The actors are restless and loud with nervous energy. There’s a lot of “new” in the room: no scripts in hands, actual furniture elements instead of folding chairs, and strangers. Our all-lady production team and two honorary ladies (the Artistic Director and Director of Communications) are settling in. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.
For the last three weeks, we’ve been talking about the play and the playwright and “what does she mean by ‘soul’ in this sentence?” We’ve been exploring and discovering and laughing and arguing. It’s a labor of love.
Friendship Betrayed is a forgotten play by a forgotten playwright. Since 2000, there have been only two productions of this translation by Catherine Larson: one at Oklahoma City University (2003) and the other at Washington Women in Theatre (2006). It’s a challenging play to perform well, but most classics are. The actors must be comfortable with purple language and have tremendous vocal stamina. The company must build a world from a script that doesn’t give a lot of hints but that is rich with imagery that references the Spanish Golden Age yet echos today’s pop culture. It’s occasionally dense and lurching. It’s lovely and worth all of the effort.
But our challenge hasn’t been creating the world of the original period; no, we came to rehearsals with a very clear concept of Big City, USA, 1920. Our challenge has been in deciding which story to tell. In many ways, our three weeks of rehearsals have felt like a workshop. We started with a cut of the translation, and we’ve been paring down from there. It’s a delicate balance, determining which line—which fragment—stays and which doesn’t make it out the door. What words serve our themes and what references will take the audience out of the story? How do we, with such modern posture and inflection, serve the text with the melody of 1640s Spain, adding harmony of 1920s flair?
We know when it works and when it doesn’t. But this is a rehearsal, a performance for our design team to get an idea of the shape of the play. It will be educational. We’ll find the holes and the moments when the action halts, when the melody and harmony create a symphony of story. We’ll learn where we fail and where we triumph
In two weeks, we move into the performance space and have our first preview performance. Lights and sound and costumes and props will round out the cast of performers and add new obstacles to our success.
But for tonight, we’re just going to get through the play.
Kari Ginsburg is an Acting Company member and has been seen in Avant Bard’s Visible Language (Mabel Bell), The Bacchae (Chorus), The Mistorical Hystery of Henry I(V) (Doll Tearsheet/Player King Henry), Every Young Woman’s Desire (She), Small Craft Warnings (Leona Dawson), and as a bunch of crazy ladies in Red Noses. Recent directing credits include AD/Drag-eographer for Camille: a tearjerker and Secret Obscenities (co-director with Jay Hardee) for Avant Bard; Soup, or Scorpion Weed (The Inkwell); Ben’s Chili Bowl (LiveArt DC); Rosencrantz & Guidenstern Are Dead (Infinite Jest); and Caroline, or Change (Assistant Director, Elden Street Players). Additional performance credits include The Keegan Theatre (2014 Helen Hayes nomination for Outstanding Ensemble, The Full Monty), NextStop Theatre, Rorschach Theatre, The Inkwell, The American Century Theatre, Rep Stage, Syracuse Stage, Fallen Angels Productions, The Center Company, Forum Theatre, Round House, Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre, Adventure Theater, Venus Theatre, and eight seasons with the Washington National Opera.