Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Drowned Lego

UPDATE: A new, final version of this project can be found HERE.  It's a little bigger, a little more accurate, and really, just better all around.  I highly recommend that you go check it out rather than stay here with this version, which now exists essentially as an archival curiosity.

Now that The Drowned Man has come to an end (or, if you're reading this in the first day or two after I post it, is about to come to an end), I'd like to share a little project I've been working on. If you do happen to be reading this before the end of the show, please be aware of this MASSIVE SPOILER warning. I will be revealing details of the entire set – so if there are areas you have not yet seen and would like to see fresh at the final show, take that into consideration before you read on.

Now, to business: shortly after my 13th trip to Temple Studios, on New Year's Eve 2013, I was struck by two completely distinct, yet ultimately complementary urges. The first was to track down some sort of record of the world that Punchdrunk had created within the walls of that old postal sorting building near Paddington Station. The second was to create something – some sort of tribute to the show - to go along with the wonderful fan art that was starting to crop up around that time. Satisfying the first urge proved fruitless - there were maps and a very small batch of of official photographs, but for the most part the only record of the space that I had access to was the one within my own skull (since then, the amount of reference material has ballooned greatly - but that's how it was at the time). The second urge proved equally problematic, in that I have essentially no innate skill or, for that matter, experience in field of graphic arts. I can barely paint, and my drawing skills are but a single step up from “stick figure.” I'm a halfway-decent photographer, but that wouldn't prove much use given that a) photography is not allowed at the show and b) I was half a world away from it anyway.

A few weeks later, a certain wildly successful animated film was released, which planted an idea in my head. A way for me to kill two birds with one stone. If there was no real record of the space, I would create my own. And if I had no capability to adequately create it from scratch, no matter – I would build it out of LEGO. Everyone can build things out of LEGO.

First Floor
The preliminary steps proved troublesome. I wanted to scale it to the minifigures, but minifig scale is a slippery devil. The figures themselves are roughly twice as wide as they should be, based on normal human proportions (or, arguably, half as tall as they should be). Would I scale it to their height or their width? Ultimately, I settled on something roughly approximating the width – with caveats. On these models, the width from the center of one stud to another stud represents one foot. Correspondingly, I settled on a height of seven bricks for nearly all parts of the model, which works out to just a smidge over 8 feet. I realize plenty of areas have higher ceilings than that, but I found it worked best to stick with a standard. Of course, using this scale, the minifigures themselves are only about 3.5-4 feet tall, so in many cases, I had to fudge the vertical scale, trying to split the difference between the true height of the objects in the room and the goal of making a world in which a minifig could conceivably be placed without looking absolutely ridiculous. Then there was the matter of the props and parts that existed as single pieces – telephone receivers, flowers, bottles, wine glasses, doors. . . the list goes on. I had no control over their scale, and just had to work them in as best I could.  The doors were especially frustrating. With the exception of the shop doors and the big wide ones that I used here and there, they're all way too short – but any time I had to choose between matching the horizontal scale and the vertical, I chose the horizontal..

Ground Floor
At this point, I was still vaguely thinking of actually building this – but a few calculations quickly put paid to that idea. At the scale I settled on, each floor would occupy a roughly 5x6 foot area, and would be composed of multiple thousands of pieces. The baseplates alone – that is to say, the surface on which to build, without any pieces of the actual model, would cost me around $300 for each floor! And of course, there was the matter of space – where would I put 120 square feet of LEGO? It was not only unfeasible - it was massively, insanely unfeasible. But then another option presented itself: LEGO Digital Designer. An official, free program from LEGO that was originally designed to allow people to create their own model virtually, then purchase the pieces direct from LEGO. It was the perfect solution – digital space is unlimited, and you can't beat a cost of “free.”

Top Floor
In the end, the model wound up being far from an exact replica, even beyond the height/width scale disconnect. Some degree of abstraction was required due to the medium – you just can't create tiny details at this scale. This is actually part of what made the project possible, by forcing me to treat it as a bit more of an “artist's interpretation” of the set. If I had the capability to replicate it more exactly, I never would have even attempted to do the whole thing, because I wouldn't feel comfortable with the results unless I was working off of a photo reference – in which case, what would be the point? Another thing that compromised the results a bit is the fact that I limited myself to working exclusively with pieces that actually exist – that is to say, I designed this so that it could actually be built, if someone had the time, money, and space to make it happen. This manifested itself largely in forcing me to use a limited color palatte, so that a lot of things are not perfectly matched (and again, the doors were the biggest culprits here). There's also no such thing as bricks that have different colors on different sides, so in cases where walls were painted differently on each side, I had to get creative – and, in some cases, just let it go.

I also got things flat-out wrong. Not for any particular reason, but just because my memory got jumbled or faded, or I never took a good look at certain things in the first place since I have a tendency to focus more heavily on the people within the show. I don't know, at the moment, what those things are (else I would fix them), but I know they're in there. Probably a lot of them. But that's okay – to me, at least, these spaces “feel” right, even when they're not quite there. I do intend to do some updating after visiting the show for its final week, and I'm happy to accept and incorporate any criticism or suggestions in the meantime.

I based the layout for this project largely off of the floor plans included in the public planning applications, as well as the maps drawn up by Aaron Jacob Jones on the spoiler group (which were, in turn, based on the floor plans). I estimated the scale using the official square footage measurements. All other details come from memory, from notes that I took during twelve subsequent shows, from the limited photographic and video documentation available online, and from a plethora of friends and fellow fans who have been incredibly helpful in describing rooms and answering questions for me. I'd like to thank Virna, Eugene, Fiona, Rebecca, Alexandra, Hannah, Sarah, Katy, Sally, Alexis (the king of set investigation), and a whole bunch of others I'm forgetting right now for helping me out with this. You guys are the best.

This was a massive project (over 33,000 LEGO pieces!), and the final documentation is equally massive – I've got more than 150 shots to share. As such, I'm going to split each floor out into its own post. Follow the links below to take a closer look.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A spin-off!

If you're here looking for anything relating to The Drowned Man or, in the future, any other similar things, I'd like to direct you here:

Shutters Open

I've written so much on the subject that it seems kind of strange to keep it all here, mixed in with old ramblings and the occasional bit of news, all decorated with a theme that doesn't really have any connection to it.  So I'm spinning all of that material off to its own home.  This blog will remain, in case I ever have anything else I feel like posting on it, but immersive theatre stuff can now be found at the tumblr above.  For instance, my final show recap, for the final show, #33, is already there.  And when I finally get the revised LEGO Temple Studios completed, that's where you'll find it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Time at Temple Studios, Part 32

Show #32

Saturday, July 5: 9 pm

Here we are, at the final normal performance of The Drowned Man. With only the finale remaining afterward, this would be my last chance to see the show in a pure form. Having been run through the emotional wringer at the early show, I stepped through the red shutters in a state of complete uncertainty. Had the earlier experience primed me for some sort of insane emotional collapse? Or was I, for lack of a better term, all cried out? And who was I going to follow, anyway? I had already done my farewell loops with nearly all of my most important characters, with only Romola and Drugstore Girl remaining. I ruled Romola out because none of the Romolas I had initially imprinted on, the ones who meant the most to me, were still playing the role.  Lily Ockwell and Sarah Sweeney are both very good, but I had seen them both fairly recently. Drugstore Girl was a possibility, though, but I tend to run very hot and cold on them. It very much depended on the casting.

Fortunately, the casting was in my favor – Sonya Cullingford was on as the Drugstore Girl, for one last time. That was my third loop figured out. But what to do until then? It took some excited waving and gesturing from a friend a little farther back in the queue to point out to me that, in reading the board, I had skipped over something very important: Marla Phelan would be playing Dolores. Marla was the one exception to the “revisit and say goodbye” strategy I was employing. She had been my favorite from Sleep No More, and I very much wanted to see her perform in The Drowned Man – but thus far, I had only been able to catch her Dust Witch, which. . . well, it's not the same as watching someone play Wendy or Dolores. Given the choice, I would have much preferred Wendy – but Dolores would certainly do. That's my first loop figured out. Second loop?

Ah, hell, second loop could work itself out when the time came. Having somehow managed to get into the first lift for the first time that week, I bounded out of the lift into an empty basement and legged it back up to the ground floor. I burst into the Ornate Bedroom to find an unusual sight – two (former) Sexy Witches lying in bed together, chatting quietly. That would be Marla/Dolores and Stephanie Nightingale as the PA. I watched them for a bit, slowly edging farther and farther away from the bed as I got more and more uncomfortable with my voyeuristic posturing. Finally the music changed and they rose, ready to begin the show in earnest. The PA departed almost immediately, while Dolores wandered over to the couch and hung out there, subtly posing and strutting, until Marshall (James Finnemore) arrived.

Thus began their sexy frolicking, the narrative equivalent to Mary and Dwayne's car dance. It definitely took on a different tone with a young Dolores – they seemed to be a bit more evenly matched, rather than the slightly predatory overtones that colored the scene when Dolores was played by an older actress. To be honest, it also made it feel a little more traditional – when Dolores is the new hot young thing in Marshall's life, it's easy to write off his motivations for the affair as just that, rather than the more nuanced explanations you tend to reach for with an older Dolores (star-struck admiration, being out of his depth in relation to her advances).

Before long the PA returned and interrupted things, preparing Dolores for the initiation. I followed her downstairs, and due to the direction we entered from, I wound up watching from the exact opposite side from my usual spot, looking back at Stanford from over Frankie's shoulder. It's kind of a funny coincidence that both times I wound up watching the scene from this side, it happened to be Adam Burton's Stanford who was on, whereas I've only ever seen Sam Booth's Stanford perform it from his perspective. Perhaps that helps to explain why I've always harbored a bit of sympathy for Sam's Stanford, while Adam's seems like more of a monster to me.

Following the initiation, Dolores was given the script for her new role as the Grandmother and stormed off. I have to admit, this scene gave me some pause – I wasn't really buying her crying, and coming this early, when I hadn't really gotten to see much of what she could do otherwise, it worried me somewhat (fortunately, things got much better very quickly). Amusing side note – when she crumpled up the script and dropped it down the stairwell, it joined a pile of similar scripts from the early show, which hadn't been cleaned up in between. I guess this wasn't really the first loop, after all.

