Saturday, November 17, 2012


Sometimes it is only a fine line that separates one form of drama from another; stepping across that line can change the nature of the drama and its effect upon the audience.  Pathos and tragedy are far different, yet it is so easy to slip from tragedy to pathos.  Mattie’s youth, her ill health, her inability to hold a job, her eagerness to help; these add up to pathos -- a pathetic case that touches our hearts; we like her, even love her, and feel sorry for her -- poor dear Mattie Silver.  Ethan’s poverty, his dream of college, his lonely childhood, his care for his poor mother; all this can add up to the touching drama, and poor Zeena: a spinster who married a man out of loneliness and then found she would lose him.  Another pathetic individual.  And in Ethan Frome can be a touching drama of three pathetic people whose helplessness moves us to tears.  Or it could be full drama throwing light on the manners and ways of living of people removed from us: remote New Englanders going crazy with loneliness, and talking a strange dialect: real people but remote; interesting because they are different from us.  Pathos is valid as drama; to be touched by the condition of individuals is a valid theatre experience; Blanche DuBois is pathetic (unless we identify her as the South) as are the people in “Summer and Smoke.”  But Edith Wharton’s novel is tragedy, and the play is tragic and must be so performed.  The characters in pathos are individuals, their troubles are personal, they go down as individuals and we weep for them as such.  The characters of tragedy are more dimensional, they are greater than individuals, they are humanity, and they cry out for all of us.  They are possessed by a will to live (Blanche is not; they fight to live, when Doom strikes they have the capacity to realize their Doom and they choose Death, and we do not weep for them.  We exalt in their victory, in the victory of human will.  Edith Wharton gives one more ironic twist: New England triumphs in the end.  Those last moments should fill us with terror, tragic terror for it so closely follows the tragic decision which just precedes it.

Friday night’s performance -- as the cast knows, slipped over into pathos: a moving drama of individuals, a gripping performance, but it does not stimulate us with a vision of man’s capacities, it did not speak for us all, and it did not terrify us with the power of outside forces, not stir us with man’s capacity to oppose those forces, fight them and choose.  All other performances came so close to tragic stature that the production stands out as achievement in which we can take great pride.  Wednesday’s performance had an electric quality that all tragedies must have.  Your own keyed up state transferred to the audience: they were stimulated as well as moved.  Always play tragedy with exhilaration: play against the tragedy even as you are deeper and deeper involved in the tragedy.  This is what conveys that will to live, that capacity to meet Fate (not to ignore it, nor go round it, nor evade it) but to meet it with the human will to endure.  Perhaps after Wednesday you became affected by the tragedy -- as actors, perhaps: you knew that you were doomed.  Remember tragic characters never know the end, they never feel self pity, they are not martyrs.  The end of the play overtook you too soon -- the suicide scene until Saturday night had a “given -up” quality instead of the opposition to giving up.  Saturday Mattie projected an intense will to live and an active choice rather than a drifting into a suicide.  This performance was probably the most tightly knit of all, although it did not have the exhilaration of Wednesday.  Frank, in his determination to achieve the fighting-against quality tightened his jaw too much and as a consequence his vocal quality was somewhat distorted: too tight, too warped, too cold.  I think, perhaps, Frank’s best total performance was Thursdays when he achieved the best balance between individual and universal qualities and between “feel” the part and projecting it.

Through all performances, all characterizations were excellent: total, completely dimensional, true, motivated and believable.  In Zeena, with further work, I think we could have thrown more focus on Zeena’s innate fear and loneliness.  Marianne has vibrancy, a theatre sense that keeps episodes moving; she makes transfers (in Antony and Cleopatra?  Not yet.)  she plays with consistency true to the drama, yet motivation is ever new and fresh: she lets the drama happen.  Barbara’s characterization of Mattie was essentially near perfection and she played with spontaneity and joy.  Barbara’s one handicap is vocal -- or is it the result of clinging uncertainties.  Bright tones and front direction of tones are imperative (I hear too many hollow tones in Antony and C).  This is a technical matter that can be achieved without too much difficulty.  Psychological or physiological, it can be conquered.  

Jothem, too, required good direct full tones bouncing off the back wall.  Shannon gave a perfect characterization in the Jotham vein: stoic, fatalistic: New England.  Jotham’s lines in their incongruity will touch off laughter: needed release, but the laughter must not turn us to laughter at Zeena.  There is a fine line here again.  Jotham must remain in the framework of tragedy.  Phil tended to individualize too much: the same thing can happen with the Porter in Macbeth -- if he is too funny, the tragedy is destroyed.  Grim humor is called for.  Nick did a fine forceful presentation of Dennis Eady, youth and vitality, kept in the tragic framework.  Nick gives a solid, authoritative performance:  decisive in its economy.  The Leigh-Marc interlude was a vital contrast to Ethan and well played.  I think perhaps all the people in this scene might have intensified their moments with a stronger realization of the memory framework of the play: they step out of the past to portray vividly a moment in the tragedy.

With more time, we would have achieved a tragic music behind the drama, above the drama, unifying it, flowing behind it, filling the auditorium.  In music drama actors are fortunate for the music of the orchestra is a larger subtext, an added dimension, more than words and action can say, the music says.  Behind all tragic drama there must be this rhythm, this pulse -- an abstract subtext larger than life and more meaningful.  We were close to it, some moments -- in the bedroom, in the supper scene, in the suicide, we almost heard it, but it did not flow beyond and link all scenes, like movements in a symphony merge, develop, flow into each other.  “Anthony and Cleopatra” must have this music.  Shakespeare’s poetry is an aid, but you have not yet heard the music of section, much less of the whole.  Become aware of this element of drama.

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