Thursday, November 15, 2012


French drama is drama of speech, of words, of composition of words and phrases, of expressive musical nuances, of dissonance, of cacophonies, of sounds in conflict that play against each other epitomizing ideas in conflict, of word sounds that speak love.  Even though a blackout occurred and the audience could not see the actors, or could only see shadows of actors, the sound of the dialogue, the language itself should keep them rooted in their seats responding, laughing, thinking stimulated by words, language, speech.  Action, gesture, facial expression only supplement and heighten this drama of words.  The language of wit, of the intellect, the language of form, of explicit meanings, of connotations aimed at the mind, not the senses.  Even clowning is aimed at the head through laughter.  Pantomime must have the same sharp clarity that the French language has: funny, ironic but with sharp, clean, clear aim.  Think of the word “brilliance” -- what does it mean?  Sharp, clear light, revealing sharp, clear outliines, vivid highlights.  This is what French drama must have: brilliance -- even when it is dramatizing the meaninglessness of speech today.

Focus.  Focus.  Focus.  It is the central element of style.  Without it: no style, no meaning.  The French are superb masters of drama that aims at the head, drama of ideas, of intellect, of controversy.  When you perform, direct French drama, shed your love of playing emotional involvements, discard your probings into psychological roots of character, and in heaven’s name, alter your concept of sincerity.  Three abstract lines arranged in meaningful pattern produce an impact as sincere as truthful, as sobs from the bottom of your souls -- perhaps even more because all that is extraneous has been stripped away and the single, penetrating idea is starkly before us.  Is a branch of a tree, stripped of leaves, of bark, not more meaningful in its nakedness than it is covered with leaves, dust, bugs?  Have you ever seen bare roots, dry, clean, stark?  Are they not more meaningful in their emphasis on sheer form, in their pure emphasis on essence of the function of roots, than all the twistings and clinging soil and bug bitten markings.  When it comes to the meaning, the stark reality of roots, are they not “sincere,” “truthful,” revelations?  And so with emotions, with responses, with character traits.  An emotion revealed in one single act which receives focus will say more and say it more truthfully than the whole realistic combination of muscle reactions which are life responses.  One slight turn of the body can say more of human despair than all the writhings and sobbings which we believe mean “feeling so deeply.”  Study statues: frozen despair, thought, etc.  “Hall of Man” statues: frozen character traits.  Yes, Bambi, and others, revise your concepts of sincerity and truth, for your realistic acting interfered with projection of Ionesco’s concept.  Yes, all style is rooted in realism -- just as the bare branch and bare roots are “real.”

Now: in acting, this requires first, the mental ability to penetrate to the essence of the author’s meaning; in this case: before we can meet man’s dilemma, find answers, we must face his complete emptiness expressed in cliches of thought, of words, of behavior.  You knew this with your heads.  I am not sure you had let the horror of this realization become a total experience, whether the thought had become a “depth” experience.  For Kovara, it had and this lent distinction to his work (not always thrown into sharp enough focus by production and direction elements).  It was behind Mary’s work, and this led to the most brilliant Ionesco of the production: the Friday night Daisy-Berenger dance episode which was brilliantly executed and heightened the frozen horror back of it all.  These were moments to remember.  These two performers here captured Ionesco style, to project Ionesco meaning in his theatrical terms of entertainment through vaudeville, through clowning, through pantomime, anything you will, and behind it is a dramatist’s concern about man’s dilemma.  We needed more such moments.  Richard and Marc caught it for a moment in II when Berenger started reading the report rhythmically and Marc picked it up.  For a moment: a meaningful vaudeville bit. We almost had it in the end of I in group response to the logician which fell into a quick, rhythmic response -- if only you had heightened the vocal pattern to match it!  Frink was on the verge many times of bringing it off, but was still a bit afraid of heightening and directorially sufficient focus was not put on him at such moments.

