Friday, March 11, 2011

Coming Clean: Pasternack polishes mask drama

It’s been more than a year since we last saw Brighina, the cheerful but obviously disoriented woman hanging out in the waiting room of a locked ward, trying to suss out the reason she’s there, on the ward, in Leslie Pasternack’s one-woman show “Clean Room,” and a lot has changed since the show ran at the Actors Studio in 2009.  The playwright and actress has gotten lots of feedback about her oddball character and, over the months, has reshaped Brighina — not the words she speaks or her "issues," exactly, but the ways she reveals herself:  her mask, costume, voice and physicality. Says Pasternack, who has a doctorate in theater history from the University of Texas and degree from the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre, these were the issues:

1) She's really close to me in lots of ways, but not me. Hard to play at times. Whereas Stupino, whose story is told in the second act,  is so purely other from me that I can hold him in my mind clearly.

2) Brighina relates dialogue in which she plays other people — so I have to take on other voices — all male — while still wearing her mask. I needed some crackerjack directorial input from NYC producer/director Cheryl King, artistic director of Stage Left Studios, to help me embody those moments of dialogue.

3) I couldn't get this girl's costume right because she's really, really 21st century — again, another case of being too close to see properly. So I went back to the text itself for ideas, broke a few arbitrary rules I had set myself (mask characters must have hats; don't wear clothes with lettering) and I think I have her costume now. My big worry is, you know how hoody zippers always wrinkle when you launder them? Because the fabric shrinks around the zipper? I hate that. 

And, while, most of the changes are in Brighina, old Stupino, the gentle janitor at the hospital, who takes pride in his work, as unpleasant and sometimes unsavory as it sometimes can be,  has also benefited from “more seasoning,” as Pasternack puts it.

The play premiered in 2009 at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., where Pasternack taught drama and theater history. She has since returned to New Hampshire. But it is not the first time Brighina and Stupina have been together. After making her Boston and Newburyport debuts, she did Manhattan Theater Resources and Estrogenia Sola Voce Festival in 2005. Stupina showed up in “Good at That,” at the same two venues the next year. And in 2007, Brighina and Stupino pieces were bookends to Newburyport actor Jeff Onore's dark, funny monologue, “A Busy Guy with a Lot of Problems” in a production at Stage Left called “Dig This.” Since returning to the area from the boonies of Pennsylvania academia, Pasternack has been doing some freelance directing and teaching the occasional theater workshop "while I sort out the other pieces." She just did a stint in the New Works Festival and word is that she’ll be directing Albee's  “The Goat” at the Actors Studio. “It's all tiny, little pieces, but they seem to form a pattern that's me,” she says.

As for Brighina and Stupino, their stories continue to grow. Pasternack still has not closed the book on them. She has a tentative draft for a third part.

The production is not recommended for children.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Leslie Pasternack stages “Clean Room,” her one-woman show,at 8 p.m. March 18 and 19, and at 3 p.m. March 20, at the Actors Studio. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors. The show is part of the Actors Studio’s “Women Making History Series.” The theater is located at  50 Water St., The Tannery, Mill #1. For more information, call  465.1229 or log onto newburyport acting. org.

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