“Here are the plums for the journey.”

An excerpt from an interview with Olympia Dukakis – I absolutely adore this story – I learned a great lesson about tireless script analysis after reading this story the first time – NEVER stop asking questions when you read a script – NEVER assume ANYthing – watch how she analyses her script here:

Something very interesting happened the first time I did Paulina in The Sea Gull. She comes to them in the third act, and says, “Here are the plums for the journey.” And when I was researching it I thought, why is she giving him plums for the journey? It always seemed like she was a batty person! And then I began reading what it was like to go on a journey then. There was a long time on the train, it was very difficult, the food was very bad, people would get diarrhea, constipation. And when I read that I knew what it was! Bowel movements! So, I mean, I could play that! That’s something that’s a private thing, you don’t announce it to everyone. I mean, if I came up to you and you were going on a trip and I said, “Here’s some Ex-Lax,” I wouldn’t make a big announcement! I would try to be confidential about it. So that helped me with how the moment should be acted. But even then, I thought the audience doesn’t know this, they don’t know that that’s what plums are about. The line should be prunes! An audience will know prunes.

Now the word in the text is plums, there’s no getting around it, the specific literal translation was “plums”. At least that’s what I was told again and again by Kevin McCarthy. Because Kevin had been in that production with Mira Rostova, he considered himself the big Chekhov expert among us. He didn’t think it should be changed. As usual I didn’t go up to Nikos [Psacharopoulos] and say, “Listen, I think we should change this, blah blah blah.” I just did it one day in rehearsal. Nikos fell over with laughter! … Kevin was apoplectic. But I felt – it’s not the specific word, that’s true, but this is the spirit of it, this is what’s intended, this is what Chekhov wants the audience to know the woman is doing …

Nikos waited till Kevin had given me my scolding and left the room and then he came over and said, “Keep it in.”

Olympia Dukakis

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3 Responses to “Here are the plums for the journey.”

  1. John says:

    Even in the late 1980s I used to take fruit with me on the train over there. That and some black bread.

    I spent 10 hours in a toilet on a Soviet train hiding from a conductor once. I had a ticket, but I got on the train at an earlier station (with a second ticket for the difference) and the conductor had sold my second seat to someone else.

    You want to talk nastiness, the toilets on a Russian train are clsoe to the top of my list. I had to go deep in the wilds of Asia to find anything worse.

  2. tracey says:

    Sheila — I just love that …. the specificity of the analysis she did. I mean, I know she says it’s not the specific word, but she came to a place of such specificity of how it should be played. Even reading this, I feel I totally understand that moment, too.

    I’m not explaining this well.

    It’s like she’s had this perfect “Aha!” moment and she shares it with the audience. I think that’s so generous — if that doesn’t sound too stupid — SHARING your “Aha!”

    All right. I’m done rambling ….

    (Oh, but she’s just GREAT, isn’t she?)

  3. red says:

    I love that! So much of art is, I think, “sharing your A-ha” – hahahahaha

    I love it, too, because – as actors – and I’m sure you know this from your own experiences as an actress – all the analysis in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t latch onto something you can DO. The job is, after all, called “ACTOR” – not “ANALYZER” or “FEEL-er” … What can you DO? I love how she discovered this laxative moment … and knew: “Okay. I know how to do that!”

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