A large contingent of René's fans gathered at the end of the summer for this convention. This report is a compilation of descriptions and comments written by Judy, Chris, and Amy. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!
August 7, 1999 was the first day of the Valley Forge convention (held at a Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania). The first activities were a visit with the Crusade (almost) cast and the typical dealers room and auction, followed by the day's guests of honor. J. G. Hertzler and Robert O'Reilly came on stage accompanied by an honor guard of Klingons singing Klingon songs. I'm really not that interested in Klingons, but these two guys were hilarious. Beside, they didn't really talk about the honor of Klingons or how their storylines came out or their character development. Rather they just kept up telling jokes and raucous stories without ever giving out any solid information or DS9 analysis. Just what I'd like from Klingon guests.
Robert O'Reilly, or Roberto, as J. G. kept calling him, is the most unlikely looking Klingon you could ever imagine. He's a fairly small, mousey-lookin' guy, dressed in a loud beach shirt. I'm amazed that a casting director would think of casting him as a Klingon. But then he described his Trek audition, how he finally just turned around and roared with his huge eyes flashing wildly. During his talk he often stopped to break into doo-wop songs.
J. G. looks like some big-ol' cowboy topped off with long, flowing, pure white hair. They talked about Roberto's two-and-a-half-year-old triplet sons and about J. G.'s newborn daughter. Roberto's sons have picked up on his famous bug eyes. When he does it, they say, "Daddy mad." J. G. started talking about his daughter and said he couldn't be apart from her so he brought her with him, and here she is... as he pulls out a small knit stuffed monkey doll. This doll then made the rounds throughout the talk. He asked if the audience wanted to see his daughter and commenced to throw her out into the crowd. She eventually made her way back to him and he stuffed her in his belt buckle.
At the costume contest on Saturday, the Klingons won, hands (and bat'leths) down. They all were so good, that Dave Scott (organizer of the convention) couldn't pick one winner, and gave 'em all prizes (all were Klingons, except for one very good Darth Maul and a wonderful Borg). They then proceeded to SING, in KLINGON.... so Dave had them bring out J. G. Hertzler, and Robert O'Reilly. The two of them are such HUGE hams, that the hour went by so fast. They sang (Doo wopp, doo wahhh), did Shakespeare, joked about kids, and generally made us laugh 'til we cried.
The dinner went pretty much the same way. Crusade characters and the Klingons played the crowd...and I do mean PLAYED the crowd. We had fun chatting amongst ourselves...two VIP tables were filled almost entirely by members of ORACLE and RAFL! Dinner was okay....nothing to write home about.
At the dinner, you could tell the Klingons and the other day's guest were feeling no pain. Dave Scott of Slanted Fedora had a hell of a time getting them settled down, particularly Mark Goddard of Lost in Space. They all just kept going from table to table posing for pictures. One unfortunate Crusade woman (I have no idea who she was) appeared at our table just begging to be photographed. Our rather uninterested table started to say that we weren't the picture-taking types and didn't have cameras, but Amy picked up on the poor esteem of this lady and said she'd like a picture. So she gallantly had her picture taken with this poor soul. Goddard was last seen sitting at a table behind us with a lady on his lap. On top of this, the Sheraton kitchen staff was incredibly rude and just refused to stop making noise throughout the play.
I was delighted to be seated at one of the VIP tables right in front of the stage. I had ordered my tickets as soon as Amy mentioned this con in her Novacon report. I was slow in getting around to contact Dave Scott to arrange to sit with the RAFL group and when I did he said it was too late; all seating was already assigned. But what he did was just assign two VIP tables, which seemed to cover all fan groups and other early ticket buyers. I've gotten to know many RAFLers from previous cons in Champaign, Buffalo, and Toronto (Chris and I should get a prize; we've been to all four).
On to the play. Dave Scott made one mistake right off by not asking the audience to refrain from flash photography, so René and Nana were bombarded with strobes as they walked on. But this quickly died down and then ceased completely. This was a very large crowd in a very large room and I'm still amazed at how well behaved the crowds have been for these plays. No one (except the Sheraton staff) made inappropriate noise or walked around in front of you; better than going to an actual theater. This audience appeared to be mesmerized. I must admit I was.
