By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Peterson directs Siguenza courteously, impulsively, sometimes reversing herself. Her eyes and ears track for problems, for contradictions, for establishing story points with just the right stress: She reads back Siguenza’s line about the police coming after a renegade cop: “ ‘They come hard for their own’ — please land on that,” she asks. The actor’s emphasis helps determine which lines stay and which go.
The process is about making incremental changes — hundreds of them — like the art of sanding a fine piece of furniture, smoothing, so that in the light, the textures and the polish, carefully applied, will mesmerize.
Montoya is getting agitated, feeling some of the old version is better: “We have to go through it in the careful fashion we went through this morning — because some of that version had good stuff in it, some of the new version took a step forward and some of it didn’t.”
A section is on the chopping block — in which the father threateningly warns his sons never to laugh at poor people, and Rocha, who plays the father, feels uneasy about the pending cut.
“The kid is so smart, he can turn his father around, and that’s the nice quality of the section we’re thinking about cutting.”
Adds Montoya, “Yes, I’m not happy about that cut.”
“I think the section about not laughing at poor people is beside the point,” Peterson says, adjusting her glasses. “The family is poor. It feels off the point. It’s no longer about instilling this positive virtue in the boys. It seems stronger to me that you boys will respect everybody, if they’re rich or poor, that’s the lesson.”
Rocha, however, is unconvinced. “I like the threat of beating up the kids if they disrespect the poor.”
Peterson stays on course, gently, firmly. “Characterwise, I get what you’re saying, but you’re landing on a point that’s not the point of the story. I’m suggesting ending with the lesson of respecting everybody, but I don’t know how Richard will feel about that.”
After working it through, Rocha concedes, “You’re right. It flows better that way. The point is made. It’s about respect. When you’re in a gym, boxing, you have to respect the other guy, or he’s going to kick the shit out of you.”
During all this, Montoya has been flipping through stacks of drafts and inputting changes into a laptop: “Thanks, guys. This really needs all hands on deck, because there are three versions right now.”
Throughout the first week, Montoya’s Culture Clash partners, Siguenza and Salinas, don’t display Montoya’s impulse for wisecracking when on their feet during rehearsals. They’re also more settled in life, with wives and children. But they’re not under the same kind of pressure as Montoya. They don’t have to constantly rewrite the very play they have to perform in less than a month. During lunch breaks, Montoya disappears to massage the material. On the July Fourth holiday, when the cast and crew are at barbecues and with family, Montoya holes up in his Angeleno Heights bungalow, rewriting.
He sends an Independence Day e-mail to cast and crew: “Several things hit me yesterday: One was this. I was missing with a certain anger all that gestation we had with Chavez. We are basically doing our development now and the pressure on me to marshal the notes and script together in this shortened rehearsal period is right at that point where I feel (after this draft) I have done what I can do. All that I can do . . . I’m locking her down, folks. Happy Fourth. You can tell me about it.”
On July 5, the end of the first week of rehearsals, the actors are on their feet, scripts in hand, and the play, after 35 pages of cuts, now reads at 95 minutes. Montoya is nearly worn out, and an e-mail from him reveals that, even with Michael Ritchie’s open-hearted pledge to do his play on faith (and reputation), there’s no avoiding the tortuous process of creating a work for the American theater:
“I guess what I really wanted to say, and it’s tricky, is that writing to everybody’s notes can have its rewards, the [people at the] table [have] made the play better, but sometimes we write ourselves into circles or in the corner . . . The writer has to stand down till the right time to speak up, and that is new and difficult. At the end of the day, I can listen to Yale [Peterson and Glore are both Yale graduates], sure, take the best they have to offer, but this thing has to also ring true for the street and MacArthur Park.”
The clock is ticking. Outside the Paradise Motel, a full moon is rising.
Water & Powerstarts previews July 27 at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; through Sept. 17. (213) 628-2772 or www.taperahmanson.com