When we were working with The Renaissance Guild on Rumors, there was some discussion on whether to keep its late-80s setting or to update it to the present day. The decision was ultimately made to make it contemporary to our audience, which meant adapting some lines and references to make sense to a 2010 playgoer.
For one example: In Neil Simon’s original script, there’s a reference to the 1986 film Platoon. Someone (and it might actually have been me) suggested changing the title to The Hurt Locker, and we went with it. I thought it worked pretty well; like the movie, the play’s all about characters trying to defuse a bad situation before it blows up in their faces (though I’ll admit there’s a little less… drama attached to our play). But if I have to be honest about the reasoning behind my suggestion, I really just wanted to hear Danielle King say “The Hurt Locker“.
I bring this up to illustrate that the production of a play is not always a process of exact translation or transcription. Sometimes we have to make some changes to get the story and characters from page to stage. Which of course brings us back to the San Antonio Stage Script Study Group.
After the success of our first Page to Stage meeting (which, as you’ll recall, found us at S.T.A.G.E. in Bulverde to see Ron Blicq’s Closure), we decided to make the new tradition – discuss the play over a meal, then see it live – the regular process of the group. And we agreed that the next play to get the dining-&-drama treatment would be Dirty Blonde, a romantic comedy/musical by Claudia Shear that explores the life and career of Mae West through the growing relationship of two obsessed and lonely fans.
We already knew that the Cameo Theatre would be producing the play, with Matthew Byron Cassi directing, so it was a matter of finding the right day and the right restaurant. The day would be Sunday, May 5, and after working out the details with Matthew, the restaurant would be Tito’s Mexican Restaurant in Southtown; as Nikki was shooting a film that day, it fell to me to make the arrangements and lead the group through our discussion and viewing.
The Script Group’s meetings have always attracted a turnout you’d call Loyal And Devoted. We always have great conversations, and since we’ve launched Page to Stage, the discussions have grown more lively and insightful. Sunday’s was no exception, as Matthew was enthusiastic and very open about how the play was adapted for the Cameo’s production.
Dirty Blonde is written with two female roles, to be played by one actress, and a host of male roles to be played by two actors; the play’s action shifts instantaneously between present and past, which is a lot to ask of those actors and could also leave the audience a little lost. With that in mind, Matthew chose the path of clarity and split the female roles, casting Christie Beckham as Mae and Mandy Whitlock as Jo. Three actors, rather than two, would take on the male roles; Kevin Murray’s main focus would be on playing Charlie, though he still appeared as two other characters (including a terrific cameo as W.C. Fields); Tony Gloria and Derek Berlin played all the other men in Mae’s life (and there were quite a few).
It was the right move. Having Jo and Mae played by two actors helps bring out the subtext of the play – the influence of the past upon the present, and the dependency of the present upon the past – and it allows for a great scene near the end when Whitlock, Beckham, and Murray share the stage, Mae and her fans acknowledging their debt to one another. And I think our appreciation of the scene was greater for knowing the process that brought us there.
So, once again, thanks to everyone who attended. Thanks to Matthew for sharing his time and insights with us. Thanks to Tito’s and to the Cameo for hosting us. Thanks to cast and crew for giving us a great show (which will run for one more weekend – check out the Cameo’s website for the details). And thanks to all of you for following along.
If you’d like to be a part of the next meeting, we’ve moved our online base of operations. As of this week we’re now on Facebook, so please visit our new group page to learn more about who we are and what we do, to join, and to vote on our next Page to Stage show.
Until that show, “be seeing you…”