Back upstairs, she changed into her red dress and moved out to the deserted Studio 4 to film a scene that never seemed to fully materialize. When I said things got much better very quickly, this is what I meant – she sold the hell out of this whole sequence, which was actually pretty fresh to me. Since it was a Dolores solo scene, I hadn't caught it since my first show. With her slightly softer, slightly higher voice than the others, she seemed that much smaller and more alone as the scene wore on and she began calling out for Stanford, or anyone really, to reach out to her. Then she began her ascent to the Doctor's office, which was absolutely harrowing. Stumbling and spinning, her eyes searching vainly in every dark corner for someone to help her, Dolores kept trying to recite her lines, clinging to them like a rope thrown from shore, each time failing to reach the end. As we climbed the stairs, the words fell apart in her mouth, and the dialogue slipped further and further into incoherence – until the final stretch, running down the hallway past Studio 5, she was reduced to a horrifying, wordless shriek. Somehow, in the middle of all that, I actually started feeling some sympathy for her – so full credit to Marla for managing that.

My sympathy didn't last long – soon she'd received her magic injection from the Doctor (Sam Booth) and was restored to he former self: Dolores Grey, eminently watchable but fuly unlikeable. Incidentally, they christened her rejuvenation with a deep, passionate kiss, well beyond anything I'd seen other Doloreses and Doctors do. I don't know if it's a Marla thing, or Sam thing, or something about the two of them together, but when I think about it alongside Sam's Stanford Frisky Corridors (in comparison to Adam's), I do feel a bit of amusement at how these sorts of things seem to keep working their way into his loops.

The next stop was the orgy, which I finally managed to stop getting emotional about – it's the orgy, no more, no less. Once most of the characters had departed, I followed Dolores into the Anteroom, where Alice (Pascale Burgess) transformed her into the Grandmother. This was another instance where Marla's strengths really shined through – her physical transformation, the posture, the breathing, the movement, was absolutely stunning. If you'd walked in at that moment, you'd never have guessed who was under the mask and coat.

She worked her way back up to the bedroom, where the PA ultimately strangled her, tearing the mask off. Here's a moment where having such a young Dolores was a tremendous asset – when that mask came off and I saw her face emerge, it actually shocked me, even though I had watched that face disappear under the latex only a few minutes prior.

After her usual start-of-day banter with the PA, Dolores headed off for some “filming” in Studio 2, which really meant playing around with Frankie and Marshall. It's funny, after nearly ten months since I had last seen this scene, there I was, catching it for the second time in the same night. When it rains, it pours. Watching this entire sequence of scenes – the trio outside the caravan, the birthday party, and the “date” in Studio 4 – was very interesting to me. This was the very first time I had seen it as someone who had any idea what was going on (the last time I saw it was, again, my very first loop at my very first show), and I suddenly realized just how much it had colored my perception of Marshall, even though I had forgotten most of the details. My reaction to him had been troubling me a little bit for some time now, but this provided an explanation.

You see, I always blamed him more for the affair than I blamed Mary for hers, even though in a very literal sense, he is much more innocent – the forces manipulating him are out in the open, clear for all to see, and when the moment of the final betrayal actually comes, he has literally been drugged out of his mind, against his will. Given that I also find Wendy more sympathetic than William (though I think there's a legitimate argument to be made that William, especially the Omar/Ygal versions, is much colder and crueler to Mary even pre-affair than any Wendy is to Marshall) and more sympathetic to Dolores than Dwayne (though I'm more sympathetic to most of the greatest villains of human history than I am to Dwayne), I was starting to wonder if I just subconsciously cut the women more slack than the men. And I didn't love that explanation.

But no! There's a good reason why I didn't sympathize as much with Marshall. It's all about that first sequence at the top of the loop (up until the gift-giving), well before any of the manipulation becomes overt. During that time, Mary has three separate encounters with Dwayne, each time pulling away. There's a progression to the seduction. The first time (the dance in the arcade with Faye), she even walks out at the end, despite a bit of infatuation, specifically because he starts to move on her. Marshall's seduction, on the other hand, is one continuous event – once he meets her, he hardly leaves her side, lingering for only a minute or two with Wendy before the birthday party, which barely delayed his entrance. There's no fight, no struggle, no resistance. He even wandered off with Dolores to “keep this party going” immediately after watching Wendy get humiliated, have a bit of a breakdown, and rush off to the Doctor's office. No points for Marshall on that one – manipulation or no manipulation, he clearly goes in with his eyes open.

Despite all that, I still managed to tear up ever so slightly during the Studio 4 dance with the two of them. If you divorce it from the context, it's an absolutely lovely, joyous scene, and that extended instrumental break in “Past, Present, and Future” pushes all of my buttons.

Soon Marshall was sent on his way, and Dolores and the PA had one more scene together, where I realized that my musings about the PA's jacket from two shows earlier were not entirely accurate. Even without the use of the jacket, the PA's appearance does change over the course of the loop – just more subtly. It's the pearls. Complaint (well, sort of complaint) nullified.

Then there was just one final scene for me to watch – Dolores's birthday meeting with Claude (Omar Gordon), the only other time in the loop where you might feel some sympathy for her, if only because Claude is so horrible here. Shortly after the scene started, a tall woman moved in and stood right in front of me, which. . . why? I'm sure I've stood in front of people before as well – there's no way around it in this sort of scenario where you're constantly moving and reshuffling, but to walk up to an already stable and situated block of audience and then stand right in front? Geez. Fortunately, I had a nice, short friend (Virna) sharing the loop with me, and I was able to move behind her and have an unobstructed view. Then the scene was over and I was adrift, with no idea how to spend my partial second loop.

I decided to try the Seamstress (Annabeth Berkeley), who I had always liked – but I found her locked away in a 1:1. So I moved next door to the medical suite in search of the Doctor, but when I got there I remembered that Sam's Doctor was on, and I had already done a loop with him just a few days prior. Also, he was absolutely rammed. At this point, I figured that time was too short to properly follow anyone anyway, since I wanted to pick up the Drugstore Girl at the hoedown. Instead, I set myself to wandering, taking one last quiet look at much of the set. I looped around Studio 5, then the Seamstress's workroom, and navigated through the clothing maze out into town. I made a full circuit of the town and trailer park, encountering shockingly few signs of life. Then I headed downstairs to the basement, home to several rooms that you can only ever find while exploring – no character ever sets foot in them. First up: the pitch black projector room, which gave me a bit of a start. After heading in, wandering to the back to check out the projector, and heading back toward the door, I suddenly became aware that there were at least a half-dozen other people in there with me, and they had been there the whole time. It was certainly unsettling.

Next I wandered down the angry hallway, stopping off at the plinth rooms and the red string room, then took a moment in the PA's office. Then it was up the staircase and out into Studio 4 again. I took the exit toward Studio 2, and there I paused for a bit longer, taking a seat on the bench and enjoying the silence in that vast, open space. Having a little time to think, I took note of the fact that, apparently, the early show had not keyed me up for crazy emotional breakdowns – I felt pretty even and calm, back to peacefully enjoying things. Part of me was a little disappointed – the early show had been such a satisfying experience. But on the other hand, how long can you continue in that state before it wears you down completely?

Eventually that little voice in the back of my head, the one that always tells me I'm going to be late to the scene I want to see and therefore always makes me early, started getting louder and louder, and I left for the Horse & Stars. There, Andy (Rob McNeil) was just starting his dance to 24 Hours – I was actually not that early after all. I settled in to enjoy his bar-strutting and rafters-swinging, then grabbed a spot at what I considered to be the front edge of where the audience should stand for the hoedown. Once again, my experience and judgment with regard to where we should stand for the big setpieces and everyone else's did not coincide, and another layer of rather tall people slipped in front of me just as the dance began. Example #74 of how I never seem to learn.

Ah, well.

As planned, I followed Drugstore Girl out of the hoedown, watching her hang out in the Saddlery and change shoes. As I noted last time I followed her (by that I mean Sonya as Drugstore Girl), I love that she doesn't seem to have a problem with Faye (Miranda Mac Letten) and Miguel's (Ed Warner) tryst, the way so many others seem to. She just shook her head, smiling, and said “Faye Greener.” Moments like that almost make me wonder if maybe she has a bit more understanding of things than some of the other characters – does she remember, deep down, seeing Faye pass by over and over again?

She also took a look at the note the Grocer (Jesse Kovarsky) gave her, which was the longest version I had yet seen: “We must be perfect or we will be trapped inside the gates forever. --your new friend.” Then she emerged into the arcade, had an awkward conversation with Tuttle (Edward Halsted) about the blood (or is it paint?) on his hands, ending in a surprisingly sincere sounding invitation to stop by for some lemonade, and returned to her drugstore. After settling in behind the counter for just a moment, she pulled out the first of several magic red lemonades – but there was a twist. After pouring it, she added a shot of vodka as well. I could already tell that this was going to be a fun loop.

Then Andy arrived, had his brief moment with her, and ran out, knocking over the postcard rack. Interestingly, he provided the third unique pronunciation of Drugstore Girls' name (Kade) that I had come across. He called her Kay-duh, rather than Kay-dee or (the correct one, in my estimation) Kah-duh. Drugstore Girl glared at the spilled cards for a moment, then leapt upon them, scooping them up into a pile as quickly as possible. I refer you back to my write-up of show 24 if you want to know exactly how much I love that she deals with them in that way (short version: a lot). She wasn't fast enough to prevent one of the white masks from jumping in and helping, though. I also wound up picking up an errant card and dropping it off back on the rack, unnoticed.

Normally I'm a “sit at the counter” sort of guy, but I felt like, having already done a loop with one of Sonya's characters earlier in the night, it might be prudent to hang back slightly and let others have a turn up there. So I wound up in the second row of masks, watching as the guy who sat front-and-center helped her sort the postcards. I seem to find myself oddly entranced by hand activity – there was that time with the Dust Witch's hand shadow, or when the Seamstress kept trying to make eye contact with my while creating a charm, but my eyes kept drifting down to where she was threading the loop. Thus, without realizing it, I kind of wound up staring at the postcards. When I realized that and shook myself out of it, I looked up to see that the Drugstore Girl was looking at me. She quickly turned her head, and I swear I saw a hint of a smirk, or a chuckle, pass her lips.  Because of course I was going to show up sooner or later.

