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Rehearsals Begin for Unusual Acts of Devotion - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

Rehearsals Begin for Unusual Acts of Devotion

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We began rehearsals two Mondays ago for Unusual Acts of Devotion in downtown New York City , which seems totally appropriate because the city is a major character in Terrence McNally’s newest play. I ran into him at the elevator before the first rehearsal he told me how excited he is about his rewrites and how eager he is to welcome the actors, saying they are an “ideal cast” — Richard Thomas (known to all from the TV show The Waltons), Harriet Harris (known to La Jollans from Thoroughly Modern Millie and Cry-Baby), Doris Roberts (Marie, Ray Romano’s mom in Everybody Loves Raymond — she arrived a week after the first rehearsal), Maria Dizzia (a UC San Diego MFA acting grad and has appeared in many shows in New York and across the country) and Joe Manganiello (you might recognize him from the TV show One Tree Hill).

The day began with costume designer Jess Goldstein (Jersey Boys) taking the actors’ measurements for their costumes.  The director, Trip Cullman, took the company on a tour of the set (designed by the illustrious Santo Loquasto).   It’s a tenement rooftop surrounded by NY’s cityscape on a hot summer night.  It’s going to look wonderful on the stage of the Mandell Weiss theatre!

Cullman tells us that there will lots of music (a major characteristic of many McNally’s plays, such as Master Class and The Lisbon Traviata, to name two).  He asks the actors to bring their favorites to rehearsal since they will be dancing to music on the rooftop. Cullman also says that the sounds of the city will also play a large part in the the show — while the characters are on the rooftop, the life of city will be going on all around them.

We read through the play several times. The actors ask many questions about their characters and begin to make sense of their needs, desires, motivations.  It is here where they start building the world their characters inhabit.  Richard says, “The play is not abut who sleeps with whom — it’s about relationships, and this night is the night they try to recapture something that has been lost.”

Through it all, McNally listens to the sound of the actors’ voices and to their questions, and watches the chemistry between the characters begin to emerge.  Soon there are changes to certain lines.  Later, one or two passages are rewritten and the play begins to take on another dimension, delving even deeper into their relationships.  The actors repeatedly rehearse scenes, making different choices each time — saying a line, moving across the space or engaging with their fellow actors in a new way — and another surprising new layer of meaning emerges.  The actors are flush with excitement and Terrence is pleased.

And I am privileged to be a witness to this dynamic creative process.  More soon.

Shirley Fishman, Dramaturg