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Saturday, October 6, 2012

The ML with the hat

It’s no big news that so many BPT alums regularly share their immense talents on stage as well as on the page. But what is noteworthy is that this fall, area audiences are being treated to so many of them onstage at one time: Cliff Odle and Rick Park are about to open in Race (at New Rep) and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (at Company One), respectively; Steve Barkhimer is charming audiences in Stoneham Theatre’s Lumberjacks in Love; Richard Snee bowed this week in Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s Macbeth; and later this month will see John Kuntz in American Repertory Theater’s The Lily's Revenge. And who knows who else I’ve overlooked by mistake?!

This got me thinking, How do the actor sides and the playwright sides coexist in these people? What are they thinking about as they embark on the process of making someone else’s creation come to life? Currently onstage as Victoria in SpeakEasy Stage’s The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Melinda Lopez offered some thoughts on wearing both, well, hats…

Sometimes I imagine I know what Mr. Guirgis is thinking – like – when a scene builds to an impossible pitch, and you're like, “what the fuck is this person’s problem?” and then he drops a giant revelation that completely changes everything – and I think – yeah – he wrote himself into a corner, and then the character just said that – and Guirgis didn’t know it when he started the scene. But now it’s true. That happens in my scene with the wonderful Jaime Carillo, who plays Jackie – when – at an impossibly late moment, Victoria (who I am playing) reveals (spoiler alert) her husband got Jackie’s girlfriend pregnant. It’s such a great theatrical shock moment – and what’s even better – is that in the playing of it – the discovery works backwards and forwards. The audience suddenly sees everything that came before in a new way – and sees Victoria in a completely new way – and also everything that moves forward is forever changed. The actor has so much authority in that moment – because – getting back to my original thought – it feels like it was revealed to the writer in the moment as well.

Now I don't know Mr. Stephen Adley Guirgis. If I did, I’d be making him breakfast in bed right now. I don’t know how he wrote the play – maybe he’s an outline guy with everything plotted out beforehand – but I just kind of doubt it. I think he didn’t have any idea where that hat came from when he started writing the play. If I ever meet him, I’ll ask him (and also ask him about the pancakes scene). But I do know that being inside a great play, as an actor, you really do feel like you’re in the writer’s brain. And because I’m also a writer, I sometimes think, “yeah, that happened to me too.”

I was stuck writing Sonia Flew. I had created this really important talisman with Sonia's ring. This big theatrical moment in the passing of the ring from one generation to the next – in the past. And I knew the ring was just not there in the present. I looked for it, and it wasn’t there. And I kept wondering, “where the fuck is that ring?” And then I wrote Sonia's last speech, when she gets on the airplane, and knows she will never see her parents again. And she told me. “I threw it in the toilet.” And I just kind of sat there crying, and going, “Wow. That is exactly right.”

Melinda Lopez

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