This is the time when I can really step back and play audience. I'm really good at feeling the "wrong" moments. I may not immediately know what's wrong, but I can tell if it doesn't feel right. I then analyze the moment and see what set off my alarm. It's usually a lapse in authenticity, an actor anticipating a surprise, a false reaction, an easy choice, an unmotivated cross. Being able to find those little problems and fix them is part of what makes complex shows work well.
I often notice during this part of the process small things in the text that I just passed over before. If something doesn't make complete sense to me, and the actor's performance isn't helping, I'll ask them – Why do you say that? What does that mean? Sometimes the actor has thought about it and has a good solid understanding of it. Sometimes the actor has done what I've done, passing over it to focus on the bigger, more important stuff.
The other night, Marshall came over to me and asked me why Collins was fired from MIT. First, I love that that mattered to him as an actor, having that piece of Collins' reality. But also, I had an impression of why Collins was fired, but I wasn't sure if it was just my assumption or if it was in the text. So we found it –
They expelled me for my theory of actual reality,
Which I'll soon impart
To the couch potatoes at New York University.
It's a bit vague, but it seems Collins was fired for teaching radical, subversive politics in the classroom. The joke for New Yorkers in the audience is that Collins is immediately hired by über-liberal New York University. That tells us more than I had thought about before. Collins is intensely political.
Last night, having dinner after a really great rehearsal, I asked Anna (Mimi) why she says a particular line when they revive her late in the show: "A leap of moooo..." Now, I know it's a reference back to Maureen's performance art piece. But why "a leap of moo"? Is Mimi only half-conscious? Is she just babbling? Even so, what's the point? I don't think it's just random – Larson didn't do that in this show.
So we talked about "Over the Moon."
We talked about the nursery rhyme it's based on, "Hey Diddle, Diddle"
Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the fiddle,
The Cow jumped over the moon.
The little Dog laughed,
To see such sport,
[originally, "To see such craft"]
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.
Then a little bulldog entered. His name, we have learned, was Benny. And although he once had principles, he abandoned them to live as a lap dog to a wealthy daughter of the revolution. "That's bull," he said. "Ever since the cat took up the fiddle, that cow's been jumpy. And the dish and spoon were evicted from the table and eloped. She's had trouble with her milk and that moon ever since. Maybe it's a female thing. Cause who'd want to leave Cyberland anyway? ... Walls ain't so bad. The dish and spoon for instance – they were down on their luck – knocked on my doghouse door.”
I said "Not in my backyard, utensils! Go back to China."
"The only way out is up," Elsie whispered. "A leap of faith. Still thirsty?" Parched. "Have some milk." I lowered myself beneath her swollen udder and sucked the sweetest milk I'd ever tasted. “Climb on board,” she said. As a harvest moon rose over Cyberland, we reared back and sprang into a gallop, leaping out of orbit!
I awoke singing, “Only thing to do is jump over the moon.”
So jumping over the moon -- taking that "leap of faith" – is how to escape from the oppression (the "walls") of enforced social conformity and mainstream morality.
And then, happily baked after a long day's night, it hit me.
That's the whole point of Maureen's piece – art as political activism. Maureen is protesting this lot (her performance space) being redeveloped, and how does she do it? "Moo with me!" She gets the crowd to moo. Mooing becomes an act of civil obedience. Remember what Joanne tells the gang at the Life Cafe? "The cops are sweeping the lot, but no one's leaving. They're just sitting there mooing!"
Mooing is fighting back.
And at the end of the show Mimi has to fight back on an existential level. She has to fight to keep existing. The more I think about it, the more I think the "moooo" is the sound of the exertion of Mimi fighting her way back, almost like a magic incantation or something...
Mooing is living. Surviving.
Mimi takes a leap of "moo." Instead of being passive, instead of letting life happen to her, she takes control of her destiny. She takes responsibility for her life. And with that act, she learns something important and her hero myth story can end. And maybe we've learned something too.
Come moo with us.
Long Live the Musical!