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The Cripple of Inishmaan
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Greg Smith

The Dayton Theatre Guild
2330 Salem Avenue, Dayton, Ohio
March 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, 2004

Lobby dispplay for 'The Cripple of Inishmaan'
My Final Thoughts
    While I write this, it's been about two months since the close of the nine-performance run of Cripple. That was, for me, the biggest theatrical run I've ever been involved with. My biggest run before this was as much as a whole two performances, which I believe is true of my last stage play appearance before this, in A Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum, in May of 1977, that being my high school senior musical.

               Forgive me if I duplicate here things to be found in either my blog or in the essay, "The Knowing In Me," but I feel the need to revisit some things relevant in order to cap this virtual tour of my first exhilarating foray back into acting proper. The essay mentioned here, as well as a few others, tells of my earlier interest in acting, and, in somewhat weak humility, how some people thought I might cultivate it further and end up a professional actor -- maybe even a successful one. When I left high school, that was really, I think, a general assumption by many. I, however, was hot to be a song-writing recording artist. I was writing a lot of songs in those days and actually getting relatively good. I kept that up for a few years, and got gradually better at it, while my music partner, Rich Hisey, and I tried to put together a band we felt satisfied our musical vision.

               I didn't realize it takes a lot more money to be in a band than it does to be an actor. I didn't have a lot of money. To be a rock-and-roller, you need equipment, not inexpensive equipment, either. You need supplemental supplies (new strings for my bass, etc). There's overhead. As an actor, I needed, well, my acting and occasional trips to thrift stores for a character's clothing.

               But prior to that immediate, post-high school period, I had been in all but three of the theatrical productions at my high school (Wilbur Wright, in Dayton, Ohio) during my four years there. I did well in a few performances, as Sakini in Teahouse of the August Moon, Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace, and Psuedolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I did well enough in the others, though I've always felt my performance as Peter Van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank lacked much insight and intuition -- but, hey, I was sixteen and it was only my second time on stage, so certainly the biggest role I'd ever had to that point. I remember knowing as I was on stage in front of the audience that I appeared too much like an actor saying his lines. I knew there was an element of naturalness to the character I had not achieved. By May of 1977, when I was Psuedolus, I was doing all I could to remove the appearance of an actor from my performances. How successful I was is probably a debate, but, I was at least keenly deliberate to be Psuedolus, the grown-man slave, not myself, an eighteen-year-old actor on a high school stage.

               Then there was that twenty-seven year break between acting gigs. Details on the hot iron that prodded me back into acting can be found in both the aforementioned blog or essay. So, let's skip to January 19, 2004.

               It was brisk out and lightly snowing, at least earlier in the day. It was Monday and I was off work in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. I spent several hours in the early morning shooting exterior digital video footage for a music video I have yet still to edit together. I was at the Little Miami River, close to Yellow Springs, Ohio, not terribly far from my apartment. It was a good way to start the day, because that evening I would be auditioning for a play. It would be the first time I had done so in essentially a life time; and the first time I was auditioning at a level beyond high school tryouts. So a beautiful, peaceful morning engaged in creative activity was a good place for me to be.

               I had bought the play script and familiarized myself with The Cripple of Inishmaan. I also got a copy of the Irish dialect tape by David Stern. As for who I'd audition for, being a forty-five year old man, my going after the lead role of Billy, an eighteen year old, seemed silly. I had my eye on the role of Dr. Mcsharry for two reasons. First, the script had the doctor as a man in his early to mid-forties. Second, it was nice role but a smaller supporting one, with the doctor appearing in only two scenes. I saw it as my way to wade back into the water. There was the role of Babby Bobby, but, it called for someone younger and I think more of a strapping sort of fellow than I. Then there was Johnny Patten Mike. I did find him the most interesting male role in the play, but, he was supposed to be in his sixties, and the role was far bigger than that of the doctor. The latter point made me shy away from it. Though I read the whole play a few times, I actively practiced the two scenes with the doctor in them. I settled on an interpretation of him loosely based on how I thought Patrick Magoohan might play him. In hindsight, I think that was a miscalculation, especially after seeing Jim Lockwood's performance as Mcsharry in this production.

               That night I auditioned for the doctor, though Greg had me read as Babby Bobby, once I think, and a few times as Johnny. Johnny threw me. In between a couple older actors who auditioned and did eccentric versions of him, and the odd syntax of the Irish dialect (odd to a mid-western American anyway), I struggled quite a bit with Johnnypateenmike O'Dougal. It was a bit better when I read Johnny in the two scenes with the doctor, since I was far more familiar with them. The next night, in the final auditions, I did Johnny in the movie scene from Act II and I was terrible. I felt really good about my Monday night readings of the doctor, less so about the Tuesday ones, and not good at all about Johnny. I left Tuesday night, convinced that this experience was a valuable lesson to take to my next audition, but, also sure I was not cast.

               When I read Greg's email that offered me the role of Johnny Pateen, I was flabbergasted. I couldn't believe I'd won any role, much less Johnny. Such a big and demanding role! I had wanted to wade back into acting, but, Greg said, No, I'm afraid not, then tossed me in the ten-foot end of the pool. It was when I typed out Johnny's lines, phonetically, I really came to see the size of the role. I numbered the lines in the script and on my phonetic version, for easy cross-reference. Johnny Patten Mike O'dougal has 171 lines, a few of them extended stories, or "news divulgin'," if you will. I said to myself, "Oh my god, this is a big FECKING role!" Technically, I said something else, but in the spirit of the play, we'll go with what's here.

               I spent the next six weeks of my life in a fabulous learning environment with a great group of fellow cast and crew members and one excellent director. I had much to re-learn, then more than that to learn anew. I had to get back to not anticipating saying my lines, something I once had down cold. I had to remember to ignore the audience, which in the small, thrust-stage setting at theatre Guild adds a dimension to the dilemma since at any given time you may have audience members on three sides of you, some within just a few feet. I had to get back to being comfortable with my blocking. I also had to become used to a different approach to rehearsing the blocking -- before Cripple, with one exception, the only director I'd ever worked with was my high school director, Chuck Scott, and his approach to rehearsing the blocking, actually rehearsal in general, was very different than Greg's. And I had to learn how to not upstage myself but also be freer with my movements in this thrust theater setting -- and there is a real difference between it and the proscenium stage.

               Most importantly, and what should always be the case, and always was when I acted all those years ago, I had to be a better actor than the last time, even if that last time was twenty-seven years ago. I say this without meaning for it to be me dogging myself, but, I was not as good an actor in March of 2004 for The Cripple of Inishmaan as I was in May of 1977 for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The reason is simple. In March of 2004 I hadn't acted in a play for those twenty-seven years. In May of 1977, I had done seven other plays over the previous thirty-six months.

               And though I don't have the advantage of having witnessed my performance, I do have some impressions of it. First, I do feel like I was Johnny Pateen while in front of the audience. I got a lot of good feedback, so that tells me I must have done well. However, I know that Johnny should have provoked more laughs. There were lines that should have gotten a laugh in every performance that never did. That has to be my fault. I certainly wanted to play him real, and I did. But, I was missing a comedic element to his character. The punch lines were there, it had to be my characterization that interfered. So, I can say I was satisfied, but, just that: satisfied. I feel secure in saying I did a "good" job, maybe even a "very good" job. I did not, however, do an "excellent" job. And that is the goal.

               Yeah, well, I ain't done.

For the index of K.L.'s creative writing and essays at the WriteGallery, click here.

Photograph by and © K.L.Storer
  -- all rights reserved.
'The Cripple of Inishmaan' Virtual Tour
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