Sunday, March 28, 2010

Laura Linney

I had a lot of respect for Laura Linney before we went to see her give an on-stage interview tonight at the 92nd St. Y (my first time at the UES institution) and I left with even more. Sometimes you see long-form talks with actors (late-night TV interviews aren't long enough to really get a real sense of someone, I think: a prompted anecdote or two, some banter, cut to commercial, set up the clip, etc.) and they reveal themselves to be less intelligent or less witty or less captivating that you might assume from their performances. Not so with her. Her talk, with Jordan Roth (the 30-something president of Jujamcyn and son of Daryl and Steven Roth of theater and real estate fame), was so filled with insight it felt like it was a performance she might have rehearsed. Granted, not all of these things are totally earth-shattering, and maybe they're more common if you work in acting or have studied it, but I found them interesting to hear. Some takeaways:

*The sometimes thrice-nightly ringing of cellphones in the middle of shows has added a new obstacle for actors on stage, especially during moments of high drama or tension, she said. Do you pause and wait for the awkward moment to pass or barrel on through as if nothing is different? Of course, there have always been potential interruptions in plays and public speaking (and, say, babies crying in the middle of priests' homilies), but there's something new to this nuisance. Callers don't usually know what they are interrupting, whereas less technological interruptions are often prompted by what's going on in situ.

*She said rehearsal has different definitions in the world of live acting and filmed work. Rehearsing for TV or film can feel more like a "negotiation" ("Can we change this line?") than a chance to delve deeper into the characters. As someone who is used to getting the chance to work through a theater character over and over again, whether in the rehearsal room, in previews or even throughout the run of a show, she said she's surprised at how any good work ever makes it to the screen when so much about TV and film is about getting into the virtual can and moving on. Actors, she said, will be heading home after a day of shooting and only then fully understand what they should've done in a particular scene. She also said that actors have a lot more power on stage than they do on screen.

*She has a reputation for not liking to be photographed, a feeling she's obviously had to get under control as she's become more famous. Elaborating on it tonight, she said she didn't like it because there was something standing in the way of a true human connection. The camera turns it into a one-way street, she said, whereas face-to-face interaction and live theater allow for exchange. She said there's a sound to 500 people listening intently and she knows what it feels like NOT to hear that sound when she's on stage. Audiences become like a single organism, she said. Sometimes they break off into multiple parts, but are always ready to coalesce again.

*I learned that she does not like to sing or doesn't do it very well and thus probably won't be appearing in any musicals. (I'd wondered whether she might someday appear in the Tales of the City musical that I saw in workshop form at the O'Neill last summer, although I'm not sure which role she'd play. It would be a stretch at this point to play Mary Ann Singleton, the role she had in the miniseries of the mid-to-late '90s.)

*One of the costs of being an actress, she said, is missing out on a lot of the regular human milestones and holidays that we might take for granted (weddings, funerals, birthdays, Thanksgiving, etc.) when work calls. If acting is really a vocation, then you have to be OK with getting your life sucked up for weeks or months at a time on a project. And with success also comes the ability of others to shape the way you appear in public, to do things over which a more private person might want to have more control. But even with acting success, you're still an employee at the end of the day, she said, and you hope that you get the chance to work for good people and be a part of good projects.

*One of Linney's next big projects is a dark comedy premiering on Showtime this summer called The Big C, for which she is a producer and the lead actress. Oliver Platt and Gabourey Sidibe also will star.

*She's told this elsewhere before, but her first big show was as an understudy at Lincoln Center Theater in Six Degrees of Separation. She was so excited to see her name in a Playbill, she ran down to greet the arriving pallet of programs, ripped one off, rushed to the women's room and flipped through to find her name, which appeared as "Lavro Linney." She said it's now a nickname of hers among certain friends: Lavro or just Lav.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Won't you take me to Kabletown?

It's fair to say that "30 Rock" is one of the smartest comedies on TV right now, but the writers have been taking it to another level the past few episodes by poking fun at the Comcast-NBC Universal deal. They've always been pretty cheeky about GE and the "Sheinhardt Wig Company" over the years, but the Comcast takeover hasn't even been completed, and they've already written it into the storyline and jokes, usually introduced by Alec Baldwin's character, Jack Donaghy, uttering with disdain: "Kabletown ... with a K" and "a company from ... Philadelphia." (Tina Fey, like me, grew up in the suburbs of Philly.) I guess it's not entirely inappropriate for a sitcom about an SNL-type sketch program, which thrives on topical humor. But it still feels a little brave, especially since the show's ratings aren't as good as NBC would probably want them to be. Or course, NBC probably feels that way about a lot of its shows. (Cue the part where the Kabletown exec tells Jack that buying NBC counts as a charitable donation.) Maybe it's gallows humor.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March warmth

The simple act of running into people you know in parts of the city you wouldn't expect is one of those things that makes me perk up and smile at life. It happened twice this past weekend, when we truly started to shake off the chill of snarky, wintry portmanteaus (snowmageddon, snowpocalypse, snowicane) and revel in the earnest joy of spring. Or if not the season itself, then the promise of it. We passed a fellow chorister from the parish at 96th Street while walking down from Hamilton Heights to see Riverbank State Park. The next day, we saw one of a former co-worker of mine in the Botanical Garden near Fordham. Where warm-weather dreams were concerned, some imagination was required: Along the Hudson, the outdoor pool was still empty, of course, and the nearby water-play area still had slow-melting remnants of the most recent blizzard. But the Bronx conservatory's rain-forest room packed an instant thrill of tropical heat that made me think of Costa Rica as I tied my North Face around my waist and folded my long sleeves up to the elbows. An unlimited-ride MetroCard and a corporate membership offered a few, low-cost moments of kinship with those vacationing Facebook friends and their remotely uploaded photos from the actual Caribbean.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Thomas Zehetmair, the soloist with the London Philharmonic at a concert in Avery Fisher Hall last night, managed to turn in an old standby of the repertoire - Beethoven's Violin Concerto - as something that sounded fresh, by what came in the middle and what followed several rounds of applause. He laced his performance with the (apparently rarely played) Schneiderhan cadenzas: full of chords, thanks to their origin in a piano arrangement of the work, and punctuated by the timpanist, who memorably opens the piece as a whole. Hearing these cadenzas for the first time, I couldn't help but draw the line between such moments in classical music and the world of jazz, which one might argue is really all about the cadenzas (and one of the reasons why I never really progressed beyond a middling jazz-band performer on the saxophone in high school). After Zehetmair took his bows, he announced an encore: a piece by the Swiss oboist and composer Heinz Holliger, written just last fall, in November 2009. (The Times review says it was “Souvenir der Newcastle,” and this blog has more to say on its origin.) It was probably one of the most incongruous encores that I've ever heard, after bathing in Beethoven's classicism. That's not to say I didn't find it interesting, but it felt daring to sandwich a slice of avant garde between two pieces usually guaranteed to bring a crowd (the second half was Brahms' Second Symphony), as if to say, "You loved what you just heard? Well, this is what I play on my days off."