This stage set-up was quite different than the Champaign and Buffalo cons. Gone was the beautiful masculine and feminine desks set up for the actors. Instead, the stage was empty but for two rather tall podiums. For those of us right up front, this meant we could only see the actors from the shoulders up, with most of their bodies hidden behind the podium. But this did have the advantage of allowing us to easily see both actors' faces at the same time. This made it easier to see the reaction of one while the other was reading. Where the set-up really did interfere with the play though was at the very end. In Champaign, as Andy was lamenting on Melissa's death, Nana walked over to René, who was still seated at his desk. She half sat down on the arm of René's chair and leaned in and very sweetly hugged him. With the podium set-up, this couldn't be done. Nana did walk over to him, but even with her heels she was still shorter than René and couldn't lean into him as beautifully as she did in Champaign. She did try for an affectionate ending scene, but with the large podium right in front of them I'm sure it didn't have the same lasting impact. If they ever do this play again, I think it would be better to go with the desks.
René was nattily dressed in a dark suit and Nana had on a red velvet dress. And yes, she was blonde (and Amy wanted to move her bangs out of her eyes). I'll never understand how people can have bangs brushed across their eyes. I couldn't stand it. Still, there's something about her, the way she moves and handles herself, that makes her such a beautiful person. And her smile just lights up her whole face. Oh, and with the dress she had on very high-heeled red shoes to match. René later mentioned that they didn't know about the change to the podium set-up (meaning they would have to stand the whole time) until they walked out on stage. He said if Nana knew, that she might not have worn the shoes.
Judy described about the Klingon shenanigans that went on during dinner. This was also when we received our free autograph. (Those of you who've been to these Slanted Fedora affairs know that they distribute a free autograph before the play.) These pictures were definitely the best I've seen at an event like this-a shot of the "His Way" kiss, reportedly from René's own collection of stills, and signed by both him and by Nana. Very nice.
The play was terrific yet again. I've seen it three times now, and while I think the Champaign performance had the greatest impact on me (probably because I didn't know what was coming at the end), this version had a rather unexpected level of intensity toward the end--probably because Nana was actually weeping. I was sitting very close to the stage, and could see that she had tears just streaming down her face. Even though the hotel staff was clearing away dishes and clattering around during the performance, I was so riveted that I absolutely did not even notice this (of course, I was pretty much right up front). Both Nana and René seemed highly emotional in the final scene.
The set-up this time around definitely allowed the audience to scan back and forth between the two characters with greater ease, and René's reactions to Nana's reading were just wonderful. I was able to pay closer attention to them this time around, and gods, what an expressive face and hands this man has! I know that René's fans say this ad nauseum, but that doesn't make it any less true, and it really was evident here. The sort of "emotional roller coaster" quality of the play really came through here and, as the play drew toward its conclusion, the you could tell that the audience was riveted because everyone fell absolutely silent at almost the exact same moment. People were really moved by the performance. It was a great thing to see.
This was René and Nana's third performance of the play Love Letters at a Slanted Fedora convention. They initially performed it at Champaign, Illinois with an encore performance at Buffalo, New York earlier this year. In June of this year, Slanted Fedora presented the play in Salt Lake City with Nana performing with her husband, Sid. I must say I have been extremely fortunate in that I have been able to attend all four productions. The first two were close enough drives and I happen to be working in Colorado at the time the Salt Lake event occurred and it was an easy drive over. Each was a very enjoyable experience.
Comparing the performances is kinda like comparing apples and oranges. After the Valley Forge presentation, Chris and I discussed the merits of the three versions we had both seen (Champaign, Buffalo and Valley Forge--which I still think we should get some kind of prize for). Chris liked the first (Champaign) performance the best. In many ways I agree, but for me the Buffalo performance had the most impact. This may have to do with the fact that, in Champaign, I was seated rather far back from the stage, while in Buffalo and Valley Forge I was right up front and could see the reactions on the actors' faces so much better. Obviously, the newness of the material stood out in Champaign and I think the comic lines and comic timing were presented the best there. But I missed many of the darker elements of the play that I picked up on the second time around, such as the hint that the new stepfather may have been abusing Melissa. I had found that Buffalo performance to be gut wrenching, and for me it still is the one that hit me the hardest.
I also noted, like Chris, that this Valley Forge performance seemed to be the most emotional for the actors. René was excellent; very on. I believe he was much more animated this time, especially when he was the non-reader reacting to Melissa's letters. I love the silences that occurred when one was waiting for the reply of the other. During these times, you could hear a pin drop--well, at least most of the time, when the Sheraton bozos weren't clanging silverware or plates. And I loved that I could pretty much watch the reactions on both actors' faces at the same time; the one advantage of the close podium stage set-up. René can be so expressive without uttering a word. His facial expressions and body language would show Andy saying to himself, "How could she (Melissa) say that?"
