Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Director's Nightmare or The Tax Collector Scene

My mother told me a story of a woman who bought a house once in Texas. It was one of those "Mc Mansions". A cheaply constructed cookie cutter monstrosity with an odd facade sort of glued to the front of the thing, no lawn, not enough windows, and ridiculous room sizes. My mother assured me that despite all this, she was happy when she made the walk throughs, after the inspections, and when she first moved in. But as time passed, she became increasingly uncomfortable. Somehow it didn't feel big enough. She looked at the information on the house and the square footage didn't seem to match how it felt. Not only that, she felt cold often and when alone in the house, she had a sense that she wasn't in her own home. As if she hadn't completely taken ownership of it. The word "haunted" crossed her mind. After living in the house a year, she couldn't stand it any more. She prepared to pack up her and her family's belongings and get out. One day while watering the grass in the front yard and contemplating the move, and wondering about her sanity, she looked up at her strange house and wondered absently why she had never put any blinds on one of the upstairs windows. As she thought back to her frantic and happy decorating of those first months it came to her...she had put blinds on all the windows. Dropping the hose she ran into the home she thought she knew and headed upstairs to find that uncovered window. There she ran into a wall. Painted white like the rest of the walls in the house it hid behind it the source of her discomfort and sense of unease, a room that the builders had accidentally walled up instead of installing a door.

My mother has a dream similar to this event often during stressful times in her life. During such times, my mother redecorates until she is too exhausted to be stressed about anything. In her dreams her children paint cryptic messages in the carpet, strange gifts fall into her hands, and she discovers rooms that she has yet to paint. She wakes up wondering where that room is and if green will work with the light. Then the curtain of sleep lifts completely and she is back in her three bedroom, two bath, big living room with vaulted ceilings and a large backyard home in San Antonio. But the worry does not dissipate with that curtain and the seed of doubt remains: I have forgotten something...I am leaving something undone...there is a room with no door that I can not get into.

The last days of directing a show often feel like this for me. But my missing room is a missing scene. Often that scene is some variation of the Tax Collector Scene.

Oscar Wild wrote two versions of The Importance of Being Earnest. In one version a tax collector comes out to the country in search of Algernon (or actually Earnest) for unpaid debts. It is honestly an unnecessary scene without much humor and no furthering of the plot. But when I first read it I did so with that scene. And since then when ever I see a production of it, I am invariably waiting for the Tax collector to come out.

In my dreams I am directing the actors during a scene, the Tax Collector makes his entrance, and no one knows their lines or where to move or what to do and I flail my arms up and say "FUCK! I can't believe I forgot to direct this scene!" I try to remember why we've never done this scene before or why we need to do it. I try to find the script to see where it falls in the story. I wake myself with the violence of the dream and try to make a plan for that nights rehearsal involving the forgotten scene. I remember real events from the previous night (the misplaced phone...the forgotten shirt...the broken bottle...and "remember" that it was because of the tax collector scene that all these things went awry. I try to sleep, content with the plan for the scene and the play, only to find myself directing again and again the actors are lost in the forgotten scene. I try to shake it from me. "I'm dreaming." I say to myself. "I'm dreaming." I do all the things one does when they realize they are dreaming. I run from the theatre only to find myself in another. I try to wake myself and force myself into a new dream. Sex with a movie star. Flying dreams. Driving car dreams. Running from bad guy dreams. Working in the office dreams. Any other dream then the Tax Collector Scene. But always I find myself back on the stage, in the dark, before the confused and mournful eyes of actors who are re-enacting a bad scene from an Oscar Wild play. The confusion continues into the morning as I plan for the rehearsal and I try to remember what I need to bring...and what the Tax Collector's lines are.

And I'll wonder at my sanity. I'll even whisper the word "Haunted", because surly this is what it feels like to be followed by a ghost.

And I'll wonder what I've forgotten. What I've left undone.

How do I get into a room with no door?

No comments: