Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hearing the Actor's Voice

Words On The Script Enter the Mind Via Familiar Voices

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s always pleasant to have the opportunity to read bits of a script prior to opening night. Most of the bigger-budget shows come from established scripts . . . and even more contemporary scripts are usually available in some format from Google Books online. It isn’t the full script, but it’s usually a pretty good idea of what to expect from the complete play.

I’d recently had the opportunity to read portions of a couple of scripts from shows that are running this month. I would imagine that it would spoil the show a bit for those who would prefer not to know exactly what the actors are going to be saying in the first act, but I like getting a feel for what a show might be like in advance . . .

I’ve now read portions of both Jeffrey Sweet’s The Value of Names (playing now through May 2nd with Next Act Theatre) and Rebecca Gilman’s The Sweetest Swing in Baseball. (running April 15th through May 2nd with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.) In both circumstances, the voices of the actors in the lead roles resonated with a distinct strength. Knowing he’d be playing the part as I read it, I could hear the distinct tone of Robert Spencer’s voice as comic actor Benny Silverman. Spencer has a really unique stage presence and it came through quite distinctly as I read the script. His personality came through exactly as expected. This might normally be a bit of a disappointment: I got exactly what I’d expected out of his performance, but it was still a great deal of fun and Spencer had more than enough depth to keep the performance interesting.

 Even more recently, I’d read much of the first couple of acts of Gilman’s The Sweetest Swing In Baseball. The author of Spinning Into Butter and True History of the Johnstown Flood has a really brilliantly dark comic voice. The lead character is an artist by the name of Dana. In the Milwaukee Chamber production, she’ll be played by Mary MacDonald Kerr. Kerr’s one of my favorite actresses and the role seems really well suited to her. There’s kind of a dark humor about the character that Kerr should have a lot of fun with. And reading Gilman’s script, I could hear the distinct tones of Kerr’s voice breathing through those lines—her distinct and engaging intellect (as I’d seen onstage and briefly in an interview for another show some time ago) fed through the lines. And even knowing exactly what she’s going to be saying and when she’s going to be saying it . . . and even anticipating the way certain moments between her, fellow cast member Nicholas Harzin and a few others are going to play out, I’m still looking forward to the show a great deal. Because even though I’m familiar enough with the distinct sound of Kerr’s voice to have it running through my head as I read the script, I’m really looking forward to living through those moments in Gilman’s script with the cast at the Broadway Theatre Center. 

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