Farce with Wilder human interest and variations. The human elements you handled exceptionally well. Character creation was brilliant: all were people we might expect to meet any day, people we felt we knew, yet never so complex that we got involved in their private lives to such an extent that human interest dominated over farce. Even the least of the roles were brilliantly handled. Nancy’s cook set the tone of the last act. Note that when we got rid of the excess padding, of the caricature elements, the focus went were it belonged: on the brilliance of Nancy’s responsiveness to every moment, to her eyes which express such volumes of one-level response to one moment at a time. her terrific angular vitality in opposition to Ellen’s softness and vagueness, in an instant set up the whole lifetime of these two New Yorkers within the farce framework. And Nancy pitched the action to last act proportions by the very one-level intensity. Adding new characters to a play in the last act is tricky and dangerous business; the drama can be shot to bits while we wonder who these strange beings are, but Nancy and Ellen by their intensity of one-level concentration instantly made us know we were seeing the climax of a whole day of waiting, rushing to the window, putting on coffee and starting all over again. Not a breath wasted, the farce pitch of the cafe scene was precipitated right into the Van Huysen parlor which we had been been waiting and ready for it. This is acting and directing of a high order.
Ellen, on Saturday night, completely overcame the difficulties inherent in the vocal pattern. It is quite certain that she can be a character actress anytime she likes. Note a beautiful bit can be ruined if the lead into it is the least foggy. Ellen’s beautifully imaginative and comic pinching of herself did not fully come off, because we never heard Phil’s “Miss Van Huysen.” A whole sequence can be ruined by a faulty lead-in. Play safe: Never drop the last word of a line. Rudolph, August, the Cabmen: all were established in firm clear strokes, played with farce realism at the correct intensity. They took focus for their brief moments -- clearly etched, no more than was needed and, happily, no less: everything executed with deft strokes and well timed punctuation.
Mike made a singular achievement: he learned comedy techniques and incorporated them so completely into characterization that they did not stand out as techniques. when I say “learned” I mean that they were his to apply in the future. He understands them, their purpose, their effectiveness. This was shown by his Saturday performance: when everyone else was off, he, by brilliant use of the techniques he had learned, gave his finest performances. He had mastered the toss up and arrest in the middle of the line, the swift clear acceleration of the line to a quick, surprise snap. He delighted the audience, and gave them a chance to express their delight in chuckles and laughter. Single lines he has learned to plug so that they hit home. In two-some scenes, he can learn more effectively to play both sides of the stage.
Minnie Fay was another brilliant creation of character with individuality within the farce framework. Actually Barbara used some stock tricks, but made them so much a part of the individual character in a specific situation that they could not be recognized as “stock” tricks. Barbara’s timing and her skill in achieving focus at the right moment is phenomenal. She is a participant every moment, but never in excess. Her responses are always fresh -- complete first time illusions -- yet always perfectly times and disciplined even if others in the sequence are out of control. Her work has the freedom of on the spot improvisation with the discipline of an artist.
Paul can learn much from Barbara. He is at times brilliant, but he is not consistently so. After Thursday and Friday performances which were spinning along with fine true farce choreography more of the time, he dropped to a Saturday low when he seemed to be performing in his sleep: lines broken with no build, no snap, no motivation or action that was slow in its initiation and got nowhere, unnecessary added bits that were mere padding. this means that he has not yet learned it. As an athlete can play a brillian game even when almost unconscious, so an actor must be able to perform with finesse in any emergency. Phil relies too much on the intuition of the moment -- and it fails him. Barbara’s acting is intuitive, too, but she can use her techniques to release intuitive responses when they are dormant.
Even at his best, Phil must learn to take sequences to their climaxes with certainty and with accumulating intensity of purpose. Phil plays brief moments well when someone else is leading. He bogs down at sustained sequences. In Act I he never clinched the “we’ll be Vandergelders all right” sequence -- He somehow always got sidetracked, lost the direct line to the objective. So in Act II in action series he lost direction. Every movement sequence must build to a climax, moments and movements cannot be repeated without variation. For instance: Cornelius comes out of the closet after “shut the door” -- There was surprise in Phil’s beginning, in the emergence from the closet, but after that in the long progress to the table nothing happened -- it was merely slow -- no variation, no interruptions, nothing playing against the slow pace. So with his monologue. It had beautiful moments, but it always came to a dead end, instead of to a climax of internal joy which made it imperative to go on with the adventure. An actor in comedy must take as much pleasure in a well-developed line as an athlete finds in the perfect stroke. Phil needs to learn this joy in precision that takes him straight through to a winning score.
