Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one MOST traveled by … 1991 New Haven, Connecticut. The reputable Longwharf Theater and a production of the classic, William Inge’s Picnic.
I’m cast as one of the leads, Madge. The pretty small town girl who falls for a handsome, charismatic drifter.
Hello shining future!
This is my first real acting job. I’ve worked on a few independent films where I carried props and did my own lighting. I’ve performed in a very bad production of Twelve Angry Women where I was on stage for two hours, had seven lines and forgot one on the night I’d managed to convince a young William Morris agent to see the production. I literally made eye contact with her from the stage to the front row when I couldn’t remember that fucking island of a line in a sea of other actor’s dialogue.
But for this job I’ll be getting my Equity card. I’ll be flown from L.A. to New Haven where I’ll stay for the next several months while I rehearse with seasoned Broadway veterans and a few equally green young actors out of New York and L.A.
It’s exciting. I feel like I’m at the beginning of something potentially big. And I’ve been cast opposite a boy from my L.A. acting class who I’ve pined for from afar.
Maybe I’ll tell that story more fully another day, but for now, this is all about explaining my aversion to La Gwyneth…
We all know what her life has been like since her debut in Flesh and Bone circa 1993. She’s gone on to win an Academy Award, marry a Rockstar, have angelic BABIES, speak fluent CASTILLIAN, stay in flawless SHAPE even though she loves to cook and wrote an F-ING COOK BOOK, while moonlighting as a chanteuse on GLEE and ROCKING OUT with Cee Lo Green.
(I won’t even go into the fact she’s known Brad Pitt biblically).
How does this have anything to do with me? Probably nothing. Except through the unique, self-involved, insular, absolutely human ability to see the world only through the prism of my own experience and point of view of myself as center of the universe.
I do not judge myself.
I think this is just called being human. Subservience to the Id and the Ego as opposed to the yogic, Buddhist ONE of all beings.
“Madge is the pretty one, Madge is the pretty one!“
I don’t know what I just said.
Anyhow, during the first month of rehearsal I’d fallen madly in love with my leading man who wouldn’t give me the time of day because he had a live-in girlfriend at home and wasn’t a cheating bastard. I’d had my first interview for a newspaper as an actress in a legitimate production. I was working with one of the best Broadway directors around and I was able to keep two very humble abodes on two coasts.
I was the shit.
Then one day our director came into the dressing room to tell us that we had some special guests who would be watching our rehearsal. They were the well-respected actress Blythe Danner and her (then unknown) daughter, Gwyneth Paltrow.
Perhaps you’re beginning to get a faint premonition about my mild bitterness.
It turns out that Blythe and Gwyneth were also going to be starring as mother and daughter in the Williamstown production of Picnic where Gwyneth would be portraying Madge. The pretty one.
I often wonder what Gwyneth might have thought watching me perform her role. It was a thankless role. Lots of simpering, crying and whining, “Mom, what good is it to be pretty?” How do you deliver that line without feeling like an idiot?
And there was this big break down crying scene at the end where Hal says good-bye to Madge and chases that train whistle in the distance.
I was very Method-y at the time, which means the tears HAD TO BE REAL. You can’t imagine how I worked myself up trying to get those tears to come, thinking about dead possums and old boyfriends’ infidelities. I’m sure there were nights the audience thought I’d suffered an aneurysm. And I suspect there were a couple of nights – the ones when I just couldn’t freaking cry – where people wanted their money back.
I know how my production went.
My leading man went back to his girlfriend, the other actors went back to auditioning and many of them still act today. I went back to L.A. where I just never quite got hot and quit pursuing acting four years later.
THAT DAMNED GWYNETH!
I never saw the reviews of the Williamsburg Picnic. I suspect it wasn’t much better than ours and I doubt it got Gwyneth any closer to her trajectory than mine got me. But over the years I’ve watched her flower into one of our best actresses and everything else she’s become.
So I am here to admit, the real reason Gwyneth Paltrow Gets My Goat is … she can still wear skinny jeans after giving birth to two children, her Castilian’s better than mine, I wish I could sing and she gets free shoes.
But I don’t wish I had her life. Because my failure has led me to this life. And while I wish I could be successful in the career of my choice (having said that, I WAS a fantastic waitress), I wouldn’t want to give up my man, my girls, my home.
I will always yearn for more. Maybe that isn’t just a Shannon condition, but the human condition. I love my life. Damn me, I really do. Still, couldn’t Gwyneth be bad at SOMETHING?