Tuesday, November 20, 2012


On Saturday night you must have experienced the joy of playing to an audience raptly listening to every word you spoke, responding to every cadence, eagerly anticipating every new event, caught in the development of the tragedy.  In reading the play it may seem disjointed, loose in construction, difficult to comprehend.  When played as you played on Saturday, it is not only crystal clear, it is gripping closely-knit drama.  Perhaps you heard the slight murmur when Caesar first appeared: Shakespeare had foreshadowed that entrance, the audience unconsciously was alerted to his appearance.  They were prepared for Pompey, and once the forces were introduced, events were anticipated.  Even the briefest scenes, instead of interrupting action, built it, tied it up.  All this happened when lines were brilliantly spoken, when a rhythmic flow had been established.  And the miracle happened to you, too, for you were caught in the strong current and each of you gave your finest performances.  It was as if nothing could keep the drama from speeding to the tragic deaths.   Tragic, yet there was a wonderful theatrical lift -- a kind of exaltation and exultation that can happen only in a theatre: high solemnity, great artistic order and a tremendous lift of the spirit.  It seemed to me that the audience left in the same kind of unexplainable stimulation that I sensed among you after the performance: a desire to re-experience the intangible thing that had happened.  I dwell on this because it is important that you understand it in order that in your next Shakespearean performance you can begin where we left off, eliminating all the individual fumbling and experimenting and agonizing of our early stages.

Trust Shakespeare -- speak the lines with the rhythms, cadences, character, time, place and drama.  Speak the lines with directness, with rib support, with crisp articulation.  Watch the caesuras.  And that first stressed beat: thus you avoid garbled, unpointed lines, thus you get pace with clarity.  Marianne achieved this Saturday night and her performance was immeasurably heightened, and gained in tragic stature.  What’s more: note how that speaking of lines energizes you as an actor, how it stimulates you, how it releases your creative forces: how it inspires you.  You don’t need to act emotions, you experience them; you don’t need to act attitudes; they happen.  Result: all the false intoning, the over-stressing disappeared; you became the character, you are in the situation.  Marianne gave a fine performance Saturday.  She still very much needs body training, spinal flexibility.  Achievement of this physical suppleness might have aided her early scenes.  The capricious, willful, playful, changeable Cleopatra was never quite realized.  The rise to nobility and tragic destiny would have been heightened had we achieved more of the wanton Cleopatra.  Marianne needs still to permit herself to respond to myriads of stimuli, to respond afresh every night, to let things happen to her, to break through her well-rehearsed patterns; to play with, to respond to others.  This is not only Marianne’s problem: it is a general weakness in the company.  We have not yet achieved ensemble acting.  We tend to solo performances and very good ones, but few of you have achieved true playing-together.  Shakespeare revealed this lack.

One of the most tightly knit scenes, eventually, was the summit meeting when things started happened between Caesar, Antony and Lepidus.  More levels were touched off than in other scenes.  More still could have happened, but ensemble playing wasn’t present.  Without this sense of ensemble, of responsiveness to each other, there is a tendency to make speeches in Shakespeare.  Most of you fell into this at times.  It marred slightly Laird’s most excellent performance of Caesar: certain lines about Antony, for instance, tended to be “speeches.”  To avoid this, it is necessary to slip into them from strong motivations, from provocative response to a motivating force.  In all other respects Laird was the most complete Caesar, and the most believable Caesar I have ever seen.  He created a dominant force in the conflict; he had throughout a fine sense of the direct line of action; he was boy and he was ruler; a brilliant performance.

Although we displayed some speech-making tendencies, we avoided making speeches into “purple passages.”  “The barge she sat in” too often becomes such a passage.  Mike beautifully avoided such an error.  He spoke as a rough, realistic-minded soldier who could speak only in images, realistically about a subject which, in reality, could be described in no other way.  French and Gore, both playing with vitality and meaning. might have reacted more freely, and there might have been more progression in their attitudes from bawdy anticipation to confounded amazement: again a need for closer ensemble.  Mike’s Enobarbas was a fine truthful strong portrayal.  He too played a direct line of action; he spoke with exceptional clarity and force.  He can go farther with the wry humor, but it was there as a dry commentary on Antony and the whole situation.  Mike tends to get rooted in one spot; his feet get planted in one position and stay there.  Perhaps he should stand still, but he should look prepared to move; he should adjust physically with more ease than he does, but he gave us an Enobarbus to remember.

Pompey is to be remembered, too: amazingly total: in mind, body, speech he was Pompey.  Jon learned the art of speaking iambic pentameter with full meaning.  He added dimension to the play.  The Pompey thread is usually obscured.  Jon made him a force in the tragic texture of the play: strong, convincing, threatening, an excellent combination of the realistic attributes of the character with theatrical force.  He may not quite understand the combination of realistic motivations and presentational style, but he achieved it.

