Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Resurrection: Notes towards a Journal

Clurman Theater, Theater Row, West 42nd Street, New York City. Formerly a burlesque bar. The theater is named after critic Harold Clurman, who directed Tennessee Williams’s Orpheus Descending, and memorialized this statement from the playwright: “If I did not write, I’d go mad.”

Our first rehearsal space is at Pearl Studios, where the raucous Latino musical rehearsal next door drives us all away. Our second rehearsal space is at One Penn Plaza, next door to the Diverse City office. In truth, no one knows we’re here: we’re squatting on an empty, sprawling office space with a panoramic view of the city, from bright lights to thunderstorm to big city twilight panorama – until one afternoon the new owner just happens to drop by and is shocked to discover a bunch of Asians rehearsing with a makeshift set. What happens next is a somewhat hilarious confrontation. Owner: What are you doing here? Victor: Uh, we’re a theater company next door, and we’re rehearsing here. Owner: I am the owner of this office. I just purchased it. Victor: Uh, we’re really very sorry, we’ll vacate the place right now. We just needed a space to rehearse. Owner: No, you can stay for today. But you can’t ever use this space again. Victor: Uh, thank you, and we’re really, really sorry. Stunned silence among the cast afterward, then laughter, then worry that the cops would come in and handcuff us all. That should give Mr. New Owner a story to tell his employees and clients for a lifetime.

The frigid rehearsal space at Theater Row studios. Wearing sweaters in torrid summer heat. Nights after rehearsal, hookers and pimps all over 42nd Street. 41st Street, stage door, where homeless people and all sorts of characters hang out. Some nights Victor, Ching and I would go out “for one drink” and wind up staying up till 3 AM. Me worrying that I’ll be a zombie at work the next morning. And Victor and Ching telling me, Get used to it, this is what theater people do. (The first night we do this, I have to call in sick the next day.)

Victor calls me at night or in the office, agonizing over his character, trying to make sense of him, being tortured by him. Not really sure what to tell him without stifling his creativity, but I do hope I have been able to reassure him somewhat that his agonizing alone is evidence that even this character, Eduardo, is incapable of looking clearly into himself, and is thus haunted by his own delusions. Or is that too easy?

Francisco sends me his music after being up all night finishing the composition and recording it at Jim’s studio. And it’s exactly the music I had in mind. He tells me he added lines from a poem of mine which are murmured throughout the piece, to evoke the sound of someone praying the rosary. I haven’t told him that in the course of numerous revisions I have woven the rosary into the story (the mother tells his son about the month of the holy rosary, which triggers her nostalgia for happier times). I guess F and I were on the same wavelength? What a wonderful coincidence.

Opening night at control room, where I can survey the audience from above. Surprisingly, I am very calm. Not nervous at all. Maybe being in the control room and not in the audience--this safe distance--helps?

It’s the worst heat wave in years, New York is scorching, and my sister and brother-in-law have flown all the way from LA just to be there on opening night. Their hotel is just a couple of blocks from Theater Row and just a hop from Times Square. But they are unable to do much because this heat is a killer. I pick them up at the hotel and walk to the theater in desert-degree sun, and who should we see at the lobby but Gina and Ken, who showed up at the last minute and are still on the wait list. Noel and Bing also show up. All of us later troop to Pam Real Thai where we are given a private room (because there is no more room on the main floor, that’s all). General assessment of opening night, with some very candid comments, from my family and friends, which I must share with Michael and the cast tomorrow.

At the opening night reception, this parchment gifted to me by Ching:

Until one is committed,

There is hesitancy, the chance to draw back,

Always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)

There is one elementary truth

The ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:

That the moment one definitely commits oneself,

Then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one

That would never otherwise have occurred.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision,

Raising in one's favor all manner of material assistance,

Which no one could have dreamed

Would have come their way.

Whatever you can do.

Or dream you can do,

Begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Begin it now.

-- Goethe

Ching utterly, heart-breakingly sick, coughing all through several performances, unable to stay with us after a show because she has to run back to bed. It’s the exhaustion from her role, which is so difficult and demanding.

Some nights would stink and we’d all be sullen and I would be depressed and ornery and looking only for a drink. And then there are good nights, and one good night in particular, on a Wednesday, and we are all blissful and stay up till midnight drinking frozen margaritas at Zuni, and Tiffany’s family is in town and we find out that all of them – Ching, Alexis, and even guest Nicky -- are all from the same province and related. Except me, the only Manila boy. But wait: Tiffany's mom says her family used to run a laundry service in my neighborhood back in the 60's--which turns out to be just a block away from my family's home. OMG.

