26 October 2010

excerpts from "The Actor"

Jacob Goldsmith was revered in the region, humble as he was, as one of the greatest dramatists in the area. His annual presentation of A Miser's Miracle was the social event of the year for many. They were drawn by the amazing scenes, the fabulous performances, and magical effects that they felt rivaled those of Broadway, a mere fifty miles away. For this was not a professional theatre by any stretch; the seats were held together with duct tape and old gauze, and the bare wall showed through where paint had chipped away. Here was a theatre that existed solely for the love of theatre and not the love of money.

For thirty years the master studied these characters, now firmly rooted, ubiquitous in his mind, though every year he discovered something new about each, and their relations to his own character might change as did his understanding.

He told the old American story of the miser who lives by himself and shuns society, refusing to make charity or embrace change. One evening he awakens to find his bed floating above the earth, transported to some foreign land. He meets people along the way who remind him of himself, and of his former youth; it opens his heart. When he returns to his bedchamber he is a new man, and he opens his coffers to help the poor and needy and throws his arms gratefully around his fellow man.

Jacob sneered and the beggar children approached him. “This is America,” he growled, pointing a gnarled finger. “Let them work for their own money.”


Some days in rehearsal Jacob would stand center stage rubbing his eyes, his blue button-down shirt puffed out in the back and his shoulders hunched as he thought, or acted, whichever he was doing. Other times he walked around the house, across and back through each row with the miser's walking stick, shouting “Louder!” and “More connection, more feeling.” Watching the scenes, his scenes, unfold on that stage, he'd say, “No, no. Am I embarrassing you? I hope so. Now, give the boy a real hug, my dear. He's not diseased, you know.” And thus the play would come together, take form and shape, grow as tall as giants, towering above the audience when the curtain rose.

While Jacob always played the old miser, the character he focused on most was that of the tormented spirit who visits him; for, he would say, the spirit is the one who brings about the ultimate change in the miser. The spirit, hovering above the scene as if on his own cloud, pointed at the starving, huddled masses downstage, saying, “The poor exist to remind us to count our blessings, and if we have trouble counting that high, to give until it's easy.”


Each performance, year after constant year, was a triumph. Full houses wept, laughed, and clapped, cheering loudly when Jacob took his grateful bow. “It's for the audience,” he would say to those cast members missing their curtain call manners. “It's for the audience, not the ego.”


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