Duff ’n Stuff: On how I love to become intimate with strange characters

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BY PATRICIA DUFF, Sept. 9, 2013

I’ve been cast in a play.

It’s a great role; “Margaret” in David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People.” The play doesn’t open until May at OutCast, but sitting here in September knowing what I know, I think, “Oh shit.”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great part, in a play I love, with my favorite director. I’m really looking forward to it. But, still, I ask, “What the hell am I thinking?”

Being cast in a play is always a great feeling and probably why I’ve been a theater junkie for ─ yikes ─ almost 30 years.  You get the part. You’re flattered. You think, “Oh, good. Somebody WANTS me and I get to join in the reindeer games! I get to create something.”

Duff Backstage at Oh What A Lovely War 2012 Outcast

Here I am with Gail Liston, Marta Mullholland, Noelle Weiner and Jennifer Bondelid backstage for “Oh What A Lovely War” directed by Sandy O’Brien for OutCast in 2012.

But, then you get the script and think, “Shit!” because you know it’s community theater and you’re a volunteer and you really have to commit, because your community is relying on you to come through for the show! They want it to be good; to be entertaining, so you have to work your ass off.  And, yes, you know it’ll be fun, but you remember that meanwhile, you have to keep your job and run your household and workout and love your family and friends.

“Oh, shit. What have I done?” you think, “I have to create this character with a South Boston accent in this number of weeks, while I keep everything else going? Shit. Shit. Shit.”

Then I turn to the script (that whore), sitting there on my desk calling to me like a Siren, luring me back to the fray.

There’s so much to love there.

I love the cover of scripts:

Good People cover 001 (341x500)

I love cracking it open for the first time and reading about the birth of the play:

 

GOOD PEOPLE received its world premiere at the Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director; Barry Grove, Executive Producer) on February 8, 2011. It was directed by Daniel Sullivan …

The cast was as follows:

MARGARET ……………………………………………………..Frances McDormand

STEVIE …………………………………………………………………..Patrick Carroll

DOTTIE …………………………………………………………………Estelle Parsons

JEAN …………………………………………………………………Becky Ann Baker

MIKE ……………………………………………………………………..Tate Donovan

KATE ……………………………………………………………Renee Elise Goldberry

 

Here’s where I have a moment of job envy because these people all have my dream job. I imagine how cool it would be to be in a play with Estelle Parsons, and why didn’t I go ahead and move to New York and become a professional actor? And can I even deign to share the role of Margaret with Frances McDormand, one of my favorite actors ever?

 

I continue to the list of characters:

 

CHARACTERS

MARGARET – white, about fifty.

STEVIE – white, late twenties.

DOTTIE – white, mid-sixties.

JEAN – white, about fifty.

KATE – African-American, early thirties.

Various offstage voices, probably pre-recorded.

 

PLACE

The play is set in South Boston’s Lower End, and in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

 

NOTES

The name “Margie” is pronounced with a hard “g” in the middle, not a “j.”

 

I start to get excited again because it’s set in Boston. I lived in Massachusetts for a pretty long time and I think I understand the Boston mind, a certain provincial quality and plus all my high school friends have super thick Boston accents, which endear them to me more, so there’s that automatically endearing quality of a play set in Boston that makes me want it even more. But then I think again, “Shit! A Boston accent. A Southie accent? This is going to be hard.”

I look at the opening page:

GOOD PEOPLE

ACT ONE

Scene 1

South Boston, Massachusetts. The alley behind the Dollar Store. There’s a dumpster back there, a rusty chair, and a door labeled “Dollar Store – Deliveries Only.” The back door opens and Margaret, about fifty, comes out with Stevie, her manager, late twenties. Stevie carries a folder.

And then, I’m gone. Totally hooked into the character from the first page, my head swimming with ideas, hearing the accent clearly, picturing each moment of every conversation and caught in the magic of a playwright creating an authentic life of place in 75 pages.

I hate him. I hate him for creating this perfect bit of theater and wish it was me who wrote the play. I’m jealous.

But, then I’m over it.  I love him for creating it and I want to dive in; I want to know these people; tell this story; make Margie real. I’m in love with Margie, with the play and the playwright.

I get ready to fall back into my love relationship with acting, which comes with its hardships. But here are the best parts:

I like moving around on the stage, feeling my physicality and feeling the audience’s living, breathing presence come back to me. I like that I become a conduit for the playwright and that the director uses me to try to shape what she is trying to communicate to the audience. I like that my ideas for the character are sparked at the first reading of the play and that I feel a little excitement at the prospect of getting to know a new character, with whom I will have an uniquely intimate relationship by opening night if I succeed.

I think I am compelled to act onstage, simply because I enjoy the challenge and want to be better at it. Each character I’ve played has been a conundrum, a puzzle I want to solve.

I also like difficult crossword puzzles.

“Good People” will run at OutCast Productions’ Black Box Theater at the fairgrounds in Langley, May 16 to 31.

From my actor’s heart,
Patricia Duff

What’s coming up for theater on the island:

  • “Much Ado About Nothing” plays its final weekend, it’s free, at 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept.13 to 15 at Henry the Tent in Langley.
  • “Too Soon for Daisies” is at Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor through Sept. 22.
  • “Play On!” runs from Sept. 20 to Oct. 5 at OutCast in Langley. Get tickets here at Brown Paper Tickets.
  • “Blithe Spirit” runs from Oct. 11 to 26 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.
  • “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is at Whidbey Children’s Theater Nov. 8 to 17 in Langley.

 Patricia Duff is a freelance writer and journalist and the editor of this magazine. Reach her at editor@whidbeylifemagazine.org.

 

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