Talkback with the UP Medical Association. Some interesting insights (comparing the family’s predicament to Nick Joaquin’s Larawan, whether Filipino and American audiences reacted differently). One lady commented that the play was “disturbing and offensive.”

Alexis’s fan club – groupies following us to dinner after the show, gushing over him and his character Edgar, and Alexis telling them Edgar was my creation, and they should talk to me.

Tiffany bringing in the best finds from the flea market on 39th. And me envious, so one Sunday afternoon I stop by the market – and find two gorgeous leather-and-chrome chairs from the sixties, which I have to lug back to the theater in time for that evening’s performance.

Our sustenance: Pork buns from the $5 Chinese buffet on 34th. West Bank Cafe burgers (outrageously expensive, but to die for). Theater Row Diner BLT. Cashews and dried mangoes (Alexis' Philippine dried mangoes are the best). Tiffany's mom's awesome poppyseed bread. Alexis' Palestinian baklava. Adobo, lumpia and pancit from Grill 21, c/o Victor. Key lime pie and leche flan (c/o Cindy, or Mrs. Camins: see below). Fresh market apple cider donuts. The "sorriest excuse for vegetable lo mein" (according to director Michael Sexton). Lots of wine, lots of frozen margaritas, lots of beer, lots of sangria.

Alexis is such an amazing actor. What can I say. The guy is simply astounding. When he’s onstage, his presence fills the entire hall. He’s electrifying and captivating. And so humble and down to earth—he’s probably embarrassed to be reading this right now.

I like sitting in the control room. I am not nervous or anxious at all, and I like watching the audience reactions from way up high, from God’s point of view. It’s like being detached from the world, yet seeing it from a wider perspective, being connected but untouched, involved but safely distanced. Not to mention that it’s quite possibly the best seat in the house.

Above: Director Michael Sexton, 3 AM, after a couple of Cusquenas.

Someone tells Victor after seeing the play that the story closely resembled hers. In fact, she was constantly abused by her brother when they were growing up, and even today when she makes love to her husband and the sex feels good, she remembers her brother doing the same thing. And what’s even more uncanny, there were three children in the family, including another brother. And that for years they struggled to keep (and lost) their family home. Resurrection, she told Victor, is my story. And I am always astounded that somehow, my writing is able to connect to someone I don’t know in a way more profound that I can ever imagine, or even intend.

Closing night: quite a good performance, and a rousing curtain call. I am amazed at how far the cast has taken the play and added so much depth and so many nuances to their characters. And how comfortable everyone has become in their roles. And how vibrant and intense the story has become.

Alexis’ wife Cindy brings four (count ‘em) leche flan, and with my key lime pie and Bordeaux white that is a lot of sugar to go around. Afterwards, cast of Resurrection and Quarter Century Baby, along with some friends, troop over to Piopio on 43rd, where we gorge on more food than we can eat and enough sangria to make at least this playwright blissfully drunk and not so depressed that this is it, this is the final act, our 12-show run is done. One more for the road at Landsdowne (or something) where Michael, Victor, Alexis, Cindy, Tiffany, Caroline and I finally part ways—temporarily, I hope—at 3 AM. And me on the A train still feeling wide awake and so alive, and unbelieving that a play of mine has finally come to fruition.

Above: This is the Clurman Theater stage after closing night, right after the crew cleaned up.

No better way to end a journal than with the words of an amazing person and a gifted artist: “Eric, I don’t have the words to adequately express how grateful I am for being a part of Resurrection. To be able to act in my own skin, in my own voice has been such a pleasure, one that doesn’t come often enough. I felt like I was coming home everyday during rehearsal. Things have a way of happening at the best time. This play was very personal for me: about a month before rehearsing, a nephew of mine committed suicide in Manila. He has been abandoned to his lola for most of his life, because his father was in Kuwait. Your play touches on that reality that people live every day and I was honored to be able to tell that story. In some small way, I’ve contributed, through your work. Thank you for that. I can honest say ever since I’ve wanted to be an actor, I’ve wanted to be part of something like this. It’s truly been a gift. Maraming, maraming salamat, kaibigan. – Alexis.”

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