To study the scene designs for a production should give actors the form in which they are to play the drama. In this instance the two bare, non-realistic branches silhouetted against the cyclorama were the epitome of the form: no leaves, no individuality of tree (elm, oak, cherry, pine), no decoration -- just bare, black branches framing the action centered about bare essentials of furniture: counter, table, chairs.
The characters involved in the action must be presented with the same starkness of outline, the same vivid silhouettes against the sky; schoolteacher, doctor, priest, painter, man-on-the-dole, station master, burgomaster, etc. The trait essential to the projections of the idée -- that trait intensified by the elimination of all other traits -- is played against the opposing forces. The only sub-text needed in a play of this sort is the subtext that relates to the main action. To add more would throw focus on character development, on personal eccentricities, and take focus away from the main theme: money can buy anyone. This elimination of all but the essential constitutes the style: a clear projection of a dominant trait in action.
When Zegers finally cut out all the subtle subtexts, when he intensified the direct vocal preparation of character trait in action, he became a dynamic force in the action of the drama. Now this procedure does not mean that nothing happens between lines; it means that what happens is sharp and intense as lighting flashes. Dave tended to eliminate these flashes in his direct forward action. The burgomaster sees Schill’s shaking hands and steels himself against normal response; he hears the break in Schill’s voice and rides over it.
The moments of hearing, seeing, sensing are not eliminated ever -- in any form. They are vivid and stark but are not followed by moments of indecision, for in these brief scenes the decisions have been made -- in order that we may not become involved in the home life of each person in the play and thus become distracted from the central theme. Dave still needs to concentrate on straight, direct, forceful speech; he still needs to eliminate a tendency toward a sarcastic slide in tone; he needs to listen to and copy all varieties of speech pattern in order to achieve a more flexible vocal medium.
I hope he and everyone has now learned to play against tragic elements, to play against getting involved in the overall mood. When you are told to play with a passion to change the world, that does not mean to think: This is an terrible world, this is an evil world, this is a miserable world, etc. etc. It means to think with the dramatist: “We must try to change this work to make people think, act.” After the first night you played with such an approach and the drama became electric, provocative and good theatre. People were forced to think because implications were hitting full force -- not of individuals in a town. The starkness of the impersonality of all but Schill and Clara raised it to universals. It was hard hitting every moment, yet it was always theatre to be enjoyed as theatre. Everyone played the same style, everyone was ensemble. Everyone contributed to the whole: Mason’s walk off after preventing Schill’s escape -- the epitome of “we have done the right thing,” Griswold’s entrance in scene 2: so superbly ironic, so joyful. Sara jane’s “Most God-forsaken town” -- hundreds of such moments all tieing together and adding up.
DeMott and Dobrin both achieved brilliant lucidity particularly on Saturday night. Both achieved clarity of communication coupled with intensity. Linda’s self-submergence, resulting in: a wife who sold out for a fur coat, with the moment of listening to the bell that told the whole story was an illuminating irony.
I wonder if you all realized how pointed the dramatic ironies became when you played only one trait clearly against the action. Think this through, for you will need to use it often. Irony is easily blurred. You have all played it now, and played it well. Try now to grasp and understand the principle behind it: Sharp outline like the bare branch against the cyc.
To say that you all found this style and played it well is to sum up your effective work. Nancy’s work and Wayne’s can only be spoken in superlatives. With more work Wayne might develop further Schill’s ineffectuality even in terror; sometimes his Schill seemed capable of thinking too deeply, of understanding too deeply. The difficulty of the role lies in the realization -- how deep, what exactly does he realize, on what level? Wayne answered the questions with credibility. Black panther and failure incorporated in one being are qualities not easily reconciled, but Wayne made it credible. As always, Wayne’s responsiveness to everyone and everything is a distinguishing feature of his acting.
Nancy’s creation of Clara was true art. Nancy gets to the very essence of character, to the spine of the role. Hands, spine, eyes, voice become Clara. She never misses a beat of the play; once the accuracy of a musician who interprets from the head and the heart with complete mastery of the instrument, Nancy found the cadences of the role and of the play; they came to beautiful crescendos in the wedding scene and crescendo and diminuendo in the final forest scene. Sense and music are balanced in her work. Nancy’s images are astonishingly clear and her communication of them beautifully lucid. Her Clara emerged from a background: young girl, whore, huntress, destroyer -- she evolved them all. Nancy has an active imagination, and she apparently knows how to ask the questions which make it a creative imagination. Nancy saw with Clara’s eyes and with the mother’s eyes. The result was a four dimensional characterization prsented with telling effect -- a real triumph.