From Page To Stage: The birth of Artless Charlie – Part 7


After our first read-through, I’m feeling really good about both the cast and the script.  Chris, Dan and Kirsten in particular, took naturally to their respective characters and brought some good things to the table as far as their own instincts are concerned.  I enjoyed the level of quirkiness that Andrew Harris read into Joe, though I may want to take that character in a slightly different direction.  I want to avoid having Joe come off as completely farcical.  I’d like people to see a little more depth in him and sense his intelligence and sensitivity that is buried beneath the humorous dialogue – kind of a Dennis Miller vibe, I suppose.

As for Evelyn, though she does not immediately appear to be as strong of an actor as the rest of the cast, I think some of that can be attributed to nervousness and the fact that she is not as close with the rest of the group as everyone else is.  I have faith that those feelings will dissipate soon.  As I’ve said, rehearsal atmosphere is of vital importance, and if Evelyn feels awkward or uncomfortable, that will affect her work. Though making someone uncomfortable in rehearsals could be a useful directing tactic, I don’t think that it’s right for her or her character.  One of the things about Evelyn that appealed to me so much and ultimately made me decide to cast her was her physical appearance and the way she carries herself.  She really looks and sounds the part of Madeleine, and I think that people can realistically see her as being Dan’s mother on stage.  I’m sure that I will have to spend some extra time with her on her character, but I’m willing to sacrifice that to get the desired look and performance from her.

During the read-through, my head was flooded with ideas about character, specific moments, special layout and overall general approach. I noted that in the first scene, the section involving Charlie and Madeleine could stand to be compressed, allowing Joe to enter sooner.  I feel that the emotional/tonal moments and expository things are established early enough in the scene to allow for that.  As for Joe, I’d like to see Harriss employ a greater level of manic energy in this character, an element that will aid in the character’s general presence, as well as the yet to be decided subplot involving his possible drug problems.  There’s no such thing as a laid-back cokehead.  Additionally, I think that Joe’s monologue in this scene could be shortened, as he seems to reiterate the same things on multiple occasions during the speech.  Although I understand that Adam may have been trying to give Joe an overly verbose quality by making his speech go on in such a way, I also feel like we can establish that while still keeping the speech a little shorter.  I also want to see Harriss do some “air drumming” during the speech while he’s describing last night’s gig. Perhaps we could get him some drum sticks…

In scene 1.2, when Charlie is telling Grace about how Joe knocked over a whole shelf of antiques in the shop while helping Madeleine, I thought that we could perhaps have that action take place briefly during the scene.  This could work well given my ideas on stage layout, but it might be a little too much for such a small moment.  Also in the second scene, I want to make sure that we establish the happiness that exists between Charlie and Grace early in the play.  Since a major issue in the plot is how their relationship is slipping away, we need to make sure that there is a place for it to slip away from.  I don’t want their first interactions on stage seeming too “in media res” as far as their dying relationship is concerned.  This could easily be accomplished by making their bickering a bit more good-natured and playful.  I imagine that Grace and Charlie have that sort of relationship anyway – constant “ball-breaking”.

Adam and I have not spoken in much detail about the specifics of the music used in this play.  By this I mean the actual music that Charlie plays and hears in his head, not transition or pre-show music.  During the read through it occurred to me that perhaps it could be written in ¾ time, like a waltz.  This would aid the play well as Charlie is constantly “waltzing” around this issues that plague him.  He has trouble talking about it with his loved ones or even recognizing the problems himself.

Charlie has some very specific references on page twenty-eight about Jazz musicians and I am wary of that. I want to avoid pigeonholing him too much as a “Jazz Cat,” as that could lead to the imposition of certain characteristics upon him.  I’d like to avoid specifying exactly what kind of musician Charlie is, as that might complicate certain issues.  He should be perceived as simply a struggling artist, not a Jazz or Rock musician.  The latter could affect overall applicability of his plight upon the audience.

In the fourth scene of the first act, I kept hearing “The girl from Iponema” as the annoying Muzak that Charlie despises in the Doctors office.  The possibility also exists that we could replay a Muzak version of “Charlie’s theme”, the tune from the overture and entr’acte, but that might be a little too much. In fact, that whole scene feels like it could be shortened.  In the following scene, 1.5, the exchange between Madeleine and Joe that precedes Charlie’s return from the doctor’s office could be shortened as well. Though the dialogue here is amusing, it feels extraneous, and this play is running long as is.  Because of the play’s overall length, I feel like the energy just flat-out dies around page fifty.  Since this is just before intermission, I think that shortening some of the aforementioned moments might allow us to make it through the first act without feeling that drop.  However, it may have just as much to do with the length of 1.5 as anything else.  The argument between Madeleine and Charlie just drags on in that scene and that is aiding the energy crash.

There are numerous occasions in this play where Charlie either mentions offhand or flat-out tries to confront Joe about his drug problem.  I feel like these moments are too frequent and could use some understating or just be cut altogether.  I don’t want to turn this into an after-school special about some guy’s drug problem.  I think that the reference in 2.3 can be the first direct reference of the problem; the rest can exist solely as sniffles by Joe, and/or Charlie asking him if he “still has that cold”.

When Walter mentions the “lovely necklace” that Grace is wearing in 2.1, Grace should be wearing a low-cut shirt to allow for interpretation of that so-called compliment. I think that will help establish the slimy, usurping qualities that Walter possesses.  Also in that scene, when Walter and Joe meet, Joe should slap Walter’s outstretched had “five” instead of shaking it back.  This is a good opportunity to showcase the quirky madness that Joe exudes and contrast that with Walter’s uptight cautiousness.

I also sketched out some ideas for the space during the read through and I’m playing with how exactly I want to divide up the stage. Since there are a number of locations in this play, and I’d like to avoid any set changes, I am going to attempt to fit them all together in the space, like a jigsaw puzzle.  Perhaps a few areas can overlap and serve dual purposes, but I think that each area should, for the most part, be represented separately on stage.

Overall, I feel like the script is very strong and held up well to being read aloud for the first time, though there is ample room for alteration/ clean-up. I could tell that Adam was very nervous/self-conscious about having it read out-loud, and I can certainly understand that.  However, I have faith in the strength of his words and I’d like him to feel that way too.  In what I perceived to be a product of this nervousness, he attempted to jump-in and qualify many moments of the play to the cast before they read them in an attempt to possibly downplay the emotional value of some of its contents.  He would assure the cast that everything in the script could and may change.  I feel that this is something he will move away from once he becomes more comfortable with his own work.  Adam and I discussed the issue of the play’s overall length, and we both feel that a great deal of it needs to be compressed.  I am glad that we are on the same page (no pun intended) about this and he is open to working with the script.  Ultimately, I am satisfied with where we are at this point and feel confident about moving ahead from here.


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