Eventually she grabbed a jelly baby and offered it in one of two closed fists to the card sorter. Guess she was out of loaded coffee mugs (and in fact, she never did put out a jelly baby in a mug throughout the rest of the loop). He guessed wrong, but she gave it to him anyway. Then she pulled down her script page, the one given to her by the Grocer, and looked over it. I was surprised to see that several lines were underlined, and that an additional sentence had been added: “She skates over with lemonade.” How very odd. After a moment, she added yet another sentence: “Enter 'Grocer' with ANSWERS.” Then she looked up, and the Grocer walked in.

Oh my.

This was very, very exciting, on several levels. For one, it was a new development – she definitely had not done it back in May. Any time I stumble across some new example of the constantly evolving nature of the show, it pleases me very much. More importantly, though, it was a particularly fascinating change. It opened a whole new can of metatextual worms. By changing the script, was she causing things to happen? Was it some vestigial memory of previous loops slipping out, allowing her to predict events? It put me in mind of the excitement I felt the first time I ever saw the Grocer's script, and realized just how tenuous the town's connection to reality actually was.

But best of all, it made me love the Drugstore Girl even more. It made perfect sense that Sonya's version – the proactive, questioning one – would find a way to make the script work for her, or at least explore the possibility. She had taken the best part of her character, the thing I loved most about her, and brought it to a whole new level.

My excitement was short-lived, though – she wasn't really in control of anything, and the Grocer's answers would not prove to be helpful. They ran through the scripted scene (and I noticed that Sonya waited until she had the full instruction before throwing salt over her left shoulder – some of them jump the gun on that one). The Drugstore Girl made one last stab at defiance, stealing the script and triggering a brief scuffle, but the Grocer ultimately put an end to it with a desperate“We have to be perfect,” which somehow managed to be hyper-aggressive and gentle all at the same time. It was a very compelling argument – if he'd said it to me that way, I would have sat down at the table and started throwing salt over my shoulder as well, despite knowing where it would lead.

They acted out that final scene multiple times, the Grocer demanding “again” after each one, growing louder and more frantic each time, until finally he dragged Drugstore Girl to her feet and managed a bit of a smile. “Perfect,” he said, before sending her over to the phone, and this time I understood that she didn't take the script with her of her own accord – he gave it to her, not to provide answers, but to instruct her.

Once Drugstore Girl was dead(?), he dragged her out to the middle of the floor, an act which still turns my stomach every time. He left her with one final, chilling comment: “That was your greatest performance ever. You were perfect.”

Within a minute or two, Harry (James Traherne) arrived, and woke/resurrected Drugstore Girl. She stumbled over to the table and found the Grocer's note, staring at it as if she could almost remember what it meant – basically, the same thing she did with the lipstick glass last time I saw the scene. Then she grabbed some woman for the 1:1 and disappeared into the phone booth. I was, of course, committed to the loop, so I just pulled up a barstool and occupied myself with perusing a school composition book that I found on the counter. Before long, she returned – which was a relief, because there was not much of interest in that book. Let's just call it authentic and leave it at that.

Then, unexpectedly, Dwayne (Luke Murphy) pounded on the door, causing me to leap out of my seat.  Even in my other loops, he torments me.  Drugstore Girl watched him run off, then quickly poured a glass of lemonade (with vodka, of course). She took three straws and headed outside with it, where she found a rose on the ground. She stood by the rose, sipping lemonade and looking coquettishly at Dwayne while he danced, until Faye and Mary (Laure Bachelot) arrived. That was when the purpose of the three straws became clear, as the three women circled around and drank lemonade together. Faye's face – well, let's be fair, it was Miranda's face – when she realized that she was not just drinking lemonade was priceless.

Then Faye and Mary rushed off to dance with Dwayne, and Drugstore Girl returned to her Drugstore, rose in hand. She set it on the back counter, and I realized that all along, Dwayne had been delivering the roses that she takes to the finale. Such a tiny, useless realization, but still kind of cool.

After a moment, Tuttle came in, and she greeted him by asking if he was here for that lemonade. Which she invited him for during the previous loop – see? Retained memory! Given how the rest of the loop turned out, I'm really curious whether she always makes that comment or whether it was part of the mounting series of alterations that were being made for this final time through. I'll probably never know – the only other time I followed Sonya's Drugstore Girl, it was first loop, so Tuttle never came by.

He gave her one of those pinwheel wind toys in exchange, and I was then treated to the longest, most awkward stare down imaginable. He drank his lemonade. She stood on the other side of the counter, slowly blowing on the pinwheel. He continued drinking. She continued blowing. They both continued staring. He drank so slowly. She blew just as slowly. . . but with mounting concern and discomfort growing on her face. It was hilariously creepy. He finally finished drinking with several large, loud slurps at the end and she coughed out a relieved laugh. “Thirsty?” she asked.

I'm really not sure how either of them made it through the whole thing without breaking down in giggles.

Once Tuttle wandered off, Drugstore Girl started taking note of her customers. She has an interesting way of doing it – she looks up with a kind of awed shock. How did that person suddenly appear there? Then she retrieves the glass and the lemonade pitcher, setting them out like an offering in front of her, a friendly, but very timid and nervous smile on her face. It's as if she suddenly found a giant bear sitting at her counter, and she's trying to appease it so it will go away. She served first one lemonade, then another, then another (all with vodka), each time seeming to think she was finished, then seeing another customer as soon as she finished pouring. It just kept going – a good five or six at least. The mounting panic on her face was starting to get a little unsettling, so it was quite a relief when she finally came to me and offered my lemonade with a conspiratorial smile and an arched eyebrow instead.

We just barely had time to finish our drinks before Miguel and Andy burst into the room for the gris-gris creation scene. Like last time, I kept my eyes on Drugstore Girl the whole time, as I find her reactions to the whole thing utterly fascinating. I commented before that she seemed pretty excited and pleased by what she was seeing. At the time, I debated about whether to include that observation, because I wasn't entirely certain about it, but now I am – she is totally into watching Andy struggle with Miguel. If anything, Sonya has started playing that reaction up even more – the wide eyes, the quickening breath, the smile that briefly and repeatedly slipped across her face until she caught herself each time. . . there's nothing subtle about it. I'm not even sure what it means, whether it's something to do with Miguel or just the thrill of something crazy happening, but I love so much that there's this extra performance going on in the back of the room while everyone is watching Miguel and Andy run circles around each other.

Once Miguel disappeared into the phone booth (at which point I almost thought Drugstore Girl was going to break into applause, she seemed so delighted), we transitioned into the romantic phone booth dance, which was absolutely lovely. It, in turn, continued out into the street for a longer and more elaborate conclusion than I remember, with Andy hoisting her up into the air above his head, spinning and walking in circles for quite some time, swinging her up and down, but never actually putting her down. At one point he swung her in my direction and I was dead certain he was about to drop her right on top of me – but no. I have no idea how he managed it.

Eventually he did put her down and they headed in for Bulldog, which got me feeling a little sentimental again – the journey through the twisting corridors, just as the instrumental break of “I Love Marie” comes on is one of those little moments of magic that I love so much about the show – tiny, unimportant pieces of the story that stand out against the more important scenes purely by virtue of their sheer, possibly accidental perfection.

Bulldog itself was wonderful as always, and I was unreasonably thrilled to see the return of the teddy bear in the cabinet. Back in May I saw the scene during a loop with Sonya's Faye, and she brought a small teddy bear over to the kitchen cabinet when she and the Drugstore Girl popped up inside, making it dance along with their head bobs. It was the cutest thing ever. This time, she did one better, taking a much larger, gigantic, fat teddy bear to the cabinet and moving its legs and arms independently in a much more elaborate dance. It's such a little, screwball sort of thing – it lasted for maybe 15-30 seconds of the song, and I'll bet half of the people there didn't even notice it. But to me it was the best part of the whole number.

I neglected to mention this next part in my earlier write-ups, but two or three times during this batch of shows, I was privy to an interesting post-Bulldog interaction between Andrea (Fania Grigoriou) and Andy. As I understand it, this is specific to the pairing of Fania and Rob; no one else does it. They meet, shake hands, and introduce themselves at the exact same time (the “And-” portion of the name overlapping). Clearly uncomfortable and shaken, they then turn away and shrug off their jackets, again at the exact same time – and upon realizing that, quickly rush off. It's a very cool, kind of creepy acknowledgment of the mirrored structure of the show, and something I kind of wish we had more of.

Of course, this time around, I wasn't really paying much attention to that interaction. Instead, I was enjoying the jealous glare of the Drugstore Girl as she saw Andy introducing himself to hot young movie star Andrea Alden.

Once we got back into town, I was excited to pick up on yet another detail that I had never really registered – the exact circumstances of Drugstore Girl acquiring Andy's jacket. I'd seen her pick it up from the sandwich board sign outside the Drugstore before, and always assumed that Andy left it there for her deliberately, in that old-fashioned, “hey, you're my girl” sort of way. But the guilty look on Drugstore Girl's face and the way she hid it behind her back when he turned back to say goodbye tell the true tale.

Back inside the Drugstore we found Harry waiting. This was a treat – I remember following James Traherne's Harry back in May, loving his scene with Drugstore Girl, and thinking about how much better still it could have been if he was paired with Sonya's Drugstore Girl. Now, at the last possible opportunity, I got my wish – and it was everything I had hoped for, even though it didn't go quite the way it usually does. Instead of pulling out a bottle of vodka, she brought out two of them, causing Harry to do a bit of a double take. “What do you have all this alcohol for?” he asked.

Without missing a beat, she replied, “This is the good stuff and this is the bad stuff.”

Harry protested that he doesn't drink anymore, and she shrugged and said “Fine. I'm gonna have a bit of the good stuff.”

This of course led to Harry taking a drink with her, which he, as usual, proclaimed to be disgusting. Drugstore Girl's response was easily my favorite line of the night thus far:

“I know. You want some of the bad stuff?”

After another shot, Harry launched into his sales song, which Drugstore Girl was well-familiar with, even singing along with some of the lines – but he concluded with “yours for just. . . one dollar,” even as she sang “just two-fifty,” after which she laughed and told him he'd changed his pitch. I worry a bit that I'm assigning significance to something that is actually part of the standard script, but I swear that every other time, he finished the song out as normal, then adjusted his cost down to a dollar afterward. Either way, it was a sweet, charming exchange.

Then they moved into the dance behind the counter, which ended with Harry leaning in for a kiss. I've never actually seen exactly what happens to break the moment at the end of this scene before, as I've always been down at the other end of the counter, so it was nice to see it up close this time. Then, in another “This feels different and I hope it's not just my imagination” moment, he lingered by the counter, drawing out his apology. I feel like typically he rushes out pretty quickly, telling Drugstore Girl that she “looks just like her” while on the move. But this time, he stood his ground.

