David and Mark and Kathy at work, as well as the accrued experience of others back west like Randall and Jen, leads me closer and closer to the conclusion that I so enjoy and respect, and am reasonably capable of this work, that it would be wise to pursue my avocation for it in a more formal and deliberate manner. (Believe what you will, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with these discomfiting cutoff jeans that Jenny has dressed me in. Really.)

More on this later. In the meantime, I have a pint of well-earned Ben & Jerry's chocolate ice cream to attend to.




Notes from Vermont V.

Happy Turkeys, everyone.

They've built a circa-1972 Canadian farmhouse kitchen and backyard, in an intimate 150-seat black box theatre in downtown Burlington, VT. I helped lay down authentic Canadian linoleum on the 16\16 ft. stage, and tracts of sod on the outside corner. There's a vintage Kelvinator fridge that weighs heavier than a guilty conscience. There's a working sink, which, in that intimate space in-the-round, just boggles my pea-sized brain. At this point in rehearsals, we consume a loaf-and-a-half of Wonderbread every night. That's quite a bit.

This Tech experience, I must confide, is Humiliatingly Difficult. The Drawer Boy looks simple and straightforward, but I assure you, reader, that there is much hidden in its deceptively meek ambitions, enough to upend the best intentions of this cast.

I am apalled at my own shortcomings in this. All three of us in this tiny cast are struggling with lines. And at this close to opening, it looks and feels like Amateur Hour on the Chucklehead TV Special.

What gets me is that I know--we all know--that we're better than this. I daresay all three of us are talented, determined, committed actors equal to the task before us. It's a beautifully moving play, with great nuance and hidden depth beneath a seemingly placid exterior (kind of like me, actually). We just keep getting upended by the repetitive, same-but-different interjections, and the sheer number and scale of discoveries we have to sort through onstage (I guess that's kind of like me, too).

I've done hard things. I played the Bear, in a show this summer about a faith healer in Poland beset by demons and stiltwalkers and shaman-totems. I've also played the faith healer with a broken fifth metatarsal. I've done hard things. And I'm not about to give up...

Ach. So that's what this self-absorbed insecure actor is struggling with. But on the bright side, our costume designer is kickass. She's thinking of dressing my character in a lime-green button-down shirt, a pair of slim black corduroids, and thick Michael Caine-vintage hornrimmed glasses. "It's so difficult to keep you from looking hip," she says. I know, Jenny, I know.



Notes from Vermont IV.

This evening I attended a MoveOn.org House Party, discussing our future.

I will not belabor you, dear reader, with the fitful reflections of an angry and determined young turk who took notes for a roomful of similarly angry and determined subersive patriots. At least, not yet. Pursuant to the consensus gradually agreed upon in this meeting, I invite you to familiarize yourselves with your state's Congressional delegations, House and Senate both.

It's easy. Just plug in your zip code and find out who speaks for you. That's all. For those who may be beyond this troubled land's star-spangled bounds, I invite you to visit the State Department and find out who speaks for me in your country. Just for the sake of knowing. Ensuing activities include:
  • Heartily congratulating yourself on Being a Good Informed Citizen.
  • Taking a Look at Their Respective Legislative Records
  • Writing A Letter to Your Representative and/or Senator and/or My Ambassador to You, talking about what you want and why.
  • Citing said information in cocktail parties, dinner dates or cranky breakfast tables, thereby silencing the rest of the room upon evidence of your incomparable erudition.
  • Keeping Up With Their Legislative Records, because after all, they're doing things in your name. (You foreign types get it easy, I know.)

It's not much. But it's a beginning. For further troublemaking, check out Move On's website. Y'all can go from there pretty easily.

I am personally perhaps not as angry (nor as despondent) as the others about what many perceive to be another electoral fraud. At this stage, I feel the more immediate priorities are the worsening state of affairs in US foreign policy, the increasing threat to civil liberties and women's rights, the ongoing purge of informed moderate and opposition voices in the most important levels of the federal government, and the ongoing threat to the environment.

A politicial blog, this is not. But I do view it as an important responsibility of every conscientious individual to keep well-informed and as active as we can be in our respective spheres.

This requires conscious effort, and a sufficiently sober, even stoic, temperament, which helps me to view the various outrages and injustices at home and abroad and still keep faith that I can and will make a better life for myself, and that this involves working to make a better world for those around me, ultimately the whole world over. And this begins with actions that may be small in the world's perspective, but come in all sizes in my own.