Striglos was, fortunately, a strong, certain opposite to Phil. His bright tones and positive volume always gave him a good grip on a sequence. This is an important asset, particularly in comedy. It is a signal to the audience that there will be no fumbling of the ball: the same is in sure hands. Nancy has this quality. Sue Houstle used it effectively in establishing her short moments. Those sharp, bright tones caught attention and held it. There was no fumbling in her sequences. Bill, too, can plug a line with splendid security -- it comes in with exact timing, a dead opposite to what had preceded it and it lands right in the basket -- after which he is immobile and in complete focus. He has got rid of extraneous movement which used to steal his scenes. (Try it for Petkoff!) He still gets too tense, occasionally -- has not quite mastered the art of intensity with relaxation. He did some excellent clowning -- making the champagne drinking, ridiculous as it was, valid character business based on realism. His concentration is so true that he can carry clowning to logical proportions which in someone else would be extreme. Marianne needs to achieve this security which comes from complete concentration. She is moving in that direction -- a long run would have been a great benefit. Actor tension still interferes with her precision. It still forces her to do too much, to work too hard. She learned to deliver lines with a vital style. It still needs more variation, more toss up in the middle, more secure plugs at the end. Movement still needs clear beginning and endings; precision. You have natural spontaneity that is magnetic, work on form, Marianne: achieve and hold focus. Trust the art of acting.
To play a straight role in a farce is no simple matter. Frank did it very well. His Ambrose was vivid, was a vital opposite to Vandergelder, was played with style. Learn to play more with words, let their sound convey meanings. You have learned to sustain vowels more fully than before, but your lines are still a little too explosive. Play with words for a while -- use shadings of sound, of pitch -- use onomatopoeia -- even do it excessively for a time, until you are aware of connotations that may come from the mere speaking of a word. It may help you eliminate some excess tension still present in your work. chris Gore was an effective opposite in the opening scene. His last line was delivered with beautiful timing. He needs work on clowning to make arrests seemingly more accidental. What he did with the razor was right but it did not seem to just happen.
Tom seemed much at home in the role of Vandergelder. He made it his and played it effortlessly. He plugged lines successfully -- and in character. For the most part he had a good comic sense governing his work. It wasn’t always active enough in the first act monologue. It needed something to touch off Tom’s sense of amusement -- maybe that Wilder should have the audacity to stop a farce dead while his leading actors chatted with the audience -- maybe an image of your German life model would have set it off in a comic vein. for the most part Tom’s comic sense was operative, however, and he is learning to use his techniques without self-consciousness. He plays situations well, too. For instance, on Saturday night on his final entrance he sensed something different in the atmosphere following Niki’s speech, and responded to it, became part of it, and played in a slightly different vein -- a fine adjustment -- a good example of “let it play.” It was fortunate that the play closed in this note, for the first act was a funeral. Why? All the ingredients were present for a top notch performance; a successful opening, a popular show, an S.R.O. house. What happened? What preceded the curtain? Why the deadly slow pace?
Niki: You must take most of the responsibility, for it is Dolly’s Act. Your Mrs. Levy was a brilliant characterization with sparkle, charm, wholesomeness, beauty, comic incongruities; all the qualities to win and hold an audience. and you did -- after the first act, when you became involved in the action of the farce you were brilliant. Your clowning was superb and you charmed your audience completely and made the Wilder point with your monologue. But that first act, especially that Saturday night first act, should prove to you the need to master the art of comic delivery. There is a chuckle in every speech if you touch it off. Saturday night the most that could be said was that every word could be heard distinctly. Every line was weighted in the same way. The essence of comedy is surprise. In the first act the surprise must be in the lines. There is no surprise in level lines. You absolutely must learn to toss up a middle word, hold and accelerate to a snap at the end. The snap, the suddenness of the snap -- releases the laugh which you must must learn to use that sudden surprising flat, undercut delivery of lines ending a sequence. It is a necessity in comedy, particularly in farce. You used it on the “Moses” line -- you should be able to do it in others. Up to the explosion of the tomato cans, the first act is without farce business. This means that the vocal delivery must be brilliant comic technique of sharp surprises, sharp opposites, sudden accelerations, sharp stops, big build, abrupt toss offs. Train your ear to hear these variations, then use them, Niki. Sparkle, charm, intuition didn’t save Act I Saturday. better achieve the safe techniques that you can rely on when you are not inspired. You are too fine an actress, Niki, not to be able to master this.
All in all: a good opening.