Fifteen Conversations at Once
It’s Wednesday, and on the MRT stage, things just got serious. Though you wouldn’t think it from the conversation as coffee is being poured:
“Tell me you took the Parkway through Grand Central?”
“Nah, ya know they told us BQE to the Belt.”
“Jesus, Gwen, they don’t need coffee, get these people some of that fine upper-middle class wine you drink in Oceanside, huh?”
It’s Tommy, one of Oceanside’s central characters, talking to John and Erin, who’ve just arrived to Long Island from New Jersey. It might seem superficial, but it’s got biting undertones in context. One of the remarkable things about Nick Gandiello’s world premiere script is its layering of meaning into the simplest bits of dialogue.
And those are just some of the conversations in the room.
Plopped down over several rows of seats is a long platform: the tech table, where Oceanside’s designers sit during the rehearsal. Sitting at the table, Lighting Designer John Malinowski gives a hushed string of instructions into a headset; he’s in communication with Christian Hoots, MRT’s Lighting and Sound Apprentice, who’s out of sight programming which lights come up or down, and when. Subtle shifts can change the entire mood of the play, so it’s important to get it right.
Also at the table is sound designer David Remedios, who’s been working to add some more depth to the ocean sounds between scenes: they now have added layers, with abstract swells of sound coming in and out of the crashing waves. The creative team has treated the ever-present ocean as a character in the play, and these newly-worked soundscapes really give that character some… well, character. And there’s always more to talk through: Set Designer Judy Gailen moves around examining the space, actor Joey Collins points out the need for more light behind the set, last-minute changes to an important onstage painting are discussed with props artisan Amanda Williams.
With the stops and starts of the rehearsal, Director Melia Bensussen bounces from the stage to the seats to the tech table. Tomorrow there’s an audience, so time is precious, and she steals moments to talk with the actors, fine-tuning their blocking. Still, even this late in the game, they make new character discoveries: what motivates them? What should they do when, and why? Would Kevin really cross the stage this way, or would he cross that way? Because in the end, each and every move, technical or otherwise, is about the gripping human story playing out on stage.
Today’s work is on transitions, getting from scene to scene in a way that keeps up the dramatic flow. Ingenuity is demanded of all. Every factor has an impact, from the timing and volume of David’s sound effects to the sheer speed with which Stage Management Apprentice Jaclynn Joslin can load up buckets of prop dishware and cart them offstage.
Stage manager Casey Hagwood’s commanding-yet-patient voice comes through the speakers: “Let’s reset please, to do that transition again,” and the team does.
Of all the many conversations going on in this theatre, not one is just what it seems.