It is indeed a triumph in acting and directing to turn a theatre piece intended for two virtuoso performances into a drama of a group of people involved in a common disaster. Time, place and people were inevitably linked together, inseparable. One does not remember Janet Lee as Blanche in the newsboy scene. One remembers an unforgettable moment, a boy and a woman caught by time. One does not remember Russel playing Mitch opposite Janet Lee’s Blanche; one remembers a man’s realization of a need, a common need. Laughter, Negro and white, and the Quarter is created, not bits performed by actors, but moments of life. Not a good actress creating a woman’s physical love for her husband as she holds a picture, but the physical love itself we remember.
And so it is that the drama as a whole gripped us, not brilliant histrionics. Group acting, ensemble playing of moments account for the success of this production. The flow of action from moment to moment may have had its origin in the driector’s mind, but all actors justified and motivated the fluidity. The roots of action were in character and in situation. All was justifiable and inevitable. This is excellent acting and excellent direction. And so the poetic elements of the drama emerged, especially in the Friday night performance, which was the high point of the run -- for the conflicting forces were most equally matched, and the objective communication level most clear and sustained. Realism, illusion and artistry were in balance.
Robin’s Stella was right. Robin gave us the keys to understanding her. I could wish that Robin will achieve a stronger support for her high tones -- stronger rib support generally -- but we believed in her Stella, and that is good acting.
Russel was Mitch, Mitch was Russel, so beautifully assimilated I don’t know which is which. Russel “plays through” beautifully; Russel doesn’t “try to be,” he is; Russel’s entire body realizes what is what is happening; he understands with muscles, mind . . . even bones, it seems. Russel has achieved what I said Linda still lacks: the ability to let the action happen, to let the drama play. One believes in him completely.
Jerry’s newsboy had the same qualities: the moment happened and that was that. The actor Jerry who used to manipulate every act, who used to play emotions, has disappeared.
Pablo and Steve were poker players and no more -- and that is good acting. The background figures were counterpoint, mood and action, and part of the total fluidity of the drama without standing out as bits -- and that was excellent acting.
Zegers, too, has achieved inevitability in his acting; he lets the action happen; he plays with ease and authority. Any difficulties he has stem from the nature of the role itself. Stan does suffer -- as a brute suffers. Stan destroys and experiences no joy in the destruction. Stan is virile and dynamic, but the virility and dynamics are used only to pull down, to bring the world to his brute level. Stan has no capacity to realize and therefore, even though he suffers, he is not truly tragic. He does not struggle to rise; he struggles to pay back by tearing down. This an audience should see and understand, but not sympathize with. And that is the difficulty in playing the role. To be the brute only is not enough -- it is revolting. To reveal the cause of the brute suffering can lead to sympathy for Stan which upsets the play’s intentions. Blanche may be neurotic, unbalanced, even ridiculous. but her passing must leave an emptiness where beauty has been, or could be, and we must not sympathize nor smile at the brute forces playing stud poker.
Friday night Zegers and Parker together brought the drama to its grim, empty conclusion. Janet Lee has the gift of transferring thought, idea, image into instinct action. She is immediately; without any puzzling, any confusion, she is, she does. Her whole body, her whole mind, her entire organic mechanism becomes instantaneously what is called for by the given chraracter in the given circumstance. She is told to sustain vowels, she sustains them and they become Blanche speaking. She is told to use a full vocal scale and Blanche uses the full vocal scale. The written line, the given stage direction, are instantaneous stimuli to character action. In the beginning we noted at tendency to play the emotion, to play the emotion without immediate motivation springing from the response to fellow actors. She still occasionally misses the initial shock which is the response to an unexpected stimulus; she still tends occasionally to skip to the emotion of the response before the realization. But she has only to remember the electricity of the moments when this occurred and she will be able to achieve it always. Her on the spot recognition of the doctor and her realization of his strangeness -- and the doctor and nurse both were exceedingly well played in their economy of detail -- all the moments when she actually read eyes and behavior -- these are the moments to carry away and use always.
The total performance of this drama will be memorable always.