I am currently rehearsing Other People’s Money, playing Bea Sullivan, the lawyer’s mother. Bea is a small, but very good, role – it allows an actress to go to a number of different places. Even when I was younger and coveting the role of the attorney, I appreciated that Bea has some very good moments. I generally choose my parts pretty carefully, and one of the reasons I choose to do a role is when there are two or three lines I just need to say, or moments I want to be part of. I’ll sign on to do two months of work and another of performance just for that sum total of 60 seconds. Crazy, right?
Anyway, Bea is one of those roles.
In this instance, the size of the role is a real benefit for the blog, because it will allow me to comprehensively talk about a character without taking 20 posts to do it. (I think. If you’ve read much of this blog, you’ll know that I seem to have a lot more to say than I thought I did when I started it.)
I’m not going to try to put much structure to this, but to talk about things more or less as they occur to me, in the rather circular way in which my mind works when I work on a character.
If you aren’t familiar with the play, I suggest reading it. It’s a well-constructed piece, with five interesting characters. All could be played two-dimensionally, and you could get away with it. And if you don’t have a lot of technique, that’s probably what you’d do with them; their layers aren’t particularly obvious. Dig a little, however, and you’ll find characters rife with inner conflict and contradictions.
Besides, you’ll get more out of these posts if you do read it!
If you don’t know the play, here’s a quick synopsis. Jorgy is chairman of a wire & cable business in Rhode Island – he’s run the place for decades. A Wall Street investor, Garfinkle, thinks the stock is undervalued and starts buying it, with the ultimate goal of selling the parts and making a bundle, while shutting down the core wire & cable business, putting 1200 people out of work. Other People’s Money is about what happens in this “war”.
Jorgy is in love with Bea, his assistant/secretary for 37 years. When they met, they were both married, and they remained married until their spouses’ respective deaths. Nevertheless, they were in love for most (all?) of those years, and others took note of the fact. Bea’s daughter, now a successful attorney for Morgan, Stanley, is deeply resentful of their relationship.
One of the reasons that Other People’s Money is a good play is that it gives you sufficient information about the characters to tantalize you and make you want to know more without weighing the play down with clumsy exposition. You know enough about them to make the play work, but the playwright, Jerry Sterner, doesn’t satisfy every curiosity – he leaves room for the audience to fill in the gaps as they like. Different people will likely answer the questions the play raises differently – always the sign of good writing.
So at our first read-through, the actor playing Jorgy, my love interest, asked me this question: “Are we living together?”
Interesting question, and one I hadn’t considered. In the many times I’ve read the play over the years, I’ve assumed the answer was “yes”. But, of course, I wasn’t doing the play and so didn’t need to really think about it. I glibly answered, “Oh yes, I think so,” but as usually happens when I come out with a glib response to just about anything, I went home and thought about it. Why did I respond that way, and was it justified?
What happened next is too long to finish in this post, so I’ll write another. In the meantime, get a copy of the script and read . . . (It was made into a movie, but how much of the movie contains the meat of the story about Bea, I don’t remember. But I suspect the answer is, “Not much.”)