Monday, March 16, 2009

RE: Much Ado About Nothing - Performance Log (February 1984)

A few comments on the previous performance log:

First, superlatives these days make me uncomfortable, especially when they call attention to the writer's lack of experience rather than his authority in judgment. At the time I wrote about Much Ado in 1984, I had seen only 62 theatrical productions (my previous Much Ado, for example, had been performed by the Foothills Civic Theatre in Fort Collins, Colorado), and by the end of my London experience not only had I seen better performances by an actor on stage than Jacobi's Benedick, I had seen Jacobi himself in better performances, specifically as Cyrano in the RSC's production just four days later. So take the "best this" and "best that" with a grain of salt.

Second, I notice that the three small paragraphs on Jacobi, Cusack, and Carlisle beg for supporting detail. I wish I had it or had included it. This is what I think I'm getting at when I suggest that passing judgment short-circuits discourse. Either that or I simply lack(ed) the Renaissance abilities for copiousness.

Third, the line about Carlisle's "dramatic philosophies" begs the question. Here, from the previous day's journal entry, an approximate transcription of the conversation with Carlisle, is what that referred to and some interesting insight into the RSC's process in the early 1980s:

[John Carlisle] is a tall, thin man with thin, black, wild hair that comes down below his ears. His face is somewhat haggard and thin at the bottom, coming almost to a point at the bottom of his chin. He has that "lean and hungry look" and has indeed played Cassius. He wears wire-rimmed glasses which he puts on by taking hold of the backs of the stems and drawing them over his ears in a single backward motion, rather than stuffing them on from the front the way most of us do.

[Question:] How much do you, as an actor, develop your own part?
[Carlisle:] Well on the first day of rehearsal we come in and we're presented with the set and costumes. The designer and director have worked together for weeks deciding the direction and intent of the play. So when I read Much Ado I thought, here's a character who's just lost a battle, who hates his brother, who's been taken prisoner. So I'll probably be wearing torn clothes. Maybe I'll be in chains. And I came in and the designer presented me with this fancy costume. So I can ask, how do I reconcile having just lost a battle and being a prisoner with being at this party in fancy dress? And the director says, well you probably sat out most of the battle, giving directions on your horse from the rear. You lost, but he's still your brother, and so he invites you to the party to have some champagne. And I say, "right." So the character is pretty much developed for you when you enter into the play. What the actor has to work on is the little things.

Carlisle said that even with a character like Don John he meticulously works out what makes the character tick. He considered especially what makes him malevolent. Only once in the text is it mentioned that he is a bastard son. So Carlisle even went to the length to decide that [Don John] and his brother had the same mother rather than the same father.
Finally, the actual last lines of the play, Benedick's, are:

Think not on him till tomorrow.
I'll devise thee brave punishments for him.
Strike up, pipers! (5.4.131-133)

I'm uncertain who spoke them in the RSC's production. What interests me about this final scene in the production is that it creates the same dumb-show quality that I've mentioned finding at the beginning of so many excellent Shakespeare productions. Perhaps there is a useful, fuller essay to be written on these sorts of set pieces.


No comments: