The techniques used in farce are applicable in modified form to all comedy. It would be well for all who seek a career in professional theatre to master these techniques. What Dave Roberts learned so well in “Paradiso” he will use over and over. I have already referred to the perfection of his “bonus” line. Without fail, it brought down the house, stopped the show, elicited -- not scattered laughter, but total audience response -- and no doubt motivated the many curtain calls. The show should have had similar responses throughout. It was not characterization that brought the laugh. The character created could easily have been obnoxious, distasteful. It was Dave’s comedy technique that successfully landed every line he had night after night, and the play is so constructed that if the actor has registered each speech, he has logically built to the “bonus” climax and he has only to plant it securely.
Note the steps in the delivery. First, Dave got focus by a slight movement, (only the head as I remember it), he intensified that focus by an arrest of the slight movement, a slight hold, (as if a catch of the breath, then playing direct opposite to every voice on stage and to the volume which preceded it, in a flat, direct tone, without inflection of any sort; he said, “Give you a bonus,” and stopped dead and held. No mugging, no strain, no obvious trick. I strongly advise all of you to work on it.
Lawrence wrecked almost every line Saturday because he did not use it, could not hang onto it once he had achieved it in earlier performances. The one line he brought off Saturday was the first, “The dicks are here -- “ and every sequence he was in depended upon efficiency in this technique. It is not difficult to master. It is first purely a mechanical thing; then when used as Dave did, it is an art.
Jenkins became skillful in its use. In the instances where it did not come off in his case, he had missed the first step: getting focus by that small -- or big -- movement that gets attention and can be arrested for intensification of focus. Larry brought it off many times. Could have done it regularly had he not been so concerned about carrying the play. It was unfortunate that the play went through bad dress rehearsals to a weak opening night. The invariable result of such procedure is tht someone -- in this case, Larry -- begins to feel he has to “carry” the show. Add to this our desperate effort to sweep everyone into the farcical spirit through sheer pace, and inevitably you have certain distortions. The accelerated pace was successful in that it shocked people out of pure realism, out of solo acting, and involved everyone in the farce situation. It improved the show tremendously, but we paid a price for it. The audience was cheated out of maximum participation through laughter, and Larry feeling responsible for the momentum of the play, had to distort the Boniface character; lost the meek little man to some extent and became too much the aggressor. Had the opposing forces (the opposites) , developed more positively before Thursday night, Larry could have heightened the meek, worm-like qualities in opposition to the aggressive, unromantic wife and best friend. Farce has to be finely balanced always. In our necessity we had to resort to speed for intensification, thus sacrificing other elements.
Larry has a fine comic art. I have mentioned certain aspects of it before; there is one I have not pointed out, and it may help others. One cannot say exactly what goes on in an actor’s mind, but I believe that, consciously or unconsciously, Larry at some stage in his work, has an image of himself as Boniface or Androcles, etc -- an image in which, objectively, from a distance, with detachment -- he sees the personal characteristics of his own that he can use, distort, and throw off balance, and so achieve comic incongruity -- he can see his bony angles, his red hair, his ears, his skinny hands; he sees the comic possibilities in throwing focus on these very items -- they become the instruments on which he plays -- and since he has a detached viewpoint he can use them to the fullest extent. He has no fear, no inhibition about using them -- they become not his nose, his ears, his hair, his frame, but a unique nose, hair, ears, etc. for an artist to use. I recommend that you all acquire such ability, (partly discussed under showmanship last week). I had coped Jane would see from such a viewpoint. She isn’t fat, as the wife should be but I hoped Jane would see her height as towering above her worm husband; I hoped she would see her long arms as sinewy and strong enough to pick up the little man, to jab a hatpin right through him. If Jane can get this objective viewpoint , she will lose her fears of doing comedy. Cerasani, too, needs to learn to get outside of himself and see the qualities he can use, distorted and off balance. Cerasani improved greatly when the momentum of the production gave him no time to think of how he was playing and what to do next. He still has far to go in quickness of response to the immediate situation, in playing with others, in playing straight.