Both actors returned recharged for the second act. Nana gave a very emotional reading to Melissa's downfall and eventual death. She actually was crying near the end and breaking up when Melissa discussed her final breakdown, telling Andy to stay away. And René actually was quite emotional reading the letter to her mother after Melissa's death. He choked up a couple of times. The stage set-up did somewhat interfere with the endearing ending of Melissa's ghost coming over to comfort Andy. The podium blocked much of the view and the standing position didn't allow for a comfortable embrace. All in all I think the audience very much enjoyed this performance.
Perhaps the timing of this event had something to do with this emotional performance. René and Nana's seven years of regularly working together are over and there is no assurance that they ever will again. I'm not sure if the play will be offered again. I don't believe any future performances were mentioned during the weekend and both actors may be moving on to other things. Maybe they felt they were losing something, too
I do feel that if Slanted Fedora continues including Nana and Love Letters in its events, they will include René. One thing I did notice after each production wité Rene and Nana, Dave Scott couldn't gush enough about how much he enjoyed it. And I noted on the website advertisement for the Valley Forge con he stated that Love Letters would be performed by Renéand Nana, "back together as they belong." In my opinion, they are a perfect combination for this play.
After the play, René and Nana discussed theater with the audience for about forty-five minutes. Among other topics, they both talked about the importance of listening to the other actor. When Nana does the play with René, even with the podiums, I completely believe they are two people reading and composing letters to each other, not reading a play to the audience. I remember reading an interview with Andy Robinson in which he said that it was no accident that that the actors were taken down the paths they were on DS9. He felt the producers had a very good handle on the actors' talents and capabilities, implying that it was no accident that Odo and Kira were given so many traumas and so much angst, or that Jadzia Dax was always the bemused observer with the smart-alecky jokes, or that Julian had the technobabble and the spy adventures. Andy said the producers knew who could handle angst and extremely emotional scenes, inferring René and Nana.
Other highlights from this Saturday night talk included the following:
- René remarked that the audience was great. He said he expected the audience to be misbehaving with all the Klingons in the audience.
- Dave Scott asked for their theater credits. Nana mentioned her background was in musicals, such as My One and Only, and that's what she'd probably go back to. She also mentioned The Gentle People. Nana remarked that René's list goes on-and-on. He laughed that this was because he is so old. His Broadway background is also mostly in musicals. He downplayed his singing ability, saying one of the lucky things about being a character actor is that you're not expected to sound really nice when you sing. He said he just croaks them out. He has done City of Angels and Big River, where he was replaced by, "a young upstart named Brent Spiner." And he just finished shooting a musical for Disney television called Geppetto staring Drew Carey. He said Drew is just charming in the role. It includes Julia Louie Dreyfuss as the Blue Fairy and Brent Spiner as Stromboli. René plays Professor Buonragazzo. René lamented to Brent that they wouldn't be in the same scene together. Brent said he didn't think it would be good for them to be in the same scene, as it would create a vacuum. Both said they were a bit nervous about returning to the stage where you are without the benefit of having a script with you. And returning to dance would require intensive training.
- A discussion occurred about lives post-DS9 and how it was wonderful to come see friends and supporters and bring something of another part of their lives to us. René started to say this was very important "now that Star Trek is just reruns in our memories, and reruns..." René seemed to hesitate and Nana looked over at him with a smile and interjected, "Over, that's it. Over." René wailed, "Awwww" with the most pained expression. Very funny.
- Robert O' Reilly (one of our favorite Klingons) asked what were the first plays they saw as young people that influenced them as to what they were going to do later in life. René said, "Great question," implying that it was a hard question. Nana said, "It is a great question, it would be from you." Nana said hers was Gypsy. Her father choreographed Jerome Robbin's Angela Lansbury version. Her sister played the title role in Gypsy in London. When she was 13, Nana stayed there with her sister for three months. She watched her sister and Angela Lansbury every night. She studied it and the audience and felt it was quite an education. And then she ended up playing Gypsy with Angela Lansbury on a tour of the U.S.
René said that for him it was a production of Charley's Aunt with José Ferrer at City Center. Years later, while shooting a mini-series, he met José Ferrer. He told him he saw him do Charley's Aunt when he was a kid and that he stole a piece of business from him. He described a part of the play where José's character apparently said he'd only get back in the dress if he was given a drink, and they held the dress up and José jumped through the dress and grabbed the drink and ran away. José replied to René that he didn't do that. René told José that he remembered that he did. José said, no, he ran around the dress. How could you run through a dress? René answered to José, "Well, I thought you did, and I did it." (this brought much audience laughter) René's point was that he only did it because he thought José did it. René also mentioned that he saw Peter Pan with Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff as Captain Hook, a part he always wanted to play. René's "weird, eccentric aunt" took him to see it and took him to Sardi's afterwards, "and Boris Karloff came in and ate a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich between shows." René was starstruck.
