February 6th, 2011

Under a Great Big Moon

When trillian_stars said she wanted to turn down a starring role in Curio's upcoming production of Great Expectations in order to understudy Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten I was dead set against it. "You'll never go on," I said. "I don't care," she told me. I said she was breaking her momentum -- in fact, since the day I met her, she's always been starring in something. She's never had a minor part, and she's never been unemployed, I'd gotten used to the thought that things were built around her. The idea of leaving that limelight to memorize one of the most challenging roles in American theater (The play is at least two and a half hours and Josie Hogan, the play's only female character, is off stage, in total, maybe 90 seconds) and then do nothing with it was, I thought, a huge mistake.

"I love this play so much," she said, "I've always wanted to do it, I want to be near it. The understudies have four rehearsals, that'll be enough."

The principle cast rehearses every day, for weeks, the understudies memorize their lines and get four rehearsals with the assistant director. There's a fifth which is an open dress. It was obvious this was important. She read lines, she watched the principle cast rehearse almost every day, she recited monologues at the kitchen table, it consumed her, and all the while, she seemed to be relishing it. Then something unexpected happened -- three days after the last understudy rehearsal, the phone rang, the actress playing Josie was sick, really sick. Trillian has a bugout bag by the front door with all her Moon Gear in it -- she grabbed it and bolted. I raced down to the theater after her and got a seat. She went on with the rest of a phenomenal cast who had been working together for weeks like a well oiled machine. You really couldn't tell that she didn't belong there, she knew everything. The second day a crowd that had groaned audibly when they heard an understudy was going on leapt to their feet at the end of the show. In the lobby the next night a woman gushing about Trill's performance hugged me when I said I was married to her. She went on three times. It was like magic I hadn't understood before. "This role is Hamlet for female actors," one of the cast said, "it's the most important part you can play."

And there it was. It was worth it. She's written about it, much more eloquently, here.

(Images from the Understudy rehersal at the Arden Theater. More photos here)

Josie and James Tyrone, Jr. (David Millstone)

Josie menaces wealthy neighbor T. Stedman Harder (Adam Altman). Clickenzee to Embiggen.

Josie gets her point across. Clickenzee to Embiggen.

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