Day #3: May 28, 2019
“Strength lies in surrender”, so says Kate in that last speech in SHREW. (Amy Freed, translator.)
There’s a tornado warning happening right now. On the eve of our festival beginning tomorrow night, I’m not sure if I should take that as some sort of sign? Isn’t that what happens the night before JC is assassinated? Hm…..
I’ve been wondering how sound works. I guess I never realized that it moves vertically. Because I have no idea how it is that the argument between two people at 2am sounds like it is coming from my balcony on the 19th floor. I mean, where is that couple? And why are they screaming at each other? I assume they are drunk. When do the pubs close in England again? It’s some sensible hour. Or maybe it’s the Tube that closes down which makes everyone leave the pub at a sensible hour? I wonder if that has cut down on those drunken shouting matches on street corners?
Today was intense! I see that the first snacks to be drained are the peanut butter-filled pretzels. Perhaps that’s a sign?
It’s so curious about these early plays. I’ve chosen to begin with two comedies – TWO GENTS and SHREW – and, oh golly, they can stir up some discussions! The critic John Lahr once said that for comedy to be good, it must be cruel. And that’s why young people can write good comedy because they don’t know the consequences of their cruelty yet.
And it seems clear to me, just be bouncing around in these rooms with these early plays, that these are the product of a writer beginning to learn how to write. There are some clunky bits. And maybe the order of information in some speeches isn’t quite right. And maybe the characters are barely two-dimensional. But you can feel the glimmer of heart and dimensionality in there. It’s just not as carefully carved out yet.
One of the aspects of Play on that intrigues me is what happens to an audience if some of the “varnish” has been wiped away. The plays become clearer. (And in some cases, the clarity overruns the poetry. That is one of the plusses and minuses of any translation.) And because of that clarity, I think we are able to follow the emotional journey of the plays better, because we’re not as much in our heads trying to figure out literally what’s being said. This is one of the many things I am hoping to test over the course of the next 34 days.
I spent the day going back and forth among three rehearsal rooms. Oh, yeah, Doug Langworthy’s HENRY 6.1 began today too. Doug gave a great presentation about his history with the project. (He was one of the first that I approached six years ago.) And he talked about his entry into the project – “First do no harm” was his mantra. And that he realized that his German translating experience dovetailed beautifully in the iambic pentameter rhythm.
I never made it to TITUS. They seem to be lopping off body parts without hesitation over there, so I guess it’s going well?
I do know that John sent Amy off with an assignment to cut 10 minutes off the first half. She asked Erin, her stage manager, for post-its, and when Erin asked “What size?”, I immediately jumped in, because I know the answer: she likes them large!
Last night Amy emailed me to say that the last speech of Kate’s SHREW elicited some agitation from the actors in the room. “I’ll bet,” I said to myself. So I emailed Jackson Gay, the director, to ask if I could speak to the cast about how Play on fits in with all this.
I’ve asked the playwrights to keep the time period 1600. (There is room for the occasional fun contemporary anachronistic reference.) And when the plays are clearer, audiences and theater artists alike are surprised by how cruel, direct, sexual, funny, and nuanced the plays are. We bring a lot of baggage to a production of SHREW. Not saying that the play doesn’t elicit such responses, but I want us to know these plays for what they are. And not to sugar-coat them. It was a cruel world 400 years ago, and I think plays reflect their times. So it makes sense to me that these plays are cruel. And women were property, and were dependent on men for their care.
The reason we re-produce the classics is to take a pulse check on how far we have come from the previous time. I can’t say we live in a perfectly equitable world right now.
While I don’t think he does this deftly at this point in his career, there are glimpses from both Kate and Petruchio of characters maturing right in front of our eyes. Life changes in a second. When that is replicated onstage, we laugh at the absurdity of it. But it’s life. One minute you are breathing, the next minute you are not. That’s about as dramatic as it gets. How do we convey that plays replicate that process?
We are so terribly literal these days. And I’m not sure that does Shakespeare any favors. Because I think Kate is talking about surrendering to Love, not literally to one’s husband. But that is hard to hear. For me, the word ‘obey’ is the trigger. My great-aunt refused to say ‘obey’ in 1926, and, oh, boy, it caused a huge ruckus. She and her husband Uncle Jimmy chuckled about that for the rest of their long lives. (He approved her decision, for the record.)
Before that, I was called into the TWO GENTS room because I asked Lisa Wolpe, the director, to bring the cast together to talk about the use of swear rooms in Amelia Roper’s translation. Every writer has their own form of contemporary modern English. And for Amelia, swearing is integral to her way of speaking.
The world of TWO GENTS is also a violent one, certainly for Sylvia, who is nearly raped at the end. So Amelia uses swear words to convey that ugliness. As well as a legitimate linguistic choice for the young people in this play.
We talked a lot about the power of these words when spoken outloud onstage. We talked about whether or not repetition takes away power. And for some of us, we don’t really hear them anymore, they are that ubiquitous. We talked about how audiences would receive them. I talked about the dramaturgy of their use – perhaps as the young men grow into “gentlemen” there should be less of then? That is something that I want to listen for tomorrow night. And talk further with Amelia about.
I like to swear. It’s very satisfying emotionally. The challenge is not for the speaker but for the receiver. 99% of the time, I don’t mean them literally. But I always mean them emotionally. It’s hard to absorb when emotion comes at us with such force as it takes to say a swear word. They are harsh Anglo-Saxon syllables and are visceral.
I know that we work in a powerful medium. I believe that hearing swear words on stage while sitting with a group of strangers is more powerful than hearing those words in the movies. Live always trumps Memorex. I am very respectful about the use of such language, and I support what Amelia is trying to do. I wish she could be with us tomorrow night, though, as I think we’re going to learn a lot about how her translation works at this point in its development. And it would be great fun to talk with her about it. It’s great fun just hanging out with her anyway.