New York, Wednesday August 3
We have had just over 3 weeks of rehearsals and the BIG DAY is tomorrow!
I still can't believe it. Even though I am "only" an understudy,
this is still a huge step for me, and I really feel like a part of the big
family of cast and crew that has come together to prepare this joyous event.
Everyone is coming to see it, Manny, Ali, my parents, Nance and Hossein,
and Bruce and Fabrice (who claim this isn't a date but I think I know better
than that from the way they hit it off since the very first night I introduced
them). Even Eva Braun is showing up! I hope the people sitting behind her
big bouffant whip have long stretchy necks!
For the first time in my life, I have been showing up at work to do something
I love. I am all eagerness and anticipation. And I am getting paid for it
On the first day, we all sat around as the cast did the read-through.
The director, Derrick, is quite young. He has written this play himself
and his brother Ralph is putting up the money for it. Derrick is very nice
but demanding, quite rightly so, given the pressure he is under. We all
feel like giving our 200% for this anyway. For the past weeks, we have rehearsed
daily, on stage or by ourselves, pairing up with partners, at home, in the
park, in the theater's damp basement. When we haven't been rehearsing or
memorizing, we sit and watch the cast rehearse on stage.
The understudy group has been tight, ever since the first day. There's
Melissa, who understudies for the role of the Wife, and Ahmed (He is of
Egyptian origin) as the husband. Laurie, who is 23-years old, is the mother-in-law
(Make-up and body language can do wonders, she assures us). There is finally
Vincent as the suicidal son, and Janet, as his girlfriend.
The play is called "Black Maze". The plot revolves around a
dysfunctional bourgeois family in Upper East Side New York in the 50s, where
the mother-in-law constantly interferes in the life of her son (the husband)
and daughter-in-law (wife) through the tyrannical grip of her inheritable
millions. Husband and wife's son is sickened at his parents' hypocrisy but
also by his own weakness at not being able to cut ties with his family because,
as a product of the bourgeois ethic, the pull of money is irresistible to
him, even though he hates to admit it. When he comes back home after a stint
in a mental ward for attempted suicide, he is accompanied by a new girlfriend,
a fragile young girl and fellow patient he met there. Soon, the corruption
and hypocrisy of the family taint the innocence of the young girl leading
to her final demise. The son ends up by telling off his family once and
for all and leaving the millions and the family home for good.
As you can see, pretty dark story! I am the understudy for the part of
the maid, who plays kind of like a comic relief, the way the servants always
did in Moliere plays. Cunning, malicious, and out for herself, Maid Marianne
carries gossip to and from the main characters, resists and provokes advances,
anything to make a quick buck, anything to come out on top. The maid has
some pretty funny lines, like a whole scene full of sexual innuendo with
the husband, so it is actually a "good" small part.
I cannot wait for tomorrow!
Friday August 5:
When I woke up this morning, I thought this HAD to be a dream. Last night
couldn't have ACTUALLY happened.
Claire Dawson, who had been cast as the maid, got a terrible case of
cold feet before the performance. After being sick in the ladies' room three
times, she finally told the director she categorically refused to set foot
on stage and ran out in tears. When I was told I had to go on, I thought
at first I might follow her and escape.
Oh my god, how did I manage to get through this I'll never know. Basically,
I drew a blank in my mind where all the information was stored about my
real life, and decided the only way to get through this was to imagine that
this was not a stage but my place of work, the hideous Upper East Side penthouse
of little Benji (he of the Christmas Elf episode), and I really was Marianne
the maid of these awful stuck-up greedy people.
When I uttered the first line of the "sexual innuendo" scene
and I heard laughter in the audience, it really startled me and for a split
second, I had the overwhelming need to burst into laughter myself. But I
immediately went back into character and decided to become deaf to anything
that was heard outside my "place of work". It is uncanny what
the human mind can block out and take in if you are under sufficient pressure!
When the performance was over, I couldn't see my friends and family,
but I could sure hear them, with Manny's loud whistling (which has stopped
many a cab before!) distinguishing itself above the fray.
We were a success!
Monday August 8
Contrary to normal people, Monday is usually the day off for people in "show
business". I still can't help smiling at the thought that I could be
counted among the ranks of "show-biz people", alongside Fred Astaire
and Bette Davis. Manny kids me and says I am already getting a head that
is too big for me. I reply that my head was always too big for me and that
this Bette Davis obsession started way before!
After the week-end I had, it was with pleasure that I accepted Ali's
offer to take Nance's kids, Layla and Hamid, for a day at the beach. We
drove to Long Island, singing at the top of our lungs with Iranian damboli-damboli
songs blasting from Ali's stereo. It is unbelievable how well these kids
speak Fasri. A testament to their parents!
After many hours of driving and a happy stop at McDonald's (My diet can
go to hell, no one makes vanilla milkshakes like McDonald's!), we finally
made it to Montauk, a kind of secluded beach far from the usual touristy
places, and deserted except for an empty cafe and a couple sitting on the
rocks overlooking the ocean. I had never been to this beach before. When
we arrived, and I saw the scenery, with its old-fashioned lighthouse (it
was built in 1792 at George Washington's command!), its beach full of seashells,
and its blue postcard-like sky, I literally got a lump of my throat. I don't
know if you have ever been to a place that was so beautiful it made you
want to cry...
I don't even remember being at a place that ever made me feel this way
before, though I have traveled all over Europe doing the usual touristy
things, taking pictures of the Duomo, San Marco, Les Invalides, or Trafalgar
Square. But this place was beautiful in its simplicity. It just felt like
the human hand had touched it very seldom and I had the feeling the scenery
hadn't changed much from 1792 til now.
As the kids immediately went to work collecting seashells, Ali and I
set down the blanket, and our picnic basket.
-- "I better go watch over the kids...Will you put some sunscreen
on my face?"
I looked up. At first I thought this was an odd request and was about
to joke with him but he was just sitting there, with his eyes closed, waiting.
I noticed as I was applying the lotion to his face that without the harshness
of his stare, his features took on an almost boyish expression. In fact,
his features were very graceful, very fine. Working my hand over the bones
of his cheeks, his nose, his chin, I realized this was the first physical
contact I had ever had with him. To my increasing surprise, I found that
I was taking my sweet time applying the sunscreen, that this task was quite
pleasant to me, and that it was with regret that I saw it coming to an end.
Ali did not say anything. He just thanked me and went off after the kids.
But I found myself long after thinking about the feel of his soft skin under