Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Birthday Party

 In the Spring of 1974, I was given an acting role with the Black Magic Players at PC.  I had done a couple of behind the scenes jobs on previous plays, but it was now time to shine.  The play was "The Birthday Party" by Harold Pinter.  I played a Jewish man named Goldberg, who was not a good guy.  I had to learn to do a Jewish accent, which I think I pulled off. 
 The play was in the round, which meant that one couldn't stand in one spot for very long.  I had to be careful, because I could easily hit someone's foot in the audience sitting on the front row.  I did that a couple of times, but you just had to stay in character and ignore the audience.  The play was very serious and dark.  It required me to drink and smoke on stage.  My Mother remarked afterwards that it was strange seeing me smoke a cigarette.  She didn't know that I had been smoking for years, so I tried to lie to her and tell her that I didn't inhale.  I blew into the cigarette to make the tip glow.  I don't think she bought my story.  There are a few tricks that I learned while working at PC.  One was that if you have a mirror on stage, spray it with hair spray and the lights won't reflect into the audience, but the reflection of the person will show.  Another was to put a small film of water in an ashtray, so one could put out a cigarette without the lingering smoke distracting the scene.
 In one scene, we had to drink Scotch.  Of course, it would not be the real thing.  During rehearsals, we had just used water to pretend before opening night.  The director sent someone to the liquor store to get a real bottle of Scotch for opening night.  The prop person was to empty the Scotch bottle and replace it with tea.  He did that, but he didn't wash out the bottle before putting in the tea.  No one was told what had been done.  When we went to drink the Scotch, it was tea-flavored Scotch.  It was quite a surprise.  The subsequent performances just had tea.  The cast "explained" (yelled) at the prop guy afterwards about his mistake.
 Another scene, toward the end of the play, required a boy to blow into Goldberg's mouth to restore him from his exhaustion.  The boy was played by a high school senior and brother of one of our actors.  He and I were both uncomfortable about this scene and the homosexual undertones.  In rehearsals, we couldn't stop laughing.  We were both embarrassed, but when I would laugh, he would laugh.  When he laughed, I laughed.  We just couldn't get through the scene without laughing, and it was a very serious scene.  It got to the point that we had to do something to get through it without laughing.  So, the director suggested for each of us not to look into the eyes of the other, but rather pick a point on the forehead of the other and stare at that during the scene.  The suggestion worked, because we knew we had to get through it.  I also asked the boy to use mouthwash before blowing into my mouth.  That helped.  A couple of times, our eyes started to tear up, because we were holding in the laughter.  It made for a more convincing scene.
 My acting was well received, and I finally showed the others that I had talent.  The next two roles that I had required me to play old men in those.  More on that later.

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