“Audition”
by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
from the September 10, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

In the years leading up to his debut story collection, Brief Encounters with the EnemyThe New Yorker doled out four of Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s stories, but the last appeared in 2014. I don’t remember the details of those four stories, but I feel a positive vibe toward Sayrafiezadah, so I’m looking forward to “Audition.” I looked to see if he’d been working on a novel, and if “Audition” was an excerpt, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

In “Audition” our narrator is a nineteen-year-old man named Duncan. He had dreams of becoming a serious stage actor, but, well, that isn’t happening yet:

The first time I smoked crack cocaine was the spring I worked construction for my father on his new subdivision in Moonlight Heights. My original plan had been to go to college, specifically for the arts, specifically for acting, where I’d envisioned strolling shoeless around campus with a notepad, jotting down details about the people I observed so that I would later be able to replicate the human condition onscreen with nuance and veracity. Instead, I was unmatriculated and nineteen, working six days a week, making eight dollars an hour, no more or less than what the other general laborers were being paid, and which is what passed, at least for my self-made father, as fairness. Occasionally, I would be cast in a community-theatre production of Neil Simon or “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” popular but uncomplicated fare, which we would rehearse for a month before performing in front of an audience of fifteen. “You have to pay your dues,” the older actors would tell me, sensing, I suppose, my disappointment and impatience. “How long is that going to take?” I’d ask them, as if they spoke from high atop the pinnacle of show business. In lieu of an answer, they offered a tautology. “It takes as long as it takes,” they’d say.

I hope “Audition” is a good one and look forward to your thoughts. I hope it inspires some of you to go check out more of his work.

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By |2018-09-03T14:02:23+00:00September 3rd, 2018|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh|Tags: |4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. David September 3, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    I have not read Sayrafiezadeh before. I would say in general that I find him likable as a writer. There is a smooth entertaining flow to his writing. I was not sure what to make of the repetitive use of a number of phrases. At first it just seemed like bad editing but I think the idea is supposed to be that it shows some limitation in the narrators ability to express himself in a creative way. The mention of drugs in the author interview had me expecting a lot more from where that was going. Basically, he smokes crack once and seems not to do it right as it has no effect and then a long time later he smokes it again and seems to have a revelation about his life. Ok, but that’s not a strong indication he’s about to become an addict, so the drugs really play a small role here.
    .
    I was baffled by the revelation at the end. I don’t know why it was taken (as it seems it was) to be some great moment of truth. Yes, the role he just got is really small and not a big career move, but until he moves to LA and starts hustling for work he isn’t going anywhere in acting even if he plats Hamlet in his local theatre. He already knows he has to go to LA to get things started, so what’s the revelation? If the idea is he realizes he is not a good actor, so what? Keanu Reeves can’t act to save his life nor can most sitcom actors of the 90’s, and they all got work. (The timing of this story the day after the controversy over the report about 80’s and 90’s sitcom actor Geoffrey Owens working bagging groceries can’t help but inform my reading of this story.)
    .
    I also found it odd how Seinfeld was being used as a reference here. Surely someone who talks about the theatre as this character does would have been well aware that Seinfeld might be the pinnacle of success on TV, but it was never the pinnacle of quality acting. Jerry Seinfeld always would point out that he was a terrible actor and the success of the show did not ride on his acting at all. Then when on crack to see the show as “vapid” is to badly underestimate how good the show was. So this seems a bad choice of show for Sayrafiezadeh to use. I had first thought that Law & Order would make a lot more sense for him to see as a goal, since it was also a huge hit of the 90’s and had a parade of quality New York theatre actors who came on in guest roles. But then it would not fit the “revelation” of the ending. Maybe ER would be a better one to walk the quality appearance vs vapid reality line. Regardless, unless he suddenly came to the conclusion that all acting is worthless, I don’t see how the crack experience should change how he sees acting.
    .
    I got the feeling in the end that Sayrafiezadeh doesn’t really represent what the world of acting is like or what people who aspire to be actors are like. Yes, most never make it and yes, even some who do make it for a while end up working jobs like construction or bagging groceries, but I don’t think many are under much of a delusion about what counts as quality in general and about the possibility of being successful with or without it. I would say that this character is actually more confused about acting at the end than he was at the start. Maybe that’s the real harm crack does to him.

  2. Ken September 8, 2018 at 1:26 am

    I’m not sure we’re supposed to take his epiphany too seriously as he’s high when he makes it. Cocaine is known for highs and lows for sudden crashes where one feels apathetic, hopeless but also for a sense of euphoria, here also captured by this feeling of endlessness. Here, I think we’re supposed to see the beginning of addiction (he knows the irony of saying stuff like “I’ll never do this again”). I enjoyed this story well enough but it seemed to have little beneath the surface although I’d agree it’s breezy.

  3. Larry Bone September 8, 2018 at 2:12 am

    “Audition” is frustrating. The author gives it an easy smooth flow as simple narrative. There is a lot of good description such as what a bad construction job pays and what one has to do to earn $8 an hour. And there is the description of houses in a bad neighborhood.

    But the whole story seems told in first person which establishes interest but if there is too much of this person going on and on and on, it’s sort of like a two person conversation where one person talks about himself for 15 minutes.

    The author wants us to know about the protagonist but certain thoughts seem to be more important than others and so less of them, well chosen might better hold our attention.

    And third person such as an angry argument between father and son would be better way to show how the father wants the son to re-live his own life rather than the son taking a different route.

    Then again the difficulty and frustration of being forced to do something you hate in order to be able to have money to buy food or drugs and having to wait on line to audition is well shown versus the actual time a person needs to be doing something they love. The reference to Seinfeld episodes and particularly boiling down most episodes to a set formula disrupts the story.

    The Jordan reference seems more germane because Jerry Seinfeld might not be a good actor but the protagonist wants to be a good actor. Seinfeld has a particular viewpoint about life that is a little off but very funny because you hadn’t ever quite looked at it quite that way.

    The details of crack cocaine are much more effective than just saying two people smoked it. The 2nd time the protagonist smokes is the turn in the story and is tragic because it seems like if the protagonist knew more exactly what he needed to do to succeed, he would gladly do it I think it needed a tighter focus which is more difficult to get after 2 or 3 drafts and numerous revisions

    Also being an important character in a play for 3 acts with no lines doesn’t seem real. I can’t think of any plays with such a character. Yet how bad it feels to have to do work you don’t like not leading at all to where you want to go comes through very clearly.

    So definitely much of it interests me but some of the interior structuring puts me off. I am a little interested in other stories the author has written where everything might held better together throughout.

  4. Larry Bone September 9, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    There seems to be some resonance radiating out of this story. The central irony of Sayrafiezadeh’s “Audition” seems to be that the father could have paid for his son’s foray into acting if he had not had to force his son to repeat his own rise to riches. He could have said, “Go out to LA! Get it out of your system.” To be successful in acting and writing, it “takes as long as it takes.” As Sayrafiezadeh notes. But success can either occur or not after an extended apprenticeship period experienced in poverty in which the actor or writer tries to pick up the craft of the profession he or she aspires. The son either does not want to starve or cannot figuratively bring himself to almost starve for his craft after breaking with his father. People who face an unpleasant existence going forward that they seems unbearable turn to drug, sex, alcohol or some other addiction to give them some sort very brief elation or happiness amid a hurtful, harsh existence. So “Audition” captures the tragic futility of trying or not trying to pursue what some little shred of happiness or personal satisfaction the son had any hope of achieving.

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