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Claudine Jones-Scene4 Magazine

Claudine Jones

She Married Her Boss: Claudette Colbert as the whip smart executive assistant to the president of a small company, who wants to marry the guy, but continue to work.

We ran across this movie a month ago or so and I like Colbert. Of course it's dated but I found it weirdly satisfying. The plot is fated to have a oops-we-ran-out-of-film ending, but up to that moment there are all kinds of sections where you're really not clear where this is going to go. Is she going to finally realize the guy is such a knucklehead she's better off without him? Or is she going to finally say enough already go get yourself a boyfriend? Because then they're actually married and yet they have not consummated, much less had a honeymoon. He is so much of a control freak he cannot have both, he cannot continue the going concern which is his business without his right hand person, as it were. And she wants to test this theory that she's crazy for the guy even though they never even kiss and she thinks she could eventually form a partnership with him which would include her going back to work. I would research this but I suspect back then the powers that be decided they just couldn't come up with a satisfactory ending so they went all Keystone Cops. Just silly. Which is a shame because they were actually on to something decades before equal pay, etcetera.

Born Yesterday: classic story of a blonde bombshell dumb as a box of rocks according to her boyfriend, but who finds her way to enlightenment.

I understand the original Broadway cast of this play had Paul Douglas but he didn't really want to do Harry Brock in the film because the part of Paul was going to get beefed up and played by Bill Holden. Well I just finished reading the play and I don't see it; I mean they do have some outdoor shots because they have the luxury of doing some location things in Washington DC like museums and such so Billie gets a chance to see the things she's not been exposed to. Big deal. And of course if you look on the online so called reviews of the film where people casually toss off Judy Holiday's performance oOo not as good as Solid Gold Cadillac. Well, they clearly are too young to remember the stuff we grew up on. There is a dark side to some of  old playhouse 90 kind of Paddy Chayefsky writing, but this one holds up. It's pretty smooth. Not so clunky until the end when it gets all preachy. Point is, they think  this is a haha funny play/movie. Just because Billie is particularly known for her comic timing and her screech 'Whaat??!' don't mean it's Marx Brothers. I noted a few people were particularly upset because Harry is very crass and loud, abusive, he slaps her around and there's very upsetting scene where she weeps, having just been forced to sign some more papers, but again this is not #me-too movement. This is some historical shit.

Angel Street: play from which the movie Gaslight emanated, wherein the beleaguered wife, whose husband is intent on robbing her while trying to drive her insane, successfully turns the tables on him.

My favorite story from this production forgive me if I already told this, but it's kind of cool. The guy who played the husband in that production had auditioned with several candidates for the part of the maid. One of those candidates who actually eventually got the part, came back after her reading and sat next to me out in the house. She leaned over and whispered to me damn he gave me a whisker burn! Of course the scene required him to kiss the maid, but he invariably got carried away and tortured them. So fast forward a little bit here, the cast has now been working our way through the script and we are dealing with some pretty dated stuff. The only really serious one was the cliched slap at the end when my character is a little hysterical and the inspector gives her one right across the kisser to bring her around. I objected to that and I said so. We had been working  on a pretty neat relationship between the Police Inspector and the wife. Dare I say it was even getting warm! So it just seemed really harsh for him to up and slap her like that. We just couldn't make it work. I got the thought the inspector could take a split-second to assess the situation and then firmly put both hands on the sides of her shoulders, straighten her up, look directly in her eyes and, going on live performance adrenaline of course, suddenly envelope her in a hug. The guy playing the inspector was having a hell of a time learning his lines, throughout the whole process but when it came time to take the relationship we had developed into something both honoring the script and coming full circle around all of the abuse he realized she had been suffering, it made perfect sense for us. He stepped up his game. He was my Champion for crying out loud.

Meanwhile that poor bastard playing my husband was being gaslighted by me I think. I had way more theater experience than he did. He would object strenuously to stuff during our blocking sessions. He would say to the director I can't work with her she's not playing to me. He saw it kind of as  black and white instead of an organic set of steps toward the finished product. I got so much fun out of subliminally undercutting him, maybe because it felt as though it would bring out his inner bastard Demon which would totally read. Anyway, if you read the play you note the wife gets her revenge. At the end, she's got him tied to a chair and going around the room waving an invisible imaginary razor in her hand, except  it's real and he knows  it's real. Man! One of the funnest moments I've ever had was when this guy—who's been such a royal pain through the whole time, up to and including me almost passing out on stage because he got carried away fake-choking me and pressed his thumbs into my larynx—gets to endure me threatening to cut his throat.

