Listen to the lines of the play and you will hear the theme expressed by someone. In this case it comes from Talbot, naturally, since he stands on the side of reason. He expresses the theme several times, one of the most telling: “No good can come from hate meeting hate.”
After you really began concentrating on the central idea, the drama took shape and direction and went straight to the inevitable last scene. Until you saw and played with clarity and unity, the last scene seemed tacked on, the drama ended with Mary’s death. As performed, however, epitomized the idea of the whole. there can be no victory, only waste, when rulers, leaders, destroy in the name of hate. Search always for the theme and then hew to the line.
Our production was distinctive first, because it had clarity of purpose, with resulting clarity which gripped the audience with what they might call “suspense.” but what we recognize as inevitable.
Secondly, it was distinctive because we found the music of the drama, not only the music and cadences of the verse which was, except for a few instances, exceedingly well-spoken, but also the over all music, rhythm, surge of the whole. There was flow of sequence to sequence; there was a current of sound, movement, reverberation that flowed from scene to scene, holding, for the most part, even through the curtains. I am sure, still, that it would be better performed without scene breaks. It is amazing that it sustained so well with the breaks.
You all know, realize, that more could be done with undivided performances and with the whole. Always ask: in what mood, in what state, should an audience leave the theatre? The performance of Saturday night came closest to sending people home in the right frame of mind: they were moved by the tragedy, shaken by the events, but they were talking with animation about the beauty of the performance although they were not using the term “beauty.” They were lifted up by something which they could not quite name which is an indefinable state we know to be the experience of aesthetic enjoyment. In other words, they had been moved by tragic events, but a sense of good theatre exalted them above the realities. And that is the ideal theatre experience.
Now on Friday night, they were deeply moved, deeply shaken, but they went away as if from a funeral -- a real funeral. They had identified completely with Mary and Elizabeth and the events of history, but we had not elevated them to the psychic distance which adds: “I have witnessed great theatre.” This is the artistic detachment which gives the viewer an added enjoyment.
To this end, we could have worked more. We were on the road to achieving it, as you began to realize and communicate the dramatic ironies in the drama through the pointing of ironic implications, of high-lighting ironies.
This sense is tremendously essential to the actor who wants to rise to the highest stature. It made Jake Dengel’s Hamlet an experience never to be forgotten. it is a mental experience first of all, an intellectual sense of what is bitingly ironic in a line or in a relationship or in a situation. And second, it demands the vocal clarity and agility to point this irony without effort, by seeming not to point it at all. As I mentioned to you, the German language, by its very nature, has an ironic edge, a hard bite, which by sound and intonation alone can convey a whole drama of ironies in conflict. Listen to Lotte Lenya, to Marlene Dietrich at her best and you will hear it. One hears it, too, in the Scandinavian films. You don’t need to know the meaning of the words to get the ironic implications. To communicate these ironies is to give the audience an opportunity to smile, to grin, and no matter how wry the smile, it serves to detach one a bit from the too-realistic involvement which is life not elevated to art. Many of you are ready to pursue this study further in comedy or tragedy. I recommend it for independent study projects. Studies have been made from the literary viewpoint; I know of none from the acting or directing angle.
Distinctive performances are many in this production, even to Gretchen’s exquisite last line which reverberates in the memory, that poignant, clear, cadence. “He has embarked for France.” It epitomizes the theme, it left no more to be said.
Willoughby’s strong, consistent performances started and kept the drama forging ahead. He has a gift for telegraphing far ahead. He points intelligently what must be remembered in upcoming scenes. In the midst of violent emotions, he plants securely ideas which are the source of inevitable results. His great clarity of speech is an asset you all might study.
Robin’s Hanna was beautiful characterization, beautiful drama, and a performance consistent, strong, true. Robin has achieved a beautiful blend of instinctive inner motivation with technical controls that communicate to the fullest degree.
Laird has grown tremendously. His Mortimer was the ardent, romantic figure demanded by the drama. Laird’s tensions have decreased; he is gaining control of his body and voice. He needs to acquire a sense of language, a sense of the sound values of words. He needs to study their implicit meanings, their alliterative values. He needs to become aware of pronunciation and their values in drama. Every actor needs this. Language has many meanings besides the literal. Train your ears to hear these values and your tongues to speak them with dexterity.
