F.D.R. crawled out backward, making a facetious remark, well landed, about his derriere -- the audience roared. A second later they were completely quiet, seeing through the eyes of Eleanor and Louie, sensing the tragedy of a life. Not all actors could have brought off that moment. The audience might have been embarrassed that they had laughed at a stricken man; they might even have been angry at the playwright, at actors, or both, -- resentful that a trick had been pulled to make them laugh, making them guilty of bad taste. Not once did this happen at this point or any other point. Before F.D.R.’s feet had disappeared Nancy subtly, without any obvious device, threw focus on the heart of the matter: a man’s courage. It was as if she said, “We smiled, but we understood.” She could not have achieved this moment, and others like it, if she had not, subtly telegraphed ahead, even from the opening of the play, her capacity for understanding. And Louis, corroborated her feeling, playing in response.
Dan has not yet become capable of establishing the subtext of a role from the very beginning, but he is learning fast. He used to play moments by themselves, “scenes” by themselves, but this time he began to link together the whole.
it was playing together, playing the whole, playing the unspoken life, the inarticulate elements -- it was such ensemble that made a weak play the moving human drama that it was. Until we discovered this during rehearsals we were uncomfortable. We were cheating ourselves into trying to believe this drama was real. Roberts overheard someone say, “This play makes me remember so much I had forgotten,” which means you took people back into their own lives, throwing light on what had happened, which they may not have understood.
Had your work been less honest, this would not have happened. We might have witnessed dramatic, theatrical moments in the life of a prominent man without feeling ourselves part of that life and that time.
Nancy is particularly successful in creating realities. She comes into a set and it becomes a home, for her eyes see home; all her senses respond to home. In the same way, to her actors become people, to whom she has individual ties. She has a gift for wearing clothes so that they become personality; she puts on a pair of clean white gloves and they are Eleanor’s gloves; she changes from suit coat to sweater and Eleanor’s life has been revealed to us. Books, hats, knitting, are never ‘props” in Nancy’s hands -- they are part of a way of living.
Linda is just beginning to learn this. As a result she can say: “But this way, acting is so easy” . . . and that’s the way it should be. As a consequence Linda did her best acting in this production, easy enough except for a couple of lines.
Nancy lets things happen and that’s as it should be. Dan began to learn this art, too: needs to learn more of the same. However, he came through, not only with a fine job of character work, but also a fine job of using theatrical devices. He achieved a fine sense of how to build a sequence to its capper -- and that’s an art.
All of you need to cultivate your sense of dramatic construction, so that you can build sequence upon sequence as a mason builds stone upon stone -- each sequence has a beginning, middle and end, but fits into a whole. This is the secret of clarity of production. “Twelfth Night” has still to achieve it. Dan is on his way to ensemble acting and to technical communication.
Fay’s work is difficult to criticize for it has technical awareness and technical expertness; characterization is sound and she has command over the stage situation -- yet something is lacking. Is her acting, perhaps, too much of the head? Didn’t Faye condemn Mrs. R. too completely to make us believe she was Mrs. R?
Critical faculties must be put to rest while acting, to be resumed later as needed. If Nancy passes judgment on “Auntie Mame” while playing Mame she will be lost. This does not mean that Nancy does not know the elements of the play but simply for the duration of the role the elements do not exist. Dave could not have been FDR if his critical judgment of the play had prevailed. Because he could concentrate on the man, not the vehicle, he could become the man -- and he did.
Dave acts with mind that knows where he is going, with heart that understands and leads other to understand, and with all his senses alert and responsive. He is ageless onstage -- like Wayne -- because he assumes the viewpoint of any age and responds from that viewpoint. The illusion is complete. With his own outgoing dramatic sense he can direct the audience in feeling, thinking, believing, understanding. (Nancy needs to strengthen this fourth dimensional aspect.) His work is amazingly complete, yet, like Nancy’s, unstudied. He creates, he believes in what he creates and so do we all.
Jerry could not quite achieve the completion of the characterization process. He could have fun being Al Smith offstage, but he did not really assimilate the characteristics; he didn’t completely believe in the product he created. It was, nevertheless, a good job. That episode is probably the most difficult in the whole play. We needed to work with it more, much more, as we did the day it was half improvised. We assumed it would replay in the same manner -- we were wrong. It needed more improvisation, more action, more playing ball to set up reaction patterns which would eventually play themselves. Jerry was well on the way in final performance.
King, Pogue, Willoughby: It seems all they need is an objective. Turned loose on the stage, they achieve it in a masterly, effective fashion and what more can you ask? Claris, Rod, Laird: an effective family unit. Griswold: a mature, efficient doctor. Lunday, Zegers: political arena atmosphere. Marie and Edward perfectly rounded out the family picture.
No jarring notes anywhere; all performances were secure and reasonably consistent.