The success of romantic tragedy depends upon the ability of the actors and technicians to create the world in which this tragedy may take place: an idealized world, a world in which a figure like Cyrano may stalk and flaunt his plume and his ideals and be noble and not ridiculous; a world in which he may make love in the dark and not be recognized, be wounded to the death by a log of wood, yet die fighting shadows and waving a plume -- and be heroic. Foral’s framework for the proscenium, highly decorative, colorful, sweeping, was most successful in its invitation to enter a different world. It touched off innate desires, wishes to participate in romance apart from humdrum lives. It alerted the audience, it telegraphed action that would be heroic, colorful and removed from the ordinary. A world in which the action of the play was wholly plausible was touched off by the decorative motif and the production ultimately fulfilled the promise of the design. You created romantic tragedy in the best tradition with color, vitality. It was as if for the duration of the play you believed in the world you created -- and the audience participated in your belief.
To help you clarify the process of creating such a world take the case of Cuigy. Whenever focus fell on Longwell, one got a complete image of an era, a class, a Parisian world. He was Paris, 1640. Dennis does not care for the play; perhaps he actually dislikes it, yet from the very beginning rehearsals in voice and bearing, it was as if he completely believed in the world he was creating with Rostand. The affectations of the society became his; his every inflection, his every movement epitomized an era in which he entered so completely that it was his era. Then he used every detail of dress ad makeup to project this image. It was as if he threw focus now on color, now on decoration, now on line. His makeup had an unerring sense of style: the pink and white skin -- so delicate, so soft -- the contour of the face, the delicate lips, the focus on the wide open eyes, the heightening of the dimples; every detail set up an impression of a world in which a gentleman cold spend hours a day on himself. And I have never seen Dennis’ hands so expressive. In themselves they completely set up all that Cyrano hated. Out of such meticulous detail a period, a world, is created, providing you have Dennis’ capacity to play as if you believed in it completely.
Pogue has this sense of period, too, and De Guiche was a complete portrait of an era made totally credible as a man. Pogue, too, made inevitable the change from villain to man of integrity -- he rose to nobility with complete credibility. Valvert, too, took stage completely for his moments and left a vivid impression of his kind. Tavonatti was in the right vein, a fine creation of Brissaille. He has not yet achieved a brilliance of projecting an image into the space of the auditorium. It was always good to see De Guiche and Valvert take stage for their sequence. They did so with the assurance, ease, economy of artist-actors, giving exactly what is needed, no more, no less. They take focus with ease, hold it, play through to the end of the sequence. They subtly suggested another aspect of Parisian life: young man used as a tool. Both Vance and Bill are positive in their attitudes and these projected positively with a minimum of effort.
Alton’s Ligniere was right in essence, but he needs more of the positive assurance and security I have written about. He does not quite clinch the effect he wants to make: it does not always come off -- misses by just a degree or two. Griswold vocally landed everything. For his Marquis he needs a finer sense of wearing costume, of assimilation of traits. Le Bret became a stronger force each night, as Rod forced him less, worked less hard. He was most convincing when Rod was not pushing him. He still, sometimes, plays an attitude too hard, instead of letting the attitude develop as a result of relationships and responses. But Le Bret was a good solid figure throughout. Rageneau developed, too, as his relationship to Cyrano became more secure and his involvement in the total action became stronger. Jim played him, for a time, as if he were outside the main action. By opening night, however, he began to have fun with the role and Rageneau became more dominant. In techniques, Jim needs to build his sequences to stronger climaxes, to real cappers that are sustained a few seconds longer.
Laird’s Christian was excellent in the main. The role needed a stronger inner sense of direction, a more direct, straight light to the final exit. Many of you need to achieve this sense. (It is still lacking in Henry IV.) The artistic grasp that gives purpose to each scene, that makes the next sequence inevitable. I cannot tell you how to acquire it: it is seeing with the eyes of a playwright the straight line this character must follow. It is an attitude that give a plus meaning to your work: an imperative plus. Those of you who worked with Nancy Killmer saw it at its best although you may not have named it. It is an artistic sense of order and logic that keeps you traveling in exactly the right line to the final curtain. Foral needs to acquire this, too. His art work has it, I believe. He starts a sketch, each line makes the next one inevitable, curve or angle or what you will. There is no doubt about it. His acting, strong as it is, still lacks that unity of aim, that clarity of design. Lise, too, in Katina’s hands did not have that positive blueprint. It did not quite add up, it remained in parts, not tied into a whole.
