Okay. Yes, Shampoo was great, but it had NOTHING on tonight's Live Read.
In the fifth installment of this incredible series, Jason Reitman presented Reservoir Dogs in a brand new light. In honor of Black History Month, the cast was 99% black (the 1%? Patton Oswalt, once again using a variety of voices to fill in smaller characters) and 100% legendary. Sitting on stage from left to right was Reitman reading stage directions, Common as Mr Brown (originated by Quentin Tarantino) and Marvin Nash, Terrence Howard as Mr. Blonde (aka Vic Vega, originated by Michael Madsen), Cuba Gooding Jr. as Mr. Orange (originated by Tim Roth), Laurence Fishburne as Mr. White (originated by Harvey Keitel), Anthony Mackie as Mr. Pink (originated by Steve Buscemi), Anthony Anderson as Nice Guy Eddie (originated by Chris Penn), Chi McBride (originated by Lawrence Tierney) and the aforementioned Patton Oswalt as the K-Billy, Holdaway, and the cop in the bathroom.
As last time, the house was absolutely packed, but I know at least twenty people got in from stand-by, and word to the wise, folks got there as early as 5, so if you plan on seeing the final show in March (already sold out), you'll want to arrive to the stand-by line as early as possible. The energy in the room was palpable even before the actors came on stage. This crowd was clearly more passionate about Reservoir Dogs than anyone in the audience was about Shampoo last month. Which makes sense. The film that put Tarantino on the map is also the film that made Jason Reitman want to be a director when he saw it in high school. After his introduction from Elvis Mitchell, Reitman warned "If you brought children, the time to leave is now … This will be the most profane screenplay you'll ever hear in the Bing Theater." Naturally, Reitman, Mitchell, Common, Howard, Gooding Jr, Fishburne and Mackie were decked out in a black suit and tie, dressing the part, and looking amazing, Howard in particular, who added some flare with a dress vest.
As last time, the locations of each scene were projected onto a screen with the actors digitally removed, but an added bonus for this screenplay? Music! It seemed to be the question on many of our minds. With a writer like Tarantino, who puts such great stock into the music he uses, would music play a role in the reading? Only three songs were played, but man what a difference it made. There was such an excited buzz in the air when Stuck in the Middle With You started playing as Howard danced in his chair and Reitman read the stage directions detailing everyone's favorite cinematic ear chopping. Also different from readings past? This one used the deleted scenes as well, going off of the screenplay itself, not anything that was added or deleted on set or in the editing room.
Each actor stepping on to the stage during the cast introductions was received enthusiastically, but none more so than Fishburne, expertly cast as Mr White, eliciting a standing ovation from every other actor on stage. And rightly so. Fishburne was the highlight of the evening, bringing grace and professionalism to the table, plus a brilliant depiction of the character to boot. He had clearly spent time preparing for this, infusing just enough Keitel (the slight accent was definitely there) into his natural inclinations, to create a living and breathing black Mr White. It honestly felt like the part was written for him and everyone in that room was floored. The first audience applause came after his opening scene line "Shit, you shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize." Then, during his dialed-to-11 scene with Mr Orange in the car, when he asks "Are you a doctor?!" and repeatedly tells Mr Orange he's going to be okay, the audience practically rose to their feet with adoration.
Chi McBride also stood out as a talent to be reckoned with. Although I haven't found any evidence of formal training in his past, he certainly seemed classically trained, bringing his all, never missing a word, never missing a moment, and nailing the role from start to finish. He really helped bring the tension in the room to a boil during the Mexican standoff, which is difficult to do when everyone is sitting down. And no one has a gun. I was thoroughly impressed.
