Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Late Quartet… a very very late quartet


Christopher Walken

Call time was 4:30 PM –they wrapped us at 5:AM the following morning. But the excruciating part was that they didn’t use most of us for the first 7 hours. We just sat in holding at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s lunch room area while the principals did their shtick in the theater section opposite the Egyptian papyrus drawings.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I met up with a few of my background-buddies and camped out in the back of the non-SAG area. There were not enough chairs for everyone so we switched sitting and standing at opportune intervals. At times the banter flowed easily, at other times we were just gawking at the well dressed people and commenting on their attributes. Some of the young women had no problem with slinking in and out of their evening wear in front of a hundred people while still wearing their street clothes to cover any overexposure. Women are so clever… they know how to entertain us guys!

We had brown-paper bagged lunches at 9:00 PM, while the SAG-people had a hot catered meal. The familiar foment of the non-SAG masses began with a disgruntled murmur. So much so that our PA had to make a speech about this food/room-apartheid not being a class-distinction but rather a “fact of acting-life”. Yet another instance of “acting strange”! (Please note that I do not hate SAG people –I hate the class separation. Also, to be fair -for a SAG-point of view, please read Jennie's comments at the end of this blog entry).

The irony in all this was that we were all supposed to be dressed as high-style/upper-class patrons of the art, observing the performance of a highly successful string quartet. The quartet on the stage was composed of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir. Yaron Zilberman was the director and Wallace Shawn had a part in the near-stage audience (the rest of us were far and fuzzy non-descript stage audiences).

Wally Shawn

But it was fun to watch the principals banter on the stage. Walken being the nuttiest with his usual “did my mind arrive yet” persona. A couple of giggles ensued when Hoffman tried too hard to play his viola and screeched a few sounds (none of them could really play –the music was all dubbed in the background). But the part that really irked me was that none of them showed any passion (didn’t even try to show how much the music was affecting them), in spite of their music coach… so where’s the acting!?. Mark Ivanir was the only one to pick up on how to move his fingers for a vibrato effect on his violin.

Mark Ivanir

Too bad their collective effort to show a top-class musical group in action, was really falling flat and it was obvious that none of them had any musical training. And Keener was constantly removing her shoes and rubbing her toes -even rolled down her stockings above her knees to the surprised guffaws of her fellow "musicians". Uptight with a bad fit, I’d guess.

Catherine Keener

The Takacs String Quartet (briefly referred to and badly mispronounced by Christopher Walken on stage) is most likely the group that this movie was modeled after. A short bio from their home page states: "The Takacs Quartet was formed in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest by Gabor Takács-Nagy, Károly Schranz, Gabor Ormai and András Fejér, while all four were students. It first received international attention in 1977, winning First Prize and the Critics’ Prize at the International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France. The Quartet also won the Gold Medal at the 1978 Portsmouth and Bordeaux Competitions and First Prizes at the Budapest International String Quartet Competition in 1978 and the Bratislava Competition in 1981. The Quartet made its North American debut tour in 1982. Violinist Edward Dusinberre joined the Quartet in 1993 and violist Roger Tapping in 1995. Violist Geraldine Walther replaced Mr. Tapping in 2005. In 2001 the Takács Quartet was awarded the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross of the Republic of Hungary." Memento mori: In 1994, Ormai learned that he had incurable cancer -he died in 1995 at age 40. For his part, Christopher Walken plays the elder member of the quartet, who has developed Parkinsons Disease and who consequently in the middle of their playing, stands up and announces that he can't keep up with his members -then following it with the introduction of a replacement cello player. A little more banter with the audience as he throws a kiss to all and walks off stage right. Bravo! (Take 5...6...7...)

By 3:30 AM everyone in the audience was keeling over with sleep –and when the director said we could break for 5 minutes… well, the groans were just inescapable. And they were followed by “We don’t need 5 minutes –we need to go home!”. Apparently the powers that be eventually relented and by 5:00 AM some of us were in the street at 5th Avenue and 84th Street, hailing cabs, including me.

I thought that I could get home by catching a cab to Penn Station and hopping on a late-night train. Unfortunately I had just missed the 4:54 AM and had to wait over an hour before the next train was leaving toward my home’s destination. Needless to say I didn’t get any sleep. But it felt good to be home, say hello to my wife –change my clothes and leave for work. And I know I said this before… but now I mean it: NO MORE OVERNIGHT SHOOTS! (Really...)