Yours in Solidarity,


Notes from Vermont III.

I'm living in a beautiful old half-sided farmhouse out in the Vermont woods, about 45 minutes from the nearest Interstate.

During the day big shaggy cows graze just around the corner. They look like prehistoric wooly mammoth cows, only small. Personally, I think they would be more fun if they were bigger. But then, what wouldn't be?

One of the neighbors has a schoolbus painted blue, and rigged to run on vegetable oil.

Article 17 of the Vermont Constitution specifies that they'll never submit to martial law.

The rough-hewn wood frame of the house gains a warm, welcoming tone from the sunlight, a quality which it shares with the worn patina of the antique floorboards.

Someone left a Johnny Cash tape in the beat-up Honda Civic I'm driving, and Lord let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've coasted through farmlands and Smalltown crossroads and shoals of nice young unassuming Vermonters with The Man in Black thundering from your crackling speakers.

In rehearsals, we're at That Agonizing Place where everyone's at different stages of being off-book and having well-established characters and knowing how not to project the stage presence of a large, awkward, poorly-groomed amnesiac manatee when Not Talking But Still Acting. In other words, it's the night before Tech Week begins. In the Star Trek episode, it's when Worf growls, "Perhaps today IS a good day to die!!"

Driving home from rehearsals, I have long conversations with my director Mark, about the trials and tribulations of running a small but plucky regional theatre, and having high standards that tend to rarify over time, and the utter crap-shoot any casting operation is. He's mulling over several options about the next season, and the thing is, it doesn't matter whether you're got a professional Equity Actor or Jane Q. Undergrad or Chuckles McSelfish or Old Gingerbread from the Salvation Army shelter, you just never know what you're dealing with until after you've cast everything. And even when you have the most magically talented uber-superhero-justice-league-strength cast, that still doesn't mean you've got a good script, or a smart publicity operation, or a public that isn't hopelessly lethergic and none-too-quick on the uptake, neither. When we get home, Kathy reminds us, "Who never said 'We're screwed'? That's right. Capt. Kirk never said 'We're screwed.'"

Meanwhile, my friend Erika studying in Chile writes to me, commenting on the absolute absence of any cultural infrastructure whatsoever, oustide of Santiago. And I remember how grateful I am to be doing work that, while it certainly isn't solving Peace in the Middle East, it's still work that I love to do and needs to be done.

But in the interests of that latter loose end, here's your homework, everybody: as a Citizen of the World, it behooves you to familiarize yourself with one of the causes behind that mess over there. No, not the mess in Iraq, although that's related. Please read the link, it's short and it's very telling in the context of why things are the way they are right now. Context, context, context is everything.



"Just put on the welder's mask and the raincoat, and hold on tight when things get slippery."

So I'm now up to my neck in rehearsals for "The Drawer Boy."

It's an intensely satisfying challenge. For once I'm working in an environment where my primary effort and energy goes to my work for this role, which is as it should be. And I'm enjoying my immersion in yet another foreign environment.

Vermont is lovely, but cold. Quite cold. The roads are long and narrow, I'm living on the far side of a covered bridge, I'm drinking from a traveling coffee mug with the silhouette of a moose on its side. I'm living in a warm room next to a woodstove that I stoke daily. I have a map of colonial British East Africa on my wall. The stars are piercing in their clarity, and from time to time the Northern Lights sweep past. There's a two-story Barnes and Noble open until 11:00 at night, with a Starbucks inside, about 45 minutes north of here. Not ideal, but certainly adequate. The town of Burlington itself is crammed with remarkable restaurants and New England cheer.

I'm working with castmates dramatically different from those with whom I've recently been working, though we all recognizably hail from the same eclectic and desperate tribe, that of the Theatre Artist. One is an Actor's-Equity-lion/former university professor type, self-described as the last white man to play Othello, in 1963. The other is a mysterious gentleman from Montpelier possessed of an uncanny ability to learn complicated lines and blocking quite quickly. We don't like him very much right now.

This is the place in the process where things quicken, by the way. We're far enough along in the process where there's no turning back. It's the point in the Star Trek episode where Kirk is on the line to Scotty, looking for more power.

I'm confident of things unfolding beautifully, but I'm tense enough to be nervous. In a healthy way, as these things go. No doubt the general tenor will only intensify as Tech Week hits.

