“A big shot is a little shot that just keeps shooting.”
Wishes and dreams come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and it’s funny how sometimes the people we meet and the circumstances in which we find ourselves can take us to wholly unexpected places on the way to their—and our own—eventual fulfillment. Auditions, Zoe’s Auditions, Part 2 is about a little dream and how much it can mean.
Zoe’s tale begins backstage at a production of A Christmas Carol. Our heroine is clothed in a production assistant’s blue smock, running between dressing rooms and imploring their inhabitants to make nice with each other and be ready for curtain, praying to God (and the audience) that she’ll get her one big break. “I’ll just keep talking,” she says, “and you feel free to completely ignore me.” Well, in this case, that’s not bloody likely.
Suzanna Geraghty, who is the writer, producer and star of Zoe’s Auditions is sweet, soft-spoken and a one-woman powerhouse. With her small frame and unassuming manner, it might be easy to miss the exceptional spirit and strength that have driven her to create this very funny and often touching piece of work. Then again, she herself is quite a piece of work.
Knowing that she needed to do more, to use her creative energy in a broader way than what she was doing as an actress, Suzanna began thinking about a character—a bundle of nervous optimism called Zoe.
Zoe is an aspiring actress who has just acquired her very first agent, an elderly woman named Betty, who puts Zoe through test after dispiriting test on her way to realizing her dream of stage stardom. It’s not an uncommon theme in the lives of artists to have to weather rejections and the stormy seas of fate to make their big breaks. Suzanna herself overcame a significant case of dyslexia in order to write the first parts of what would eventually come to be the play now playing on the Upper West Side of New York City.
Suzanna herself is a natural storyteller. She tells the tale of the book that inspired the Zoe character and the conversation that kicked her (so to speak) into writing gear. “I was standing in the performance library and leaned a little too hard against a book shelf, and a book fell down and hit me right in the face—a hardcover book. Well I was so angry, I went to kick the book, but this was summertime and I was wearing open-toed shoes. I meant to kick the book, but I missed and kicked the bookshelf instead and broke my little toe. There I was rolling around the bloody library cursing, when I opened the book and saw it was about Jacques Lecoq, and leafing trough I read that there was a whole breed of people called actor-creators, and I just started to cry. I thought ‘my god, there’s a little tribe out there, and I’ve got to be with them.’”
So she sold her fridge and bought a ticket to Paris to study at L’École Internationale de Théâter Jacques Lecoq, where she developed her inner clown, the Zoe character. She didn’t begin to write, however, until her acting coach, Stephen Jones, asked her if she had any regrets about coming to America. When Suzanna told him she regretted not writing Zoe, he struck a bet.
“Well, I’m an actress; I’ll be in my pajamas then.”
“Come over and bring $250 in cash.”
They negotiated a deal by which she would have five days to write the outline of a script or else lose the money. She came through with the outline, then a writing schedule, and eventually worked out the first scene that formed the first version of Zoe’s Auditions. That scene was filmed and entered into the 2011 United Solo Festival, where it was not only given a place among almost 50 solo shows by artists from 11 countries, but Suzanna took home the 2011 United Solo Audience Award.
After the United Solo success, Suzanna returned to Dublin where she was offered a run at the Mill Theatre in Dublin, an unheard-of offer for a solo show, on the condition she could make the show long enough to add an intermission. It was at this point that the Christmas Carol ghosts entered her mind and began to change the structure of the whole play. What comes across now, instead of a series of vignettes, is the story of self-discovery and actualization. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; Everyone else is taken.”
“Where the story resonates with me, is all the rejections and the hardship,” says Suzanna of the play. “One of the things that’s hard for actors, is to keep going and keep your hope and your spirit up. It’s very much a test of your own resilience. Zoe helped me, this very resilient, very ill-equipped little person. It’s not that she gets knocked down time and time again, but that she gets up time and time again.”
The show is a real treat. Suzanna has a remarkable presence and talent for physical comedy, and her timing, nuance and energy are phenomenal. She cites Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel as inspirations, and it’s easy to see how comparisons to Lucille Ball have already been made. As Betty keeps sending Zoe into increasingly outlandish auditions, the casting directors bluntly dismiss her time and again. Her eager auditions grow frantic and frenetic until it seems like she’s about to spin completely out of control.
Suzanna makes good use of the full stage, smoothly transitioning between scenes with the creative use of a scrim, a few props and some well chosen sound cues. She takes a major risk in busting the conventions of the fourth wall and inviting the audience to help her fill in the show’s corners, but her ability to make a crowd feel comfortable takes away much of the anxiety any unsuspecting performers might feel at the prospect of joining the fun on stage. That risk, and the chance that someday someone will fail to rise to the occasion, keeps the show very immediate and alive. If you’re game for anything, make sure you get there early to grab a seat close to the action.
Equal parts humorous and heartwarming, Zoe’s journey is one that can be appreciated by all who come to share it.
Auditions, Zoe’s Auditions, Part 2
Running as part of the Irish Fest through September 22 at
The Drilling Company
236 West 78th Street
Encore United Solo
October 15 and October 23
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street