“No, it's not okay.  I'm an asshole, what can I say?  But in my defense, you look just like she used to look. Beautiful. You look beautiful. You are. . . beautiful.” It was incredibly awkward and incredibly lovely at the same time, and I started to realize that some of those early show feelings were returning – just a hint of a stinging in the eyes. Drugstore Girl was affected even more so – she had to stop to wipe away tears before calling out for him to come back.

He did not, of course, and we were left with just enough time for her to give out another vodka lemonade before the Grocer arrived to introduce himself. This time, I felt like her subsequent description of the interaction (“I was mean”) was a little more accurate, but she still couldn't help a brief, playful smile when he took the napkin holder from her, leaving a single napkin in her hand.

Once he returned with the script page, she was as concerned and fascinated by it as ever, which is to say, much more so than any other Drugstore Girl I've seen. She pored over it, underlining key descriptions, and finally wrote “she skates over with lemonade” before doing precisely that. And yes, the lemonade had vodka in it.

After dropping off the drink and inviting the Grocer to the hoedown, she skated out to the arcade and danced around with the Barman (Daniel Whiley), which was much more fluid and impressive than I remember from before – I think, oddly enough, this fully packed audience was actually better about staying out of their way than the audience at my not-sold-out 24th show. Afterward, we headed into the Horse & Stars for the hoedown. I didn't feel up to fighting the crowd, so I decided to watch from the curved end of the bar, for a different perspective. I settled onto a bar stool right at the top of the curve, only to be forcibly evicted by William (Ygal Jerome Tsur). Whoops. Where did he come from?

After the hoedown, we returned to the Saddlery – this was the point where my loop came full circle, but so close to the end, I was sticking around for the duration. Drugstore Girl's response to Faye and Miguel was different this time: she called out directly to Faye, saying “That's how you get. . . . “ something. I couldn't hear the last word. Laid? Happy? Pregnant? Herpes? Flowers? One last mystery of Temple Studios, I suppose.

After inviting Tuttle over for another lemonade (like me, she just doesn't learn), Drugstore Girl led us back into the Drugstore, where instead of cleaning up and handing out more lemonade, she grabbed stacks of coffee mugs and started setting them out on the counter – five or six of them, all told. Sadly, having decided to hang back ever-so-slightly again, I was not one of the lucky recipients, but at least I still got to watch. She poured vodka into each, then raised her mug, toasting to. . . well, that's a matter of debate. My recollection says “to all those bright, shining people out there in the dark.” Another recap I've read claims “beautiful people.” Then, of course, there's the Sunset Blvd. quote, to which this was surely a deliberate reference, which says “wonderful people.” But really, the exact wording doesn't matter – the sentiment was clear. A toast to all of us. It was a beautiful moment, made even more so by the simple aesthetic effect of her quiet whisper against the early bell-tones of “Avarice.”

She cleared the mugs, and for a moment, the Drugstore was quiet, and at peace. No one, Drugstore Girl included, wanted to break the moment. But then Andy arrived to do just that, panicking about William. When Drugstore Girl held him, trying to calm him down, they seemed to linger together a lot longer than usual, whispering things that none of us could hear. And then he was gone, spilling the postcards across the floor as usual.

Drugstore Girl attacked the postcards with her usual gusto, but instead of hauling them straight up to the counter, she kneeled over the pile, staring down - perhaps even crying over them. No one moved. Eventually, composed again, she returned to the counter and half-heartedly sorted one or two piles before pulling her script page down from the wall.

This is where things got very exciting.

She looked over the page, re-underlining things, and generally lost in thought. Then, she moved he pen to the bottom of the page, and began to write. But she didn't write “Enter 'Grocer' with ANSWERS.”

She wrote, “She runs to her new friend and they live happily ever after.”

My heart leapt into my throat and my heart began to race. Did I really just read what I thought I read? She looked up and smiled at all of us, and the sparkle in her eyes told me it was true. Whatever this was, wherever it would lead, it was actually happening.  Her previously scrawled stage directions may not have meant anything, but this time. . . this time she really was taking control.  She grabbed a rose and ran to the door, pausing just long enough to toss back an almost irrelevant “I quit.”

I chased her over to the Grocer's, where I couldn't get through the doorway and was just barely able to hear what was happening between the two of them inside.

“Let's run away,” she said. “Let's just go.”

They exchanged their roses, holding their heads together, repeatedly confirming their plans with mounting excitement, back and forth, until finally the Grocer looked to the sky and proclaimed, “This town ain't big enough for the both of us.”  He took her hand and led her out to the arcade, where they stood face to face, grinning like fools.

“We're gonna run away,” the Grocer said. “And we're never gonna look back. On the count of three. One.”

“Two.” she continued.

“THREE!” Suddenly they took off down the arcade like a rocket, laughing and screaming. Thanks to the very considerate countdown, I was right on their heels. Their elation washed over me in waves, and I couldn't help joining in the laughing and screaming, “no talking” rule be damned. We hit the back door to the studios and they just kept going, a whirling, twirling mass of smiling, whooping faces flashing in and out of the dark, battering through door after door until we reached the stairs.

I stuck close to them all the way down until we reached Studio 2, where they slowed and finally came to a stop at the edge of the stage.  It was slightly early for the murder; Wendy and Marshall were still fighting in front of the caravans. Drugstore Girl put her arm around the Grocer and I stood a bit behind them, not wanting to miss a second of what they were doing. This was so much better than any walkdown could ever have been. I remembered how excited I was by their third loop alternate ending the last time around, and marveled at how Sonya had for the second time managed to take one of the things I loved most about her Drugstore Girl loop and amplify it to dizzying new heights.

Then, a surprise – she turned to look at me, reached out with her other arm, and took my hand. I stepped forward and the three of us watched the scene play out, together. When Wendy and Marshall moved toward the murder mound, we followed: first the Grocer, then Drugstore Girl, then me. As we walked, I felt her hand slowly relax in mine and begin to slip away. It seemed to take ages, my arm extending forward, hers backwards, our fingers loosely intertwined until, finally, the very tips lost contact. She looked back at me the whole time until that final moment, when she finally turned away, fading into the darkness. It seemed to take several long minutes, but the distance we traveled would surely be covered in seconds. I caught back up to them at the mound, where amazingly, the crowd hadn't closed up behind them. Perhaps I had remained in step with them the whole way after all, and the vast gulf that opened up between us was in my head. There, I watched them watch the murder and throw their roses, together. When Stanford called wrap, Drugstore Girl finally released the Grocer and took my hand again. She led me over to a spot by the caravans, where she stopped and gave me a long, contemplative look. She dug into her apron and pulled out a marked up script page, pressing it into my hand. Then she kissed me and spoke into my ear one last time: “Goodbye, Johnny Guitar.”

That was it – those words were the final straw, unleashing a torrent of tears beyond even those from the early show. In fact, their very character was entirely different – not sad tears, not sentimental or nostalgic tears, not even tears spawned by overwhelming beauty. They were tears of simple, rapturous joy, unleashed when those three words brought everything else into focus.

The first time I heard her say them, at the end of the 1:1, they hit me like a ton of bricks. The three saddest words in all of The Drowned Man, especially the way she spoke. Quietly, resigned - not just sad, but desolate. She spent all of her life – or as much of it as we've been privy to, waiting for Johnny to come save her, to take her away, and having that possibility dangled in front of her and then snatched away just took everything out of her. Those words represented the death of an all-to-brief dream – goodbye to the thought that the moment, that Johnny himself, had finally arrived. 

This was different, though. The words were warm, loving, and, most importantly, confident. When she decided to run away with the Grocer, it was her defining moment. She would no longer wait for someone to save her, but rather take her destiny into her own hands. “Goodbye, Johnny Guitar,' in this context, is not a sad acceptance of reality, but a bold statement about her future. She said goodbye to me (as a proxy Johnny) because she didn't need me (him) anymore. Goodbye to fantasy and dreams, hello to life. The last few moments in Studio 2 flashed through my mind – standing hand in hand with her and the Grocer, the slow release of my fingers, this final statement – it was a transition. She was letting go.

With a beautiful, radiant smile on her face, she turned and disappeared into the crowd, dancing up to the stage. I watched her go with tears streaming down my face, yet I've never been happier. Somewhere at the far end of the room, I heard one or two people clapping along with the music. Overwhelmed with joy, I joined in, stomping and clapping to the beat with an intensity completely foreign to me. Soon everyone around me was taking part as well.  It was the loudest, most enthusiastic finale I've ever seen - I'm not even convinced the following night managed to top it.

Then a funny thing happened – I felt myself letting go as well. I've been making claims all along that this was the real last show, that the final show was just a bonus round, but I never really felt that way inside. I was trying to convince myself. Until that very moment, I wasn't ready for the end. But in using me to say goodbye to Johnny, Drugstore Girl – Sonya – had made it possible for me to say goodbye to The Drowned Man. I was still excited to see the final show. I was sure it would be fun, and wonderful, and exciting as always. But in my heart, it all came to an end that night.  In the ways that really matter, my time at Temple Studios concluded with “Goodbye, Johnny Guitar,” reclaimed and transformed into a declaration of hope and possibility, and with a final, enduring image. Drugstore Girl, tucked in between the others in the final lineup, dancing hand in hand with the Grocer: alive, free, and, finally, perfect.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Time at Temple Studios, Part 31

Show #31

Saturday, July 5: 5 pm

The endgame was well underway. This Saturday double marked the final night of The Drowned Man. Not technically, of course – there was still the finale itself. But with rumors of extended endings and cast swapping, not to mention the hordes of emotional fans that would be descending on the site, there was no telling what it would be like. This was the final night for the show as we had known and loved it. At the very least, that's the way I was treating it.

As such, I was firmly in “revisiting” mode (with allowance made for a single specific exception, if the opportunity arose - more on that in my next write up). As they say, every story reaches a point where it has to stop expanding and start contracting. There were still so many loops, specific character combinations, that I had never done. Even some characters that I had never followed properly (Sorry Marshall, Barman, and Gatekeeper). But it was too late. If I kept chasing them, I was sure to regret it. It was time to start saying goodbye.

When I got to the board, I second-guessed my philosophy a bit. Laure Bachelot was playing Lila. I had always loved her Mary, and never got around to following her as anyone else. Her sand dance with Miguel several shows back was exquisite. I wanted very much to do a loop with her – but I stuck to my guns. Contract. Say goodbye.