Janet Lee added excellent details to the world of romantic comedy; the Duenna is a figure one remembers with delight. Janet Lee selects detail carefully and throws focus on individual details. Once in a while the manner was a little more important than the matter, but Saturday night in particular, the balance was excellent.
Each one of Parichy’s vignettes had a telling effect; he knew the purpose of each; he made his point each time; he was most decidedly in the world of Rostand, and he was able to punch each exit with telling business in character. Willoughby does everything with the joy of a real actor. His starving poet was a gem; his cut-purse was a wonderful fluid pattern; in the first scene, he was a leader among the cadets. Joy in acting -- he has it.
The three nuns were beautifully played; established the mood, set the rhythm of the scene, played the music of the verse with artistry, excellent counterpoint. Sarajane must get rid of her retracted “r” sound (as must Striglos, Foral and others). Learn to trill R, thus bringing it forward, to soften it, almost eliminate it in morning and similar words. Sister Marthe was beautifully played. She touched all the right chords with great delicacy and Faye played with find sense of timing and musical pitch, exactly what the sequence required.
The cast as a whole arrived at a good sense of the verse construction and the musical elements of the drama. Do remember this flow of lines, linking of lines, in all verse drama, and keep on working on sustained vowels which carry the music. Train your theatre music sense by listening to symphonies, note the variations in theme, the linking of phrases, the use of solo instruments, etc. The relation to drama is strong. Nancy will be able to work more easily if she will let herself be carried by the musical surge of a scene (prose or poetry). She seems to fight it, to oppose it, for a time, sometimes for too long. When she discovers it, she plays with great beautty. Her Roxanne was lovely, and was lyrical when Nancy permitted it -- which was most of the time after we got to performance. Still she needs trust in herself and the current of the drama itself. At this point stop questioning how, what to do. Open up more, reach out farther and let what will happen.
As for Cyrano, John knows there is much work to before he has assimilated all the elements of the role. There were still uncertainties, shaky moments, but they were obscured by the power of the whole. John has the theatrical sense that the role demands. It demands virtuoso acting, a strong sense of theatrical values and John has the daring and the brilliance and the supreme audacity to be frankly theatrical. This is the very essence of Cyrano. Discover the trait to be revealed in a sequence and then play it for its full value: indignation, love, irony, clowning, swashbuckling. The playwright sets up each in rapid succession and the actor who attempts the role must go full tilt ahead. John has the ability to do this. He is not yet skillful enough to ring all the changes demanded. the “No, thank you” sequence, for instance, required more versatility vocally than he has at present. He needs to study further the art of tossing up lightly important words, of punching with variation. He tends too often to bring a sequence to a prose finish in delivery and in attitude when it should remain elevated as poetry. He needs, too, to watch out for another danger which lurks in verse. It happened to him and to others in the first half of the production on Saturday night. Lines seemed to be spoken for their poetic values only, rather than as responses to stimuli. That is, motivation was subordinated to music. The result was a studied effect, a mannered performance, good to listen to but not gripping, not moving. It seemed slow and unexcited. Manner seemed more important than matter. Verse must be spoken for its full value, yet it must give the illusion of natural speech. This effect is achieved by motivation that is so strong that elevated speech (poetry) is inevitable: -- ensemble acting.
Cyrano’s indignation with his world should have been deeper and more intense, and his ironies more biting.
John has a wonderful sense of clowning which he used to good advantage. In relation to clowning, he needs to develop the sense of capping a moment, of sending it home and waiting a second. he was achieving this beautifully on the Saturday afternoon when he played to the cast in the auditorium. This sense of timing, landing and waiting for the audience response is invaluable to any actor. with some concentration on it, John will be a master of it.
The adverse criticisms I have made should in no way detract from the magnificence, the splendor, the color of the whole. The performances had the sweep, the surge, the conviction that romantic tragedy must always have. It had its own kind of theatrical exaltation.