Thursday, May 31, 2012
May 30, 2012
Leftover image of New York. Beside me at Newsies was a beautiful woman and her two beautiful daughters. She was thin and a little leathery, from tanning, I guess, but stunningly put together and the kind of old woman who broadcasts the message, “I have lost my beauty but I have retained my power.” Her daughters were very thin too, and had flowing blond hair and exquisite summer dresses. None of them laughed or smiled or changed their expressions throughout the show. I kept looking over where they were watching with expressions of distant sadness on their faces. I had found the women in the fashion magazines, or Gossip Girl, who are all thinness and coolness and beauty, and cannot even crack a smile for fear of courting a line. Either that or they just had a terrific fight and had not made up. Only mom managed a brief smile as she crawled over me to her seat.
Yesterday was the all-day rehearsal and then the reading of The Loves of Mr. Lincoln. The theater was air-conditioned and New York was a blaze of summer heat, so there was something to be grateful for right off. The actors were excellent, several of them even, if you know about these matters, famous. I was utterly pleased with what they did. There are points at which I would have done things differently, but whether that would have been better or not someone in the audience would have to say. Sidney and the cast worked very hard, and it is difficult for a playwright not to feel a sort of unpayable gratitude for such earnest effort. My humiliation was the host of typos the cast had to pencil out as they went.
The simple thing to say is that the play is good. I kept waiting for a wince point or a big question mark to stand over my head, but those moments never came. The audience was rapt, enthusiastic, congratulatory, and the words from the producers indicated that it was everything they had hoped, and it was time for the next phase, which they refused to specify, but which I resolved to accept without specification. “This has legs,” Bruce said, though he had also quipped, “Tell everybody to talk fast so we can bring this in in under four hours.” The producers were smiling. The director was dancing around like a big white bear. I stood there and tried to figure everything out. I strained my ears for bits of conversation. I’m getting used to the idea that the playwright is NEVER the most important person in the lobby after a performance. The beautiful actors come first. The men with the money come second. About half the people didn’t know who I was, as intros were neglected at the outset, which suited me fine until I knew it would be a success.
The phenomenon that I have learned to recognize as success is when the piece no longer seems mine. Had I entered the theater without knowing what was playing, I would have sat, watched, thinking, “Hey, this is good. But didn’t I have a play about Lincoln once? Whatever became of that?” It is better than I thought I knew how to write. In most places such things cannot be said. I’ll try to remember to say, “Oh, it went fine. We’re waiting for the next step.” The other phenomenon I have learned to equate with actual achievement is walking up 8th Avenue not exultant, not triumphant, but calm, cool, each footfall saying on the pavement, “It’s all right now.” So it was Tuesday night. So is it now.