Words on a stage

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Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
March 29, 2018 5:28 p.m.

Until a few months ago, I had never seen a “reading” of a play. In fact, if pressed, I might have had to confess that I had no idea how that worked. Two performances of readings have increased my knowledge and appreciation immensely. While I still prefer seeing plays enacted, there is much to be said for a reading.

The first play I saw as a reading was “The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” It was not only my first reading but I was not familiar with the play. I am a Neil Simon fan and the play exhibited his talent for humor. The lines are quite funny and the family interactions were ones you are used to seeing in a Simon play. I did find it a little sharper in its humor than other Simon productions I’ve seen.

The second reading was “Looking for Normal.” I had no idea what the play was about which lent an interesting perspective for me. The subject of the play is gender identity, a timely and controversial subject. It was a subject that could have turned off a lot of people but the reading somehow modified that reaction.

As different as these plays were, they both taught me something. When you have little or no actions, the words become key. Movement is minimal. When this happens, you realize how much movement tells us about a character. Emotions have to be conveyed by the tone of voice, and with the more experienced actors, facial expressions and body posture.

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When your voice is all you have to work with as an actor, I imagine it can be hard to manage at first though you wouldn’t have known it from both productions. The actors seemed to be comfortable with their roles and the limitations reading places on them.

The audience has to get used to the format as well. Since words are now foremost, I think the audience pays more attention to them. In “Looking for Normal,” dialogue includes fairly explicit descriptions of relevant anatomy. Somehow the words lose their ability to shock in a reading format.

One might think a reading is no different than sitting at home reading a script. But you are “hearing” words not just seeing them. It’s a middle ground that is neither a stage play or a script read at home. You realize that the voice can convey an enormous range of feelings all by itself.

Sinda Nichols’ Live Ink Theatre directed both productions with Ron Kurtz, who had a part in each one. Hats off to Sinda and Ron for giving us the chance to experience plays in a different way.

Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.

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