Why go to a reading?

By Damaris Montalvo

As a marketer, readings are fascinating to me. I start thinking about them in terms of informal focus groups and how the audience that attends them will compare to the audience who will come to the full-fledged production and so on.

But as your common, run-of-the-mill, not-involved-in-theatre audience member, readings are just as fascinating. I love the rawness of them. I love experiencing these nascent plays as they emerge from the page stripped of the fancy-pants production values. Readings help me focus on the bare elements that can make a live production so powerful, such as the wonderful words, the moving acting, and the minimal staging that is sufficient to set the scene and convey the mood.

In a way, readings are like me, like this blog post – unpolished, unvarnished, raw. But legitimate. Honest. Authentic. And – hopefully – meaningful to those who experience it.

Best of all, readings hold an inherent promise of greater things to come. A good reading will leave you wanting and wondering more. A good reading will leaving you wanting to see the play, wondering what scenes will look like once those production values do come into play, and the costume designers, lighting technicians, stage designers, props masters and other backstage magicians work their craft to add new layers of meaning.

The best example of this if my favorite play in Boston Court’s recent PLAY/ground reading series, Lily Blau’s The Missing Pages of Lewis Carroll. The play is built around journal entries that were cut out of Charles Dodgson’s (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) diary; in a realm between fantasy and reality, the play speculates what could have taken place in those few days that may have caused Dodgson to stop mentioning Alice Liddell and her family in his journal from that point forth. The caliber of acting in this play was so powerful, that it made me question my own moral judgment. Leo Marks in his reading of Charles Dodgson was so moving that he took me on an emotional journey full of beauty, love, restraint, and melancholy that made me squirm as my logic interfered in this battle between what is right and what feels right.

A fan of Victorian poetry, I got to truly appreciate Blau’s script, as the reading afforded me the opportunity to really listen to the words spoken, and I was able to catch on to many of the subtle Alice references that are beautifully interwoven in the text. In a full-fledged production, catching on to all the masterful subtleties would take more than a single viewing.

Yet there’s so much more that could take place with a complete production. The blurred lines between fantasy and reality, the text and reality, memory and reality, photography and reality – all have infinite possibility that can best be explored on the stage. Of course, I’d love to see each and every single actor in the reading cast again in their very same roles, as I thought they were absolutely flawless, but the possibilities are endless.

Now, should the play not be chosen for a future season, the beauty of a reading is that it afforded me the unique opportunity to appreciate this piece that I could have missed otherwise. Let’s say the play gets picked up elsewhere, perhaps in another state. Without this reading, I would have never had the opportunity to have seen this ensemble brought together to make me feel at once like a child, spellbound by a marvelous fairytale, and then deeply heartbroken and brought to tears by what cannot be.

Truthfully, it would be exciting to see any of the other PLAY/ground plays in an upcoming season at Boston Court. I was unfortunately unable to see Dark Room, by George Brant, but Emilie Beck’s Habeas Corpus will continue to haunt me for months to come, and Eric Coble’s My Barking Dog has such relatable lines that have found their way into my consciousness over the past few weeks (just a couple of days ago I was discussing with my boyfriend the foreboding nature of Sundays). Again, the wonderful aspect of these readings is that they stay with you, and there’s so much more potential for them once off the page.

In January, Boston Court is opening its 2014 season with Se Llama Christina by Octavio Solís – a play that I first experienced at last year’s PLAY/ground. This will be the first play that I see a full production of after having been to the reading, so I’m on tenterhooks to see how it’s evolved. I’m excited to know whether any of the actors in the reading will be cast and what the set design will look like. I wonder if the crib will match my mental memory of it. I’m excited to hear the Boston Court staff pronounce the word “llama” properly (read: jahma).

Most of all, I’m excited to see how Boston Court will bring to life some of the scenes that puzzled or confused me – especially as this is a play that borders on the edge of reality, flashbacks, and drug-induced memories.

I’m excited to see the chicken leg.

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