Quotidian Theatre Company opens its 15th Anniversary Season with its first musical, James Joyce’s The Dead. Richard Nelson and Shawn Davey adapt Joyce’s story about a family Christmas party and marry the story with music that draws from Irish tradition. Malinda Markland returns to QTC with the production, and writes here about ‘playing The Maid’:
When Jack Sbarbori called to offer me the role of Lily, I accepted the part without hesitation. I had worked with Quotidian once before, playing Sophie Gluck in Tennessee Williams’ A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur. Despite the challenges that came with playing a perpetually spooked and weepy person who spoke mostly in German (yes, really), my Creve Coeur experience was overwhelmingly positive. The prospect of returning to Quotidian was thrilling. I just had one question.
“Who is Lily, again?”
“The maid,” Jack explained.
Oh! The maid! If the hit television phenomenon Downton Abbey had taught me anything, it’s that playing the maid could be absolutely awesome. True, O’Brien doesn’t get to wear the flashy costumes like the elegant Crawley sisters, but she does get to scheme and chain smoke and rock some severe curly-q front bangs. What could be better?
A few weeks later, the script for James Joyce’s The Dead arrived in the mail and I couldn’t wait to devour it. I was anxious to find out more about this “Lily” character. Who was she? What did she do? And, most importantly, how many lines did she have?
The answer? Just nine. Nine short lines.
Did I find this discouraging?
Diving into a role head first is always exciting for me, no matter how many lines I might have. I have played several parts over the years (some huge, some tiny) and, truly, unearthing the inner life of a character is one of my favorite things. The exhilaration of figuring out what makes a character tick is what keeps me coming back to acting time and time again.
In the case of Lily, very little information is actually given in the script, so I get to rely largely on my imagination to flesh her out during the rehearsal process. That’s where the merriment really begins.
I have uncovered some critical truths about Lily. Though she rarely speaks during the show, she is always around, helping, watching, and listening. She is a great observer. Lily probably knows more about “The Morkans and Friends” than just about anyone.
Lily also gets to sing (and dance!) in several musical numbers throughout the show, which is exciting. I have had a great time adding Lily’s voice to the mighty choir of James Joyce’s The Dead (belting out the refrain to “Parnell’s Plight” and singing/stomping along to the rollicking “Wake the Dead” are two of my/Lily’s personal favorites). Lily’s welcomed participation in the group numbers indicates that she is more than just the Morkans’ “help”… Lily is practically family!
I was pleased when Jack opted to remove a stage direction in which Lily clumsily drops dinnerware and gets scolded by Aunt Kate. In his words, “This production’s Lily would never clatter a dish.” He’s absolutely right. Lily is young, but she’s good at her job. This Christmas party is important to her and she would never make such a careless mistake! (That having been said, if I happen to accidentally drop something during the run of the show, my apologies in advance, Jack!)
Lily might not talk much, but I am doing my best to make her as real and interesting as possible. Though the role of Lily is small, I hope to do it justice.
Lines! Who needs ‘em?
(Plus, with less to memorize, I have more time to hone my Irish dance skills. As someone who once enthusiastically crashed into a rehearsal mirror during a dance audition for a production of The Music Man, I can use all the practice time I can get.)
Addendum: Both the mirror and the girl who crashed into it were fine. Eventually.)
Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of James Joyce’s The Dead runs Nov 16 – Dec 16. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, with one added 2pm performance on Saturday, Dec 15. All performances are held at The Writer’s Center: 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. There is ample parking across the street (free on weekends), and the theatre is just five blocks from the Bethesda Metro Station on the red line. Tickets are $30, or $25 for students or seniors, paid for at the door by cash or check, please. Call 301.816.1023 or email email@example.com to reserve.