BACK TO METHUSELAH
Shaw writes for actors who possess the talents and techniques of speaking lines brilliantly, and with minds as alert and witty as his own to motivate the scintillating debates he stages. Whether he likes characters or not (he certainly does not like either Burge or Lubin) he endows them with the eloquence to express their viewpoints devastatingly, for his battle of ideas must be fought by experts on all sides. The clearness of the skullduggery of his politicians must be matched by the wits of the passionate in heart. Our second act became Shavian Thursday night when the brothers Barnabas began to exercise eloquence of their own: Shavian eloquence which is of the mind, of the heart, and of the tongue. In Shaw you cannot play character alone, although he does create characters, and especially you cannot play emotions. You must play Shaw! Shaw pulling the strings, calling the plays, Shaw putting wit against wit to fight for the Shavian idea, in this case: creative evolution can achieve reason which alone can save the world. A good portion of the actor’s mind must be Shaw and his articulatory organs must be capable of Shavian eloquence and back of it all must be a passionate concern for humanity which raises debate to a battle for high stakes.
Our Wednesday performance was void of Shaw: it lacked wit, passion, eloquence. Thursday the first act touched off sparks. Mary began to play the ideas of Shaw expressed through the child Eve instead of merely playing the child; Marianne really landed the serpent concepts (why not, etc.) so they stuck in the mind throughout the play. Chris got caught in the idea-action and stopped manufacturing his actor-self to express the idea Chris knows must be expressed. This is still an element in acting Chris needs to guard against: having made the analysis (which Chris does so well), having designed the role and the scene, just let it happen. Shut out your analytic and directing self. Shavian words must be touched off like sparks which fly when tinder is struck. This sparks flying element is something you all need to strive for. Even when you reached the stage of speaking lines with fluidity and with pointing you tended to miss the initial spark which touches off eloquence. Chew is especially adept in this respect. Marc’s receptive alert mind ignites and shoots sparks, and so does Galati’s. Laird’s is quick enough but he sometimes lets it sleep a beat, and Barbara can be more lightening swift. Mary’s work, so excellent in most respects, can be heightened by this quick mental flack which touches off the vocal response. Scene 2 was a test of this capacity. Mary grasped the depths of Eve, she touched the emotion’s power; Jon learned to deliver the Shavian lines with an impact. He has the mind to grasp the ideas, and the voice to express them, the physical vitality that is electric and dominates the stage; Jon and Mary are both actors of ability, but they did not make sparks fly between them. Emotions were dominant when in Shaw conflict of ideas must always dominate. When ideas are flashing, long speeches are full of quick mental changes in opposition to ideas sensed in the listener. Jon and Mary both tended to play with the steady flames, which are effective for a time, but sparks, quick, sharp, uneven are more Shavian. There are more chuckles in scene 2 than we got and the scene needs those little releases of audience tension. These chuckles come from unexpected sparks, unexpected undercuts, unexpected implications. The audience must be kept alerted to exchange of ideas. Jon was beginning to achieve this in many moments on Saturday night. With his sharp mind he should be able to achieve it. Emotion without mental activity is undramatic as well as un-funny.
The element of surprise is something you must all become more aware of. Without surprise: no sparks, no comedy. To touch off surprise, lines must end with an unexpected flick, an unexpected snap, like a sudden release of an elastic band, or like the flick at the very end of a whip. You can achieve it by delivering the main portions of a line with a certain intensity, ending it with a sudden tossing away of the end, or a sudden drop in pitch. (Barbara brought it off effectively sometimes and sometimes she was too obvious about it to cause surprise.) Shavian lines should end with surprise of some sort. Chew does well with the toss away. Galati who builds lines beautifully through the middle needs more toss away suprises. He did it best on Saturday. “Damn bad friend” is a good example. Frink needs to learn to do it. Phrases tossed away would have aided both ancients. Laird sometimes does it very skillfully, but he is not always consistent. It will help Overton’s work, release his tensions. His work is excellent; on Saturday it was particularly so, when he had achieved discipline over 3rd act lines. Marc and Galati both need to add toss off opposites to the intensity and energy with which they play. Both must constantly remind themselves of the laughter behind all irascible characters in comedy. Confucius on Thursday night was unamusing because with no laughter behind the lines and the character, he was simply a sour man. Saturday night was excellent because Phil added a smile. That smile accompanying the well-aimed lines made a tops performance.
The last scene was always difficult perhaps because we did not sense the true nature of the conflict, the debate between mind and matter. Richard and Yvonne kept Shaw present in themselves; both play with delightful brilliance, spontaneity and mental activity, bright voices -- they are actors. Leigh plays with spontaneity but her voice proved inadequate to what she was trying to do. The lower tones are excellent, but the high ones are merely high without support of lower overtones. Work on scales, sung and spoken, keeping the lower overtones and vibrations supporting tones as you go up. This fuller tone might have preserved more of the rationality of the scene and would have played against the emotionality. In Chloe the mind must become more dominant. A voice in better balance would have helped Leigh’s performance. The other youths were well played. I think we missed something by not following Shaw’s suggestions that our Grecian youths do a vigorous Elizabethan farandole and sarabande. The mixture of classic and Elizabethan might have started incongruities to help the youths and maidens as to the nature of their reveling and their opposition to the ancients.
Bob and Pam both needed to smile behind and within their interpretation. both needed to toss off lines. Wisdom includes a sense of humor or it is off balance. They do not make jokes but neither do they condemn. They are far more tolerant than the young. Perhaps we should have thought of them as certain gentle old people, who are called “absent minded,” when actually their minds are concerned with things outside our lives -- or perhaps the the gentle “absent” mindedness of certain priests who are not occupied with worldly physical concerns. True, these ancients have not attained pure intelligence, Lilith says they are headed in the right direction. We made them too forbidding. Both Pam and Bob need to develop more flexible vocal mechanisms. Pam’s voice quality alienates: tight throat-tense jaw produces flat nasal tones. Saturday night’s production was top Shavian drama: amusing, thought-provoking, entertaining. The audience participated intently.