Thursday, November 4, 2010

Curtain call.

I just received the word that my dear friend, centenarian actress Sylvia Davis, died yesterday at the Actors Equity nursing home in Englewood, NJ. Regular followers with long memories may remember that I wrote a week of blog entries in her honor in April, culminating in her one hundredth birthday. A small, unworthy tribute from an admirer to an actress who, like so many, didn't have a resume that in any way reflected her enormous talent.

(You can read those entries in order, if you wish, by starting with "My other girlfriend . . . " and then hitting the "Newer Post" link at the bottom of each page.)

One last reminiscence. Susan Mosakowski, the director of the recorded book studio for the Library for the Blind in Manhattan, created many opportunities for the visually handicapped to come to the building to hear live performances, using the talents of the studio's volunteer narrators, many of whom were professional actors and voice-over artists. (And one was a mystery author.) A popular series was our re-enactment of old radio plays, often detective thrillers, but including a fine adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Canterville Ghost. As someone who spent more time working the tape machine than actually reading, my role was often to handle the sound effects, a mix of live noises and prerecorded effects. I liked this play, because I got to make the sound of a suit of armor being attacked with peashooters.

Sylvia played the housekeeper of the ancient, haunted castle, which in the play was occupied by an American family -- she was like Young Frankenstein's Frau Blucher, only without the German accent or the horses. Near the beginning of the play, she came to the door to greet the newcomers with some innocuous remark like "Good morning" or just "Yes?" (Sorry, Sylvia, darling, I can't remember.) To herald this moment, I'd found a recording of the longest ever sound of a creaking door-hinge. (A word, incidentally, that does rhyme with "orange.")

So there's the set-up. Knock on door. Door opens with an interminable creak. Pause. Then Sylvia's voice.

It was always the funniest moment of the performance. Not my weird sound effect. Not Wilde's words, or whatever greeting the adapter had put in Sylvia's mouth.

It was her pause. Flawlessly, perfectly, shamelessly timed to the nanosecond.


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