Last night I had the pleasure of attending a very special staged reading at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Now, I don't get to wax poetic about my love of theatre very often-- mostly because there's not much of it in Los Angeles at all-- but the truth is, growing up in New York City, I loved theatre almost as much as I loved television; I was just introduced to it later in my young life. I jump at any chance I can to check out shows that pass through the Pantages, and even the smaller theatres, but I am not a TV Academy member, and so if not for my standing as a member of the press, I would not have been able to attend (harassing friends who are members are always options, but I hate asking for favors). Regardless, this event combined those two loves-- of television and theatre-- and therefore invigorated my own creativity anew.
For my press coverage (read: interviews with the stars) of this event, please click here.
The staged reading was the first in what hopefully will become a new series for them, "Classic television/Today's stars," and was Paddy Chayefsky's Marty, a story I was familiar with from the film version I saw during my tenure at USC. Its cast lounged comfortably in armchairs, with their "books" (read: scripts) in binders on their laps, to be referenced when and where necessary, as black and white stock and establishing images occasionally flashed on the screen above them. Each was a professional working on a great piece of television this year who came together for the first time to honor this piece of timeless storytelling.
If you're not familiar with Marty, it is the story of a man who everyone is pressuring to get married. He isn't a particularly a young man-- especially not by the 1950s' standards, when the project was originally produced-- but he is a very insecure one. He feels he is ugly and unlovable and not likely to "take a wife." But then one evening, on the instance from a family member, he heads over to a dance hall and meets a girl he thinks he might like. The story is sweet and touching, even if a touch old-fashioned, but perhaps most notably to me, is entirely easy. It is a dialogue-heavy drama, but it flows in the most conversational way. I don't remember that feeling from watching the film all those years ago. Perhaps because by then I was already used to the flashiness of Hollywood, I wanted quicker cuts and shorter scenes on-screen. But last night, I didn't want the actors to ever get off the stage.
There is a lot that I could say about the performances-- how Ray Romano may have been born to play the title role of Marty; how Joel McHale stole focus every time he opened his mouth, simply and again, conversationally; how Brenda Vaccaro and Loretta Devine deserve their own buddy comedy-- but I did not set out to review the show since none of you will ever get a chance to see it (due to copyright, the performance was not filmed for a webcast or DVD sale). Instead, it was the rawness of the writing that really stunned me, though. Without distractions from movement or close-ups on faces, directing where your eyes should be, it was easy to get lost in the words. Sure, there were things that didn't quite hold up. Little details like greeting everyone at the top of a scene or individual good-byes when characters exit are pleasantries we no longer indulge. Lines about a woman being an old lady at 56 years old caused even the performer to break (because in fact, Loretta Devine is a few years older than that and in no way lost, lonely, or giving up on life). But overall the sensibility and sentiment of the work just reminded me that I should have been born in a simpler time-- when focus was on conversation; when people said things to each other and really listened; when talking was not feared or rejected. Marty made me want to sit down with all of my old relationships and leave things on different, more mature terms. It made me want to scream my own pilot pitch from the rooftops, saying 'See? You don't have to be afraid of three or four page conversations between characters!' It made me miss the days of messages, not just metaphors.
In just a few weeks, my non-profit here in Los Angeles, IBG Inc, will be hosting a staged reading of our own. I admit, I was at Marty, in part to get ideas for how our own should be advertised and run-- though such distractions went away the minute the performance actually started. But my point being: IBG's staged reading is called "My Letter to Fear." It is an original collection of personal essays by my friend Patricia, many of which are based on the "Dating in L.A. and Other Urban Myths" blog, but many of which deal with much more serious issues. There is one essay/monologue in the collection entitled "Shorthand" about the ways in which women don't really say everything-- or anything, at times-- about a traumatic experience, and yet other women recognize the signs an body language and can read between the lines. Personally, I think it is one of the more profound pieces in the production for its (again) simplicity, but also for the way it makes you think: Why are we so afraid of sharing these days?
Now, Marty is not about trauma, nor is it a story told from the female perspective. Yet, watching the reading last night, I was constantly reminded of "Shorthand" simply for the way in which communication has devolved in the time between Marty's writing and "My Letter to Fear's." In Marty, a story originally written for television, where it is common for something to be expressed on an actor's face without being actually verbalized expositorily, too, Marty actually chooses to say all he feels-- to his male friends, to his mother, to Clara, the girl he is interested in (and Clara reciprocates, even when it's hard; even when it's emotional; even when it's embarrassing). There is something so beautiful about that unabashed ability to be real and open and raw.