- The actors were asked for suggestions on how the audience could be a better theater audience. Nana said that the audience did it tonight. They were having fun with the guests (Klingons, Crusaders, etc.) and it was all crazy and then they gave René and Nana respect and let it (the play) affect them. She said if she and René didn't win the audience after the audience gave them that, a huge generosity, then it was their (the actors') fault. René said in a sense they were lucky that this was an audience of friends, but felt sometimes friends could be a more difficult audience because they have expectations. It really is the process of listening. All they can ask of an audience is to listen.
René described how a lot of theater, when it starts, there's much going on and things to look at: "Oh look, Nana's in that sexy dress," (another remark that prompted audience laughter), "Oh look, they're moving silverware." There's other input coming in so you miss things. And in Shakespeare or any style piece, you might begin to panic and begin to think you're not understanding it. René said, "You're right, you're not understanding it. So just relax and let it come to you."
René said, "It's the mark of good actors, it's whether they're alive when they have nothing at all to say. And I don't mean 'alive' in terms of sucking attention, because you shouldn't be. It should be that.... One of the great joys and the magic of theater is that you are the editors. If I'm on the cutting room floor in Inspector Gadget, I have nothing to do with that. And the audience has nothing to do with that. That was some thing that was desired. But tonight, as you scanned the piece, as Nana was talking, there would be times that you would look at me and if I was not present, then I was failing. And then the same is true with Nana. But I have such confidence in her, having worked with her for seven years, that I know that she is always there for me and I try to be there for her. And that's what makes it magic and what you saw tonight, we may do it many more times in our lives, but no one will ever see what you saw tonight."
- Dave Scott finished up by representing the 'everyman' in the audience. He asked the audience, "Were you shocked at the hair color?" Audience thinks he's referring to Nana's new blonde tresses. He continues, but looks straight at René (with his peppery gray hair), "I just thought you had brown hair all theses years. I couldn't believe...." (prompting more laughs!)
Overall, I have to give credit to the Slanted Fedora people for incorporating these plays in their convention events. It was a wonderful idea and allowed a host of lucky fans to experience live theater and some talented actors to show us their best.
The autograph line on Sunday morning was lots of fun, because Ina, Amy, and I stood in it together, chatting up a storm. René was taking his time with signing the pictures, talking to everyone who went through the line. Ina was ahead of me, and had bunches of photos for René to sign for other people, and so while she was doing that, she told him she was sorry to be missing "Strange Bedfellows" over the weekend. I promptly put my foot in my mouth and chipped in with, "Oh, it's only a Sisko episode, so who cares?" René looked wounded and said, "I directed that!" Ooops. I managed to avoid groveling, but I apologized profusely and I tried to explain that the whole four-part thing was mostly a big blur to me, and that I could never even keep the titles straight. Lucky for me, René doesn't seem to be a terribly thin-skinned person. He signed three things for me, one of which was a piece of my own artwork that he personalized.
After the autograph line, we went into the Q&A session. Most of us were in the front row; I was next to Chris at the very end of the row, left side. René and Nana were a bit late to the Q&A (Nana had mentioned getting something to eat while we were in line, so I guess they were grabbing lunch and were a bit late!) Nana was wearing a bluish/gray tank top with matching cardigan, and a pair of gray pants/jeans that she'd taken a pair of scissors to and cut em off at the knees. She had on these BRIGHT blue platform sandals on...she looked very very comfy. René had on black (of course!!) pants, a black t-shirt, and black jacket. They both looked very relaxed (Nana actually mentioned feeling very "on vacation"). When Dave brought them out, we all cheered, clapped, made a fuss.
The Sunday Q&A with Nana and René was very interesting. Most of the questions were about the series finale. We also learned two really troubling things that almost happened on DS9.
1. At some unspecified point in the series, the writers were going to have Kira sleep with Dukat (gag, cough, gasp!)--but luckily, Nana absolutely refused to go along with the plan. She thinks that "Wrongs Darker than Death or Night" was the writers' way of "getting back at" her, by having Dukat sleep with Kira's mother.
2. In the original script for "What You Leave Behind," Odo was supposed to return to the Link with the Female Changeling. Again luckily for us, René refused to do it that way. But those two instances really made me wonder about the judgement of that writing staff and exactly how they went about making decisions.