But perhaps the most interesting and talked about performance of the night, for better or worse, was Terrance Howard as Mr Blonde. Howard really rolled with the whole silent psychopath thing, speaking softly, taking the mic off the stand and holding it to his mouth as he leaned back in his chair and looked at the other actors as he interacted with them. His body language, facial expressions and entire disposition were in a constant state of "I might kill you, yeah, sure, I might." His unique, yet spot on line readings had Reitman himself visibly blown away. One of my favorite moments was after Nice Guy Eddie, Mr Pink and Mr White leave Mr Blonde alone with a dying Mr Orange and Nash. Howard stared at the audience for a solid few seconds in complete silence. Then slowly smiled. And spoke with a subtle sadism "Alone. At last." He was having such a good time, and so we were watching him, that after Reitman read the stage directions killing Mr Orange, Howard completely dropped character and said "Hey, I'm not ready to die yet," which was met with uproarious laughter and applause, a reaction second only to Reitman's response "For a moment, apparently Mr Blonde dodges a few bullets…" I heard a couple people afterwards that weren't a fan of Howard's take on the character, but I tell ya, I effing loved it. Perhaps my favorite exchange of the entire evening was between Howard and Fishburne, with this, one of the only bits of dialogue delivered by the actors directly toward one another.
Mr. Blonde: Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?
Mr. White: What was that? I'm sorry, I didn't catch it. Would you repeat it?
Mr. Blonde: Are you gonna bark all day, little doggy, or are you gonna bite?
Can't you just *see* it?!
Anthony Anderson did a solid job as Nice Guy Eddie. He fell so easily into the role, there was no element of disbelief whatsoever. He landed all of his moments and was extremely professional, something I wasn't expecting going in. Great casting.
While Common didn't have much to do as Mr Brown, who only really has dialogue in the opening scene, and the Internet seemed to be hoping for a comedian, someone like Chris Rock to step into the role with the infamous Madonna monologue, Common completely held his own and had Reitman losing it. He was less memorable later on, playing Marvin Nash, the cop who loses an ear. Howard was having a grand old time pretending to slash him in the face, and Common's response was to kind of half heartedly jiggle in his chair. Still, I hate to take away from the work he did for the role of Mr Brown because of some physical improv he wasn't expecting.
The weakest performers of the evening were Cuba Gooding Jr and Anthony Mackie, but both were by no means bad and both still had moments of brilliance. Mackie reminded me of that high school student that loved acting so much that during an initial read of a play, he gets so overexcited, that he stumbles over words and loses some specificity, replacing nuance and choices with a general loud talking. But man, when he got it, he *got* it. I wish he could have had time to read over the script more, or perhaps it was just his nerves that caused his stumbles here and there, but the moments he took his time with, letting himself connect with the other actors, were stellar.
Gooding seemed a bit all over the map, sometimes subdued, sometimes way over the top, but got a million points for really selling his gun shot wound in the beginning and playing the difference between when he is first learning the "cops in the bathroom" anecdote and when he has the story memorized. He was drinking wine the whole time, so it's always possible he was simply getting more and more intoxicated as time went on. After all, it was a celebration of sorts, Mitchell ending the show with a martini in hand and a reception for everyone following.
Now I don't know if Tarantino was in the audience, though I highly doubt it since I'm pretty sure he's busy shooting Django Unchained, but I tell ya, I can't imagine he wouldn't have been over the moon for this take on his twenty year old cult classic. It did seem like some of the n-words were taken out here and there, in fact I felt like a lot of the Christie Love scene dialogue was cut, but overall, the entire evening worked extremely well, and props to Reitman for thinking up this idea. It brought a whole new level to the script, and to the conversations held between these men. In the movie, these men come across as, well, fairly racist, but here, in this context, they seemed like guys just making observations about their own lives, being self-deprecating, or having fun with being self aware, in a way that may have been too progressive even for 1992. It was fascinating, refreshing and endlessly captivating.
Naturally, the evening came to a close with a rousing standing ovation and an almost group hug on stage. The chemistry between the actors was alive and powerful and a real comradery seemed to form among them during the reading. I felt like it was an honor to get to be in that room, and I hate that there is only one more installment to go of these Live Reads. Although, fear not, Los Angelinos - at the reception following the performance, I did hear some LACMA folks talking about approaching Reitman to do another series of this when he is finished shooting his next film. Fingers crossed?