June 17, 2019
Day 23: “Get thee to a shrubbery,” Maria in TWLEFTH NIGHT
The a/c is out at 440. Oh, boy, it’s going to be a long, hot day. Fans are being set up in every room, but nothing like hot air to be washed over you to make you nauseous. I suggest to the SMs that they take more frequent breaks, because there is no oxygen going to anybody’s brains in those rooms.
Matt has rigged up a system of syphoning cold air from the lobby down the hallway on the third floor into the rehearsal room at the far end. He has positioned two fans – one at the nexus of the hallway and the lobby which will carry the cold air down the hallway, and then a second fan, positioned about halfway down the hallway, which will pick up the cool air and push it towards the rehearsal room.
It looks like the bivouac set up ala MASH in the hospitality suite.
My favorite Shakespeare play comes into the building today. It’s Measure for Measure. I’m not exactly sure I can explain why it is my favorite, but I like all the worlds that collide in it. It is a social comedy ultimately. And I like the high stakes. For all Claudio knows, he is about to be put to death so his speech about being out of love with life seems pitch perfect for that situation. Not everyone makes the right choice when faced with high stakes or urgent situations, and so there is something very realistic about the behavior of these characters.
And, gulp, Othello begins today too. We have the great good fortune of having attracted Shakespeare scholar Ayanna Thompson to this project years ago. She was the editor on the Arden Third Series of this play, and has arranged to be with us for the rehearsal period. Mfoniso Udofia, the playwright, won’t be able to join us until the reading, for she, like so many other of the playwrights, has gotten a television writing job and her hours coincide directly with our rehearsal hours. Luckily, we’ve also been able to snag director Victor Malana Moag, who just recently worked with Mfoniso on two of her Ufot plays in SF. So they know each other really well. (The Ufot plays, by the way, are a nine-play cycle about M’s family.)
Ayanna has taken on the charge to cut the play for the reading. And she is slashing and burning as we read through it for the first time. She makes the suggestion that we should skip the first act, and just cut to Cyprus. It is a very tempting suggestion, and is the scenario for the opera Otello. But most of the stakes are set up in that first act, and while I don’t love hearing all those epithets flung at and about the character of Othello, I think we need to hear them.
M has struggled with what to do about the word Moor. Does it have the same resonance that it might have had 400 years ago? And what might that resonance have been anyway? Did it land on people as just normal descriptive speech or did it puncture when heard? And all the variations in between. During the development of this translation, M substituted different words, like “foreigner”, “alien”, and “black.” I think where she has landed on this is that some characters, like Iago and Brabantio, will hurl the most offensive descriptors, like “ape” and “brute.”
She’s also playing around with how the structure of Othello’s language changes as his circumstances narrow. He will speak more casually and informally in the beginning of the play, and as Iago tightens his grip on him, he will get more and more formal. I’m looking forward to hearing how this strategy sounds.
I have a reaction to changing the military title of Iago from “ensign” to “solider.” I totally appreciate that we want to change it from the original which is “ancient” which sounds like, well, “ancient.” And I appreciate that few of us know our military titles and that perhaps “ensign” just won’t land as the title of a non-commissioned officer, but I want him to have some rank, so that when he is passed over for promotion, it’s not that he has the fantasy of such a thing, which is what I would think if he were just another “soldier.” That said, if Othello or Cassio use such a descriptor for him, it is like a stomach punch for Iago.
What a sharp contrast from those two rooms to this evening’s reading of 12N. Like AS YOU, I have never found this play to be a laugh riot, like it’s a farce. It begins like a comedy, sure enough, with Orsino’s melodramatic opinings. But quickly the play sets up the contrast in the next scene, with Viola being washed aside and thinking she has lost everything, including her twin brother. In the third scene, we’re back to comedy with Sir Toby, and by the fifth scene, we are back to grief, with the entrance of Olivia.
I’ve been noticing how long it takes for the comedies to get set up. Im not sure I ever noticed that before. I find I am impatient with it. And wonder how much of this has to do with how comedies are built in our contemporary world. I was raised on the classic half-hour sitcom, and in the 22 minutes allotted, one had to get going quickly.
The playwright, Alison Carey, is a very funny person and she is having fun making up words: “drunking,” for instance. And she has created an aural joke by exchanging Sir Toby’s question from “por quoi” to “por que” which I think is hilarious but we have never heard land. Sir Andrew hears it as “Pork A,” and immediately asks if there is a “Pork B,”’ as if to find out if there is more to Toby’s response of por que than what Andrew obviously understands.
And tonight it LANDS!!!! Much joy on team 12N!
Nothing lands better, however, than Maria commanding Toby and Andrew to get “thee to a shrubbery” prior to Malvolio’s entrance. Having just heard Hamlet the day before, this is particularly delicious in that first time tragedy, second time farce’ kind of way.
I find the melancholy in the play satisfying to me in ways that I have not ever before. Maybe it’s because I was listening to how the characters are trying to express their sadness and confusion about the way their lives are working out. And damn if there isn’t a throughline in Feste’s last song to us which sums up the action of the play quite succinctly in an epilogue kind of way. I’ve never had the patience for that before either.