I asked what the logic was behind Odo not being able to come back for a visit to the station after "What You Leave Behind," seeing as how the Female Changeling came and went from the Link whenever she damn well pleased. Nana said she agreed with my observation, and that the only way she could make the ending make sense for herself was to figure that Odo was such a "pure" sort of character that he would approach the idea of re-educating his people with "total commitment."
Again, what was neat about this Q&A was the fact that the actors seemed relaxed and had enough distance from the show now to give some answers that were a little critical of the way some things were done. I found that refreshing and it provided some nice insights.
One question for René was regarding Odo's voice being different than his natural voice. René reiterated the question for those who couldn't hear. He went into a very high-pitched voice and said this was actually his real voice and it was the first time he's ever done it. Then he got his voice even higher, Nana laughing all the time. She said, "It's tragic." After the laughter died down, René explained that while auditioning for Odo, he was sitting in the hall. The casting directors who came to get him said that no one so far had been grouchy enough. So René thought, 'they want grouchy' and the voice just came out. He said he could never do it on the stage, in a long role for a long run, as it would damage his voice. But the short takes of TV allowed for it.
Here are the bits I remember specifically!
René did have to sing "Les Poissons" for the crowd, and besides the silly voice bit, when he was done with the song, Nana said she'd NEVER seen Little Mermaid!!! We all ooh'ed, booed, etc....until she promised to buy it for Django when she got home, because she loved René's song so much!
Someone asked why we didn't see Kira's point of view too much from "What You Leave Behind." Why didn't she say, "What about me?" or something to that effect when Odo told her he was going back to the Link (BTW, every time Nana mentioned the Link, she called it "the soup." René's face was priceless! "The soup??") She then said that she wanted to have a bit of Odo/Kira dialogue that gave a bit of Kira saying, "Well, what about me? Your people can be cured, come on back to me!" but she chose to be "the good soldier" about it.
René told us about Xyber9 and Geppetto.... both sound pretty neat!
Someone asked about "The Kiss" and how difficult it was to kiss someone with a lot of makeup on. Nana made a funny noise to simulate the two faces coming apart after kissing ('pwe' is the only spelling I could come up with!) René made funny faces behind her back while she was talking about it, then played innocent when we all started laughing...he was making rubbery faces, pulling rubber off, etc. When she saw what he was doing, she dissolved into laughter. Then, she tried to continue and said something about "the rubber didn't matter in the end," and the crowd immediately, purposefully misinterpreted that as a sexual innuendo and ran with it...she got so embarrassed that she pretended to say goodbye and leave the stage! It was very funny!! René rescued her, though--he said, about kissing through the mask, "It really is, as I've said before, the true definition of safe sex."
Nana talked about Sid's new movie (Vertical Limit with Chris O'Donnell) and said that she'd just gone to visit him in New Zealand where they were teaching him how to rock climb on a glacier. She said that they weren't going to use stunt doubles, or computer graphics, but they were doing the real thing. She sounded a bit nervous, but I guess I'd be nervous if MY husband was climbing glaciers!! (Especially if he was as skinny as Sid: a good gust of wind and he's gone!). She also said that she took the boys to Fiji where it was warm right after, so she was feeling a bit guilty (although her facial expression showed she wasn't feeling THAT guilty!!)
Someone asked René about script changes, and if they were ever able to change something after reading the script. Apparently, it was René's idea to have the female shapeshifter be tried as a war criminal. TPTB were gonna have her get off scot free!! Imagine! So he said he was uncomfortable about that, and they rewrote it!! Nana also said that TPTB wanted to get her and Dukat hooked up, and she vehemently refused. She said it was akin to having a German Jew marry HITLER. Good comparison, no?
They were asked about a DS9 movie, both said that they'd consider it if the script was exciting. Keep your fingers crossed!!
Nana answered a question (or comment) that someone had about how nice it was to have a woman who "kicked ass" without always having a weapon. Then I asked my question: "Speaking of 'kicking ass' (I couldn't ask for a better segue, no?) what was your initial reaction when you found out that Kira wouldn't get to kill Dukat?" She said that she was a bit pissed in the beginning, but after reading the script, she realized that, by the end, he wasn't really part of her life anymore, and it wouldn't have flowed properly to have Kira kill Dukat. She said that it suited the story to have the "star" kill the "bad guy." But she did mention that if they ever bring him back, she'll be waiting!!!
After the Q&A was over, René and Nana returned to the lobby and continued to sign autographs for the remainder of the afternoon.
It was a great weekend and I feel very lucky to have been able to attend the event!
Photos as indicated by Karen Condra and Mike Krause