Roberts must work in this direction. His mind began to work as Leicester’s, but his speech and movement were inadequate. Real finesse cannot be achieved unless every muscle is responsive and every sound articulated with finesse. As a consequence he did not achieve real style. All the ingredients were there for an excellent Leicester, but style was needed to make it effective in communication. His voice is excellent in quality, but it is not shaped to high effectiveness. Start training all muscles and train yourself into awareness of style.
DeMott became more effective as he achieved Elizabethan form of movement. He needs to continue this work and with it may come more mental agility, more total freedom. He knew well Burleigh’s traits and attitudes. Now acquire the body control which expresses them easily. He is beginning to veer away from “playing attitudes” toward playing totally -- good.
Rod Nash brought the right earnestness, conviction and power to Davison. As he knows, he needs more ease in the speaking of verse. It has not yet quite become “natural” speech, but he knows where he is going. Having found the verse cadences, just let it speak itself. It will.
If Zegers studies himself in the cast pictures he will discover why he received such stringent criticism. He has not yet achieved balance, has not discovered his center of gravity. For Stanley Kowalski it did not matter, but for all other drama it will matter, particularly for costume drama. Vocally, too, he was ineffective. His sounds have vitality and force, but he failed to achieve the verse. Simply stressing with a hard, loud down-stroke is not “playing” the vowel sound anymore than banging the bass drum produces music. Speak into a recorder and analyze your problem.
Pogue and Ziesmer were tremendously effective Frenchmen. There was form and resulting meaning in their episodes. They gave a glimpse of Mary Stuart’s other world right in the middle of England’s court and without words managed to convey a sense of involvement in an intrigue of magnitude. Both have lively minds and the art of conveying, communicating thoughts.
Pressman’s Talbot was a masterly character creation played to the scale of Schiller’s drama. He makes language speak on many levels, he has no fear of theatrical dimensions. He makes realism and theatricality serve each other; he raises realism to theatre proportions. He knows how to command the stage. One feels if the house were ten times as large he could still command it. Develop the voice to go with this power. What you have, you use well, but why not make it a full instrument?
The Griswold-McClory sequences were well-executed. What they had to do they did with direct forcefulness. One night Griswold’s “We are lost” was too close to melodrama. When you have a line like this, reduce the action which accompanies it, or underplay the line.
After Linda achieved vocal control over her entry lines, her Margaret was exactly right in function: loyal servant to Mary; no more, no less.
Ron’s priest was effective in his direct simplicity and straight objective. Performances were not consistent; the last one not being up to the others. I know of no way of answering the questions of how to maintain consistency; how to key each performance to the right pitch. One answer may be to take time to re-think the drama deeply enough to become involved in the currents; others resort to the psychological gesture; and still others resort to the simple physiological technique of a few very deep breaths with holds after each one. This is almost certain means of keying up physiologically and usually the mind follows.
The two queens were tremendous; tragic and human. Both had completely assimilated their roles; both play with the tremendous conviction that involves us in their lives; both identified successfully with their roles; both have tremendous resources of imagination, exercised creatively to conceive another world another time as fully as it becomes the present; both speak verse as if it were their native language and wear costumes as if they were born to wear them as daily apparel.
Penny has a totality of response that is pure magic on stage. What she feels, she feels in every fibre of her being; what she thinks radiates to the back of the auditorium. Her one need is a voice adequate to all that she is. Because it is still inadequate, certain tensions result and her speech runs away with her. Develop the vocal mechanism and acting will be 50% easier less fatiguing.
Claris’ ability to create the tough fibres that make up Elizabeth was astounding. In conjunction with that toughness of spirit, she endowed her with the capacity to realize deeply and fully, which in the end made her a tragic figure; an acting achievement of real magnitude. In time, she will add the dimension which is just beginning to emerge -- the ironic level, the mental outlook, ironic and double-edged. Claris is close to this achievement; she already has an awareness of what she is seeking.
Study more and more varied roles. Watch people, note their motives and desires, and one day you will find yourself detached enough -- yet involved enough -- to let your mind play freely with all the contradictory elements. Then, given a good dramatist to frame your speech, you achieve communication of the ironies you have perceived.
Meantime, we are more than well-content with your scope, your depth, your power.