You no doubt see by now that this kind of performance requires the greatest vocal and physical skill of expression.  It requires voices and speech production skils of great flexibility and the ears of musicians with good sense of pitch.  You all tend still to play the same tone, the same note, the same intensity, the same pitch instead of playing opposites and variations.  The very sound of the drama, even though it were spoken in a foreign language, should leave meanings, implications, as music has meaning.  Each cadence, each phrase, each rest, trill, etc. touches off vibrations in the listener.  So this spoken drama should do.  It may be necessary to work for these effects technically, but the end result is essence of reality: in this case the reality of emptiness.  And physically you are inexpressive or only partially expressive with no sense, no true sense, of the body and its parts as an expressive instrument.  Richard has learned to use his body effectively, pleasantly, fluidly, expressively.  Galati has some sense of expressional movement.  When he develops it he may be a great comedian: all elements are there.  Frank began to see what was demanded.  As a basis for further work, remember the day we discovered oppositions in body positions, in postures and movement; remember the effect of “move -- freeze”  caught in an oppositional movement.  Work on it: everyone.  You may not need it in such heightened form as in this drama, but it will affect all of your acting, making it more vital, vibrant and meaningful.  Your body, your voice; these are your instruments.  Train them to be the best.  I remind you again: no pianist who is a great pianist will play on an inferior instrument.

I suggest that you study carefuly the pictures of the production.  They are extraordinarily good, and they are most revealing.  They are frozen action: they are heightened intensity achieved through strong focus.  They have what we should have achieved throughout.  They show how close we came to excellence.  The one of Daisy and Berenger speaks volumes: bodies say futility expressed in meaningless action, the eyes say horror and incapability of action.  Study these pictures.  In I full stage shot note: if we had turned Rick’s body just a bit more to right stage, keeping his beard and hands as they are, we would have thrown focus much stronger on Berenger, and thereby emphasized his attitude as a contrast to all the cliches of petty emotions.  The tilt of Suzie’s head could have emphasized more by line the focus on Berenger.  So throughout the play we needed this careful attention ot seemingly small detail and frozen moments that point meanings.  Ionesco does not lecture nor preach, but the theatrical impact can make you think if you want to.  It is to be regretted that we have no vocal record of the show to study, for it might have pointed up for you the moments that came closest to brilliance and the ones that failed or were inadequate.

Laird’s work was very fine throughout, yet we could not quite bring off the last act dialogue because we had not quite found the balance of tones we needed, the contrast and especially what we needed was to find the quality that would most forcefully express and comment on the banality and emptiness of cliches of speech and thought throughout.  This is the most difficult scene in the play and we needed more experimentation with devices that would have produced the dry as dust emptiness in the lawyer that we achieved in the logician, in the chief (which needed heightening in the Old Gentleman.)  Marc came closest to getting it in his ex-school teacher the last night when he worked less hard.  For Frink it crystallized when we tried the answering service device device.  We did not quite hit with Laird so that the audience suddenly through laughter woke to the horror of hearing their own banality.

The horror, theatrical and otherwise, needed intensifyng.  Galati has a wonderful sense of the value of words: he relishes them, tastes them, uses them.  This ssense was a wonderful reinforcement for his excellent physical clowning.  But the horror of the act needed to intensify and build and build.  Man turning into beast should have been more horrifying than we made it.  This needed careful moment by moment building through careful selection of detail, through maybe cinematic techniques, and a culmination in production elements.  We settled too easily for no production.  Because a technical problem is difficult to solve does not mean it must go unsolved.  Jumping over the ground row was no substitute for a wall demolished.  the end of that act must be theatrically shattering.  All “effects” should have been more carefully planned and executed.  The exit of Madame Boeuf did not come to its climax was visible giving Richard the skirt and so “all that was left of the woman was a skirt” did not come off.  Ends of acts generally needed more careful timing and implication.  The office scene went dead toward the end, needed production detail.  What should Berenger do after “capitulate” -- Jump into bed?  Rush on out?  Eat a carrot?  We stopped short of some frightening implications about one little man alone in a world of rhinoceroses.  What should the last scene of the play say?  Or do?  Or imply?

Instead of discussing each person’s work individually in this, I have tried to clarify an overall approach to Ionesco in the hope you would apply it specifically.  Because I have discussed flaws, means only that we still have much to learn;  but you are well on your way to achieving style.  The objective of this discussion is to sharpen your awareness of what is involved in style and encourage you to work toward it. 

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