Taming of the Shrew: title says it all

The only chance I got to do any Shakespeare was in high school. We in the theatre department spent one crazy summer running all kinds of things through our young minds. Improvs and choreography and a group thing with a series of songs from shows—Hello Dolly, I think?—and somebody else did Kate, but I was Titania. My costume gossamer & a bizarre headdress made out of coat-hanger wire, tiny silver Christmas tree balls and bathed in glitter. My dad found it necessary to choose one line from my performance and make repeated fun of my attempt to sound classically trained. Nice. Fuck you, dad.

Guys and Dolls:  title half says it all

I was fresh out of doing Grand Hotel the musical when I auditioned for this show at the same theater. I was like a freaking sylph having spent the summer rehearsing and eating nothing but celery and water. And I was at the top of my game as far as ability to dance. I had gone through getting back on toe, and also taking yoga and ballet classes and went through the entire run without a single injury. Imagine my surprise when I come to find the director of Guys and Dolls, who had seen the show and knew me from other work, wasn't going to even give me a callback. Putz.  Well, I trotted Adelaide out anyway goddammit. Last time was prolly five years ago, along with two other songs in a little solo set on a choir program.

Flower Drum Song: collision of generations, men and women trying to find their way to relationships which don't involve the parents arranging a marriage.

Fascinating stuff digging into the history of this musical. One peripheral character in the original script actually sleeps with the drunken hero and then commits suicide from shame or something. I've always had a hate-on for 'I enjoy being a girl' but I do love me some Miyoshi Umeki. She does not disappoint.

Zorba the Greek Musical: a minor character sings of her exotic history of relationships with clients for whom she tailors her talents, with express desire of avoiding International conflict resulting in explosions.

I exposed myself to the dangers of singing with an accent on this song. It's great if you have good vocal technique, you can sell the song. But doing it with the kind of lame generic American delivery? Robs it. I must have done something right cuz I was immediately cast. Unfortunately we never did the show because we could not find a Zorba to save our butts.

Man of La Mancha: a woman describes her life in the only terms she can, a life of indescribable poverty, humiliation and abuse, ending with a plea to be left on her own, and not made into something else by a lunatic's fantasies.

Coincidentally I had just finished the run of Angel street, when the costumer who was going on to another production recommended  I audition for Dulcinea. She thought I'd be great. I wasn't even familiar with the musical so I did my research, I learned the song that is featured in the production. As soon as I read the lyrics I realize well who doesn't want to sing I am not Dulcinea, I'm only so and so the whore. Did not make it into this particular production, it was pretty clear  they had Precast the role, but I did audition again few years later. Man, that was a catastrophe. I've always considered myself a triple threat but the dance portion? They kicked my ass. I remember thinking to myself well crap I can't jump anymore I can't get more than 8 inches off the ground.

Sayonara: a secondary character, boxed in by tragic circumstances, silently gives her husband both the idea and consent for their double suicide.

This is when I fell in love with Miyoshi Umeki and gained huge respect for the ability to underplay.

Street Scene: American Opera, which highlights a single Street in a neighborhood, where a doomed young wife has an affair with the local milkman until her husband kills them both.

I got cast in this show and because of it had to turn down a reprisal of an original Opera I had been in. I'm not sorry about that, but I did learn a valuable lesson. Never push to sing over a full orchestra. The conductor gave it his best shot but even with a hired Orchestra, they didn't have the ability to contain their enthusiasm. He would give them all of the pianissimo body language he could muster, but they still got excited in live performance and it's a big score. They buried me. I remember rehearsing my big number early on in the process. I was off book before I even came to the first rehearsal on that song anyway. It was a good 5-6 minutes of Kurt Weill/Elmer Rice storytelling. I wanted to go deep, so we worked out a lot of blocking way down stage on the apron so I could direct some of the more detailed story write down into the audience. But the composer just had some big ideas that coulda used a bigger voice than mine. Plus I wasn't mic-ed.

Yet, a lot of things about that production were amazing just because of latitude given us. Pretty much the only direction I got was the guy comin' up on stage with me during a rehearsal to whisper in my ear 'they have to like her.' I even got to feature my freaking hair. When in the last scene, the wife has gone up to meet her lover unsuspecting it will be the last time, it occurred to me it would be way cool if  she was in the window up on the second level and knowing  she was going into the bedroom to meet him, took a moment to stand in that window and let her hair down in full light. At this point in my so-called career that hair was pretty damn spectacular. I had henna-ed it for years and it hung all the way down my back if I treated it right. (Of I could always get it under control if the role called for it; don't want to distract anybody unnecessarily.) Anyway in Street Scene it was kind of appropriate because when you see the final cast picture, there I am the only one with flaming red hair. Adulteress! Kind of stands out.

Just what I was going for.

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Claudine Jones has had a long career as an Actor/Singer/Dancer.
She writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2019 Claudine Jones
©2019 Publication Scene4 Magazine

 

 

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July 2019

Volume 20 Issue 2

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