I wound up with three people on my list. Kirsty Arnold's Andrea, Sonya Cullingford's Faye, and Sam Booth's Stanford. All three represented key parts of my Drowned Man history, and all three would be playing those roles for the last “proper” time (that is, outside of the finale). I just couldn't figure out what order to do them in, nor which one to short-change – after all, there aren't actually three complete loops in a show.

Without really making a decision, I let my gut carry me out of the lift in the basement and rushed over to Stanford. Enough waffling, time to act. Unfortunately, in a classic example of how I Just. Don't. Learn., he disappeared into his 1:1 within fifteen seconds of my arrival. Why do I always show up right out of the lift, when I know this is exactly what's going to happen? I couldn't wait around. Not at this show, when time was so short. That's when an idea came to me – if I took off and picked up another character, did a complete loop with them, and returned, I should make it back just in time for Stanford to emerge for the initiation – my transit time would cover the time spent in the 1:1. Efficiency in action.

Enacting the plan, I headed upstairs – but I still didn't know which of the lovely ladies I should try to find first. It became a moot point when I unexpectedly ran into Andrea just outside of the stairs on the ground floor. She was walking to Studio 3, fan in her hands and fans at her heels. I briefly thought about following her and trying for the 2:1, but I'd already had it with her once, and I'd most likely just wind up back in the same position, waiting for my character to emerge.

So then: that left only one option. Back to the stairs, I headed upstairs to town, where Faye would be waiting. I felt kind of strange about following her for the first loop – as I've mentioned many times before, Faye, to me, is a third-loop kind of girl. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Emerging into the hallway near Romola's shrine, I peeked into Studio 5 and the Seamstress's workroom, just to make sure she wasn't there – I was still slightly unsure of the timing. Since she was gone, I had to assume she'd be out in the arcade, probably watching Dwayne and Mary dance on the car. I headed for the studio gates, but halfway there, I realized I was going the long way and took the back door into the cinema instead. Emerging into the lobby, I saw her straight ahead of me, standing in a pool of light, staring a the car with the first hints of tears in her eyes. I gave the doors a push and rushed forward, smashing my face right into the glass.

You see, the cinema doors open inward.

Take two went considerably better, and I caught up to Faye just as she was heading into the motel. I made a conscious decision at this point to really take it easy during the loop, hanging back, not rushing, and taking shortcuts to scenes rather than sticking right with her for every single moment. I thought this might make dealing with the crowds a little better. It worked out better than I had hoped – I figured it would be a bit of a trade-off, where I would avoid frustration, but remain a little distant, and not as emotionally involved. In fact, quite the opposite turned out to be true. By relaxing and just letting things happen, rather than actively trying to get the best spot, I opened myself up to exactly the sort of emotional investment that I had been craving for the entire week. It snuck up on me, too – I watched her breakdown in the motel room, the dance in Dwayne's trailer, the desert dance, the hoedown, the dance through the arcade. . . they were all wonderful, and it felt like Sonya was really pouring everything into her performance – but I wasn't really investing any more deeply than, say, on Wednesday – or so I thought. But the whole time my heart was slowly crawling up into my throat, and by the time Miguel (Georges Hann) left her in the motel room, it had taken up permanent residence there, and my eyes refused to blink. Outside of that magical loop 3 in show 16 (and even then it's arguable), this is the most upset I had ever been at that scene. I wanted so badly for things to work out for Faye, and I dreaded the reset, knowing that the story would lack my beloved loop 3 ending.

Out at Dwayne's trailer, Faye was like an animal, slipping and sliding in the woodchips, clutching the door frame like it was the only thing keeping her from drowning. This scene has always felt just a bit like a preamble to the main event (Walking in the Sand) to me, rather than a significant piece in its own right – but this time, it was tearing me up inside. I swear, Sonya was giving her strongest performance of the run (my admittedly limited experience notwithstanding).

Then “Avarice” faded into “In the Still of the Night,” and she climbed to her feet. That was when I felt it. A shudder in my chest, a hitch in my breath, a burning in my eyes. Faye stumbled into the Horse and Stars and I followed, fighting to contain the mounting pressure inside. She took the stage, shouting her name as if it meant something, and I nearly lost it – but I held tight, shuddering and shaking, the rhythm of my breath abandoning all regularity. She began to sing, looking slowly around the room, locking eyes with anyone who would have her. Each time she came to me, it seemed like she lingered for an eternity – but I'm sure it just felt that way. She came to the quiet break (“remember. . . . “), and then the crescendo (“softly we'll meet with our lips”), and I was gone. As if on cue, right on the downbeat of the new verse, the floodgates opened and big, rolling, blubbery tears began pouring down my face. They didn't stop until after the reset.

Once could argue that I'm overly familiar with Faye's loop, but the next scene was relatively unfamiliar to me – I've only seen it two or three times over the past year. Even though I usually avoid it, I have to admit it's a really nice, touching scene – but then, I'm a sucker for Faye/Harry interactions. I mentioned before that I prefer James Traherne's Harry to Edward Halsted's broader, more stylized take – but actually, Edward's style really lends itself to scenes like this. While I'd probably rather follow James for a loop, I think Edward plays the better supporting character for Faye.

I also found a new contender for most heartbreaking line of dialogue: “Pop, I hate it here so much.” It's a simple, shallow statement – the sort of thing a kid would say on a boring family vacation – but the way she said it transformed it into something else entirely. There was such desperation behind it – a woman's pain voiced with a child's words. The tears that had begun to ebb surged anew.

One “hush little baby” later, Faye was drifting off to sleep. I felt a bit of panic as I watched her breathing slow and become more regular, and her face relax. In a few moments, she would be gone – the reset music would play and she would wake up as a new person, ready to start the day again, to go through the same ordeal. There were only seconds left – not nearly enough time to turn her story around, to make things just a little bit better. It was too late, and it felt horrible.

Once, somewhere back in the history of these write-ups, I said that Faye's story peters out at the reset. I clearly had no idea what I was talking about.

Moments later, the reset music kicked in and Faye awoke for her day. Harry returned, and managed to cheer both Faye and me up. I love this first scene between the two of them so much – there's so much love and warmth, it's really unlike anything else in the show. I just spent the whole time thinking about how much I loved all the little bits of it. I love the way Sonya calls him “Pop,” which I don't remember any other Fayes doing. I love the way Edward uses sheer gusto to power through some dicey singing. I love the funny voice Faye uses when singing along with him, and her response to his excitement that she's going to use Codfish Ball for the audition (“of course, it's the only one I know.”) Says so much about them, right there. And of course, “Today is the day! For Faye!” If it wasn't for this scene, I probably never would have stopped crying.

Next up, she dropped her dress off at the Seamstress's shop, a scene I'd long ago given up actually trying to get in to see, and then we were off to the arcade for the “I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya” dance. Clearly I was still struggling with my emotions even after the reset, because I found myself tearing up at the sight of what is, really, a fun, light-hearted number. The audition featured the most aggressive stomping I've yet seen from Sonya, and another new detail I hadn't ever picked up on before – the look of desperation and frustration on her face as she descended from the stage, clearly believing that she'd blown the audition through no fault of her own.

After her dance with the Barman (Ygal Jerome Tsur), I got to see him launch into a lengthy spiel about his upcoming fiesta, and how he would only give her the studio pass if she promised to come. This was new to me – in the past, the Barman typically insisted on a kiss, instead, and didn't mention the hoedown at all. It was an amusing bit, and nice to see an animated, chatty Barman. I felt a little bad that I never got around to spending much time with him, especially after so many of my friends raved and raved and went out of their way to follow him over and over (including a big group outing that very night). But at least I got a little taste of the Fiesta Barman.

Then it was time for Bulldog. I found my usual area to stand in, sacrificing my view of the bedroom in favor of the kitchen and locker room. As Stanford gave his instructions to Faye (“Miss Greener, this is your big shot, so make it count. Let me see those eyes twinkle.”), I found myself tearing up yet again. Faye's face in that moment, eyes to the sky, full of hope and promise, is the enduring, iconic image of Sonya's Faye for me, and has been ever since my first loop with her way back in September. When I think of her, that's the moment I see – which I guess explains why I got emotional about it. But then the moment passed, and the song started up, and it's just too much fun to cry through – so I didn't. I followed Faye out to the Seamstress's workroom, watched her delight as she found the new shoes and dress, and then, having come full circle, peeled off for the stairs when she headed back out to town. Those last bits had restored me to an even keel, emotionally speaking – at least temporarily. Time to return to Stanford.

As expected, I made it to the basement just in time for the initiation. Oddly, the room wasn't particularly crowded, and I was easily able to take my usual spot – because where else would I want to be? Like many of the scenes featuring several characters, I feel there's not much more I can say, as I've seen them so many times – but I will add that the confetti always surprises me, because I so often catch this scene in the first loop, when there is none. When Stanford handed out the part of the Grandmother to Dolores (Bryony Perkins), I slipped out to make sure I was in a good viewing position for his next scene with Romola (Sarah Sweeney).

This scene was an early favorite for me, when I first saw it near the start of my second show. While other scenes have since overtaken it in my esteem, I still felt a nostalgic pang, watching it play out for the final time. That's just the sort of sentimental mood I was in. I suppose you can guess what the end result of that was – waterworks, round two. As soon as the scratchy sounds of a record player started up, leading into “Where or When,” it all started up again. Twice in one night – I didn't think I had it in me.

The thing that really set me off, though, was Stanford's face as he danced. My first loop with Stanford, back and my third show, had left me with the impression of a man trying to achieve a good end through bad acts. He seemed guilty and regretful, especially with Romola, and not entirely under his own control. It struck me strongly enough to inspire a whole, extensive (and later debunked) theory about the “real story” of The Drowned Man, and Stanford's role as the hero in that story. Ever since then, as if mocking me, Sam's Stanford has gotten more and more nasty, controlling, and vicious in this scene. My impression of him as sympathetic, tragic hero was torn apart and stamped into the mud.

But not this time. There was no smug, evil sneer on his face as he danced – but rather a remorseful, almost shell-shocked stare, with tracess of a deeply buried panic. For the first time in many months, I saw glimmers of Stanford as I first knew him, and it broke my heart.

