NWCTC's, IN THE MATTER OF J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER, opened last night to a small but engaged audience of mostly older people, who appeared to be remembering the real events on which the play is based, with both nostalgia and schadenfreude. From the dressing room, I overheard conversation during the intermissions, in which the real life Oppenheimer's ambiguous status as a 'communist fellow traveler' was kept in perspective by these older people, who, on the one hand, clearly saw that Oppenheimer has kneecapped by MacCarthyism and the Atomic Energy Commission's kangaroo court, and on the other, that he did little not to bring these troubles on himself. They also remembered that Oppenheimer DID help drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a crime of which they were not ready to absolve him. They took it personally (all the more, I imagine, if they remembered, with shame, the reality of Japanese internment in the pacific northwest, during WWII. What would it be like to remember both the internment of Americans of Japanese background AND the killing of nearly one-hundred thousand Japanese civilians?) We're probably going to get a lot of audiences like this, which is good, because they bring a level of personal engagement that might just make or break their ability to hang in there with what is, after all, a very talky evening. They're even laughing, which is great, because the laughs are doled out sparingly in this play.
About my own performance: the outline is there, but I haven't quite filled it in, yet. I know what I want to do and have good ideas of how to do it. But, I'm still allowing nervous energy to knock me off center. I'm not doing anything 'wrong,' but I can feel the audience still needing to take care of me, as it were. They can feel my awkwardness, and so have to force their goodwill, rather than merely let go to their 'willingness to suspend disbelief.' This is a dynamic that is entirely in my hands as an actor. By tonight or tomorrow's performance, I hope to be letting the audience off the hook--allowing them to forget me as a performer--by relaxing enough myself to let them stick with their own experience.
If I AM able to relax, it will be in large part due to the slow-moving, but recently visible, transformation I'm undergoing at the core of my creative process, sense of self, and public persona (my public persona remains a bit shaky--oddly awkward or shy in moments in which I'd rather be extend greater warmth and humor--but I'm not 'forcing it'.) I'm letting go, especially I'm letting go any 'idea' of myself as a performer--I may or may not be one, and I'm ready to find that out, rather than force the answer.
About NWCTC: I enjoy working here. This company is warm and inviting to both audiences and performers. It is unpretentious and doesn't take itself too seriously. These people have fun. The plays they do are as uneven as anywhere else in Portland--especially in its classical work--but now that it has it's own home, at the Show Box Theater, it may well be getting a new chance to grow, in that regard. Having one's own home opens up opportunity for a theater as much as it does for any one of us, who retire at night to our houses or apartments to do much of the work of organizing our souls.