Better Sex with Strangers :: ’Hello Again’
"Awkward," she says. "This is so awkward." And she laughs demurely. "I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m an innocent."
Aubin Wise is standing in a chair above Jared Dixon awaiting instruction. It’s a blocking rehearsal of the musical "Hello Again," and though it’s not explicitly stated in the script she knows what she’s supposed to do next: Give Jared a handjob.
"You ready for this, Jared?" The end of the actress’ mouth turns up in a toying smile. Aubin has an extensive resume, and the shows she’s done haven’t all been "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "A Little Princess" -- she’s also done "Hair," "The Rocky Horror Show" and "The Libertine" -- so she’s probably had a little bit more experience with the staging of sexuality than she lets on at this moment. Still, she plays the anticipation of the moment to perfection. "Jared came prepared," she announces.
"Oh?" This bit of information intrigues the choreographer, Stephen Ursprung, but he’s careful not to sound too interested. Everyone in the room wants to know what Aubin is talking about, but no one want to appear too eager to ask. We all pretend we’re not interested in the subject we’re all completely focused on: The man in the chair.
The floors of the stage in the Davis Square Theatre have been marked with tape to set the playing space for this early rehearsal. The actual show will take place at the Boston Center for the Arts where the line between the actors and audience won’t be so neatly delineated. The audience will sit with the actors in a bar; they will stand on the tables in front of us and speak to each other beside us, so close we can reach out and touch them. But this setting is more than just a bar; it’s a place that you go to get laid.
Knowing how to command an audience, Aubin waits, letting her last statement land in our minds, and allowing our eyes to move from Jared back to her, hungry for more information. Then she tosses out, "Today he’s actually wearing underwear."
If you’ve never seen Jared Dixon before, (I feel I can say without hyperbole) you are missing out on one of the true joys of life. I’ll never forget the way the audience gasped and hooted when Jared appeared with his shirt off in the musical "In the Heights."
Oh, grow up, I thought. Just because he’s a man doesn’t mean you can treat him as a sex object.
This is not, however, what I was thinking when he came into the rehearsal today and spoke to me. "What are you doing here?" he asked, removing his pullover and revealing a glimpse of his bare abdomen.
I swallowed hard, trying to make words come out. "Just observing," I said.
"This is the most traditional show I’ve done in a long time," he commented.
"Really?" I questioned. What in the world is traditional about Michael John LaChuisa’s musical adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s "La Ronde"? What in the world is formulaic about this daisy chain of sexual encounters and love affairs among ten characters in ten scenes? And what normal about a musical that takes place in each decade of the 20th Century, in a non-chronological order, allowing for a huge variety of musical styles.
Moreover how is this at all tradition for Jared? The two rolls Jared plays in the show are completely against his type. Jared is a sure bet for the young lover. His natural charm, deep brown eyes and velvety baritone melt you like bourbon on an August afternoon. (His scenes in "The Color Purple" were some of the most joyful and sexy of the play.) But the men Jared plays in "Hello Again" both philander in their long, unsatisfying marriages. They are manipulative, prudish, sexist, self-righteous and often downright smarmy.
"You mean this show is more traditional than ’A Little Princess’?" I ask.
Jared simply smiles that smile that makes you forget to think straight, and I’m reminded that even though "A Little Princess" is based on a 19th Century novel for little girls, the actor had his shirt off throughout almost that entire show (that’ll learn those little girls a thing or two). I guess when casting Jared, different standards are "traditional."
"You don’t usually wear underwear?" Stephen is the only one with the courage to ask Jared the question that we are all dying to know.
"Not usually," says Jared.
I have no idea if he’s kidding or not, playing along with Aubin intoxicating game. But I do know that the room is silent. I’ll put a bet on the image running through everyone’s mind.
What Would Have Been
In the scene they’re rehearsing, Aubin works to seduce Jared. He is a 1980s senator and she is his mistress, an actress. She wants to take the relationship to the next level and he want to end it.
The recitative dialogue follows Schnitzler’s psychologically complex play quite closely, often replicating fragments of his dialogue. The play was first produced in 1897, so of course it has none of the 20th Century allusions and playful pastische, which includes music ranging from a parody of German Opera to 1970s disco.
Director Michael Bello is painstakingly dissecting each moment of this sometimes-spoken, sometimes-sung dialogue with the couple. Every movement and each motivation is being explored for meaning and effectiveness.
"Let’s go from the top," says Michael.
At this point, Aubin speaks her dialogue. "You’re not going anywhere," her character says to Jared’s. "Look, I’ve arranged for this beautiful view."
"Sally..." Jared pulls away, but he can’t go far as they are in a restricted space.
"My senator doesn’t visit New York as much as he used to." Aubin commands the scene. You would expect no less from such a strong woman, but there’s something desperate and aching in her voice. "My senator doesn’t call as often as he used to..."
"So Aubin," says Michael stopping the scene for a moment. "I’m giving you this note solely off what you’re doing, because I love it so much. The first time you say ’my senator’ enjoy the word ’senator,’ and the second time, possess him with the word ’my.’"
Michael kneels on the floor looking up at the actors. He always remains close enough to hand them a prop or even physically move them. Stephen sits away from the action at this point in one of the house seats.
Michael and Stephen have an interesting relationship, simpatico with an edge. Each man seems to know his job, and they easily move back and forth between observing each other’s work and taking the reins. I’ve watched as Michael said to Stephen, "I need something here that’s... like... wild, random, spontaneous, completely controlled choreographic movement. Do you know what I mean?"
At this point Stephen sets his hand on the director’s shoulder and says with complete surety, "This is what I do."
"What would have been is sad..." Jared sings this line of dialogue, then pauses.
"Later on is..." Michael prompts.
"Later on is..." Jared stops, chuckles a little and says, "I don’t know what that means, honestly. ’What would have been is sad. Later on is sad.’"