When it came time to leave for the rolling desk dance, I trailed behind. I wound up spending the dance tucked into a corner of the Temple Anteroom, half-watching and half-pulling myself together. Afterward, drunk off of orgy juice, Stanford headed into the Temple and began a little bit of a dance – much more of a dance than I remembered him doing before - and eventually collapsed. He gestured toward a white mask just to my side, but when the mask leaned in, another went with him. Then a third leaned in, then several more – he was surrounded. Instead of whispering in an ear, he addressed us all - “You are the camera. Record everything. Shutters open. Record, record, record” He looked around the room, locking eyes with as many people as possible and pointing at them, repeating “record.” Even me, standing several feet back from the ring around him. It felt so strange to have this moment displayed out in the open like that, shared amongst us all. On the one hand it was kind of nice, binding us all as a community. On the other, a bit sad - these were the end times, and there was no use for secrets anymore.

Then came the orgy, and Stanford's early exit via wheelchair. I had pulled back from the crowd early to make sure I could follow him out, and managed to get right behind him. We creeped slowly down the hallway, and god damn it, I started to tear up again. I love this walk, a nice, creepy moment of calm in the midst of all the late-loop chaos. When we emerged into the larger hallway near the stairs, I hung back, hoping to follow him into the frisky corridor. I stayed put as he directed so, so many people up the stairs after Wendy (Leslie Kraus) and Andrea (Kirsty Arnold), instructing them to “stay tight. Everyone stay tight. Stay tight. You – you'd better go wide. Everyone else, stay tight.” After what seemed like more than a hundred people had been funneled up to the ground floor, he took a white mask's hands, creating the barrier for Lila to smash through – and then started funneling people into George Buchanan's office after her. I remained stubbornly in my place, determined to make it to the frisky corridor, but he was having none of it – he grabbed my shoulder and physically forced me over to the office. Ah, well. At least it would give me a couple more minutes with Laure's Lila, since I wasn't going to be doing her loop.

Lila's Discovery went as usual, with a bit of a flub – real Stanford's line “a whatever it is” was a little late, and overlapped VO Stanford's “Good.” At the end, I didn't follow Stanford or Lila out of the room – it wasn't worth it to even attempt to be the one person who got to follow him, and given the state I was in, I didn't think I could handle a tearful corridor breakdown from Laure. Instead, I waited a moment as the crowd thinned out, and then headed to the temple to wait for Stanford's return. There, I was found myself lulled by the solitude and the quiet, ominous drone of the basement soundtrack, and didn't even notice Stanford's return until he set the postcard pedestal down a few feet behind me with a loud “thunk.”  He took a seat at the orgy table, and soon the Doctor (James Finnemore) arrived for their reset scene. It was stripped down a bit from the equivalent scene I had seen two nights earlier with Sam's Doctor and Adam Burton's Stanford – basically the same, but without that slick little mirrored dance. It seemed to end almost before it began, and I became acutely aware that we were now into the third and final loop. Soon, I would need to leave to find Andrea.

I stuck around for one more scene – I wanted to see Stanford do the crazy typing spasm at the desk in the photo room and select Wendy's creepy, eyeless photo. By the end of it, though, I was starting to get paranoid – I really, really wanted to catch Andrea's trailer dance. Really, really, really. And I couldn't remember exactly how early it would start. Third scene, I figured, or was it second?

You gotta prioritize. I had said my goodbye to Stanford, so best to move on. I slipped out of the room as he began his phone call, and headed up to the ground floor – or at least, in the direction of the ground floor. Before I could continue, I had to get past the PA (Stephanie Nightingale), who was leading her entourage toward the 2:2 room. I nearly bowled her over as I turned a corner, and she fixed me with a stare. Slowly, I inched my way around her, and she just kept turning to maintain eye contact. I was terrified that she was about to grab me. Funny, that – afraid of being chosen. Never thought that would happen. But I was a man with a mission. When I finally made it past her, I breathed an actual sigh of relief and headed upstairs.

When I got to Studio 2, I found that, true to form, I was actually really early. Marshall (Jesse Kovarsky), Dolores, and Frankie (Daniel Whiley) were cavorting in front of the caravans. I briefly considered trying to track down Andrea (presumably in Studio 4), but I decided against – she would be there soon enough, and this scene was essentially brand new material to me. I hadn't seen it since my first Dolores loop, all the way back at my very first show. The first loop of my first show, in fact. I had literally forgotten everything about it – even some of the music was completely unfamiliar.

After a few minutes, Andrea and Wendy walked in, arm in arm, announced by Frankie like the big damn stars they are. I've said it before – I love this particular pairing. Kirsty and Leslie make such a great match, looking almost more like sisters than friends. It was worth missing out on the last minute or two of their Studio 4 scene to catch that entrance from the front.

Soon everyone except for Andrea headed off to the birthday tent, and she hopped atop the caravans to dance. It was absolutely lovely, and cast an amazing, specific mood. It felt like evening in the late summer, like smoky campouts and the last moments in the fading light before everyone says goodbye forever. I could already tell this loop was going to be just as difficult as the others, as the tears sprung yet again to my eyes – but didn't release. Not yet.

Once Andrea came back down to earth, we headed up for her audition, and I used the trick I picked up from Faye's loop, cutting through the back door to get a good seat just behind Claude for her audition. The audition was a rousing success, and soon we were off to Bulldog. I hung back, watching from a distance, so that I could sneak back to the dressing area afterward. Having discovered that she and Dwayne have some actual dialogue there a couple of shows earlier, I wanted to be sure to catch it. The exchange was brief, but worth the trouble – Dwayne commented that they “made a good team,” and Andrea, ever cool and unflappable, simply smiled and said, “yeah, on camera it sure looks like it.” Zing.

The next stop was the dressing room, where Andrea changed into her costume for the magic trick. That was where I realized that the situation was not precisely as I had expected. I figured this was her final “proper” loop as Andrea, and that she'd be doing another round at the finale. But when we got to her dressing table, I saw that someone had written, “Andrea, I will miss you!” with a heart below the exclamation point in lipstick on the mirror. There was only one explanation for that – this wasn't the last proper loop. This was the last loop, period. In just a few short scenes, Kirsty's Andrea – the first character I ever had a moment of connection with, would be no more. Forever. Again, my vision blurred with those damn tears that suddenly refused to actually fall. I looked around, in a near-panic, wanting to grab everyone and shout “Do you see that?! Do you understand what's going on here?!” But of course, I couldn't.

Soon Conrad (Ben Whybrow) emerged and they proceeded to Studio 3. When I arrived, I found several of my friends already gathered around a table near the gazebo, ready to watch the magic trick, and I joined them. Just before starting, Conrad gave his usual “it's water” comment, referring to his drink, and set it at our table, telling my friend Alex to taste it. She ignored it at first, until someone else asked if she was going to taste it. She said that he's said that to her on many occasions, and that she'd never actually done it. After all, why would you? With a little bit of prompting, she finally gave in and took a sip, and her eyes went wide at the realization that it was most definitely not water. We all took turns tasting it, confirming the diagnosis, and thus began a little game, as Virna and Alex raced to finish off Conrad's gin before the end of the magic trick, passing the glass under the table and taking sips and gulps whenever he wasn't looking.

As for the magic trick itself: fun as always. It was nice to catch Kirsty's rendition one last time, as I always felt that Fania's version was missing something – namely, a punchline. The whole thing is a lead-up to Andrea's reappearance sans dress. Once said dress made its first appearance, poking out through a whole in the middle of the box, Conrad seemed to target it deliberately, making sure that each subsequent pole exited the box in roughly the same spot, pulling and tearing the beleaguered piece of fabric in every direction. By the time he was finished, that whole chunk of the front of the cardboard box was one massive, jagged hole. I guess that particular dress was never going to be used again anyway.

After Andrea emerged from the box, Lexie (Jo Bowis) announced ”The beautiful Andrea is about to go film on set in another country, so let's give it up for this beautiful girl!  We're gonna miss her!" confirming my realization from the mirror and inducing another round of almost-but-not-quite crying from me as the room exploded with thunderous applause for her. Most of my friends stuck around – after all, they were in the middle of a Studio 3 loop, but I slipped out quietly to continue on with Andrea. I didn't really feel like laughing and chatting and "Telephone" anyway.

After a brief pause in the dressing room, the next stop was Studio 5, for the Infidelity Ballet. I grabbed my usual spot, right in front of Andrea's stage. It's funny how rarely I've actually watched the Wendy/Frankie portion of this scene. With only a few, rare exceptions, no matter who I'm following, my eyes are on Andrea. Must be the red dress. As I stood there, she caught my eye for a second and I thought I saw a momentary flicker of. . . something. Recognition, perhaps? Surely not. It had been months since the last time I followed her. But there was some sort of acknowledgment in there – or at least, that's what I chose to see.

Unfortunately, my position, while great for watching Andrea dance, was not so ideal for the forced medication interaction. The Doctor positioned himself so that Andrea's back was to me, the Seamstress was behind her, also back to me, and both of them combined completely blocked my view of him. No faces visible, whatsoever. I was similarly stymied when leaving the Studio – I missed much of the excited giggling between Wendy and Andrea as they discussed the upcoming party while on the move, on account of getting stuck behind way too many people.

Leaving the dressing room, however, I managed to strategize myself back into a good position, and had an excellent vantage point for the whole journey to the Masonic Temple, complete with confident, dreamy, big-damn-movie-star strut. Once we got to the temple, I tried very hard to position myself in the proper “Andrea spot.” During my previous orgy, with Stanford, I had even taken note of exactly which light she stood under, to make sure that I didn't mess it up. Sadly, the scene was well underway by the time we got there, and very well attended by white masks. The best I could manage was several feet down. No orgy eyes for me.

But then, as the line dance took shape, Andrea's gaze slowly slipped down the crowd of people. Instead of looking at the person directly across from her, she started looking down the line, right at me. This was huge for me. When I mentioned earlier that she was the first character I ever had a moment of connection with, this is the moment I mean. In my first loop at my first show, while following Dolores, I wound up standing near Andrea for the line dance. And the look she gave me, locking eyes as the line advanced – I'll never forget it. Quite possibly the sexiest thing I've ever seen, and even after having seen Sleep No More repeatedly before that, that level of intense acknowledgment completely blew me away.  It was where I first started to fall in love with the show.

This time wasn't so sexy. I was far too emotional for that. Those same tears that had haunted me all loop were once again brimming in my eyes, as I realized I had come full circle, back to the very beginning.

