Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Burning More Bridges

This past weekend, I received a text message from an actor I admire. He was curious about my reaction to a recent performance he had given in a certain Tennessee Williams play. My response to his query, and to his performance, is written below:
First, let me apologize for having taken so long to write back to you. I accepted a role in a play that opened during the Fringe Festival and then ran during the following week, as well. It was a difficult role in a difficult play, and all my time was taken up with studying lines on a daily basis and facing some excruciating evening performances. But it's all wrapped up now, and I've had a few days to decompress, and perhaps I'm ready now to confront you with what I thought about That Tennessee Williams Play you were in.

Unfortunately, I do not care for this play that much. It's lesser Williams and could stand some pruning.Why your director chose to gild the lily is anybody's guess - certainly not mine. The bus ladies were not needed, and their pantomime was destructive to the text. I'm sorry, but if a man playing a woman walks out into the playing area looking for a place to pee, then squats and relieves herself in the bushes before reaching for a leaf with which to wipe herself, well, I'm going to watch the drag queen instead of paying attention to a scene of Williams' exposition.

That kind of direction does not serve the actors or the text. It was insulting to the both of you.

You mentioned that your performance was "over the top". How do you define "over the top"? I don't believe that that is necessarily, and always, a bad thing. The problem most actors have with "over the top" (or "big acting") is that it must be supported by a big truth, and our times call for a more restrained pattern of behavior from adults. I believe your normal style would have served your character better than the florid gestures you used to convey the faux emotions which, I believe, were foisted on you by your director, much in the same way someone might have thrown a ragged old costume over your head. Am I right in thinking his direction was from the outside in?

When I directed The Glass Menagerie, the actress playing Amanda Wingfield played the role in an "over the top" manner. She flitted and fluttered around the set like a caged dove. Her arms and hands painted filigrees in the air. Her Amanda was a grotesque ogre to her children and an embarrassing relic of the "Old South" to Laura's Gentleman Caller. Her acting was huge, larger-than-life, bombastic, theatrical, and italicized. However, she believed in that style, and she was able to support it with a deeply personal conviction that, in turn, convinced her audience to believe in her and it. (My own acting, when I have acted, has tended to be big acting, as well, I'm afraid.)

But ... on the other hand ... I surrounded her with three other actors who trusted me enough to let me make them tinier and smaller than they were in real life, who allowed me to make them as small as a baby's rosary beads. As I had hoped, they were able to coax a concentrated attention from the audience, a tight focus that compelled a deeper belief in the dramatist's truth. Together, the four of them were able to seduce tears from the attendants in the house as the play came to its close.

In plays that I have worked on, I have preferred to work with the actor I have cast in a particular role within his own parameters and surrounded by his own references. Why else would I have cast him? (As a matter of fact, I have often cast actors who impressed me in ways that I found contrary to my original impression of the character as written. Their auditions [as rough and as rocky as they may have been] have been that revelatory to me. I don't mean to say they were that good, but I do mean to say that they led me into a different direction than the one whose road I was trudging upon before I encountered them.)

I like several nights of table readings in order to get to know the people I'll be working with and to learn their languages. That way I can relate to them on their own terms and not remake the actor into something unrecognizable and unnatural to himself.

In terms of the performance I saw on the particular night I was in attendance, I would have to say this: the character you played could have broken my heart. But, sadly, the character you were directed to play left me uncomfortable and unmoved.
Are you still reading this? Don't turn into jelly on me.

You are a good actor. Your talent is real. Your style is correct for you. I so admire your minimal style of acting and would love one day to explore a role with you and give you the gift of a performance you would be proud of and have no doubts about. That day will come. Keep the faith.
Have I said too much ... ?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Frabjous Quote of the Day

From the memorial service for Sir John Mortimer:
[Lord] Kinnock told the audience that Mortimer had always been a devout unbeliever: "He was in his own words an atheist certainly, but an atheist for Jesus – he liked to say a character without contradictions is like an egg without salt."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Relishable Quote of the Day

Phil had been disappointed that ill health required Michael Gambon (initially cast as Auden) to pull out and be replaced by Richard Griffiths although, for various reasons, it seems quite the thing at the moment: Richard Briars and Adrian Scarborough (because he’s in The Habit of Art) had pulled out of Endgame, Kate Ashfield left Mrs Klein to be replaced by Zoe Waites and Matt Lucas was replaced by Con O’Neil in Prick Up Your Ears. There currently seem to be more withdrawals on the London stage than in a Catholic marriage.

- West End Whingers, closing their review of The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...