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All’s Well that Ends Well. And all that.

March 1, 2021

February 28, 2021

Three days ago in Duluth, my oldest son Todd asked me why I wasn’t in a play we had been messaging each other about. 

Naturally, I tried to put the best possible spin on it.

The cruel fact is, I’m a diva.  Also, I wasn’t the director.

Last month I got the lead role in a one-act by Anton Chekhov, “The Bear.” 

My character, Grigory Paplovavich Smirnov, is a misogynist, desperate for repayment of a widow’s debt.  In the end he kisses her on the mouth.  There! I’ve spoiled the story.

I explained to Todd the play is supposed to be funny!  I didn’t mention how the woman playing the part of the widow curled her lip and shuddered.  I lied and said I was afraid of the Covid.  Maybe shake her hand.  Or blow her a kiss.  

Chekhov wrote the play in Russian long enough ago that it is no longer protected by copyright.  I read four different translations, including one copyright protected version the director liked.  By Paul Schmidt.  From Amazon (sorry!  I know I should be mad at Amazon.)

Wouldn’t my interest in the play impress the director?  I never found out.  In the end, the director handed out copies of a flaccid, plodding translation sprinkled with dated jargon no modern audience would understand or find compelling.  

My sensibilities dulled by such antiquated usages as “widows weeds” and my fires quenched with the deadening verb “to be,” I lobbied for changes.  

My part had most of the dialogue.  

Consequently, the director spent a rehearsal in a read-through of this abomination, asking the four of us for a consensus for changes.

I asked for action verbs.  Understandable words!  Natural talk. You know.

Therefore, I did what actors rarely do.  I rewrote my part.  Took only 5 or 6 hours.  I must stress that I pretty much left the other characters parts alone, especially the cues.  I also took pains to end my speeches with a cue the other would look for.

They didn’t like it!!  

They said I shouldn’t change Chekhov’s words.  Wait.  We’re talking about translations, here.

The other actors, one at a time, as though waiting to kick me, weighed in.  The assistant director was okay with some of my suggestions.  Another actor said she was okay with much of my work.  But the person playing the widow said I was way off base.  If I hadn’t wanted to do the play as written I shouldn’t have taken the part in the first place.

Next rehearsal I modified my rewrite of the script to replace the “widows weeds,” and others.  

We were to run through the entire play.  What I didn’t expect was the director and assistant to put their noses in the script and pounce on my attempt to modify it.  They (rightly) suspected a rebel.  A rewriter.

At one point, the director said there were three witnesses that said I had agreed to adhere to the script.

Soon, as we were acting a heated scene, the director suggested the widow must be so angry as to throw a metal bell at my character.  To my surprise and horror, a bell whizzed past my head and struck a brick wall in the theater, making a crashing sound.

Sinking down in my chair.  I groaned, “God damn!  Jesus Christ!  I’ve never before felt physically in danger during a play.”

Distracted by fear, I stumbled ahead.  Soon, the director accused me of not listening.

Near tears, I said I didn’t think I could continue.

Both director and assistant called for a five-minute water break.

Next day, we had a meeting, in which they asked me if I thought I could do the role.  The theater manager came to my aid.  She said the purpose of community theater was for actors to enjoy the experience and to develop strong, positive relationships.  

She emphasized nobody was to throw her props again.  Full stop.  

They left it to me and the director to decide my fate.  Everyone left the meeting feeling better.  

The good news is a younger actor, brilliant, in my estimation, was willing to take my role.  Someone whom I thought should have been chosen in the beginning.

Therefore, I am still making the set for the Chekhov plays, but I don’t have to kiss the leading lady.  Or I should say, she doesn’t have to kiss me.

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2 Comments
  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    What a tale! Thanks for sharing this, Dan. What I can’t fathom is that the objections to your rewrite were to a Translation! I mean come on, you were just intending to make it real for the audience and then they throw things at you? My gosh, I would count yourself as lucky not to be included as an actor.
    Keep up the goos work,

    • Thanks, Blaine. Yes, I don’t think I was quite right for the part, although the play was meant to be funny. I mean, you could make a case for a variety of types to play Smirnov.

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