In 1999, I directed Pre-Paradise Sorry Now by Fassbinder, my first play in New York, at the now defunct Present Company Theatorium on Stanton. I loved that show, the process, the cast. One of my cast members asked me if I would direct her in Brilliant Traces, a two-hander from the 80s involving a rugged mountain man whose hermitude gets interrupted by the appearance of a neurotic city-girl in her wedding dress. I said no–the play seemed like clever but facile living room soap opera, and I wasn’t interested.
Two weeks after the show closed, I had the following dream:
Pre-Paradise had been extended. I went to see it–and it had been hijacked by these horrible arty schoolmates of mine who had jacked up the “experimental” quotient, having two actors shout to each other in German:
I was horrified–left the theater–but now the Present Company was a multi-space complex. The second theater was showing Brilliant Traces. I walked in and watched. The show was being performed true to its nature–as a silly but committed soap opera veering between the ridiculous and supernaturalistic. At one point, when the sexual tension got really hot between the two characters, all these scantily-clad performers began sliding down ropes from the flies, doing a sexy dance-type thing. Backstage, they created a bathroom backstage, part of the set the audience would see but no one else could–for an added touch had three different patterns of white toilet paper–such a precise and careful touch.
I was so impressed–envious, really. “Why didn’t I think of that?” I thought, as I watched this play being successful. The play (in my dream, of course) was successful simply by BEING WHAT IT IS–being itself fully, meaning occasionally against or beyond its own conventions.
I woke up thinking–that’s what directing is! You figure out exactly what a play is–not what you want it to be, what it is–then just do that. Not interpret over what the text allows, but realize the text–both on its own terms and in a larger context.
I need to keep that in mind as I work through Miss Saigon, which, surprisingly to me, is pretty water-tight. I have to figure out exactly what it is–with both its flaws and successes, and just do that.