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Bad Seed PosterFriday is opening night for a naughty 1950’s play by renowned writer Maxwell Anderson.  ‘Bad Seed’, the last Broadway success before his death, is a devilish mother/daughter tale of secrecy and murders. Anderson wrote numerous plays, and movies including ‘Death Takes a Holiday’, ‘Joan of Arc’, and Hitchcock’s ‘The Wrong Man’.  A masterpiece play, adapted from William March’s long-awaited novel “The Bad Seed”, it ran on  Broadway five months and was later made into two movies.  Studios changed the ending in the first version, because the 1956 audience could not accept such an appalling conclusion where the villain … (no spoilers), and it was nominated for four Academy Awards- including ‘Best Director’ for British Mervyn LeRoy.

Having been asked to audition by the director of this 2014 incarnation, I watched the second, color version of the movie, with David Carradine among the cast, dressed and practiced my best Southern accent, then dutifully showed up to try out for a part. Producer/director, Henry Brewer, immediately offered me the role of the mother and sent me home with a copy of the play.  Mrs. Christine Bravo Penmark is a woman, a character, I strongly did not like.  I was repulsed by her, and because of this intense response, I knew this was going to be a challenge, a good opportunity to stretch me beyond bounds of comfort.  One of her first lines is “I’m not very self-sufficient.”; Completely not me, and this ‘weakness’ is probably what turned me off to start.

Neither of the movies does justice to the play, something is lost even though Anderson is responsible for the screenplay.  Much of the Broadway cast was in the original black and white movie, but I turned it off half-way through supposedly due to a distaste for the acting style of the time, with one exception- the actress who plays Mrs. Daigle- Eileen Heckart, who won a Golden Globe for her performance.  My undertaking thrills and terrifies me, because the part is grande- the tale truly is twisted and violent- and the emotions are quite extreme.  Breathing life into fully experiencing these six days of Christine’s life is well worth all the work.

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The hardest part in acting is learning the lines.  At least, so goes the opinion of consensus.  Some actors go “off-book” before truly being so, regularly calling out “line”- slowing rehearsal- or continually toting and repeatedly pulls out from her (literal) back pocket a stack of notecards with all her lines- also causing delay. Others have photographic memories, and hence remember rapidly. However, he takes time picturing the page in his mind’s eye to recall and then read the line, therefore, are lines memorized? Occasionally actors have played the part before, recollecting lines previously secured in long term memory from that long-last performance.

For those committing lines to memory for the first time, Playhouse West School in Hollywood, California, teaches students to write all the character’s lines- sans any punctuation- and know it as you would the spelling of your name- forwards/backwards without a stress on any one letter/word in particular.  Taking this one step further, I write all the lines half a dozen times, akin to grade school rote learning of spelling words. When recording lines for auditory memorization, the school instructs only record your lines and be conscious to do it in a monotone voice to prevent an ingrained line-read.  The reason to ignore the other character when memorizing is to promote a LISTEN and respond reactiveness.  Should the other actor not have his line, you must not be waiting for a ‘cue’.  Our duty is to respond to what we hear, as if for the very first time, if a scene partner uses a word ‘desire’ when the script actually says ‘demand’ but your line is throwing the same phrase back at him – Listening and repeating the word actually used creates consistency.

If the other actor jumps ahead in the scene, or the play, you may become flustered, if you only know your cues.  Conversely, Listening (and knowing your lines by heart) gifts one with the ability to remain in character and continue flawlessly.  Remember your character’s life.  It is called ‘Play’ for good reason and we all get there, in front of an audience, via our own path.  We collaborate in love of art.