Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Crowd I’m in With

Posted by Kiff Vanden Heuvel

So far, I’ve blogged about the crew and my teeth. I said I was going to blog about my cast, so now is the time. As this sentence is being written, our final show is three hours away.

Now, when I said I was going to blog about the show, a couple of the members in my cast requested that I not mention their names in the blog. I suspect that it was partially in jest, but probably mostly…not. So with respect to their wishes, I will attempt to talk about my cast mates with some degree of anonymity, which will provide me with an interesting challenge and will also provide you, the reader and past audience member, with the game of trying to figure out who is who.

I’m a big fan of the movie The Dirty Dozen, so I will assign names from that film to members of my cast. I will not assign the name “Major Reisman,” however, because that was Lee Marvin, and I’d like to be him.

First, I’ll begin with “Victor Franco.” He has been a delight and very generous to me from the very beginning of this process. He is also a father and we’ve bonded over the challenges of being actors and trying to support our respective families while walking the tightrope. Franco is a very thoughtful actor, always searching for the truth of each line and the intention and meaning behind each moment. I respect his work a great deal and it’s been a blessing not only to be able to call him my ensemble member, but also my friend.

I was talking to “Vernon Pinkley” last night about our approach to the work. I’ve got a background in sketch comedy with The Second City and have a great deal of comic experience and Pinkley gets do carry a heavy comic moment in the show pretty much by himself. We were talking about the laughs he’s pulling and the timing of when to hold for laughter and when to barrel through to maximize the thrill for the audience. We also talk about gangster rap, basketball and babies. And last night, we talked about the dance of laughter with the audience. In all my time at The Second City, I rarely had a conversation like that with the members of my ensemble, so I sometimes felt like I was thinking too hard about something that everybody else simply understood. Since Pinkley and I are both off-stage at the same time for a chunk of the play, I’ve enjoyed the variety and depth of my conversations with Pinkley and look forward to watching him dance with the audience for the next week and a half.

Let me tell you about working with “Richard Jefferson.” She is such a gifted performer and so incredibly warm. She was actually the first member of the cast that I actually had any contact with after I found out I had been cast. She sent me a note on Facebook. It was literally like, “Hey Major Reisman, my name is Richard Jefferson and we’re doing Crowd together. We’re cousins! We’re both from West Michigan! We’re Dutch! People always mispronounce ‘Jefferson.’ Can’t wait to start!” Our first day of rehearsal was like a homecoming because of her—even though we had never met before that day. Coming to work at the Goodman for the first time can be intimidating, but it helped that Jefferson was there—as an actor she knew how much it meant to be at the Goodman, and she and I were coming from the same place. She also happens to be a first-rate actor. During rehearsals, I got choked up every single time she told Franco why she wants kids. She’s such a fabulous person, and I’m honored to call Jefferson my cousin.

Then there’s “General Worden.” Now, Worden is a comedy vet. He has appeared in The Second City, Saturday Night Live and Wild Men, and on most of the stages here in Chicago. He has been such a marvelous role model to me throughout this entire process. He’s been someone I go to for help on a laugh line or a moment that feels a little off since our director has left town. Worden also has the greatest laugh and I love telling dirty jokes in the men’s dressing room and cracking him up. When I get Worden to laugh, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It’s great fun to spar a little on stage with him. I direct a good deal of my Bob Dylan monologue to him, and it’s wonderful to feel such a strong connection with him through that segment. We’ve shared a lot of train and cab rides back up to the North Side after the shows and rehearsals and it’s a privilege to call him a friend.

Actors always use words like “amazing” and “fabulous” to describe working with someone—so often that those words begin to lose their power. So I’m going to attempt to coin a new word for what it is like working with this actor: Wladislaw.

“Joseph Wladislaw” is one of the most consistent professionals I have ever worked with. There are so many things to say about working with her, but the two things that leap out at me, first is consistency. She is always deeply rooted in the truth of the moment. ALWAYS. She is SO natural and generous to work with. And secondly, Wladislaw is such a kind and giving person. She’s like a breeze that pours through a screen door on a hot Iowa summer night. I’m really going to miss her, and I look forward to our paths crossing again. On stage or off. What a delight.

Finally, a few words about my dear friend “Samson Posey.” From our first read-through, Samson has lifted her character off the page with so much more intelligence and fear than I ever imagined when I initially read the play. She just nails the vulnerability and gentleness of her character. She’s such a dear person and I have so totally enjoyed getting to know her. We’ve had long martini- and Hacker-Weiss-fuelled conversations about cars, loss, cast-iron pans, cigarettes and sandwiches. Posey played my wife on stage, but she is my friend in life. Regardless of whether she smokes crappy cigarettes or not.

Well, you may know The Dirty Dozen very well. If you know the crowd I’m in with as well, you’ll see that the names are actually quite fitting. But there is one major Dirty Dozen character not represented in the cast, and that is “Archer Maggott.” Now Maggott is a reprehensible and terrifying psychopath and there is absolutely no one who can even jokingly be referred to in that way, except the one thing that I knew I would dread after our first read-through, and that is closing. Maggott is coming today at around 3:30pm. Maggott always comes. It’s a necessary part of theater that with every opening comes a Maggott. While I’m looking forward to spending time with my family in the evenings again (we’ve got a two-year-old and to be honest, my wife is looking forward to Maggott’s arrival—I am, too, in a way) I’m sad to say good-bye to the rest of my unit.

It’s been an honor to serve alongside them, and as much as I hope we get assigned to each other’s company once again, the chance of this exact pairing is very remote. An ensemble like this doesn’t happen often and when it does, you do well to enjoy it while it lasts and reflect fondly on it when it’s gone.

And I’m really pleased to report that unlike the film, we had no casualties.

We all made it out while out lives (and friendships) intact.

That’s also a rare thing.

So, thank you my dear friends for an amazing couple of months.

And if you haven’t seen The Dirty Dozen…well, I can’t tell you what to do.

…but you should see it, ’cuz it’s awesome.

—Major Reisman

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