Last weekend, Kevin Dedes came to town to New York for a reading of The Kingfisher Theater’s upcoming production of Moliére’s The Misanthrope. The reading was scheduled for Saturday night and we had contacted some of our actor friends to meet us at my Brooklyn apartment. After months of talking about this project and a few weeks of planning this reading, it was finally happening. Kevin and I spent the afternoon before the reading walking through the frozen streets of Brooklyn, buzzing on a creative high, before stopping in at the local Trader Joe’s to stock up on cheese platters, pea pod snacks, and blue corn tortilla chips. As the clock approached 7, we of course also stopped at the liquor store to stock up on wine and beer.
It had been awhile since I’d had guests over and so I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed some more. The kitchen counter top, the coffee table, the bathroom sink (which had stopped working the week before). I wanted to have everything ready for our guests.
When they were reading The Misanthrope, I didn’t want any of the actors to think “This floor is dirty, so I cannot focus on my part” or, “when was the last time they cleaned the walls?” and then miss an important cue from the play. So I made sure all was set up and ready. I arranged circle seating and made name cards for each of the guests stating their names and the parts they were to play. Finally, the witching hour came and the cast starting trickling in…
For about twenty five minutes, our buzzer rang continuously. Actors were coming to Brooklyn from all over, finding their way to our reading from Queens, Manhattan, and other parts of Brooklyn. A lot of us knew each other from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and so the air was ripe with the scent of reunions and friendships re-established. As we finally got seated, scripts in hand and eyes on the page, I couldn’t wait to start reading the play.
We started reading the play.
As Kevin began to read Alceste and storm around the apartment in a jealous rage (at one point going to the refrigerator for a Modelo Especial), I felt the need to calm him down and get him to re-consider (I played Philinte). His strong choice had forced a strong choice out of me. As the reading progressed, this spirit of messiness and exploration spread.
Each actor chose to imbue their role with their own personal take. Raife Baker (Clitandre) was a Southern gossip, Lakisha May (Celeméne) was a sharp tongued coquette, Jeff Irwin (Oronte) was a lovely, over-sensitive buffoon, and Alex Ubokudom was supremely confident that all the ladies loved him as Acaste. Amanda Sykes played a sloppy, yet delicious Eliante, at one point almost kissing the shy Philinte (yes, me). Judy Molner was a prudish, yet lovable Arsinoë, and Mélissa Smith (Dubois, Basque, Officer) added a deep commitment and a comic flair to all three of her hilarious roles.
“I couldn’t help but think that Moliére would have enjoyed that. I really felt like I experienced the play.”
As the night continued and Act One turned to Act Two then Three and Four, more and more of our friends came into the apartment to witness the reading. It felt different than a lot of the other readings that I had been a part of. I felt like I was actually doing the play, right there in a living room in Brooklyn.
The next morning, when it was all over and I was washing out the glasses stained with wine and whiskey, my roommate Tim (who had walked in around Act 3), said, “watching you guys, with your wine and whiskey and free spirits last night, I couldn’t help but think that Moliére would have enjoyed that. I really felt like I experienced the play.”
The life of a struggling actor in New York can be tough. Sometimes, it feels like I can go days and days and days without really feeling like I am living. There is so much inside all of us, waiting to get out, waiting to present itself to the world, waiting to share the human experience with other people. When we go long periods of time without exploring what’s inside, it can start to feel like we’re going crazy. I can start to feel like I forget who I am.
Nights like last Saturday remind me of who I am. They re-light the spark of creativity and imagination within me and remind me of what is possible and why I do theater in the first place.
Last Saturday night was just the beginning of The Kingfisher Theater’s next adventure with Moliére. With a little bit of luck, we hope that you will be able to experience the playfulness and depth of what we discovered in that living room in Brooklyn last Saturday night.
I’ll make sure the wine is flowing, the cheese is on the table, and the space is clean enough for you to enjoy your experience without fear or worry.