Sunday, October 25, 2009

Funeral Blues 2: The Dream of No Talent

10/23/09. Last night’s dream: I’m watching three female friends rehearse their monologues. One of them is wearing a pale flowered sun dress and looks a little like Rebeca from Maxie’s, who just did a show where she delivered a monologue. This time, with her two friends watching, A Little Like Rebeca recites WH Auden’s "Refugee Blues":

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

As she delivers the stanzas, I repeat the closing lines: "Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us." "We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now." "Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that." Every time I do, A Little Like Rebeca glares at me like I’m deliberately doing something to ruin her performance. Which of course I am, but I am totally oblivious, because this is what I do when I act: I listen to other people deliver a line, and only then can I hear the correct way to deliver it in my head. I need somebody else to create something out of nothing, and then what I do is create something of my own based on that. But it’s never original; it’s always a response to what somebody else is doing.

Finally, poem done, A Little Like Rebeca looks at me with a WTF Dude expression on her face and says “That is the rudest thing I have ever seen.” “Oh no, oh no,” I say, totally embarrassed, “it’s how I act, it what I do as an actor,” and when I start to explain, she holds up a hand and says, “No wonder you’re so lousy at it.”

Notes and interpretations:

(1) I’m still smarting about my acting performance at the birthday reading of Countrie Matters.

(2) Years ago I wrote a story about a serial killer who’s an actor. He’s one of the best understudies of his generation, but he’s lousy when he gets to create a role. His best performances are always when he steps in after another actor dies or drops out of a play. This was my creative response to one of the unwritten laws of theatre: you always get more out of a bad performance than a good one. A bad acting performance makes you replay the show you’re watching with line readings that work, line readings you would never have imagined if you weren’t forced to say to yourself, “Oh God, not that way, don’t say it that way --say it this way.” It’s always easier to edit than create. Which is why I named my actor/murderer Ed. Anyway -- in the course of the story, you find out that the only reason Ed is so good is because he deliberately casts bad actors in the roles he wants to play, and after watching them in rehearsal and seeing how not to do the role, he murders them and steps in on opening night and becomes a sensation. So this dream is me playing Ed.

(3) Acting is a metaphor for living. I don’t live my own life; I see how other people are living theirs and either try to copy them or do better. Either way, I can only live by bouncing my life off theirs, like a game of handball. And, to quote A Little Like Rebeca, “No wonder you’re so lousy at it.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now, remember it was just A Little Like Rebeca, because A Lot Like Rebeca does not find you that lousy at all, in fact, she thinks you quite wonderful.