Anouilh comedy of wit. You admirably projected the Anouilh longing for a return to the lost innocence of youth in a sordid world which makes such a return impossible. The ending, as you played it -- and rightly -- was bittersweet. The hope, the longing, the desire to return, was there; the odds were high against it. The love scene, as you played it, was the most beautiful I have seen in a contemporary drama: beautiful because you did nothing but let the words go home, freighted with their implicit connotations for every individual listener. With no effort at all, you let Anouild voice his longing. if is beautifully written -- you were right to let it play itself, and so you achieved the appeal to both heart and head. You took every member of the audience off into a world which does not exist, or rarely exists, but which we all wish could exist, and what people thought and felt in that world was their own business. That they did think and feel was evident by the way time stopped in the auditorium -- everything stopped but the longing that this might be. Frank and Ellen played it with beauty, spoke it with the nuances of the flow of thought from moment to moment. This is the way Anouilh should be played. Remember it always. Giraudoux, too. The French dramatists write well; they articulate well both thought and feeling; trust their words, their images, their rhythm patterns; speak them well. There is no need for further dramatization. Only on Saturday night did you slip a little. You did not speak with such clarity as before; you did not intensify to the size of the house; you did not let Anouilh speak so clearly. It was still beautiful, but not as evocative as on previous nights; it was keyed too low. Even though a pianist is going to play a tender Chopin, his instrument is tuned to concert pitch. Your instruments, mind and body, were not tuned high enough.
Remember, all of you, that the drama began to take meaningful form when you all began to speak with French clarity, when your minds and tongues were alert enough to speak with wit. Whether characters are young, old, bitter, sweet, villainous, or what you will -- whether the emotions are tender, violent, sordid or sweet, they are manipulated by a dramatist of wit, and the lines they speak must be brilliantly vocalized. All French drama must have this quality. From Moliere on, no mugging, no gimmicks, no tricks pulled out of a director’s bag will work if actors cannot speak with brilliance, versatility, and flexibility.
Barbara sometimes obscured a word, held a pause long enough to lose electricity. Otherwise, her work, and her appearance, were stunning. She epitomized all that Georges had described. She built a splendid last act climax whose image held after she left the stage. We saw her in Christine’s room; her presence in her absence sustained the bitter note of the drama. Barbara created a force in a decadent world -- a winning force that makes one fear for the happiness of the young lovers.
Reimold wonderfully captured the decadence of the elderly who once were romantics, but sold out to indolence -- a parasite. Reimold could play well The Fighting Cock or Waltz of the Toreadors. He achieves that strange incongruous combination of vitality and ineffectuality which amuses and angers. He cannot talk about youth, but he has lost all sense of youth and innocence. I think Rich worried a little because he did not get laughs he may have expected. That may have been a compliment, for Rich epitomized so completely the opposite of the father Georges wanted, that we saw in him exactly what Anouilh wanted us to see: the decadence of a world that has lost, and can never return to, purity and innocence. Rich’s opening scene could have been keyed a bit higher.
Niki still needs to hold her dramatic flair in leash, but her Esme was a dark, unscrupulous force, a realistic appraisal, a relentless evaluation. Susan’s Proprietress was still in the process of evolution, but was a most believable person. Susan can continue to work on giving lines a snap ending. Her exits were improving every night. Saturday, they were excellent because she achieved arrests in her progress to the door, instead of mere stops. She needs to work further on really reading the eyes of people playing with her. In her next role, let’s have people speak to her in foreign languages or sounds, so that she is forced to read eyes and body and tones of voice.
I am not sure that Striglos created the butler Anouilh imagined, but he landed everything and everything fitted in the framework. He was the the hired butler, with an imagination limited to food and service -- a good solid contrast to everyone. Ken Chamont created character brilliantly. His has-been actor sticks in the mind as a three dimensional person. One remembers him. Ken needs to work on shoulder muscles that will raise arms with a freer movement, a more complete follow through, than the straight, angular scarecrow movement. In vocal pointing, I believe Ken was most effective Thursday and Friday nights. Saturday he slipped again into the indefinite line ending. Work for a middle of the line caesura, and a snap at the end of lines.
Marianne has a good theatre sense: he knows when something does not come off; she makes some kind of mental note of it, and the next night she makes a change. Her performance became more secure each night, and each night the role had greater clarity. The mother improvisation with Frank was brilliantly played; the transitions were perfect. As directors, in our effort to set the drama spinning, we keyed the physical dramatizations a little too high on the entrance of the actors. It was keyed a little too high -- a flaw in directing, rather than in acting.
Vance gave his finest performance Friday night -- crystal clear every moment and as a consequence the histrionics of Act II, Sc. 2, and Act III were securely motivated in character. Jacques is thoroughly despicable. We have only one brief glimpse of a might-have-been childhood decency. The only other likable facet is his complete honesty about his villainy. It is so open, it is almost attractive. All this Vance achieved brilliantly on Friday night. The adding up process was brilliant: each sequence added a new dimension until the inevitable taking of money from Isabelle. The clarity of design, important in any drama, but absolutely essential in Anouilh, was brilliantly achieved. Vance was playing with finessed, but with a sure, secure sense of direction. Saturday, just as Frank went a little lax in the love scene, Vance loosened the reims on his super objective. When that happens, the highly emotional scenes seem a little out of proportion. You all need to cultivate a sense of dramatic objectives, of continuity, of a straight line from the opening lines to the inevitable close. It will be a timesaver in all rehearsals when every actor has this sense -- and every director. A drama is a structure as carefully designed as an architectural structure. It is built sequence by sequence. Vance has this sense innately, I believe. Frank has it, too. Kate most certainly has it. She may fumble in early rehearsals trying to find the means of communication, but even in her fumbling she knows what she is seeking. She has a strong, clear sense of dramatic purpose. Her Barbara was a total character creation, so complete that if we didn’t know Kate, we would think she was playing herself. It was a beautiful assimilation of traits: the imagined, the observed, and the personal becoming one unified, believable whole. Kate has a fine sense of vocal pointing of meaning. Even in the most emotional and moving moments, she never fails to point the significant world. She not only has a mind that grasps the dramatist’s meaning, she has also a musical sense, a sense of melody, rhythm, and phrasing that is invaluable. This melodic sense is part of building the architectural structure of drama. Cultivate it.
Whether you participated in this production or saw it form the front, let it be a guide to you in any French drama in which you may be involved. You will search far before you find Anouilh better done. Keep it clear in your memories.