We’re in a small theater, old black foldout seats made extra dark by the lack of light, all of that centered of course on the stage. Near the stage, a few rows back, sit the writer and director of the play Tracy is trying out for. After waiting a short time in lobby by the ticket booth, we were shown in. Tracy referred to me as her “good luck charm” and it struck me again how confident she was behaving. It’s probably important to note that I understand confidence is a good thing. Why shouldn’t everyone go into a tryout like they own the place? But it is striking when this approach comes from someone who normally doesn’t do that. Either way, I’m no stick in the mud. I nodded to the director, a lady whose eyes were huge behind big glasses, her hair vanilla white, and neither she nor the young male writer said it was okay or not to my being present. I was simply shown in. It was as if Tracy’s energy, her presence, there, already, offstage, was strong enough to have instilled in them the mandate that what Tracy said would be, for the duration of her visit, law.
“Ready?” the director says. There’s a way people talk to you at auditions. Some are nicer than others, but there’s always those few unspoken words: Wow me now.
Us actors, we’re used to that. And we believe we should wow the people putting on a show. But you do wonder, always, how many actors are perfect for the role but aren’t the type to express it all in a ten minute tryout? How many plays have you seen where it isn’t until the intermission that you say to your date, Know what? I really like her.
Some things take time. Most good things do.
I sit ten or so rows behind the writer and the director and the theater is completely silent. On stage is a partial set, clichés for now, things to prompt the actors. A wedding altar. A row of white chairs. Tracy is trying out for, of all things, a character named Tracy who, in this case, needs to convince her cousin she is to be trusted and could never have played any part in the tragedy that has befallen her.
Tracy stands center stage. No script in hand.
I’m reminded of CUE and if I didn’t have such respect for the theater, or maybe if I’d had a few drinks in me, I might’ve called out a line for her to perform.
Let me tell you about Oliver’s farm.
Yes. That would’ve been a good one.
“Yes,” Tracy says. All smiles. I’ve seen Tracy tryout before. She’s always good. But it’s not always a matter of that, is it? There’s timing, what the director is looking for, a certain look, a certain gender, a certain age. It’s not an easy gig, oh boy. Sometimes getting a part feels like finding a relationship. And I don’t mean all the work involved. It’s the rarity of it, the off-chance that today could be the day you meet your significant other. Today could be the day you fall in love.
Tracy looks to me from the stage.
“Go ahead then,” the director says.
The theater seat creaks as the writer leans back and Tracy takes a deep breath. I just read some of the lines in Thin Cinema but I know better than to think anything offstage ever resembles what happens under the lights. It strikes me then how intimate this is, bearing witness to Tracy’s tryout. And here, I’d just felt so lonely in St. Louis.
I settle in.
The first thing I notice is she’s using the whole stage. This isn’t like her. But I’m into it. Has Tracy been practicing? Taking classes I don’t know about? It’s possible, of course, though it’s likely I’d know about that. Any chance to talk about what you’re doing is a good one, and often no chance at all is a chance. Yet, here she is, traipsing from one end to the other, using all the space afforded her. She steps to the altar, steps to the chairs. She speaks as though those chairs are full of wedding guests, and here, Tracy as Tracy, she’s convincing them, too, that she would never hurt the bride.
She’s using her whole body. I’m surprised. It’s not like I have some idea of how Tracy should play this role, but this… her… this is new. The Tracy I know emotes power from a stationary position. We’ve discussed this a lot, between bottles of wine, grass, on fire escapes and in the lobbies of old buildings. It’s her way, as Karen says, her way, to stay rooted, to blossom from that root, to allow the empathy and conviction to do half the speaking for her. Tracy isn’t an over-actor. Yet…
I shift in my seat. I look to the director and the writer. Are they liking this? Hard to tell. Always is. Tracy’s alone and she’s moving all over the place and she’s using her shoulders and arms, tilting her head dramatically with each word, bellowing the lines as if they were meant to be sung. In a sense, she’s doing a parody, it seems, it feels, an imitation of a tryout. Tracy as Tracy as Tracy as Tracy. I shift again. Because the thought that strikes me isn’t one I was expecting to have. Isn’t welcome at all.
Tracy’s performance is…
“Bad,” I whisper.
Tracy is overplaying the part so intensely that it almost feels like she’s kidding. The director and writer exchange a look. I know that look: Where did this woman find the motivation for this in this script?
Who is this woman trying to be?