As much as I love the pre-orgy line dance, I do find the orgy itself a little bit boring, so once everyone rushed the table, I moved out to the hallway, making sure I could follow Andrea and Wendy closely as they ran out of the room. Everything went according to plan, so this time I was able to listen to their conversation in the staircase - Andrea trying in vain to calm Wendy down, even as she struggled to understand her own role in Wendy's humiliation.

When we got to the dressing room, the two women embraced for a long, long time. They weren't just comforting each other, they were saying goodbye. I began to feel that gnawing panic in the back of my mind, knowing that we were nearly at the end of something I didn't want to let go of. Finally, they released each other and moved over to the dressing tables, where Wendy gave Andrea her watch. Then they parted, and Andrea headed for the kitchenette to get a glass of water.

Now, I have a bit of history with Andrea in this scene, particularly Kirsty's Andrea. For the longest time, I always wound up doing the same thing – I would follow her into the kitchenette, and step back out of the way while she paused at the counter to compose herself. Invariably, my “out of the way” spot was right in front of the cupboard she needed to get into. I think this happened four times in a row. I was determined not to let it happen again (even though, of course, she probably wouldn't remember any of that anyway), so I stayed out of the kitchenette entirely, watching from the other side of the counter instead. As she headed for the cabinet, I wondered briefly if the Fool would emerge to menace her – I hadn't seen the third loop version of the scene since he started hiding behind the door. He did not, thankfully. I do enjoy that addition to the loop, but the moment was all about Andrea, and I wanted it to stay that way.

My choice of viewing position turned out to be very fortuitous in two ways. First, it gave me a great look at “we live inside a dream,” scrawled on the back wall of the cabinet. I knew the words were in there, but in all this time, I don't believe I had ever actually seen them myself, always standing in the wrong spot. Second, and much more importantly, I had a front-row seat – literally inches away – as Andrea returned to the counter and looked up at Wendy's box in the rafters, realizing that her friend was gone. As she looked up, I saw a single, dark, mascara-stained tear rolling slowly down her right cheek. This was extraordinary. Kirsty has always played Andrea as very cool and reserved. She's not one to jump up and down screaming for you to stare at her tears. This is not to say she doesn't emote – just that it comes out in a different form, in her dance and movement. To see this single, beautiful black tear right where I least expected it was completely overwhelming, and my own tears surged forward again – but they didn't break.

She left the kitchenette and returned to the dressing tables to change back into her early-loop dress for the finale. One last costume change, because that's what Andrea does: she changes clothes. It's her thing. I used to find it a little awkward, but just this once it was warmly comforting. Then, she looked up, caught my eye, and took my hand.

Finally, the wave of tears that had been building all loop crested and began to pour out of me. That full circle I mentioned before was now even more complete. I walked down to the murder, hand in hand with Kirsty's Andrea, just as I had at the end of that very first show. I don't think I can fully explain just how much it meant to me to revisit that moment, for her final walkdown to bring me back to my very first. By the time we got to the mound I was properly sobbing, and as she held me during the murder, instead of squeezing me tighter at each stab of the scissors, she squeezed each time she felt my chest heaving.

And then, Wendy dropped Marshall down the hole, Stanford called “wrap,” and the room exploded with cheering. I felt Andrea's hands slipping away, dragging along my arms almost like a caress. I turned to see her slip away into the darkness. I'm not even sure where I wound up after that; I was mostly oblivious to the rest of the finale, and eventually stumbled into Studio 3 almost in a daze. I was completely unused to crying like that, so three hours of slipping in and out of such a state was nearly more than I could handle. It was the show I had been hoping for all week, the one that reminded me exactly what it was that makes The Drowned Man so special to me – its ability to make me feel, in ways that nothing else can. One for the books, with the most intensely emotional ending possible.

Or so I thought. With the late show still to come, the night would prove to hold one more surprise for me.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Time at Temple Studios, Part 30.

Show #30

Friday, July 4: 9 pm

I was really unsure how to start this show off. Still reeling from the massive metaphorical faceplant at the end of my previous show, I was kind of worried that the weekend shows, with their slightly different crowds, might just not work for me this time around. Could it be that the best days were behind me? Were my final shows doomed to disappoint? As I perused the cast board, I did my best to bury these thoughts. The more I let them consume me, the more likely I was to have a bad show. I couldn't allow that to happen.

In fact, there wasn't much for me to decide at that point. I already had an appointment to meet with friends in Studio 3 during the second loop, and then some of us were going to spend the final loop together, watching Fania Grigoriou's last “proper” PA loop. Proper in the sense that no one knew how the final show as going to be, or whether the loops would proceed as normal. This would be her last performance in the role during a normal show. Couldn't miss that.

So really, it was just the first loop I needed to sort out. It took me until I was halfway through the dark maze to settle on the answer: it was time to return to Kath Duggan's Lila. I found her alone in Studio 2, mid-dance in the trees. It was really quite amazing to catch this moment in isolation, and I briefly flashed back to the time, so long ago, when I saw Sophie Bortolussi's Wendy dance in the same trees under similar circumstances. There's just something magical about those first few lonely minutes of the show, when you can find yourself alone with a character in a vast, open space. There were precious few of those moments during this final week, so I savored every moment of it.

Soon the dance was over, and she headed over to the birthday tent to meet the Fool (Alistair Goldsmith). He was completely new to me, but I didn't really get to form much of an impression other than that he seemed much louder than the other Fools. But this wasn't really the best place to see what he's all about – it's probably my least favorite Fool scene. I much prefer to see the Fool flirting with Andrea, making drowning sounds, piecing together his map, sending Marshall to his fate, or anything else. Really, my favorite part of the scene is Lila's reactions to everything. I was about to add “especially when Kath is playing Lila,” but come to think of it, I've never seen another Lila in the birthday tent. Anyway, there's just something so sweet and almost child-like about the way she smiles at the Fool; it's very endearing.

Soon enough we were off to the basement, where Lila spent some time creating sound effects. It's a strange scene – nothing much happens, and yet it is entirely riveting. I used to feel like Lila disappeared between the birthday tent and the drowning recording, clearly not doing anything of importance. But now, the scene actually feels kind of incomplete if I come in with the Fool and miss all of her work beforehand.

Once the Fool was gone, I followed Lila to the orgy, which is really one of the hardest scenes for sticking with your character. Try as you might, you're going to watch whoever it is that winds up right in front of you for the line dance. And I certainly did try – but I still wound up split between Lila and the PA. That spot also wound up being a prime entry location – Dolores (Bryony Perkins), Claude (Omar Gordon), and (I think) one other person that I can't remember wound up pushing me out of the way to get into the room.

After the orgy, Lila stumbled out into a vomiting fit (well, retching and dry-heaving, anyway) in the hallway. Shakily, we headed toward the Buchanan office, outside of which Stanford (Sam Booth) just barely managed to get a white mask's arms up in time for Lila to burst through them. Close call – I didn't think he'd make it.

Much has been said about the subsequent scene in the reel-to-reel room, and I don't know if I have much to add – it was as it has always been, which was oddly comforting. That's probably not the way it should feel, but I guess that's the sort of thing you start to encounter after 30 shows. Once Stanford left the room, we started into new territory for me – last time I did the loop, I had to leave before the scene was over. Other than that, every single other time I'd been in the room, I left with Stanford.

Lila left almost immediately and broke down in the hallway, sobbing. I hadn't expected this – crying never felt like a very Lila-ish thing to happen. Her whole journey had always felt a little cold – like she was entranced, going through the motions and only interrupted by those brief moments of joy (which, due to the offset schedule of the show, were largely still to come). Granted, there was her retching episode just a bit earlier, but I always figured that was more of a physiological response, clearing the orgy juice from her system.

But then, I suppose that's the point. Confronted with the truth of her story up to now, she was hit by the entirety of it all. The horror, the fear, everything she should have felt up to that point but didn't really – all of it suddenly hit her at once. No wonder she cried. It was an incredibly key moment – and I think missing out on it is why I never quite felt the emotional connection to Lila that I had hoped to before. It was a simple thing, but it resonated across the entire loop.

Pulling herself together, Lila headed to the back room for her decontamination, which now felt even more like a reset – not just cleansing her physically, but erasing all that she had just learned. The Doctor (Ira Siobhan) added a new trick that wasn't part of the scene I saw with Doctor Booth – he worked a tray of powder into the process, spraying it over her with the air gun.

I wound up behind a large pack leaving the room, and couldn't actually see Lila at all. They seemed to be heading into the staircase, so I followed. I knew she was supposed to start her loop in the desert, so it made perfect sense that she would be heading upward. Of course, this particular staircase doesn't actually go all the way to the top floor, so everyone piled out into the town. Once out in the open, I realized that I seemed to be heading for Faye's motel room, and Lila was nowhere to be seen. Son of a bitch - I just lost her at reset again. Not much I could do about it, just head upstairs and wait for her to show up. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait too long – I had just enough time to fully circle the desert, making sure she wasn't there, before she emerged from the same staircase I had taken. Although really, it doesn't make any sense that I would beat her there at all.

She headed for the murder mound and pulled Miguel (Georges Hann) from the sand, then began to dance with him. Back in May, I was taken by just how beautiful this dance was, with Georges and Laure Bachelot, so I was excited to revisit it – but sadly, it didn't quite reach those heights this time, owing largely to the fact that there were just too many people around.  Lila and Miguel had to actually push their way through to get from pool of light to pool of light. Still a nice scene, though – my complaints exist only in light of knowing what it once was.

Once Miguel departed, we moved back downstairs through the Horse & Stars, then the back hallway, and finally out into town – a moment that took my breath away. Cutting through the saddlery had become such a habit that the only time I ever used that hallway anymore was following Miguel and Faye after the hoedown, when we were all in the thick of the action. I'd actually forgotten how effective that moment of emerging into the arcade was, like you've just stepped into another world. It may just be the most ingenious piece of set design in the entire show, with the hallway serving as a metaphorical rabbit hole. I had to take a moment just to bask in it, and missed most of Lila's scene with Tuttle as a result.

The next stop was the Buchanan house, where Harry (Edward Halsted) sold Lila a can of the world-famous Miracle Salve. I've never seen so many people packed into that living room before – when Harry collapsed and took a seat on the chair, there was no hope of watching the scene – he and Lila just became disembodied voices behind a sea of masks. Still, I was feeling quite a bit more relaxed at this show, and just wandered over to the bedroom, where I had a great view of Lila's subsequent telephone chat with Stanford. It's so strange watching it from her side, knowing he's right on the other side of the mirror, but unable to see him. Unnerving.

