Geraldine Page: The Work Begins

Geraldine Page in Woody Allen's Interiors (1978).
"She lives the poetry she cannot write." Oscar Wilde

Tennessee struggled to recall this quote as he spoke of Geraldine Page, an actress he adored, but a woman he never came to understand. "I'm a dreamer," he told me. "I anticipate events, emotions, outcomes, and I am always disappointed. Gerry does not dream until a task is at hand, and she dreams with the assistance of a writer and a director and a design crew, so her dreams find manifestation, even if she is never satisfied with the final presentation. I could learn so much from her. I haven't learned yet to not dream of or for anything, unless it is directly related to work. The people in our daily midst are not deserving of our dreams. We must be like Gerry and walk and move and take care of daily events, but we must not commit to these activities our priceless ability to transform through a dream."

That was Tenn in 1982, in New Orleans. I shared the notes  with Geraldine Page in 1985, backstage at the lost, lamented Promenade Theater on Broadway.  Our meeting led to several conversations.

There is much of Geraldine Page in Follies of God, in many ways. Her intellect informed so many of the chapters, and her work informed so many of the actresses I ultimately interviewed. Here she talks of dreaming.

"It is, I suppose, what we must do initially: Dream. We dream our way into a fantasy and we dream our way out of whatever town or situation or identity we found at birth, and we craft a new one. When we craft a way out and a way forward, the dreamer is replaced, I guess, by the worker, the craftsman.

"When I get a script, the dreams of the writer are a gift to me, to open and unravel and play with. I don't dream when I act--I guess I expect a lot, I work toward a lot, but I do not imagine or dream an outcome or a reaction. What I try to do instead is take the writer's dream--like with Tennessee's work--and meld it with images and feelings I've noticed throughout my life. Maybe I'm melding the dreams of the writer with the waking, walking dream of life to create a part. Who knows what people are thinking about when they walk around or do their daily chores? Is that dreaming? Hoping? Expecting?

"But you see, dreaming is a negative thing, in a way. Dreams come when we're asleep or unconscious or drugged or near death. We see white light and dead friends and relatives in a sort of dream when the brain recedes. It's very poetic, but it's not a state in which I care to work. I need all of my senses when I'm working. I need to remember and to be alive and afraid and able to edit and censor and evaluate.

"There's an age to dream, and I'm past that. So was Tennessee. So are you.

"The dreams are the first act, I guess. The overture. And the work begins. One should always be beginning to work. And then you allow others to dream." 

Geraldine Page and James Dean.


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