Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Tempermentals

Performance Date: 02.22.10
New World Stages

I think I’ve gone a little nutso.  Ever since January I’ve been about three plays behind in my Year of Plays, and it’s been making me anxious.  Now no one besides myself is holding me accountable to any sort of schedule with these plays.  But I’m a Virgo and an ENFJ (as is Barack Obama, aren't I swell) which means I can create sizeable anxieties over small commitments and I can do it all on my own, thank you very much.  So I was anxious, and to quell my anxiety I stacked up on theater tickets.  And, well, I went a little overboard.  The result is that I’m seeing six plays in nine days time.  Nutso.

So to make my life a little easier, beginning with this post we shall commence a brief period of speed-blogging.  Six brief jottings – two a week for three weeks.  You’ll be happier, I’ll be happier, it will be great.

Speed-blogging Post #1:
The Tempermentals.

I had no idea what I was going to see, but it was theater on a Monday night which is rare.  I thought perhaps it was a cabaret actually – something Michael Urie (of "Ugly Betty" fame) threw together for fun with some friends.  Instead I was very pleased to encounter this great little play about the formation of the Mattachine Society (one of the earliest gay activist organizations) in 1950’s Los Angeles.

I don’t watch "Ugly Betty" so I wasn’t familiar with Michael Urie and was a little cynical in my expectations for the night.  But he was fantastic.  Charming, present, real, funny, talented.  And all this while employing an Austrian accent.  Not bad.  What he made realize is this -- people are people, and have been so throughout all time.  Just because something is a “period piece” doesn’t mean that people didn’t slouch or sigh or slump or roll their eyes.  These were the details that made Michael Urie’s character so real to me, even in the supposedly more composed, suit-wearing era of the 1950's.

Now this goes contrary to what a lot of actor training programs teach.  These days a lot of us are taught to rid ourselves of “fidgety” habits in favor of a more “grounded” and neutral physicality.  There’s good reason behind it – actors usually fidget because we're uncomfortable on stage and don’t know what else to do.  When we remove those gestural crutches, however, we're forced to connect more deeply to the material and can make cleaner choices about how to pursue what our character wants.  But removing the “fidgeting” can be a bit of a baby and the bathwater situation, where actors end up stripping themselves of the ability to make characters seem like real people.  I've definitely been guilty of it, and it's nice to be reminded that it doesn't have to be that way.  Now, let me be clear (Obama reference - my we're just so alike!), I’m not recommending that we return to the post-Brando phase of acting where mumbling and picking one’s nails passed for technique, nor am I eager to embrace Tudor queens who sink into their hips like valley girls.  But Michael Urie’s performance reminded me that as long as you do know what you’re doing on stage, there’s no need to throw the baby out of that tub. 

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