It’s odd. I have been delaying writing about the run because I have had an incredible experience doing it, and as the time has flown by, I find myself knowing that this is actually the recap of the Chicago run fast coming to a close. Ironically, an early major snowstorm in the East heralds the closing weekend here in Chicago. There are four shows left of this extension week and it remains fresh and immediate. A sign of a very rich piece of writing, thank you John Logan.
There have been several phases and shifts during the last five weeks. It began with the days after the gala opening. That first week of the run allowed for a relaxation and steadying rhythm of the piece. Both Patrick and I became aware of each other, moment to moment in a more intimate way. The audience responses each evening encouraged us. They were consistent laughs and strong moments of tension, but perhaps most characteristic of the response came in a stunning expectant silence from the house. We could hear a pin drop, even in the extended silences that are crafted into the play and into the production. The audiences were clearly with us every step of the way. So, at first, our playing settled into a confident rhythm. We relaxed into the roles allowing for more attuned listening and responding in each moment, discovering nuance upon nuance in the words and in the dynamic of our relationship.
I had a close friend here for a few days during that second weekend, who saw the show each night for four nights. I was able to debrief the shows with him. He saw a more interesting and layered performance, subtly changing and growing in confidence and color each evening. I would come to the apartment and explore the ideas that came forward each night, amazed by the richness of the text. It was a very exciting time.
What has struck me most, is that the immediacy of the playing of this piece entirely depends on the energy in the room each night. It has never been a “repeat performance” consistent to the point of mechanical. The audiences’ impact on the tone of each performance is palpable, and continues to feed the character of each evening. Sometimes, the audiences delight in the ironies and laugh right away. That encourages a kind of freedom to lean into those ironies. At other times, the first audience reactions are more stunned by the severity of the relationship, the harshness and intellectual hegemony of Rothko. That encourages a darker tone. Similarly, Patrick’s energy gives me so much to respond to, and the latitude within the rehearsed structure allows for an enormous range of responses. It actually does happen in the moment. Each night. As the play says, “it ebbs and flows and shifts, gently pulsing.” The playing of it is exactly that. I have never, ever experienced that kind of freedom and immediacy. It’s was a bit unnerving at first, but over time I have come to start each evening with an excited expectancy – “What is it going to be tonight? What are they going to bring.”
About two or three weeks into the run, John Logan returned for another look at the play and participate in a post-performance discussion. He wondered if the play was still satisfying to do. Both Patrick and I were enthusiastic in our response to that prompt, “Yes, no question!” He said he had seen the growth in our work and was appreciative of it. He was pleased that his American actors were enjoying living inside his words. As the first American company to do this play, we certainly feel a sense of pride, but also a sense of responsibility. We are finding American rhythms, American behaviors and finding them for the first time. Of course, at this point there is now a growing fraternity of Rothko’s and Ken’s across the country and world. It is deeply satisfying to know that there are now, and will be, many other actors walking the same path that we were given the honor of blazing as American actors. John was truly delighted to hear his play in the mouth of Americans. At least, he certainly made us feel so.
I envy Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne the luxury of months and months of playing the piece in England prior to coming to New York. It is no wonder it was a bigger success in New York, given that time to explore and what I assume to have been a similar experience as ours. Our show now is richer, deeper, more nuanced and realized than those late days of September. We mirror the journey of the original company, too, having been given the privilege of transferring this production to Arena Stage in Washington, DC in early 2012. We will come with a wealth of experience of playing RED, looking forward to discovering the play with a new audience in the nation’s capital.
That discovery process went on for several weeks. And then about ten days ago the comfort zone came to a surprising bump in the road, when I found myself dropping three lines that I never dropped before, each in a different scene. Why? Had I become complacent? It was shocking. What I came to understand is I could not expect there a similar concentration level out of familiarity with the work. Although it is fully in my body, the “newness” of each night lead me to new ground, so on those occasions I found my self lost, not knowing what comes next, because I was on a totally new path. I realized I had to ratchet up my concentration level to be vigilant and awake to the subtle new ground we were traveling. And, as always, the answer came in deeper listening to Patrick and the audience – taking each new stimulus as it came, not simply relying solely on kinesthetic awareness of repetition to produce the next response, because, in fact, they were and continue to be, new responses.
On the other side of that realization has come a new fountain of energy and awareness that leads us to a freedom in the playing. Like doing duets for piano and cello, Patrick and I have become acutely sensitive to each other. We have developed a remarkable rapport, taking and riffing off of each other’s moods and dynamics each night. It is thrilling.
So now the final weekend of the Chicago run. I am tinged with sadness to let go of this remarkable year long process of preparation, this rigorous rehearsal process, this satisfying run and this vibrant city. I have seen many people and witnessed explored many pleasure that Chicago offers: some of Mies Vanderrohe’s architecture that precisely mirrors the Seagram’s building; Lake Michigan with 20 foot waves kicked up from 60 mph winds; several plays around town and so many other experiences. I have met and talked with students at DePaul, Northwestern, Illinois State. Friends have visited, some that I haven’t seen for decades, others that flew in from afar to share the play. I have been able to spend time with my son, Christian, who lives here and works in the theater and music world, engineering music and designing sound. That has been equally enriching and satisfying, to be able to be dad, in between performances, and enjoy watching his growth as a young man and artist.
Finally, I have to thank the remarkable crew of this production: Stage Manager Joseph Drummond, Floor Manager Johanna Hail, Properties Supervisor Stephen Kolac, House Carpenter James Norman, Electrics Head Sherry Simpson, Dresser Jenee Garretson, and Sound Op Lilly West. Without their tireless efforts of setting up and running this show every night, none of what Patrick and I have enjoyed, would have been possible. They are first rate. So is the staff of The Goodman: the remarkable Publicity staff: Denise Schneider, Carly Leviton; Company Manager Erin Madden; Julie Massey, Assistant to Robert Falls. Everyone down to the security team. And, of course, Robert Falls. He, and they, have given me an experience of a lifetime. I am priveleged and excited to represent The Goodman as we transfer this production to The Arena Stage in Washington. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Below a montage of images of crew and Chicago. Until next time.