“Make-believe” is essential to the acting of any drama. Ibsen said, “If a woman to whom motherhood is revolting lived in a society which said motherhood is woman’s primary function, what might happen?” The actors must begin with the same “if” and create such a world and such a woman. We are finding that Maxwell Anderson could set up his “if” hypothesis but his mind could not imaginatively create and fill the world he needed to provide for his dramatic action.
What Anderson lacks as playwright, too many actors lack as actors: the child’s ability to create a complete new world peopled with all sorts of beings who belong there; the ability to believe completely in that world and to have fun in the drama which inevitably and logically develops in that world. To the child, this world becomes bigger than life, its boundaries are limitless. He sets ouf fearlessly for he believes in it.
Barrie offers full opportunities for imaginative creation so essential to all acting,. Our difficulties were due to the fact that we did not find the magic “if” until opening night. Thursday and Saturday nights were sheer delight. Barrie’s enchantment filled the auditorium and sent people home smiling, laughing in a state of happiness we associate with childhood. On Wednesday night there was tension due to your lack of complete belief in your make-believe and on Friday you played remembered games instead of creating new ones.
Hang onto what you achieved. Your theatre -- even (perhaps particularly) your realism needs this imperative plus of make-believe creation. We are only just beginning to find it in “Barefoot.” Most people in “Mary Stuart” are still playing with both feet in the dull, work-a-day world.
Dan still needs, in all his work, the creative mind playing behind words, between words, beyond words; a mind creating all the time within a form. Barrie’s form is love for his people and demands finding on the spot the images best suited to describe them, and then the words that best express the images. Burleigh’s is a mind which thinks ahead of words; which sizes up, makes decisions never expressed in words. Dan thinks of how and why.
The creative mind -- author or actor -- sets up the “if” and takes off, playing his drama fearlessly because he believes in the innate logic of the situation he has created. Run out on the spring board, dive off fearlessly and trust in your ability to swim in any sort of current. Rules are learned to be forgotten. Forget ‘em. But you haven’t yet learned the rule of swelling to the end of a line. You pull out all the stops at the beginning of a line and then go to a diminuendo. Learn the opposite, start easily and then pull out the stops.
McClory may have imagination, but he does not use it onstage. That little episode with the Irish soldier is the robust note the first act needs. Mike doesn’t play the child’s game. “I’m an Irish soldier.” He does not participate fully in the game, with imagination creating freely eery minute; he does not key up to the bigger than life proportion required. On the mechanical side he does what Dan does: smothers words, throws ends of lines to the floor instead of to the balcony.
Janet Lee’s work has fine crisp decisiveness; it is good theatre. She can let herself play more freely within the form she has set up; she misses some of the surprises because she is a little too rigidly exact. She is right in what she does -- very right -- but there can be more fluidity within that rightness. She, too, needs to forget the rules and “have fun.”
This production must have taught all of you the necessity of having fun each night in the make-believe of knowing that unexpected miracles are going to happen. It is right to act the form definitely, but let your creative minds have fun within that form.
Linda and Sarajane played beautifully together. Their exits were beautiful in their timing. There was beautiful credibility in their characterizations. Sarajane plays freely so nuances were added each night. Linda did not land all of her lines as successfully as the “rabbit hole” one. the “woolen draper’s daughter” missed the little derogatory note that might have played the incongruity.
Charlotte: one catches Faye manipulating the character now an then. Perhaps the belief in the “if” is not strong enough to hide the technique of communication. Willoughby’s Ensign Blades, just as extreme as Charlotte, seemed more freshly motivated every night, more responsive to the immediate situation, keyed finely to the tempo and tenor of the Act. The Old Soldier and Gallant episode was well played in the Barrie spirit, as was Penny’s miserable wallflower.
Once Bill Pogue came to accept the make-believe spirit, he was the ideal Valentine Brown. He played with the plus sincerity more believable than life. I must confess tht I wasn’t sure that it would work -- kneeling to an imaginary lady -- but he made it seem the most logical behavior of a man in love. Bill AChieves a nice balance between the part of his mind which acts as the author and the part which is character; he seems to lose himself in the role while he is still unobtrusively objectifying the author’s viewpoint.
Bill, with Gretchen and Claris, gave us the people Barrie loved and we shared his love. Except for some difficulty on Friday night they seemed possessed with a sheer delight in acting, which when disciplined (as it was) fills an auditorium with an indefinable something which is theatre magic.
Gretchen was the heroine Barrie must have loved: radiant, beautiful, gay, whimsical, etc. etc. She made the role hers, as if it had been written for her alone (once she came to believe in it completely). It was a glowing performance. She still has voice limitations, but what she achieved in a few weeks would indicate she has no problem which work cannot solve. Her Phoebe will be remembered.
Claris scored a triumph with Susan. She designs her role with care. Her visualization seems complete from the beginning; she has auditory images that are almost a musical score; she knows the essence of every moment; she knows how to build a line and how to land it; she knows how to use business to corraborate what she is saying; her exits and entrances are triumphs. She brings this design to rehearsal and then, remarkably, she plays as if there were no design, as if everything were happening for the first time. With the design worked out, she is free to have fun responding to all that is happening. Like lines, the design is created to be forgotten, to set her free to be Susan, to think as Susan, to react as Susan. Her spontaneity on stage is evidence of the success of her method of work.