Sunday, January 13, 2008

Conor McPherson

I saw Shining City at the Goodman last night. First preview performance. I would have preferred to see it a little further into the run, but Dan hooked up some freebies and I can't turn down free. I'm a fan of the script and the production didn't disappoint. It's great across the board. No spoilers here. See it.

I can't help but feel it would be exponentially more awesome in a smaller theater. The Goodman's main stage -- the Albert? -- is... so... big. The stage is filled with a gorgeous set, but I think Conor McPherson plays are intimate affairs best served in a smaller venue. I suppose the Goodman is an intimate venue compared with the Broadway house where this play made its U.S. premier, and I'll hold my horses 'til some Off-Loop company tackles this script in a couple years. I wanted to be closer. I was up in the Mezzanine boonies with 50 coughers. You know that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where the high-priest guy sticks his hand into that dude's chest and pulls out his beating heart. I wish I could do that. But instead of a heart I'd pull the lungs from people who don't stop coughing in the theatre. Thankfully, the coughing settled down once the play began crackling. Conor McPherson is the Robitussin of playwriting. I dig it. One of my favorite Chicago productions of all time was McPherson's The Good Thief at The Gift Theatre. Michael Patrick Thornton was phenomenal in that play. It was the perfect union of actor, text, and venue.

I first encountered a Conor McPherson play when I was working as a Production Assistant at Greenbrier Valley Theatre in West Virginia in 2002. The actor they hired to play Valerie in McPherson's The Weir dropped out to travel to India, and the director asked me to audition. She had seen me act earlier in the season. Also I was the only one in the room who could do an Irish accent. If you know The Weir, you know that a 21 year old has no business playing Valerie. I wanted to write Conor McPherson a letter of apology for the inappropriate casting, and for the theatre not allowing us to say the word "fuck" in the play. The play is set in a rural Irish bar. Of course "fuck" appears in the text a lot. Not so in that production. Welcome to theatre in West Virginia.

I hadn't acted much before that summer -- a couple acting classes and a few student directing scenes in college. I was also doing double duty as the theatre's production assistant, so I had to set up and strike the rehearsal room and wash all the glasses, and quite a few glasses needed washing for all the drinking done in that play (Rootbeer for Guinness, Cream Soda for Harp, insulin for when the pancreas failed). The actors lobbied to have a piss bucket backstage since the toilet was so far away and entrances were always near-misses.

Acting in The Weir was terrifying. The character Valerie spends most of the play listening to the other characters, but then delivers a 12 minute monologue. I was offstage briefly before having to come back on and deliver that monologue about a dead kid. God I was nervous. I spent my time offstage trying not to barf. I was also pretty sure I had forgotten the monologue, and if you go up on your lines in a monologue, you're fucked. But as it goes, you get out there, settle down, and just get through it. I'm not gonna lie: it was fun making people in the audience cry with a dead kid monologue.

I had no idea if my performance was actually good. It was more the writing than me. And it's possible I like Conor McPherson because I link his writing to [acting] trauma and triumph. But mostly I like his writing because it's just good, y'know?