Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Two Gentlemen of Verona (Summer: 1999)

I got the call from Nagle Jackson about a month after I'd returned from Chapel Hill. Nagle had directed "Beauty Queen" and had moved on to Shakespeare In Santa Fe, an outdoor Shakespeare festival he'd been directing at for years.

The actor who'd been hired to play Proteus had to drop out and Nagle thought of me.

I was reluctant to leave New York again so soon on the heels of having been away but the lure of doing Shakespeare professionally was too great. I had done the Public Theater Shakespeare Lab the summer before and 'Tis Pity She's A Whore the year before that and felt as if my calling might be in the classics. I had an affinity for it and a love of it.

So on rather short notice I was jetting off to the American Southwest to do an ancient comedy.

Nagle's directing style is about as subtle and hands-off as you can get. I don't know how he does it. He gets exactly what he wants but never seems to be enforcing his will upon anyone. He reminds me of the great coaches in sports who handle rosters full of superstars. The wrong hand at the helm could be disastrous in spite of all the talent. Any ego coming from the leadership position could send things spiraling out of control.

But Nagle Jackson is a pro's pro. And I feel very blessed to have worked with him twice in quick succession. It was very good for my confidence.

I only remember one difficult moment in rehearsal. We were working on a bit in which I begin losing my mind and basically threaten to force myself on my new crush. She tries to run away, I grab her hand and pull her close to me, she pulls away to the length of my extended arm and then I pull her back. It was a classic melodramatic piece of blocking that would maintain the romantic thrust without being creepy or violent.

I could not synchronize the lines and movements. We were pretty far along in rehearsals and the combination of blocking and words should have been easy for me to grasp. We spent more time on it than we ought to have and Nagle almost lost his temper with me. He got out of his chair and said smartly, "No, like this!" and proceeded to demonstrate exactly how it should go.

And what do you know, that was all I needed. So even in the ONE moment when he lost his patience he delivered the goods. An amazingly talented man. Also a playwright of some note and one of the most interesting sweet people I've ever met.

Seeing as our crowds would be upwards of one thousand people a night and we performed on a giant stage nestled high in a mountain campus, we couldn't settle for realistic or subtle depictions. Everything had to be writ large to reach people almost one hundred yards away.

The set was a giant pink adobe fortress, behind which stretched away a massive mountain vista above and a sprawling valley below. Truly the most spectacular setting for a play as you could imagine. The setting was vaguely Victorian or perhaps a bit later and the women wore corseted dresses and the men wore sharp suits and hats.

My challenge was to keep the audience on my side as I ditched my longtime love and ardently pursued my best friend's fiancee. But William Shakespeare does most of the work for you and the audience was immediately caught up in my madness, loving what it said about our own capacity for folly and passion.

Maria and Cashel came to visit for a short time and then Cash stayed with me once Maria left. He was two and a half. He loved going in the pool at the hotel I was staying at. Maria tried to bring him to see the show and from way back in the massive crowd I heard the small voice chirp, "Daddy!" She had to take him back to the hotel because he couldn't watch the show without yelling for me.

My parents came along with my mom's mom and it is one of the last times I spent with her in which she was lucid and present. So I'll always cherish that.

I made a lifelong friend in Ted Bettridge who played my best friend Valentine. I got to spend weeks with Tim and Laura and Reeve, my friends from Providence.

And I got to say those words. Even in perhaps his slightest work he still managed to grab the attention of a modern throng a thousand strong and whip them into a frenzy of laughter.

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