Viewing Darien From My Post Road Window / Nicholas Troilo
The essence of it all
The other day an actor friend of mine, who now spends most of his time teaching, (he's 85) told a story about an early acting experience. Now this guy isn't a famous actor. And he's not famous by choice.
He made a decision mid-career to take only the roles that he found most challenging. He made a decision to work in theater rather then film. He made a decision to stay in New York and not do the Hollywood thing. And those decisions didn't give him "star" rank in the tabloids. They did, however, give him a rewarding career. And, incidentally, not that this has any relevance to his status as a star, his career decisions did provide him with a rather comfortable lifestyle.
The story my friend told was rather personal so I'm not going to repeat it here. But he made the point, (he was actually delivering a lecture I was attending) that what he took from that personal experience was "the essence" of the thing. And finding the essence of a thing is what is necessary for good acting. And then he added, that the reason there is so much bad acting today in film, television and theater is because actors don't get it.
I didn't quite get either but I thought about it all week. I finally, just the other day, got it.
Now there is a big difference between writers and actors. Writers train their eye on behavior. Guys like me love to watch, to record and then to recall with words what we see. I love, for example, the way David Sedaris describes the smell of a New York taxicab as a " ... bad tropical cocktail, this the result of a coconut air freshener that dangled from the rearview mirror." And although the sense of smell cannot be recalled, I can smile and taste the sweetness and staleness of that taxi when I read his words. Good writing.
An actor, on the other hand, must not only take in the taxicab odor but must also monitor his behavior on first recognizing the offensive smell, his behavior once the smell is assimilated and his thoughts and reactions to the taxi experience overall.
But, my friend was saying, to capture the "essence" of the moment, an actor needs to be alive to any experience and then, and here is the hard part, to think of behavior as incidental to the situation. "Just capture the essence of the moment and forget behavior because the actor can use the moment in a different way from scene to scene and the actor's behavior will constantly change."
Now what does all this have to do with my Post Road window view? Well along with challenging myself about how I experience my own life from moment to moment I've been wondering if I have ever captured the essence of Darien. I have recorded what I have seen as I watched the town change from my Post Road window and I have think I have accurately presented a view developed over the past 20 years. But have I, or other local writers for that fact, ever captured the essence of this small town.
It's worth some examination.
Many people have a role in defining Darien. We hear what Darien is from its politicians, from its priests and preachers on Sunday pulpits, from its classroom achievements and its weekend score boards. We learn about Darien from the merchants it attracts and from the cars parked at the railroad and high school parking lots. We get a feel for Darien on a Saturday shopping afternoon, on a lazy Sunday downtown, from the films its theater shows, from the activities at the library and from the public events sponsored by its civic associations.
Real estate agents tell us what Darien is as well as the gossip in country club and health club locker rooms. "It's a cougar hangout," someone told me recently as he defined a new restaurant in town by its patronage while ignoring its ambiance, menu or service.
Yet with all that observable data available I'm not sure that after 20 years I can define the essence of Darien. I've come close a couple of times but I still haven't had that moment where I caught its essence -- the essence of it all. I still haven't had that moment. The essence of Darien eludes me.