Anatomy Of A Brainfart

Ken AshfordLocal Interest, Personal, TheatreLeave a Comment

Scene:  A group of Klansman storm the lodge where Charlie, an Englishman pretending to be a foreigner, is staying.  The robed and hooded men are armed with rifles, bats, crowbars, etc.  The leader of the racist Klan, Owen Musser, raises a bullhorn to his mouth and addresses Betty (the owner of the lodge) with the following line:

Are you prepared this night to stand before the holy tribunal of the Invisible Empire?

It’s a little bit of an awkward line, especially coming from an illiterate redneck like Owen Musser.  But it’s never given me any problems.  I don’t worry about getting it 100% accurate, especially since I repeat it seconds later with:

Are you prepared, woman, to stand this night before the holy tribunal of the Invisible Empire?

Brainfart_2Note how this night and to stand are inverted the second time.  But sometimes I invert them the first time.  No biggie.  Means the same thing.  Audience doesn’t know or care.

But last night, in front of a preview show crowd of about 200, I totally blanked on that first line: Are you prepared this night to stand before the holy tribunal of the Invisible Empire?

Here’s what went through my head as I raised the bullhorn and opened my mouth to speak:

Are you prepared Yes, it’s are you prepared.  Not are you ready as in are you read to rumble.  It’s Are you prepared toTo standTo stand or this night?  Which is it?  Doesn’t matter.  I feel like to stand.  Wait.  To stand *what*?  Oh, she’s standing trial.  You "stand trial" — that’s the phrase.  Isn’t the word "trial" in here?  No, it’s not "trial".  It’s "tribunal".  Wait, but you don’t "stand tribunal".  That doesn’t make any sense.  Oh, my God.  I’m not saying anything. I have to say something.  The shark is dying.  Jeez!

"Are you prepared to…."

Good.  You’ve got that out.  Wait.  You’re pausing.  Ohmigod.  You’re forgetting this line.  What was it?  "Stand trial"?  Isn’t there something about a trial?  Shit.  Um, um…

"Um.. are you…"

Uh oh.  Red alert.  Red alert.  For god sake’s say something!  Okay.  Think.  The line is about a trial with the Invisible Empire.  The holy Invisible Empire.  No, it’s not the holy Invisible Empire.  That doesn’t make sense.  But what’s holy?  A holy trial?  No, there’s no trial.  Is there?  Trial?  Tribunal?  Does it really make a difference?  Seconds are ticking away.  Oh, dammit.  What is wrong with me?  I’ve never had a problem with this line.  And I’ve turned in a good performance so far this show.  You know what?  I bet it’s the caffeine.  You drink two cans of Coke in this play and now you’re wired.  Your brain’s overloaded.  Oh, don’t think about that now, for Chrissakes.  You really shouldn’t have watched the video of your performance in Little Shop before coming to the theater tonight.  Seriously.  It’s got you self-conscious.  Wait.  Where’s my head at?  Hello?  You’re soooo not in the moment.  Get it together.  You’ve got a couple hundred people looking at you.  How long have I been standing here speechless?  A second maybe.  Maybe two.  Feels like a minute.  Shoot!  Say yer damn line.  What is it again?  Oh shoot.  You know the gist of what you’re supposed to say.  Just say something, dammit.

"Um…Are you prepared to have a trial with the Invisible Empire?"

Have a trial?!?  What the fuck is that?  Did I just say that?  Jesus, you’re choking.  How amateurish.  Oh, Good.  Pat is saying her line now.  Get it together man.  You have a second shot at this.  You say this line twice in a row, more or less.  Don’t think.  Just say.

"Are you prepared, woman, to stand this night before the holy tribunal of the Invisible Empire?"

Got it.  I think.  Did I get it?  Shoot.  Put it behind you.  Keep going.

Of course, all this happened within a matter of seconds.  But as any actor knows, it seemed like hours.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the play went pretty well, and we all agreed it was nice to finally finally have an audience.  It’s rare that a show is ready as early as ours.  Usually, you work out the kinks right up to (and including) opening night.  But we were ready last week.  In fact, we were at risk of getting stale.  So it was nice to have a preview crowd (they see it for free — mostly invited people from retirement homes, etc.).

I’m enjoying this show.  Being a racist Klansman, I play the "heavy", which isn’t my favorite kind of role.  Stan has added some "gags" for me, and I’m not entirely in agreement with his call on that.  In my view, I’m the straight character; everyone else gets the comedy.  I see my role as being akin to the Germans in Life Is Beautiful, rather than the Germans in Hogan’s Heroes

Not that I don’t mind shtick — I personally love it.  I just don’t think people are going to find it funny.  Oh, they do in rehearsal, but audiences aren’t theatre people.  I think they’re going to be taken aback by the robes and hoods at the dramatic climax toward the end of Act II.  So, little sight gags coming from me (at that point) are simply going to thud.  I also don’t think it works structurally.  The whole play is comedy comedy comedy comedy, and then comes a VERY serious moment (which turns back in to comedy).  I don’t agree with Stan’s call to make that serious moment "light" in any way.

But what do I know?  We’ll give it a whirl.  Stan’s got a better bead and far more experience about these things.  And I’m usually wrong about what "works" and what doesn’t, at least with North Carolina audiences.

That said, The Foreigner opens tonight.  Information is here.  This is a cast of seasoned veterans.  There’s not a weak link in the bunch.  The play is VERY funny, and we’ve got this baby paced to within an inch of its life.  We’re expecting a good response.  People are loving it so far.

And I won’t go up on my lines.  I promise.