From Aristophanes to “Auntie Mame,” the elements of comedy and the techniques of playing them are the same. We created Shakespearean characters, we set up the situations in which they are involved, we are weak in the comedy techniques which deliver the comedy consistently.
Thursday night when Russel entered completely into the comic revelry and had a good time, he sparked the entire performance and the show was brilliant. Every moment had in it the surprise which gives the spirit of improvisation so necessary to all comedy. It was played full tilt, with full participation. Everyone was completely in the game, everyone had fun, yet everything was kept in control within the framework of the drama. Saturday the last scene played beautifully, with fun, with wit, with discipline.
This is the element Griswold needs to work on: catching a ball with surprise and returning it with surprise . . .bright tones . . . and a swell or arch in a key word. His Aguecheek was a beautiful character creation, but his techniques were wobbly. He is often slow on the pickup, or the tone lacks vitality, or he fails to arch the right word. It would take only a little concentration on techniques of comic delivery to make his Aguecheek superb.
Marshall’s difficulties are technical, too. He created character admirably. But having created a Malvolio, he doesn’t quite permit him to respond freely to the situations, and so he is sometimes studied; or he lets go too completely and the situation and character go out of control.
Marshall’s line delivery is not sure: he drops words, or fails to land the line. He, like the rest of you, has not yet learned how to snap a line at the end so that it released laughter. Line endings that are smudged, that are indefinite, stifle laughter. Stretch an elastic band as you speak, let go suddenly, and you have the snap that comedy requires. And the suddenness of the snap necessitates an arrest for recovery that touches off laughter. This is true of all comedy and of all comic characters. No matter whether the lines go up or down, whether it is swift or drawled, the snap must come at the end -- or no laughter. Work on it: you will need it for “Auntie Mame.”
Fabian was progressing steadily toward good clowning; he slipped only when he let lines get out of control: too high in pitch or jumbled in words. He was learning to play with literalness that was sparked with a sense of comedy.
Maria had the right spirit, the spirit of infectious fun. It was marred by a tendency to over inflect. Shakespeare lines require a directness of delivery with a bright tone and a toss up of the important word. Perhaps it was the conspiratorial aspects of her role that led Claris into circumlocutions which were sometimes unintelligible.
Russel was tremendous Thursday night when he let go and had fun. His playing one character against the other was brilliant. The duel sequence from its inception, its plotting, to its conclusion, was hilarious because he was playing all aspects of the sitiuation. This was how the entire play should go -- as he played the cellar scene in the repeat of final dress rehearsal -- forgetting everything and letting the situation play.
Vance has everything that makes good Shakespeare: he speaks the lines exceptionally well; he plays with ease and vitality. He needs to top in on his pauses more positively. A pause requires a decisive break and its drama is dissipated. As he knows, he needs voice work for range and flexibility.
McClory has discovered Shakepeare’s vocal music, too, and achieves the cadences and melody. Add sustained vowels so that words have more body, more solidity, more power. What he did was gone well. Keep progressing in the same direction.
Orsino improved during performances, but never quite became Dave’s role. Dave never quite incorporated into one person the Duke’s attributes of Elizabethan sophistication, Elizabethan vitality, and Elizabethan romance. If you can get any recordings of Gielgud’s “Much Ado” you will hear the vocal characteristics that epitomize this sort of man -- sophisticated, virile and romantic combined. Dave played with vitality and intelligibility, but often he seemed to be mocking the character.
Nash can still work on making iambic pentameter seem normal speech, but his captain was well-done nevertheless, as were all of the lesser roles.
Penny and Gretchen both need voice work. Both are excellent actresses, possessing beauty, brains, grace. When they were speaking with full tonal values, they were enchanting. They belonged in Illyria. Neither has the vocal capacity to interpret Shakespeare fully. As a consequence, they strained sometimes for effects. Shakespeare is music -- not arty, artificial music -- but the music of character, the music of emotion. You are both endowed literally with other acting talents. Add vocal beauty and flexibility. Why not spend 15 minutes a day with Nancy? In a short time she can give you the simple necessary exercises for support, for open throat, for oral and head resonance. And that’s all you need.