It's easy for me, out here in this remote theatre world I'm living in right now, to feel almost as exiled as I did in Poland. From time to time I pick up a newspaper and groan for a few long moments. To which I say to myself: Be strong, hold fast, quick's the word and sharp's the action. There is much afoot abroad which requires the best and the noblest in all of us to rise above our indignant outrage. We all have cause to use our time and our energy carefully, and forcefully, to repair the damage being done and to keep our own proud liberal bleeding-heart dreams alive. It's important to remember that apoplectic disgust or smoldering contempt really serves us little.

Right. Enough preaching. Peace and Health to all of you.

Favorite passage from "The Drawer Boy":
MORGAN: Ever gutted anything?

MILES: You mean--what--like, cut the guts out of something?

MORGAN: Uh huh. Do you know how to use a chainsaw?

MILES: I, uhh. (remembers tractor) No. No sir, I don't.

MORGAN: Nothing to it. Just put on the welder's mask and the raincoat, and hold on tight when things get slippery.

MILES: Think it's a good idea? After the tractor?

MORGAN: Probably not. But there'll be no mollycoddling on this farm while there's work to do. Plus, I'll stand well back."

cheers, paulmonsterinthewoods.


from the far side of the covered bridge

Some friendly nods in other directions.

Visit my friend Sally's weblog, www.e-h.us/blog She's cool, she's intelligent, she gardens, and she's set forth a well-considered response to one of my own posts below.

Also, my dear friend Gwenn's site, www.gwennseemel.com She's amazingly talented and prolific and keenly perceptive and amazing wonderful. I adore her with the zeal of a mortal foe.

And the Survival Guide to Homelessness at www.guide2homelessness.blogspot.com is a truly remarkable blog, setting forth a perspective that is desperately needed in the poverty discourse right now.

Finally, one of my hosts here in Vermont, Kathy, runs www.theaccidentalactivist.com Go now. Go, go quickly, don't make me come after you, fool, go!

All of these sites will be linked immediately to your left on this screen henceforth. This doesn't relieve you of responsibility for checking in with any of those other sites of Profound Importance, so don't think you're off the hook, bucko.

And last but not least, any of you so-and-so's who's up here in New England, come by Burlington and check out "The Drawer Boy" at Vermont Stage Company's Flynnspace. (www.vtstage.org) Ignore these directives at your own peril. A more typical crazy-ass post to follow soon.




islands again

I'm dreaming of islands again.

This time they are dense, choked rocks in the middle of a wide, slow, muddy river. The rocks are crammed with stringy, spidery trees like mangroves crossed with willows crossed with tangled braintree oaks. The leaves are rubbery, with sharp edges.

The wide river is shallow, and the muck from the bottom is gray, and it stains my toes and my feet and my legs, up to my thighs. I go from rock to rock, out of idle curiosity. The sun is far, far away, throwing off a cold, bright daylight. Nothing is reflected from the river water's surface. I think of disappointments and stale coffee and spiteful words. I look to the banks of the river and I see tall grass and lonely trees with drifting tops, and the sound of dry leaves in the wind.

For some reason, I walk low in the water, so that only my eyes and the top of my head break the slow river's surface. I'm not afraid of sharp rocks or a strong current or living things in the water. I'm walking in a slow crouch, my arms in front of me. I watch the clay-gray water running off the hair on my forearms. I think of lost chances and broken promises.

I'm wearing a raw cotton shirt, torn and stained with old blood in places. I can tell my nose has been bleeding, but it isn't now. Small lizards scamper onto my arms every time I touch one of the rocks. I can smell cooking rice.

The water tastes like thin oatmeal. I'm thinking of dead grandparents, when I notice how cold the river is. I turn and walk back towards one of the rocks, but I notice how far away they now are. And that I can only dimly see the banks of this river.

But the day is early, and I'm certain it will warm soon. And so I turn again, and walk with my eyes closed.

My toes are now only barely touching the bottom. My arms are spread out, and I'm leaning back into the river's soft current, letting it carry me gently. I feel the clay stains stiffening on the skin of my arms above the surface of the water, and I think of parched earth in empty yards, and children with scabbed knees. Water is lapping against my shoulders. My shirt is blooming in the muddy water. I think of swimming in the dark, and I wake up.




Barbarians have overrun my country again.

I don't know what to do, or who to speak to, or what to say, in that overwhelming, bloody map of electoral votes.

I don't understand the vast gulf separating me from 51% of the voting public. I simply don't understand.

Whose country is this? What country is this? Who are my countrymen and -women, whose ideological and religious views are so foreign to my own?

"The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."