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Claudine Jones
It’s an Additive—Not a Primary

October 2013

Well, I'm in it. I've started an online spat with a fellow thespian. She loves the current production of The Rainmaker at a theater where we've both worked; I specifically avoided attending it.  She said everybody should see it because 'it is as it should be'—not sure what that means—but even if it was as it shouldn't be, you couldn't drag me across the street to see the thing. So I said I couldn't even read it, much less see it, given a woman's present-day view & she said it would 'deny…the story' if I took that attitude. I responded that I would be perfectly happy to give it some respect if I thought it was warranted, but I don't. She replied that she her 'feminist side wasn't insulted by it one bit.'

I hesitated to play my ace: I did the play when I was 17. Hated it then; although I was too naïve to know why. 'Course it was fun to roll in the hay with a handsome guy—and boy, was our guy a spoonful! Woof. Yet that couldn't change the fundamental mistrust I experienced trying to bring my lines to life. There was no life; there couldn't be. It was DOA.  The men surrounding Lizzie (she is the only female in the cast) are uniformly caricature: one stock father, two stock brothers—one goofy, one serious—and one stock suitor minus even an iota of a sense of humor. Starbuck gets at least a bit of lightness & energy, but even he is put in an impossible situation: his entire claim to fame is bringing 'rain' (read 'hope'), we know he's a charlatan—has been from the get-go—and yet, *sigh* it has to rain at the end. Saw that coming. 

The reason I did the play in the first place was because I was unable to turn a part down under any circumstances; but as soon as I began working on it, I got a case of the paralytics.  I work from outside in, so I thought I had the body postures & what I would do with my hair figured out. No, it was accessing exactly what was going on with Lizzie that gave me the deadlies. My heart & mind refused, so I figured maybe I could just act. Good idea, except when you have a knuckle's worth of depth to go on, even acting becomes problematic.  I actually remember (this being 1966, after all, which is some time ago) that the scene with the Deputy Sheriff/Suitor, in which we had a dust-up over my (Lizzie's) apparent inability just to be herself, was taunting me from the page: it lay there like a dried soup-stain—no nutrients, only the promise long gone.

Maybe my problem, other than the playwright's post-war, get-Rosie-the Riveter-back-in-the-kitchen, start-some-babies mentality, is that I was living it.  My dad said his '57 Corvette was 'too powerful' for a female to drive, but my older brother got to take it out on dates as soon as he had his license. My allowance was commensurately lower because I could supposedly count on guys paying for me.  I was laughed at when I said I wanted to save my allowance in a bank.  I picked up the paper & the want-ads read 'Help Wanted: Men' & 'Help Wanted: Women'.

I had two kids before I finally got my driver license.  I read Marilyn French's The Women's Room & had my consciousness raised & did Alice Doesn't Day & taught myself Active Listening & bought my sons dolls.  By now we're in the mid-Seventies; I had clawed my way up from worrying over portraying an old maid in a stupid play, to worrying that I should have chosen to be an old maid in my precious life—of course we renamed it 'Ms.' to claim liberation, not lose a marriage certificate.

                 *                                                *                                              *

Having found my original Samuel French of the play & slept on it, this morning I have a new perspective: I still hate it.  There are a few more reasons that flesh out my opinion, less based on tactile memories, I think. One, if I may be forgiven, comes directly from the author, N. Richard Nash (born Nathan R. Nusbaum) of Philadelphia. While I thoroughly get changing your name in the show-biz world, I also get what it means to write to your own experience.  Half my being has been given over to the filtering of what is ostensibly Mid-West/Appalachian/Ozark language & sensibilities.  The side of my family that came from those areas bequeathed a pulsating consciousness of speech & attitudes to me & my brothers; we could not undo that in our lifetimes, only water it down from living in California. Our dad used to piss & moan about dialogue in Gunsmoke; 'nobody talks like that' he would say, when Festus came out with a folksy remark involving, say, raccoons & skillet-liquor, or pinecones & horse-droppings.  I remember one of my dad's home-grown Ozark jokes:

How long's it take a skeeter to pound puddin' down a rathole? O…I'd say…'bout as many flapjacks a possum take to shingle a doghouse.'

So, somehow it seemed when I was reading through Rainmaker, my FAKE alarm kept going off; it set my teeth on edge & yet all I can say is how I feel about it.  I don't really have any empirical evidence.  I would simply say that amongst all the things you learn to do as a human, it's likely that writing will not necessarily become your strong suit; it is however possible you may come to write well, or even be published; but at the end of the day, it's a lock that good writing comes from a voice that is authentic. Great writing takes a step beyond that.

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Like an orthopedic soprano, Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades. With her co-conspirator Jaz Bonhooley, she also has developed unique sound designs for local venues. She's also a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives

©2013 Claudine Jones
©2013 Publication Scene4 Magazine


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October 2013

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