BAREFOOT IN ATHENS
As performed, this became a singularly well-constructed, unified and important drama. The Playhouse and director found the straight line of action: we waited in suspense for the trial and Socrates’ opportunity to present in public his way of life, and his way of life became more important than the drinking of the hemlock. And, perhaps most important of all, the manner of playing made this audience feel part of a life in Athens. They shared discoveries with Socrates and Pausanian and thus they had the joy of discovering for themselves how contemporary the issues were. Everyone who commented on the drama did so in a tone which said, “Isn’t it strange” how pertinent all this is. There was a sense of wonder in the audience, of curiosity; they wanted to talk, to discuss, to share what they had just discovered. That’s a rare things these days in the theatre, and a true tribute to performers and director who could make it happen. A skeletal idea was endowed with flesh and blood: -- the performance was far greater than the play.
Much of the credit must go to Wayne for his ability to embody the Socrates ideal in human form; to present it in so rational a way that it became a living thing and now a preachment. Wayne and Socrates became one and the same person. There was complete identification with character, yet disciplined and directed by Wayne’s infallible sense of exactly where a sequence was going, of its purpose, of its momentary and super objective. His playing had a constant forward movement; it was adding up; he never pounded the message home. The characterization was so sound and secure and logical that Wayne didn’t need to “act”: his pointing, his timing was all part of character, and the actor did not have to manipulate that character. Note how easily Wayne gives the illusion of old age: no crouching, voice tricks, no “cricks in the neck,” etc. He simply finds the attitudes which areage, the viewpoint which is age, the balance which comes with the wisdom of age, and he incorporates these into his thinking and lets them play in any situation that may come up. What he does is always fresh (not quite so, on Friday) because he lets himself think spontaneously each night. He knows, as actor, what must happen, but he lets it happen and lets himself respond without calculated effect.
All of you can learn much about comedy from Wayne and Russel. Both of them are adept at the lightly inflected, tossed-up word that telegraphs a surprise coming up. As Russel says, he is not always consistent. Usually when he misses it is because he does not get to the end swiftly enough. Like Wayne, Russel knows where a scene is going, and skillfully he keeps it going in the right direction. His Pausenias was so believable, I wouldn’t care to see him played any other way. Anderson should have given him a better exit line, or we should have found a slight bit of business which would have epitomized the man. Not that there was a dead moment there at the end. it only seems the characterization Russ created needed a more fitting exit moment. Both Russ and Wayne have the cpacity to fill the stage and the auditorium effortlessly. They play from an easy, effortless, keyed-up state. One feels confidence when they come onstage that they are equal to cope with anything that may happen. All actors should have this power.
Xantippe gained power during the run. Janet’s work bears the mark of authority and good theatre sense. She needs to learn to begin her study of a role differently; to ask first: what’s the author’s purpose and theme; what qualities must this woman have in order to communicate this theme to an audience. Her Xantippe was right in essentials of character. Janet now needs to add a fourth dimension. She played three dimensions well: she looked and sounded like Xantippe. Now add the ability to comment as author through the character. That is to make every act and word say: I am all of you who put material things above truth, life above truth. I represent all woman who destroy a Socrates. This is an added dimension in acting and moves toward greatness.
Also, Janet must learn to toss up lightly the word which carries import of the line and then go to the swift, sure conclusion -- the gift Russel and Wayne have. This is not merely a comedy device. Everyone in “Mary Stuart” needs to learn it, so that lines have significance without being over-emphasized. This means that the mind must be governing the tongue. When emotion only dominates speech, meaning is apt to become muddled.
Robin has a fine sense of communication of meaning. She lands ideas with great clarity. Theodote is far from a realized character, or even half-realized. She is merely an idea: the woman who, having known a Socrates, passively follows a despot -- a contrast to Xantippe. Robin communicated this and it is questionable whether she could have added more without throwing the play off balance.
Laird did his best acting job to date. He made his points with the energy required and no excess. Marshall did the same, with excellent pointing of ideas. He needs to watch that pieces of business are not studied. It is sometimes a little too evident that he has sought a particular affect. He is right in what he achieves, but it can happen more easily and “naturally.”
Dan, like Janet Lee, needs to learn to play the fourth dimension. He knows in his mind what point must be made, but he still has not achieved the idea balance between actor’s objective sense and character emotional experience. I suspect something wrong in his initial memorization process. As he memorizes I fear he plans how this should be spoken in order to achieve a specific effect, when he should be saying: “What is happening? to whom? why? if I were Lykon what would I see, hear, think? Dan probably finds the “how” before he has experienced the reason for the “how.” If you don’t find motivation first, you will “make speeches” instead of responding logically.
The two young men, as played by Jerry and Rod, did a good job of funding, adding up. With not much to go on from the dramatist, they established themselves securely in erly scenes; so that they could bring the trial to a strong, inevitable conclusion from their point of view.
Pogue does an expert job of topping in, of continuing dialogue without any obvious device of topping in. He seems always to be following so completely the thoughts of the speaker opposite him that he comes in always at the same intensity, on the same wave length, on the same breath even, and carries on. His dialogue scenes, as a consequence, are full of action -- thought, action, speech action. They are dynamic -- dynamic in rhythm, in pace, in thought conflict. Critias, as a consequence, even though killed off in the first act, seemed present at the trial. Through him other traitors became entities rather than mere names.
Dobrin added a right note of intensity, pointing up the occupation and other crises. His conflict with Zegers at the wall was a brief, explicity comment.
Zegers played totally as usual. Watch out: don’t play moments too long. Touch off the imagination of the audience and let them finish the moment. The wind drinking becomes too packed with detail on the final nights -- or rather, the details became too explicit.
Willoughby always makes his points with clarity and authority and a nice sense of theatrical impact. The lesser roles were all played with a sense of importance in the ensemble -- not “extras” but people, thus contributing to the total unity.