Pass in hand, Lila headed for the studio gates. I really like this dance – not all that much of a dance, really, but I enjoy the interactions between her and the Gatekeeper (Paul O'Shea). Somehow, even though he's harder on her than anyone else (other than Marshall, I suppose), she doesn't really get dragged down by him. I still remember the feeling of sand spraying off of her from the last time I saw it, which was unfortunately not replicated. The crowds surged in every time she or the Gatekeeper moved, so she wound up without enough room to really spin. Still, even somewhat compromised, it was quite nice.

Then we made it into the executive boardroom to find Alice (Pascale Burgess) waiting atop the table like some giant buzzard, ready to devour the fresh meat. Yes, I realize buzzards don't eat fresh meat, but she – and Lila really is – okay, not the best comparison. But you get the point. They danced on the Table, Lila listened to her creepy dictaphone (the kid's voice still drives me nuts, one of the few missteps I feel they made), and then it was off to Studio 2. Almost time to go.

I stuck around long enough to watch the entire tree dance one more time. Most of the crowd stayed behind Lila, but I circled back around to the stage side, so that the lights shined directly toward me and she was silhouetted in front of them. It's the only way to watch a Studio 2 tree dance – absolutely lovely. Finally, she headed for the birthday tent and I took off for Studio 3.

I found many of my friends already gathered and watching the magic trick, which was well underway – I was, for once, a little late. There were already eight or nine poles shoved into Andrea's box. The magic trick came to an end, and then it was time for the main event – Telephone Man. You see, during this song a certain someone almost always gets asked by Luna (Kathryn McGarr) where she would have it. This certain someone (Virna) had been fed a certain answer to that question (Vagina), and we were all gathered to see how it would go.

So of course, Luna decided not to ask her this time. She's a crafty one, she is. After Telephone Man, I got to see something completely new: instead of Delilah Jones, which in my very limited experience always followed Telephone Man, they launched into the Name Game. I kind of hate the song, actually – but Larry (Matthew Blake) and Luna managed to make it really fun. I have to admit, as much as I loved Pinky and Stevie, Larry and Luna absolutely own Studio 3. They've clearly been doing it forever, and know all the ins and outs. Old pros – and it's a joy to watch them work. I kind of regret not spending more time in Studio 3 with them. Kind of.

Also, there was absolutely no trace of the sinister overtones that Stevie and Pinky had – just goofy, boozy fun. Of course, that may be due to the fact that my primary experience with Stevie and Pinky was the 2:1, while my primary experience with Larry and Luna was. . . well, the Name Game.  Not exactly a reasonable comparison.

After the songs were done, I asked Virna when we needed to leave. She is the world's foremost PA expert, and was to be my guide through this final loop. The plan was to get to the basement and start with the orgy. She thought for a moment, got a weird look on her face, and said “now, actually.”

So we grabbed another friend who had planned on doing this loop and left Studio 3, heading down the hall to the. . . right. To the right? What? As we turned the corner, the corridor opened up wider, and I saw a large “Studio 3” printed on it, with an arrow pointing back the way we came. A few more steps and we came to the staircase. Unbelievable. I had just been led into a space that I had never been in before. I always assumed that if you turned right out of Studio 3, you hit backstage areas. And I always thought the ground floor exit from the staircase was locked. I was sure of it. I had tried the door. Hadn't I?

Perhaps that is just how strong my aversion to doing Studio 3 mid-show had been. I actually hallucinated obstacles to keep myself away.

As we emerged into the basement, the clack of the wood blocks was just audible. With a slight adjustment of pace, we were able to pass through the doors of the Masonic Temple at precisely the right moment, flinging them open Claude-style exactly on the downbeat of “The Pink Room.”

Again, it's hard to stick with your character in the orgy. This time I actually did intend to watch the PA, but we wound up much farther down the line, in Dolores/Claude land. Thus, when the line turned to the audience and they advanced on us, I was right in front of Dolores – and her stare down was absolutely terrifying. I don't know if it was the blank, drugged out expression or the crazy Norma Desmond-style makeup (or both), but we're definitely talking nightmare fodder.

After the orgy, we slipped out after the PA and were treated to a surprisingly low-key frisky corridor. This was followed, as usual, by the angry corridor, with a twist. I had seen the PA go into an angry fit before, raging at the injustice of having to go through it all one more time. I had not seen her break down after the fit, but that's exactly what happened. She leaned back against the wall and buried her face in her hands. It was extraordinary – I've never seen that kind of weakness or vulnerability from the PA before, especially not Fania's control-obsessed PA.

The breakdown left her no time to play around with lipstick in her office, so she cut straight through the side corridor that runs alongside it to meet Grandma Dolores. As we all rushed through said corridor, some asshole tripped over an unidentified object on the floor (a circuit box, maybe?) and only avoided face planting into the ground because there was a portion of wall jutting out right in front of him that he hit instead. Still managed to let out a giant yelp, totally breaking the mood.

Yeah, that asshole was me.

Fania threw in a little extra twist to her taunting of Dolores – once inside the stairwell, she shut the door and mocked her through the window, preventing anyone from following her directly. We caught up soon enough, though, and were treated to Fania's version of the reset, which I have gained new respect for. I had kind of written it off after seeing Stephanie Nightingale's reset, in which she strangles Dolores to death. After that, any other version seemed anti-climactic - but I shouldn't have been so hasty with my judgement. The PA chased Dolores up the snow pile very aggressively, poking her with the walking stick. Then, instead of strangling Dolores, she climbed up the pile above her, slipped her fingers under the mask, and flung it away with surprising grace. In the same motion, she stood up, folding her arms – the perfect image of poise. She had completely stolen the scene – it wasn't about resetting Dolores at all. It was about the PA regaining control, resetting herself - her own rebirth. The sight of her, standing tall and looking down on all of us, is not one that I'll soon forget.

Soon after we made our way to the basement, where she selected a white mask to dance in the dark. At this point most of the crowd dispersed, as you might expect. My friends took the opportunity for a bathroom break, while I pulled out my notepad and took a final few notes about the set. In the process, I had a bit of a moment: standing all alone in the Masonic Temple, examining the wall, I heard a woman's voice say “hey, Brian” very quietly – but no one was there. I mean, obviously I didn't hear it. Not really. But also, I did.

A few minutes later we were all reunited and the loop continued. There was a brief, low-key dance with the Doctor, then we returned to the office where the PA selected none other than Ygal Jerome Tsur (William/Barman) for the watch quest. It was during this bit that Virna introduced me to the “duh, use the back door” technique of getting in and out of the office in the midst of large crowds. Certainly made me feel pretty stupid for not thinking of it before.

Once the watch was safely delivered to Marshall (Jesse Kovarsky), and Dolores was changed into her black nightie, the PA headed off for the 1:1. I quickly realized it wasn't even worth trying, and remained in the bedroom. Virna gestured that she was going to get some water from Studio 3 while we waited, and I followed her – but when we passed by Studio 2, I changed my plan. Wendy (Leslie Ann Kraus) was outside the trailers, fighting with Marshall over the watch – which meant I was just in time to catch the small portion of her loop that I had missed last time. You can't pass up timing as perfect as that.

Once the fight concluded, she headed in the direction of the murder mound for her tree dance. Last time I had skipped the scene because it was second loop, and I only wanted to watch it right at the top of the show, when the crowds had not yet gathered. So of course, it made some sort of horrible, ironic sense that I would wind up watching it during the third loop on a sold out night instead. At any rate, I found a spot right at the edge of the stage, and actually had a pretty good view. It was a terrific dance – Leslie was a tiny bundle of energy, flying around at incredible speed. I stuck with her as she retrieved the scissors (which seemed to have been placed farther in the pool than the expected – she wound up soaking her sleeves trying to get them), and then as she hid them in the dressing room. Finally the PA showed back up to point her in the direction of Marshall's infidelity. Hero that I am, I tried to prevent Wendy from following her by accidentally standing in the doorway for too long.  I only realized what I'd done when I felt two tiny hands grab my waist from behind and slide me to the side - ah, the humiliation.  All the more reason to get back to my PA loop, I guess.

We took a quick trip down to the basement office, where she sucked the soul out of Punchdrunk Guru Felix Barrett to make her potion. Then right back up again to get some of Conrad's dropper drugs. Here is where Virna proved invaluable – she led me straight to Conrad's dressing room while the PA was taking a long route. We got there before her and settled into prime spots before the scene even started – and a good thing we did, too, because by this time there were so many people following the PA that most of them didn't even get into the room before Conrad (Adam Burton) locked the door. And even still, it was easily the most people I'd ever seen in there. Everyone knew this was an important one.

Next up was the seduction/drugging of Marshall, and the solo dance that precedes it. Watching the PA dance on her own up there, I was struck by a thought – whatever happened to the jacket? She used to wear a black jacket during the first part of the loop, and strip it off at the start of this scene. I kind of miss that – the loss of it was a sign that we were really getting into the thick of things. Plus, I just like how the characters' looks evolve over their loops, and without the jacket, the PA looks the same all the way through.

Then it was orgy time, and after that, Frisky Corridor time. The corridor felt very, very strange – the PA just stood there at first, not even looking Stanford in the eye. Then, when he told her that was it, they were finished, she just gave him a single, long, hard kiss. He gave her a celebratory twirl. It was the least frisky corridor ever, but also the most emotionally charged. When she said she needed a drink at the end, she really meant it.

We all returned to Stanford's dressing room, where she toasted “to The Drowned Man,” rather than “to Dolores.” We all shared the goblet of whiskey, and then she grabbed Felix for the walkdown, leaving the rest of us to follow.

I was definitely feeling better after this show than I was after the early, but still ever so slightly uneasy. I was happy to be there, and really enjoying what I was seeing – but the thing that sets The Drowned Man apart from all other things, for me, is the level of emotional involvement. And outside of a few moments, it wasn't really digging its claws into me as strongly as I hoped, or was used to. Was it too crowded? Had I finally seen so much that it was losing its power? Had I closed myself off, as a defense mechanism? Any of the above, all of the above, or perhaps something else. Whatever the reason, I was just about out of time to sort it out. So I was a little bit scared that somehow I'd messed everything up.

I was also an idiot. Because Saturday. . . . ah, Saturday. You'll see soon enough. Things always seem to have a magical way of working themselves out at Temple Studios.