The Drunker Artists
In a messy experiment in Method acting, four actors try to keep up with their characters’ alcohol intake at a rehearsal of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Moments before the start of a drunken rehearsal of the Hunger Artists’ production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—which opens this weekend—Jeremy Gable announces to his director, fellow cast members and a theater-critic-turned-fly-on-the-wall that he’s a lightweight.
That, my friends, is what we writers like to call “foreshadowing.”
One of the most caustic plays about a rotting relationship ever written, Edward Albee’s landmark 1962 work features two of literature’s most legendary boozers: George and Martha. So, it makes sense that a theater company mounting this boozefest would select one night in its rehearsal process to get its actors as tanked as the four characters get. The plan, in director Brey Ann Barrett’s mind, is to see if the actors connect more intimately with their characters by sharing their thirst for spirits.
Here’s what transpired.
7:34 p.m.: Rehearsal (basically a reading with limited blocking) begins in the living room of Barrett’s small Fullerton apartment.
7:38 p.m.: Martha (Katie Chidester) asks George (Mark Coyan) to pour her a drink—straight gin on the rocks. George pours himself a Cutty Sark, also straight on the rocks. Martha has a line: “You make me want to puke.”
7:45 p.m.: Honey (Lauren Kushin) and Nick (Jeremy Gable), the play’s other characters, show up. She is poured a brandy; he gets an Ancient Age bourbon.
7:46 p.m.: Martha starts working on her third gin as George gets his second Cutty Sark. Has anyone noticed that Coyan (who is doubling as bartender) is pouring himself much bigger portions?
8:03 p.m.: Fourth gin for Martha.
8:04 p.m.: No. 4 for George. (No, really, it’s right there in the script!)
8:09 p.m.: I stop charting the exact time of each drink. My hand is tired.
8:13 p.m.: Director Barrett casts a wary eye toward Gable (her husband), whose face is rose-hued.
8:25 p.m.: End of Act 1. Gable visits the restroom. On the way back to his seat on the floor, he kicks his glass, spilling ice onto the plush shag carpet.
8:44 p.m.: Act 2 begins. More drinks.
8:46 p.m.: Gable begins giggling. There’s nothing overtly funny happening in the script.
8:52 p.m.: The color in Gable’s face? Gone.
9:05 p.m.: Coyan, who has consumed the most, remains coherent but is growing ever quieter. Chidester, second in the drink parade, gets more animated the more her character beats down her husband, and she seems really into kissing Gable during a dance/seduction sequence.
9:25 p.m.: End of Act 2. Coyan boasts that he has emptied half his bottle (looks more like a third). Gable visits the bathroom.
9:30 p.m.: He’s still in there.
9:36 p.m.: Gable returns and announces he’s just vomited. Third act begins. No one drinks. It’s too late.
9:43 p.m.: Coyan is now slurring and speaking quietly into his hand. Kushin, who has the fewest lines (and drinks), exchanges amused looks with the director. Chidester is still roaring along. Gable seems more intent on keeping himself from melting into the carpet than delivering his lines.
9:49 p.m.: Coyan is hunched over, looking like he’s trying to blow himself. He’s also taking very long pauses before beginning each line and can barely be heard.
10 p.m.: Coyan has given a couple of meaty monologues—and he nails them word for word.
10:05 p.m.: With shorter lines now, Coyan returns to mumbling into his hand.
10:10 p.m.: Taking advantage of his character’s temporary absence from the play, Gable weaves out of the cramped living room and disappears down a short hallway.
10:17 p.m.: Chidester and Coyan have a brief flare-up about a cue line that Coyan says Chidester didn’t give him. She says she did. He says she didn’t. She reads it again. (She had.)
10:20 p.m.: Coyan is now inserting Gable’s name into every reference of George and Martha’s imaginary baby. Instead of “our baby died,” it’s “Shheremypuked.”
10:23 p.m.: Gable screams, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” from the bathroom. Apparently, it’s his line, but who knows?
10:24 p.m.: Coyan looks up from his script like a bleary-eyed toddler desperately in need of a juice box and a nap.
10:26 p.m.: Gable screams, “Jesus Christ!” Is it a line, or does he now have company in the bathroom?
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10:30 p.m.: Play over. Gable is still in the bathroom.
Later (let’s call it the morning after), Chidester reported that having a glass constantly in her hand made her feel closer to Martha. Barrett liked how subdued Coyan got the more he drank, since it’s imperative for the play that George is thoroughly cowed by the third act.
Gable, meanwhile, wasn’t as concerned with learning that much new about his character as with “trying not to get sick. And look how well that turned out.”
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Hunger Artists Theatre, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803; www.hungerartists.net. Opens Fri. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. Through April 11. $5-$18.