Paula needs to achieve this detached viewpoint. She should be able, for instance, to see her beautiful brown eyes, growing blank and more blank and still more blank until Paula needs to be no more than a pair of huge, blank eyes in a made up face. Don’t worry about the motivation; turn the eyes blank and the empty soul follows. Linn does this very well. He was not always successful in getting focus; the night he did, his exit, “Oh, I say,” touched off a huge laugh.
Suzanne, night by night, grew increasingly adept at using her blonde beauty, reducing it to beauty alone, and throwing focus on it. She still needs work on playing flat direct statement in opposition to everything else. She brought it off regularly on “cerebral hemorrhage,” but her tendency is to lack projection of the flat opposite, to drop it too low in volume or to fail to get focus. She needs only to work hard enough on techniques to be sure of them.
Pressman made tremendous progress in farce techniques. The first duet sequence never did come off, because neither Tom or Dave were secure enough to play opposites, but all of Dave’s other sequences were well-handled. His tones tend to a hollowness which is damaging to the directness needed, but he overcame the hollow quality very well indeed.
Linda needs to sharpen her sense of opposite, instantaneous response. Her tendency -- Jane’s too -- is to pick up the pitch, volume, intensity of the preceding speaker. This is devastating in comedy, particularly farce, and is unwise even in serious drama. In the Maxime-Victoire sequences, Victoire has to be the aggressor, Maxime the victim. Linda always started the scene well, but after the first exchanges, she picked up Maxime’s passive tones. This means that the comic progression of the scene was halted, it came to an impasse. In other scenes, in which she did not have to lead the action, she was a vital, pert figure. Don’t wait until you are in another play to work on this habit of playing opposites. Work on it as an exercise, and try it in conversations, until it becomes automatic -- an involuntary, natural response.
The three children were well played. Lisa still needs to curb her tendency to do too much; focus went toward Claris and Penny who were intensively doing nothing. And please, before going onstage have someone check your clothing. Lisa’s petticoat showed a good six inches Saturday night, and one night Linda’s skirt (pink) placket was badly put together. And do study pictures, fashion plates. Few of you wear clothes on stage in such a way that they hvae character meaning, or period meaning. to put on a 1900 dress, a 1912 dress, as if you are wearing your own casual clothing is to fail in interpretation of character and period. Every era has its particular silhouette. Become familiar with it. When you put on an authentic 1912 dress and discover that it hangs long in the back, you should know instantly that you are standing incorrectly for the period, your silhouette is wrong. Find the right posture for the clothing of the period and you may -- no, you will -- find the attitude of the period. Our modern, pelvis-leading silhouette belongs only in modern dress. The clothing of another era will no more suit it, than will the attitudes of other eras suit us. Wearing clothes correctly is part of the art of acting, of interpretation of character.
Zegers is doing a good job in “Right You Are” in wearing, in using a suit to express facets of character. He wears it as if it belonged to him, as if he were born to wear it: suit and official are one -- Zegers did a good job, too, as the Inspector. Good, straight playing from the right attitude. Along with others in the cast, he fell into the error of speaking lines too fast in the last scene. All of you, remember no matter what your pace, the significant word in the line must be tossed up (as you toss up a ball and catch it deftly). Many comedy lines did not come off because the word that carries the comic idea was lost in a maze of words. Unless this word has had some kind of focus, the laugh will not come, no matter how hard you punch the line. Do work with the ball. You will need the technique in the next two shows -- and badly in “Wonderful Town.”
If techniques had been more secure, the performance would have been easier on all actors, just as a game is less of a strain for a trained athlete than for the untrained one. You wore yourselves out because you had to compensate for your lack of skill. Saturday night some squences were overplayed; Wednesday night too many were not played at all. Farce must seem to be a constant surprise, but that surprise must be played with effortless technique. “Wonderful Town” is not a farce, but it will require expert techniques. Brush up on all your comic techniques, less we have to compensate desperately for our lack of proficiency.