On crafting The Long Christmas Dinner


Being new to this acting lark and still riding high on the joy of participating in Calendar Girls, I am disposed to like anything that comes my way.‘What is next, after the undoubted triumph of ‘Allo ‘Allo?’ my friends and I asked, excitement dancing in our eyes.

‘Mamma Mia?’
‘No, too dancey.’
‘0ooh, how about Hamilton?’
‘Too big’.

The new play is…ahem…The Long Christmas Dinner by Thornton Wilder!
Imagine this dropping in to a room full of chatter and then silence, preceded by that record scratching noise.

What? Who? Why?
Well, a quick glance on Wikipedia reveals Wilder to be a ‘pivotal figure in the literary history of the twentieth century’. That is a heck of an accolade; if you also throw in composer, actor, teacher, essayist, then you get a vibe of a deep thinker.
I watched the TV adaptation, the one with David Soul and, plunk, fell head over heels for this play. Its so darn clever, with repetitive themes weaving in and out, creepy nurses, dark portals, invisible dining…what’s not to like?
As I write, the play is being painstakingly crafted, movement by movement, inflection by inflection. In this play, its less what we say, and more the observing of the flow, the cyclical motion of the play. Somehow we have to convincingly move through time, age in front of people’s eyes, depict birth, death, marriage in the blink of an eye.
I always imagined I was a dramatic actor. You know the type? Hand on brow, hand wringing at the drop of a hat, Oh woe is me? Turns out I am a bit of a Lucille Ball wannabee and I have found a couple of teeny moments that are hilarious and, I will hopefully be able to add my own comedic flourishes to my character.
And, one thing I haven’t mentioned is that the play is set in America and we are all going to be speaking our lines in a selection box of American accents. Mid West is what we are aiming for and our language coach (thanks Kim!) has spent time with us gently ironing out Bronx or deep South inflections. We have this perception that everyone in America sounds like they are from Gone with the Wind and its been hard to shake this. You be the judge. How did we do?
Its strange writing this in the here and now and knowing it will be read in the future. So, take my thoughts as a snapshot in time, a brief peek into a process. This quote seems very apt:
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Perhaps this is what Ermengarde is thinking as she exits the stage at the last, leaving…nothing.