12 Aug Monologues and Shopping For Clothes – Words of a Feather
For those of you who know me, you’re probably wondering what does this woman know about clothes? Isn’t she the one who lives in Costco’s best blue jeans and a 1991 “Fun in the Sun” tee? Now is as good a time as any for me to exit the closet, so to speak. I was sewing and designing clothes for my dolls and cats (to the great consternation of my parents) as soon as my mother handed me a needle, which was quite early on. She was an extraordinary seamstress, sewing by hand the tiniest and most intricate stitches.
I could probably spend my life, and sometimes it seems I have, watching classic movies from the 1930s. Who cares if the acting appears a tad overblown and the plot somewhat trite compared to today’s standards? I’m content to just gawk at those clothes! Will there, could there ever be another Edith Head, the William Shakespeare of Hollywood fashion? And that feather gown that Ginger Rogers danced in when “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” with Fred Astaire in “Top Hat.” Now there’s something worthwhile to die for, notwithstanding all those swirls and twirls and feathers flying off her having been uncharitably likened to a “chicken being attacked by a coyote.”
But I digress. In a recent acting class I was struggling with how to choose a suitable monologue. Regardless of how the teacher explained it, the concept would not take hold. Of course I heard and understood everything said – look for the emotional journey, the arc; make sure it ends in a different place from where it starts; keep it under 90 seconds so that if you run a little longer, you won’t be cut off – but try as I might, there was just no prize in that Cracker-Jack box. I scoured plays and scripts and was no closer to choosing a monologue than when I started. With so much unparalleled writing out there, so many beautiful words and characters and emotions – how could I choose? Then, as if someone had finally chanted the magic words, the trumpets blared and the heavens opened up. The information that had been flying around my brain like Ginger’s ostrich feathers settled at last, as did I on a suitable piece.
Looking for monologues is like shopping for clothes. Now just in case you’ve missed it, I don’t just like clothes, I’m head-over-heels in love with clothes. I’ve spent countless exhilarating afternoons wandering the aisles of Saks and Neiman Marcus, inhaling the hypnotic aromas of fine fabrics, running my fingers along the delicate handiwork, marveling at bold new patterns, awestruck by the undeniable honesty of timeless classic cuts. Everything about clothing, the stitching, fabric, drape, color, and embellishments entrances me – probably to the silent horror of the salespeople seeing those very same faded Costco jeans. And when it comes to those smaller exclusive boutiques, I prefer to give then a wide berth, as the salespeople are more likely to strike up a conversation and snub me or worse when I don’t buy.
I’m far safer at thrift stores where I can dig unfettered through miles of fabric, seeking that one triumph which eluded others. I forget, did I tell you about that exquisite Brooks Brothers tailored tweed jacket which I snared years ago for five bucks and wore proudly until it became threadbare? You understand, don’t you? Well, I know most of you do. I can’t possibly pay full price for clothing when I can get the same thing for mere coffee-money and a little effort, especially when that effort is such joyous pleasure.
While by now you know I love looking at and for clothes, scouring for that singular diamond in the dirt, I don’t want them all. Just as all clothes aren’t for me, so are monologues. The extraordinarily delicate silk dresses, impeccably stitched satin blouses and silk-lined skirts and jackets, new and vintage, are all wonderful. As much as I admire them, what in the world would I do with them all? As would be expected not all of them fit, some are the wrong cut or color for me, and others, well, there’s just no place to wear them. Clothes, like words, have to be suited not only to your body and personality, but to your situation.
I may run my fingers along the edge of an exotic belt and even covet it, but just as a belt is not a complete outfit, neither is a wonderful sentence or paragraph. It’s a component. The timeless beauty of Violetta’s aria at the end of La Traviata would be noticeably diminished were it not for the tapestry of the music that is the entire opera. Words of a great play or movie interweave and then crest into a heightened emotional pitch that allows us to experience one moment in time as all eternity, just as the color, cut, and drape transforms mere fabric into moving art, and solitary notes into a river of music.
Just as some clothes are more appropriate for women coming from a different culture or having a lifestyle different from mine, so are some monologues. As surely as I at 5’8″ and of Brazilian heritage, couldn’t carry off Cio-Cio-San from Madame Butterfly, even if I had the voice or could convincingly wear a kimono, similarly I couldn’t convincingly deliver those soulful passages spoken to Pearl by her Chinese-born mother Winnie Louie in “The Kitchen God’s Wife.”
Yet I still ache when I think of that super-high-end pale green leather Armani masterpiece I saw on eBay. It probably went south of $200, but it wasn’t for me. The dots just weren’t connected. The waist was cut too high and the color was…well, it would have washed me out. Nonetheless, it would be stunning on someone with a fairer complexion.
Age is another important suitability criterion. I weep when Juliet’s professes her love to Romeo, but the same words would be as ridiculous coming from someone of my age as would my wearing a miniskirt. Not only does the language need to flow as easily as a gown, poorly chosen words can cause you to stumble just as if the cut were wrong or the stilettos a size too small.
On the other hand, just as the clothes of some designers seem made for me – so are the words of some writers. The weighty emotions of Tennessee Williams’ mature heroines fit me well, as do the deep colors and fabrics of vintage Mary McFadden couture.
And while every woman needs that classic basic little black dress, how you accessorize and make it yours, depends on the occasion, your individual sense of style, and the impression you want to make. You can wear the same dress to church or a nightclub. Are you playing the nun, or the vamp?
But sometimes even the most classic outfits can become overused, as had that fabulous Brooks Brothers jacket I’d mentioned that eventually found its way into a trash bin. It had been over worn, much as “Streetcar” and “Wit,” and any number of pieces that are so wonderful that every woman wanted to be seen in them. Unless you’ve got some uniquely spectacular way to make them look new and fresh, avoid them like you would the big hair and soldier shoulders of the eighties.
Of course not everything has to be haute couture. Great pieces can and are found at Target. I so want to do Jules’ brilliant monologue in “Pulp Fiction” as he battles with himself over whether or not to pop a cap into someone with his forty-five. But sometimes even I am pragmatic, knowing it would probably be received only marginally better than attending Easter mass at St. Peter’s clad in an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow you-remember-the-rest bikini. No, not all monologues are good for all auditions, just as not all outfits are suitable for all occasions, no matter how much you love them.
As effortlessly as I can shop for clothes on eBay, I can read movie scripts, screenplays, books, and plays off the internet. All it takes is a willingness to search, explore, and imagine. Is the length and cut appropriate? Is the item age and gender appropriate? Is the color right? Is it my culture or heritage? Is the ensemble complete – does the entirety have enough nuance to make people to take notice? Does the monologue have a distinct emotional journey? Will it grab my intended target? If so, where? Does the whole compliment my assets and minimize those things people hopefully won’t notice? Does the piece highlight my ability to relay emotions that resonate deeply and naturally within me, or does it merely make me look fat?
Just as I said, finding a suitable monologue is a lot like shopping for a suit of clothes. The bottom line is you can’t fudge the bottom line. It’s got to fit well!
Now lest you’ve been lulled into thinking that I’m a forgiving and easy-going woman, you should know I’m still looking for that… nice lady, who pipped me at the eBay post for that gorgeous $3,000 Emanuel Ungaro jacket. A hundred bucks! Can you believe it? I’d recognize that garment anywhere, anytime, so she would be well advised never ever to wear it out!