Saturday, July 9, 2011

Finding Direction

Joan Roberts (left) and Celeste Holm backstage during the first Broadway run of "Oklahoma". They are the two surviving cast members. Joan is soon to be 93; Celeste is 94.

We sat there with my friend Joan Roberts, who played Laurey in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma, eating lunch in a Long Island restaurant. She was regaling us with a ton of stories about her days in vaudeville, the times she played the outdoor Muny Theater in St. Louis (in the 1930's), the time she auditioned for Cole Porter, how she helped Rogers and Hammerstein raise money to fund Oklahoma, and on and on. Maria and I were eating it up. But Actor Number Three (who shall remain nameless), a good guy, but a schulb, kept drifting off. How he could be disengaged during a lunch with this remarkable woman was beyond me. He looked desperately like he wanted to text.

Then the conversation turned toward Directing.

One of the funniest Matt Groening Life in Hell cartoons I ever saw was a drawing of a tombstone in a graveyard, on which was written the words HOPED TO DIRECT SOMEDAY.

That would have been me. I used to dream of directing. Webster University in St. Louis actually offers a B.A. in something they have the temerity to call "pre-directing", as if it's all that tough. Well, it's not.

But here's the thing about directing: it's a pain in the butt. It would be a blast if it weren't for the actors, but there's no way around the actors, so it's a pain in the butt.

Actor Number Three perked up for a minute and actually said something. "What do you do if you're in a play with a bad director? What do you do if he's giving you bad blocking or a wrong interpretation for your character?" (This will probably tell you a lot about my relationship with Actor Number Three).

"Tell him, Joan," I said to myself, "Tell him the virtue of OBEDIENCE, that mammoth gargantuan virtue that allows every actor to do his thing with serenity, casting all of his cares on to the director - the Director, who is the play's god, the figure who makes the final decision, the one whose word is law no matter what. Tell him!"

"The director?" she frowned. "Who's rear end is on the line during performance, his or yours? Who's going to get the applause? Who's going to get the cat calls? Who's got to make it work in the end? Ignore the director and do whatever you want!"

This was Joan Robert's advice to a Young Actor, based on literally 85 years in show business!

Well, I could understand what she meant. And the fact is some directors are simply awful and if they vanish the way they should after opening night and leave you to do all the work that people pay to see, well, why not do what works instead of what some guy who's not even there dreamed up?

But in fact Acting is indeed like Life and obedience is a virtue even when you're obeying someone who knows less than you do.

Take this Fr. Corapi situation. And this, I hope, is the last time I mention it.

What has finally calmed the waters is Fr. Corapi's superior doing what superiors and bishops ought to do - in this case, after years of not supervising Fr. Corapi - but doing it nonetheless.

When Fr. Corapi's superior said, "We have the goods on this guy. He is, for now, unfit for ministry, please do not follow him," the hurricane blew out and blew away. Certainly, the die-hards continue to drink the Kool-Aid, but the bulk of Fr. Corapi's supporters, who are well-meaning Catholics disgruntled with the lack of effective leadership in the Church, have backed off and have realized that something is indeed wrong with the man.

So what do you think would happen if the bishops would do what Fr. Corapi's superior did, and simply point out to Catholics that they are not to follow other Catholics who are publicly creating scandal? If the bishops followed canon law procedures and denied communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, or ex-communicated the unrepentant ones who are building up a culture of death, what do you think the effect would be? Sure, we'd see the liberals howl, but a lot of them would simply shut up.

Vic Vacuous is right about one thing - we're in the midst of a Vacuum - and it's a power vacuum. We're seeing the level of dissent in the Church that we are - on both the right and the left - because the plays have been without Directors who take their jobs seriously enough to reign in those pains in the butts, those actors, who are under their care.

Joan Roberts will be 93 next Friday. Happy Birthday, Joan! Next time I take you to lunch, Actor Number Three will not be with us.

Because the dirty little secret is, when it comes down to actors vs. directors, the directors always win.

May the Lord send us more Good Directors.

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