Et al. presents
2. The Understudy
Julia M. Leonard
November 12 - December 17, 2016
Reception: Saturday, December 12, 6:00 - 9:00 p.m.
620 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA
Mouth moves in time with the play though no sounds come out.
Treading lightly so as to not break the tension between cast and audience.
Staring from the wings like a beast just beyond the light of one’s campfire, eyes aglow.
Thinking back to rehearsal it is hard to imagine this going any other way. Good at rote memorization, I had not only the planned scene ready but the whole play (it a classic, easy to source as a paperback or pdf). But to what end? Easily the least imposing of the hopefuls as a body in space, no amount of mnemonic dexterity could possibly have gotten me on the stage, at least not directly (as my position waiting in the wings is merely a bad flu or twisted ankle away from the footlights). I’m just slightly less-so in enough respects to make the casting of they instead of me a given. And it’s not as if I’m good at acting, not really anyway. It is as if my body knows this character is not it, not really, and refuses to go along with the charade. I feel like two bodies tied together at the wrists, elbows, knees etc., the one a conjured up ghost-me ‘performing’ and the other my stubborn, petulant, corporeal self – it amounting to a shoddy puppeteer’s work which reads as the desired motion while never fooling anyone, especially myself. Like a starling (a bird), the name approximating some diminutive sun. Or those last three or four in an Olympic race, well out of the medals, perhaps the fifth, sixth, and seventh best at a given activity in a world of seven billion and yet reduced to observers albeit observers with a very specific view of the proceedings.
I serve on-call, but nevertheless I attend the play nightly, usually backstage – the drama never fails to wring a tear from my eye both when the audience, knowing something the characters haven’t quite come around to yet, cries, and when the characters themselves reach the tragic revelation of the third act. I’ve realized I’m dressing more and more like the character would dress. Not in the scenes depicted mind you, but were they to walk off the stage and somehow into the world, returning to some home patiently awaiting their arrival, eat, drink a little to take the edge off what was a pretty eventful (re: theatre-worthy) series of events, watch some tv, go to sleep, and awaken directly into a routine of cleaning and dressing, they would naturally don something similar to what I am wearing. Were they, instead of journeying to a job or otherwise move on with their lives, to go straight back to the theatre, much like I would do, would they, in second-day clothes, perform a second-day’s play, continuing where yesterday’s left off? The original piece offers a relatively un-avant garde tidy ending – left without crisis, would this sequel drift into hyperrealism? And what’s more, would I somehow know the lines? My jaw and tongue grow alien, scrabbling at the air in time with this second-day’s tête-à-tête, the actors as much participating in a logical progression from the end of the play as exercising a frightening adeptness at controlling this marionette-me offstage.