Rehearsal Report #1
(Learn more about Ajax in Iraq)
By August Schulenburg
Yesterday, I was in the throws of a nasty cold, and miserable at work. I couldn't believe rehearsals for Ajax in Iraq were beginning and I was feeling so much like a wet dog.
Then rehearsals started, and can you guess how often I noticed feeling sick? Exactly once less than once. Sometimes, the only reminder needed of why we do this thing is doing it.
The first rehearsal did not feature the customary read-through. Because of actor and designer conflicts, I decided to abandon that tradition and try to rough block the play in the first week for a run through on Sunday. On the negative side, this means we don't have the base of sitting around the table and hearing the play once together, and I keenly felt that loss last night.
However, these artists were worth the conflicts, and with a play like this, seeing a rough shape to it within the first week is going to be invaluable.
We began with the Charles, Pisoni and Sergeant scene, and began discovering some really interesting dynamics between the three of them. Why does the Sergeant allow them to be so casual with him? How often does he pull that invitation back? Have Charles and Pisoni come to discuss what just happened in the women's tent? And how close does the Sergeant come to really spilling his secret? It's a short scene, but full of questions.
Ajax in Iraq is a play that frequently tosses aside naturalism to explore its themes and questions in a more theatrically visceral way. That's true for the next scene we worked on, Common Practice (I title all the scenes). It follows two unnamed soldiers we never meet again, (> and - in the script) dealing with the fall out of one of them going too far in an interrogation. The scene seems to emerge from Athena's boast to us that she can turn on cruelty within us as easily as flicking a switch, but the scene is more complex than that.
Today, Ellen and I had a great talk about how in control Athena is of the play's journey. I was particularly excited that she - as an immortal being - might present a scene to us with the intention it serve one purpose, and then miss the true human reality we experience. It's simply not available to her - she doesn't pick up that wavelength.
To that end, we moved the scene away from > clearly being a villain, and invested in the idea that he and - were close. That fraying friendship gave this surprisingly short scene a detailed richness, especially for characters we never meet again, and barely see in the darkness. Part of this is Ellen's writing, which conjure about two subtly distinct voices from those we've heard before; part was seeing Chinaza and Josh switch gears so well from their Sergeant/Charles dynamic.
Finally, we worked on the present day past of I'm Ashamed Of Myself, a scene that plays out in Iraq as well as Troy. This scene needed more time, and coming at the end of the play as it does, I felt again the challenge of working out of order this way. But we did lay some useful groundwork to exploring the dynamic between A.J. and Connie. Connie's need to understand the choices that A.J. makes in the war are a big part of what drives the play - the human equivalent to Athena's curiosity without empathy - and this scene is Connie's last chance to alter that fate. As with many Greek plays, we need to find a balance between inevitability and hope.
There's a lot more to write, but wouldn't you know, it's time for rehearsal. I'll try to post these as often as I can as the process progresses.