Leigh’s Octavia is her best work to date: controlled, believable, true.  Her realization moment was memorable.  She needs to add only the extra dimension of a heightened sense of purpose in the drama as a whole.  Yvonne has a sense of purpose in the drama as a whole. Yvonne has a sense of ensemble; she is totally involved in the drama always;  she is ready for action any second, aware of every nuance. ready to participate -- delightful in her light moments, moving in her death, and to just the right degrees: her death, lesser than Cleopatra’s, heightened Cleopatra’s.  On Saturday “Her crown’s awry” was a moment of real beauty.  Susan, as she knows, needs voice work before she can do much more as an actress.  She has not the quality or flexibility to play the values called for in verse drama.  In fact, she needs to work on total flexibility to permit herself to participate more completely.

Frank has an instinctive or intuitive sense of what is right in a role and he puts it into action without questioning how or what.  and so his Mardian was more than a decoration in Cleopatra’s boudoir.  He was a minor comment on a way of life.  The little episode in which he told Antony of Cleopatra’s death was beautifully detached in a minor key -- a strange note of tragic horror that heightened the waste of greatness in an inexplicable way.  Both Shakespeare and Galati were artist in this scene.

Frink’s Soothsayer was essentially right in mood.  Bob’s tones could have more edge to make the minor note more chilling.  Direct the tone to hit the hard palate behind the upper front teeth.  In general, Bob needs more hard palate tones to play against his own softer vocal quality.  Frank Chew’s Alexas afforded lively indolence in the Egyptian scene most effectively.  He plays in Yvonne’s lively vein, and responds to all stimuli.  Vowels can be sustained more: he almost eliminates them from his speech.  The pearl speech might have been more heightened if variety is an asset.  The same is true of Tavonatti; on Friday he achieved some of the messenger’s comic angles, Saturday they receded.  Vocally he is rigid and in the messenger tended toward monotones -- Keep tones front-directed and tossed up.  Marc has something of the same problem.  Marc has not yet achieved release from actor tension.  His personal keyed-up state dominates his character’s emotional state.  This sends both voice and emotion out of control.  Marc knows so well what he wants to do with a role, and he is always right, but he has not yet learned to objectify that knowledge.  You are so right in your inner motivation, Marc, and you respond to stimuli.  Trust yourself to function intuitively on that level.  Now add: Project the complete image of the character onto a screen on the fourth wall; see him, hear him in action, respond empathically to what he is doing, do what he does.  If you can do this, you will release your own emotions and physical tensions; you will objectify him and become him.  Just as if you watch someone and let your muscles, your whole body do what he does, you may find yourself thinking, feeling, responding as he does.  You become him.  Try it with Ralph.  Jon can perhaps profit by the same procedure.

Memmen made tremendous strides as an actor.  He still needs vocal and physical work of the kind we devised.  He must continue the exercises until they carry over completely.  But each sequence he played carried the action forward and projected forcefully in mood the change in Antony’s fortunes.  Shannon in the course of the production learned the difference between responding with purely personal realistic pity, and lifting that pity to the universal level.  He so most effectively.

That Tom can play Antony someday, there is no doubt.  He came close even at this point.  He had discovered Antony’s qualities, knew him well, but he had not yet assimilated traits to the point that Antony and Tim were one.  On Saturday night Tom was fully ready to develop the role; in fact, he developed, grew tremendously in the course of that one performance.  We needed more time to develop the facts of character, to put them into action: the weak Antony in his dotage, the still great Antony in his magnificence, the weak Antony fleeing after Cleopatra, the great Antony who could fully realize his folly.  Tom knew thee facets and they were not completely or totally assimilated into character.  When Tom began to let the lines carry him, Antony began to materialize and Shakespeare’s poetry was carrying him Saturday night when he came close to tragic stature.  Even though the role was incomplete, Tom’s performance had magnitude and power.  What he does is truthful as far as he had realized it at the time and is theatrical truth.  His work too needed the background of ensemble.  We left many moments unrealized.  There should have been more moments of understanding and friendship between Antony and Enobarbus which would have heightened the tragedy of desertion.  The Apollodorus moment, what took place in it, was not fully realized; so must there have been other moments when something was shared between them.  And so with Eros: the buckling of the sword moments were not fully realized, a transfer was not completed.  Such a transfer would have heightened the Eros death and Antony’s death.  So through lack of ensemble, there were moments lost throughout.  Proculieus was essentially excellent in basic traits and vocalization of those traits; but there should have been a moment of eye contact with Cleopatra, and another with Dolabella in which they fight out their feud for a few seconds and he yields.  In the remaining weeks, concentrate on ensemble.

In the end, “Antony and Cleopatra” goes down as a triumph in clarity which was illuminating, in beauty and in the achievement of the truth of Shakespeare without resorting to excesses of production and direction.  It was to our audience and to ourselves well worth the doing.

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