The Farnsworth Invention
With Lynnette Victoria
This is the first in a series of posts by blogger Lynnette Victoria about the making of TPNC’s production of The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin.
I have a unique vantage point of the making of The Farnsworth Invention. Each rehearsal, I sit quietly in the auditorium watching the actors glide in. Julie Bell Petrak, the play’s director, asks that all the actors needed in this scene please go up on stage. It feels strange to me not to jump up and join them. Instead, I watch them as they find their place, find their voice, feel their way through a moment, and let it all set in.
I feel like I’m intruding when the small intimate moments are rehearsed. I’ll find myself looking in at Sarnoff and Betty having a conversation at the end of a hard day, and his honest & broken demeanor begs for privacy. I know that for me, when I’m asked to be vulnerable on stage, I feel like I need to go away from everyone while I figure out where that truth lies in me. Eric Dino has those kind of moments in front of all of us. Every. Single. Night. I make a mental note of that.
And he’s not the only one. I watched Tom Petrone recall what must have been true disappointment in his life and place it sweetly in Bill Crocker’s lap – heartbreaking & heartwarming at the same time. That exact moment when shameful awareness leads to painful confession – yeah, that moment – was all over his face. I could cry just thinking about it.
Then there’s the director’s process. She has it all beautifully sketched out in her mind. JBP comes in knowing what she wants to see but is also willing to take what each actor has to offer and incorporates it right into her vision. Rick Haylon brings a subtle power to the role of Wachtel for instance; he’s a quiet observant opponent that Nick Priscott – collected & cool – balances perfectly. And Julie notices that. All of a sudden, you can’t find one without the other. They are the “frick & frack” of the crew. But that was something she had to find first and now nurtures.
The best part is watching the small moments. There are truly no small parts in this show and no moment goes unnoticed or underdeveloped. One of my favorite unexpected discoveries happened this week: the stock market crash of ’29 is played out on stage from the vantage point of the “buyers & sellers,” but the moment Julie wants to focus on is a ten-second scene where we learn that one man has lost his house – this monumental realization will not go unnoticed. The truth of it is too close, too real to be passed over. Arthur Kitt Watson nails this moment so that amongst the noise of the ticker tape and shouting of the numbers, we get one glimpse into what it was like to feel that heartbreak. Sheer beauty.
Sounds rather intense doesn’t it? Enter Everson & Gorrell. Patrick Duffy and Mat Young are masters in their craft and it is a joy to see everyone break into uproarious laughter as the comedic duo shows us all how to find the funny in the awkward, the unexpected, even the mundane. They will find the funny – and this adds color and variety to any otherwise dramatic situation.
As Julie described, Sorkin has skillfully given us both the noise that comes from shuffling nearly all the bodies of this large cast on to the stage, and the stark calm that comes from much-needed intimate two-person interactions. Some of the best intimate moments come from the standoff between Farnsworth and Sarnoff, played by Eric Regan and Eric Dino, respectively. Theirs is edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff. Beautiful. Julie describes it as a tennis match, and as each actor settles into their role, they become stronger opponents in their game.
Right now it’s all a work in progress – with four weeks to go – it’s supposed to be a work in progress. Everyone is gradually stepping in and taking hold and it is exciting to watch. It’s a unique vantage point seeing both the director and the actors at work – seeing how different actors take direction, incorporate it, and how Julie masterfully reaches each one. There are moments of frustration, of confusion, and missteps, don’t get me wrong. But what I’m learning more than anything is that there is joy in getting it wrong (well when you’re in my seat that is; the actors may think differently). Because the journey to getting it right is what is the most fun to watch. To me, that is the appeal of being in the director’s chair: witnessing when they get it.
I’m sure they’re wondering what the heck it is I’m doing here, but I know exactly what I’ll be taking away from all of this. I don’t say much – but I catch everything.
Tune in for more.