Intellectual comedy differs from other types of comedy in that it puts ideas in conflict, not personal qualities of character, nor manners. The people in intellectual comedy are individuals, true, but it is not their quirks as individuals that count; it is their ideas, basic philosophies. From the moment that Eliza is spilled into the dramatic action of the play, her romanticism is in conflict with the Higgins world of reason, right to the final curtain and beyond it. and a dramatist who designs such an entrance for his leading lady intends to upset the applecart -- or flower basket -- repeatedly in the course of the comic conflict.
If you heard Pressman and McClory Wednesday night, fighting each other on political issues, etc., you witnessed Shavian comedy. Each was passionate in his beliefs; it was a battle every instant, neither gave an inch. They used almost no action. They simply sat at a table, each meaning every word he said -- yet both were smiling, laughing, involved, yet no one could get a word in. Both Dave and Mike are endowed with strong personality traits, but these traits were not in action. Only their minds were doing battle; only minds were in action. Both were enjoying the fight to the hilt. They interrupted each other; they talked at the same time until one or the other scored and they had to recover and take a new stand.
That’s Shaw: brilliant discussion on conflicting issues; ideas in conflict. Note the rapidity of speech, which still cannot keep up with the rapidity of minds. Shaw writes for actors who can speak brilliantly, who can articulate with rapidity and great clarity, who can build involved and balanced sentences to brilliant climaces that are aimed straight at a target and never miss.
Only Pogue and Claris in the cast seem to have this gift. No, Willoughby and Ziesmer in their brief moments used it. All the rest of you fall into the bad habit of the slurred word at the end of a line, the downhill inflection pattern, the broken speech of commas periods, colons, instead of unbroken thought topping over periods and commas, and permitting no interruptions or riding over interruptions until a score is made.
Roberts has the basis of a brilliant characterization and Shaw gave him brilliant lines, but only occasionally did Roberts manage to land them. He starts lines too high, too loud, and runs out of breath and energy before the end. Sometimes the last word was even inaudible -- and worse, unpointed. It hit no target. Roberts has a natural clarity of speech which should have been an asset, but he did not make good use of it.
Gretchen is catching onto the idea and with better breath support she should become excellent in this respect.
LInda and Wayne pound too hard and overstress and thereby lose brilliance. All of you should listen to British records from Restoration to the latest Noel Coward. Not only listen, but speak right with the record. and work on tip-of-the-tongue-lips-and-teeth exercises for light, clear, rapid articulation.
Secondly, Shaw writes for actors with Shavian minds. Part of the actor, regardless of what role he plays, must be Shaw pulling the strings, pointing the idea, hewing to the straight, lightning line of thought. Shavian drama is not full of deviations from the line, of implications. It starts with a positive objective and goes straight to the goal.
All of you seemed shaky in objectives. Sequences turned into more dialogue. It’s the danger in the Doolittle sequences, and Dave always fell into it at some point. Doolittle comes with a definite purpose in mind and departs when it is achieveed. He comes for money, he goes. On the way to his goal, he discourses on his philosophy, but he is still driving ahead. he comes to tell Higgins off and he not deviate until he says: “And that’s what your son done to me.” He may change his techniques, but not his goal. How would you like a tennis match if the ball were permitted to lie on the ground while players just chatted? Too often, you all dropped the ball and cared nthing about scoring.
This was Linda’s difficulty in the theme sequence of the last act. Eliza’s goal is not to compliment Pickering, but to pierce the Higgins way of life. Lines start in Pickering’s direction but they end pointedly at Higgins. Linda turned toward Higgins but there was not sufficient mental and vocal direction of the thrust. Her bullet never quite hit the target.
Faye always know what her target is. Once in a while she lets a little character innuendo take precedence over the thought and she had a tendency to not land lines securely enough -- a tendency she conquered quite successfully. But note and remember: innuendo has no place in Shavian drama.
All of you need to work on speed and vividness of reaction. Again Pogue is excellent in this respect and Gretchen used it as the source of very find comedy response. It is still a lack in LInda’s work, altough she has made terrific progress. She still does not quite let her mind play freely enough while listening. She feels safer in the planned response, or in the physical character response. And so that important initial click as an idea hit was mostly lacking; she played the emotional response that follows the click. Theres is no devise to be used as a remedy, except to know that lines are learned early to be forgotten as lines. then let your wits play freely in the situation and the electric sparks will flash. This is the last step in this process of becoming an actor.
After her brilliant success in the tea scene, LInda should be able to progress rapidly. Everyone played this scene with brilliance. It had, in everyone, the comic attitude which must prevail in all scenes. As a result it was played with Shavian clowning. I know that you all see that the tea and the main -- we could have used a butler too -- were absolutely necessary. As directors and actors, always ask at the very outset: what are we doing. In this sequence, on which we can concentrate during the laughs. The movement of the maid -- and Janet Lee did it with perfection -- gave the scene a fluidity without which frozen tableaux might have killed the comedy. The drinking of the tea was a “natural” act, but correctly timed -- as you did it -- it “played” the laughs.
The fluid stage, the dynamics of staging, Roberts needs to observe and study. Wayne and Bill did excellent orchestration and pointing in the background.
Robin’s work is excellent fundamentally. She needs brilliance that comes from intensification. Robin shuts out a little too much the joy of acting. She shuts off too completely her own natural joyful participation. The more colorless a character is, the more an actor needs to keep vibrant his joy in interpreting this character. I think Robin’s Stella will need this, too: a keying up of the acting sense. Freddy had it -- not freely enough in I, but excellent in III. Claris has it. Willoughby takes stage with it brilliantly.
I believe you all have realized this fact, but I record it to be safe: never get so immersed in the intellectual content of Shaw that you forget he is frankly theatrical in his means of communication.
Wayne brings so much to Shaw or any drama, that it is difficult to analyze his problem. He has the grasp of intellectual concept, and he has magnificent mental and physical vitality on stage; he participates fully in all action and on all levels. he could identify with Higgins completely and he pursued an exceptionally clear line of thought and action. Then what was the source of the problem which impeded him in the culminating action? I think it may be this: Wayne’s previous excellence has been in the field of character comedy. Wayne was at his best in “Pygmalion” in the sequences in which the Higgins “eccentric” behavior was in opposition to the Higgins mind. In the last scene the Higgins eccentricities are sloughed off and the mental brilliance prevails. Wayne has not yet become at home in this realm of purely intellectual excitement. part of him, as actor, still relies on qualities of physical and vocal characterization. he is not yet completely at home onstage in drama in which he cannot play out reactions in behavior patterns -- which he does so well in comedy of character. The fact that he played the final scene with such brilliance Tuesday night is indicative that he can do it. Those of you who saw this Tuesday dress rehearsal of the final act, saw Shaw brilliantly performed. It can happen again.
The purpose of these critiques is to point out needs, rather than to praise for what you know you have done well. Our production gave our audiences great pleasure -- and the right sort of pleasure. If we could keep “Pygmalion” in repertoire it would become brilliant -- consistently brilliant.