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Drewmaturgy: Rehearsal Diary, Part 4.

Drewmaturgy with Drew Lichtenber

Week 4

It was a make-or-break week that began with two big breakthroughs: the first was on Monday (we rehearsed Monday and Tuesday and then had Wednesday off for Yom Kippur; many in the cast are observant). After rehearsal, Yaël, Rob Jansen (the assistant director), and I stuck around with T. Ryder Smith (Pilate) and Olwen (the Nameless Woman). We had begun to realize the week before that we needed to reconcile the two narrative “frames” for the show: the Nameless Woman’s track, which is outside time and place, beyond life and death, commenting on the action from a cosmic remove; and Pilate’s track, who is reporting to the Roman Senate on the fateful events at Machaerus and consequent Judaean uprisings at some point in the real-life aftermath. They are vital as the “male” and “female” perspectives on the story—he who wields the pen and writes official history, and she who remembers the truth, beyond names and faces, the urgent reality of myth.

After some discussion, it was decided that it was simply too confusing to keep on going back to Pilate and Rome. Nameless became the only person who could address the audience directly, and Pilate had to be reconciled within the diegetic frame of the play. Instead of addressing the audience and/or other cast members as if they were Roman Senators, Pilate was now going to deliver all of his lines to Salomé, who, in our retelling of the story, has been arrested and tortured by the Roman authorities, underneath the city of ancient Jerusalem. Nameless, in turn, could now take us outside the literal reality of the play and to other locations in Jerusalem, in which Pilate plays an active role: with Herod, negotiating deals with the Sanhedrin, in the Temple, exacting Tribute, and so on. Now, only Nameless can float everywhere, with an omniscient narratorial perspective.

Salome, STC

As a result, this meant that Tuesday we needed to re-block all the Pilate scenes. Yaël thought she could reconfigure all of his monologues as menacing speech to Salomé. She was right. It worked, and the rest of the cast was game. One problem fixed. At the end of the day, we went back and ran through the vital first two “movements” of the show, leaving the banquet still untouched.

We had another, major breakthrough: on the day off, Yaël and I met with Olwen and worked through all of Nameless’s language. It made up about 10 pages of a 60-page manuscript and functioned almost as a standalone narrative within the play. Only by pulling it out and looking at it as one continuous stream could we identify the beats, the arc, the slow curvilinear movement it had. This also allowed Olwen to argue for chopping a bunch of her more expository language. Like the best actors, she was not hungry for more lines; only for the right combination of lines that served her character. We realized, working through Nameless’s language, that it had a rise that matched the arc of Salomé in the play, with both peaking as Salomé ascended from the cistern to return to the banquet. Olwen was keen on the idea of her taking Nadine’s place in the interrogation chair, and Yaël wanted to try it. We realized we had to move straight from the cistern to the banquet, blending the exchange between Salomé and Nameless together in a kind of montage sequence. Lots of moving parts, but we wanted to try it. We also had to move the last Sanhedrin scene with Pilate earlier in the action.

On Thursday, we focused on the banquet, the final sequence. We were running out of time. Saturday was our last day before we had to leave the rehearsal room and enter tech rehearsal, and Yaël kept pushing back the run-through. Since we’d chopped the interstitial material between the cistern and the banquet, Yaël felt the need to service all of the character arcs she’d introduced: the Roman Guards, the Sanhedrin, Yeshua the Madman, Pilate. We tried a “splice,” blending together a bunch of leftover speeches into the chaotic Last Supper scene. We loved it. We were ramping up.

On Saturday, the final day in the room, we did a run-through. For the first time, outsiders came into the room to watch. Michael Kahn was there, observing, as well as Wendy Stark Prey from the costume shop who had intimately collaborated with Susan Hilferty, helping to realize her costume designs. Yaël was enmeshed in the run-through, but I kept looking over at Michael and Wendy, watching as the emotions of the piece played out across their faces. Michael, as often in run-throughs, was inscrutable, leaning forward with a furrowed brow and a look of intense concentration, his hand covering his chin like Rodin’s sculpture. When the play ended, he simply nodded. (He would have a notes session later with Yaël, as he does with every visiting director.) Wendy was more of an open canvas. I will never forget watching as she changed from a look of slack-jawed horror at the play’s graphic open moments to one of tenderness, even a kind of religious grace as it moved toward the end. Yaël was very superstitious, as was the rest of the cast, but I came away from the run-through feeling good. It might not have felt like it to everyone else, enmeshed in the process, but we had something special.

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