High comedy, comedy of wit, demands minds operating on several levels. On one level is the response to what has just been said, or what has just happened; another level is occupied with what cannot be said, which flows along behind the line, past the line and into the next retort. These levels are to a great or less extent incongruous with what is being said: to the civilized, witty dialogue they add levels which may or may not be as civilized -- they give the tone of implication to the dialogue, the note of daring which makes it possible to toss off lightly lines concerning such subjects as war and sex without offense. They suggest that these same people could talk and feel seriously on the same subjects, but they choose to speak lightly and wittily. Alkmena feels deeply about love and marriage; Jupiter is capable of loneliness in his divinity: both have the wit to participate in brilliant dialogue which builds the fascinating mystery of what they truly are. All this adds up to: sophistication. You cannot act the intangible quality: sophistication. You have to discover the levels operating, sense their comic incongruities and play them against each other. The writer of high comedy deals with ideas, but he has no desire to drive him home, to agitate people for or against them, to make people think. Virtually he indicates to an audience, "You may think if you like, but you do not need to: merely listen, enjoy with delight."
All in all, probably the first night's performance came closest to the ideal of sophisticated comedy. Your wits were most active, you were alert mentally and physically. Saturday's performance was gay and highly amusing -- a lark. but it was not consistently high comedy. You reverted to clowning that was not exactly sophisticated. There is clowning in high comedy, but minds are doing the clowning; the level is higher than the clowning of situation. The Lunts clown, but it is with the agility of minds that are outwitting each other. It is good to know you can clown because it is evidence that you are responding to stimuli on many levels, that you are free to respond to anything that occurs, but keep your clowning in the play's framework. It would have been interesting to play one more night to test your ability to get the same bright comedy attitude without farce business.
Griswold consistently did a good job of casualness combined with good pointing. Phil is a good clown; the effect would have been heightened if he had been able to play on the ironic level of Behrman wit rather than on props. Alton: a good job of total participation. He sometimes misses in the technical timing of coming in on top at exactly the right instant and right intensity with a line like, "I do." It is sometimes necessary to squelch the laugh on one line in order to land the bigger one on the capper.
Vance's Mercury was very right on the unscrupulous mental level, and he has learned to toss off lines with a nice comic lift. With the techniques he has kept a spirit of mental improvisation which is imperative in all comedy. His next project should be: follow through of movement. The scant costume revealed the fact that his movement does not originate in the spine and flow through to finger tips. Instead there is a break at the elbow, a new movement of the forearm, a break at the wrist and a new movement of the hand. That is: the hand drops or turns from the wrist or is cupped in, the arms hang from the shoulder, instead of being lifted by energy from the spine. A lesson or two with Jane should correct the fault.
Faye was so close to excellent it is difficult to discover why she just misses. The lift up and snap at the ends of lines helped tremendously Saturday night, although she still let certain lines die away, at which point the scene lost direction. Brighter tones help, too. The little game we played in the dressing room of delivering lines with a little slap stimulated her to a sense of active participation that was highly desirable. Lines, no matter how nonchalant or casual they are, must land, must go home. Faye and Nancy tend to let lines go by each other instead of hitting. When that happens a scene goes nowhere, objectives are lost.
Nancy was at her best on Wednesday and Saturday nights, particularly on Saturday when lines were communicated brilliantly. Her bad habit of rushing through lines without pointing was virtually eliminated. Lines were well arched and terminated with a snap. In addition she was playing vitally with other people. The role was completely hers on Saturday night, for the most part on Wednesday, too. The flatness of the Friday performance should never have happened. It is unavoidable that there will be nights when you will not feel like playing. At such times it is imperative that you deliberately use bright tones, snap lines and arch lines. You will find yourself coming alive whether you want to or not. Nancy is at her best in improvisations. How to carry over the improvisatory spirit is her problem. In improvisations she plays with people, always responds on all levels. Coming into the memorized scene she loses the spontaneity, the inventiveness, the imagination of the improvised situation. When you catch yourself responding perfunctorily without motivated response better jerk yourself into consciousness by saying, "What did you say?" "What did you mean?" "Why did you smile?" etc. The right question may jolt you into complete awareness again. Acting in performance must be fun, must be a joy. It can only be so if you are surprised constantly, if you strike sparks every second, if you hear, see something new every time. Dennis lets himself be surprised, lets himself respond to anything that happens. He and Vance play well together because there is always something alive going on between them. They each rise to the challenge sent out by the other. Dennis plays well the sophisticated nuances. On Friday, when others were down, he achieved certain notes in Jupiter not heard before. Jupiter, the god, was stronger than on previous nights. These god-like elements we should have developed more fully. The last act might have played more easily if they had been stronger.
High comedy is difficult because it requires witty, alert minds and brilliant techniques, so brilliant they seem not to exist. Nothing can be substituted for this wit and brilliance. We did not achieve this combination consistently, but we achieved it often enough the you should have a sense of how it must be played.