I’m tempted to say something. I mean, it’s that bad. I’m suddenly very glad I don’t have any drinks in me or I might’ve. And the most confusing part is the confidence with which she’s doing this. Tracy isn’t trying out, she’s saying, Hey I don’t know a thing about acting and I don’t care.
I cover my eyes for a second. I have to. I’m turning red with embarrassment as Tracy suddenly breaks into an accent, mid-monologue, that has nothing to do with the part. I tell myself this is funny. Because, maybe it is. Maybe what I’m seeing is an art form all its own.
Is this why Tracy asked me in? Is she performing for me and me alone?
I see the director raise a finger, the way some do as they’re about to cut the tryout short. No actor wants to see that. Yet, if you’re not into it, let me know, let’s get this over with. But Tracy is oblivious. She’s sitting at the base of the altar now, swinging her hair over one shoulder, frowning at the imaginary bride, pleading her case for why she couldn’t possibly be the one who betrayed her. I think it’s gotta be the script. It has to be the writing. But I also know it’s not. It’s just not. This performance, this terrible, over-acted, artless performance is nobody’s fault but hers.
Tracy is just flat-out bad up there.
But she’s not done! She shows no sign of having noticed the director is now standing. I think she must be performing for me alone. Has to be. This is too much.
I think of Oliver.
Think: we talk for weeks about a friend who isn’t acting himself, Tracy visits him, presto, Tracy isn’t herself. As if whatever is going on with Oliver is contagious. Like my friends contracted otherness from the middle of Michigan. Like it might be found in a well, a cellar, a barn.
I’m starting to think of what I’m going to tell Tracy when this is done. Usually, when a friend flops, you can lean on something that was good. But this is going to be hard.
“Okay,” the director says. A little loud, I notice. Maybe I’m the stiff one, I think. Maybe I do need a drink. Maybe Tracy’s giving the performance of her life and I’m in a tizzy because it’s new, it’s different, it’s not my idea of her.
“Okay,” the director says again.
But Tracy can’t hear the woman over her own voice. Her stomping about the stage. Her gasps and cries. That’s what she’s doing now, crying, center stage, on her knees. She’s doing such an effective job of it that I start to get out of my seat. Does she need me? Is this why she asked me in?
Is Tracy not so quietly asking for help?
No. The tears stop. Her face becomes that smile I saw in Thin Cinema.
She springs to a standing.
“Now that,” she says, “is how you play Tracy.”
She looks my way.
I’m beside myself. I’m thinking drinks. Three, four, enough so that I can get up the nerve to tell her how insane this tryout was.
The director and writer thank her. The theater is otherwise silent. Tracy bows and takes the creaky stage stairs, then up the aisle to me.
To the others she says, “You have my number and availability. Just let me know.” To me, “Come on.”
I’m up and following her out the theater. Back in the lobby she stops walking, turns to me, takes my face in her hands, and kisses me with everything she has.
Tracy and I have kissed before. We were engaged. But this…
I try to pull away but she grips me tight, holds me to her.
I give in. I kiss her back. With everything I have.
“Ever,” I say, when we pull away.
For just a second I see real concern in her eyes. Not quite as if she’d forgotten her boyfriend, but more like she’d forgotten herself.
“We’re navigating,” she says.
“Really? You two were Sonny and Cher like a week ago.”
She considers this.
“We were. You’re right. But we’re not anymore. People change.”
I want to love this moment. I’m in the lobby of a small theater in New York City. I just witnessed the most fucked-up Dada audition in the world. The woman I love, yes, still, just kissed me without warning.
But that’s exactly it. This didn’t feel like that. This felt like kissing a stranger.
I imagine someone in an Oliver mask, handing out the faces of my friends.
“Wanna tell me what’s going on?” I ask her.
“Or we can kiss again,” she says. “Listen, people change. Ever’s hardly himself anymore. And I’m glad for that. Forget it. It’s nice outside. The city is alive. Let’s get a drink.”
This doesn’t sound like a good idea. And it sounds like a really good idea.
“Wow, Tracy,” I say, trying to go with this but struggling. “Okay.”
She smiles and we hold a look, a beat longer than people who are not dating usually do. And in that look I don’t feel two former lovers falling in love again. I see a woman who is either having a nervous breakdown or is on the verge of a leviathan self-discovery, big enough to change her core. And the man who wants to be here for her when it comes.
Tracy turns for the door. I receive two messages.
The first is from Ever:
Absolutely, friend. Any time.
Second is from Rodney, who, I know, is still out on Oliver’s farm. And has been for a few days now:
We need help. Now.