Saturday, December 21, 2002

Thespians on the Town


 
Clearly, we've left the pub. Or the theatre. Or both. Or not. Thespians, all. Irish, at that. Either we're in San Francisco, at ACT, or in Piedmont—ca. Xmas 2002.

Kate said:
that is me in the back row after a game of pool!
I don't remember a game of pool... Who is taking the photo? Lucy Faulknor?

Clearly, we're all introverts, shy as wallflowers, as well. 

Johnny Mac and Kate Perry both moved back to Ireland. 
We lost touch with Joe Hakik and Owen Murphy.
 
Back row, left: Joe Hakik, Owen Murphy,
Kate PerryMaureen Hurley,
front row:
Neil O'Neill, Johnny Mac


added 4/2016

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Short Plays angst emails



Great class once again last night.  There's been so
much excellent work in this class.  Best part of my
working week.  Thanks.

Just a reminder to send along notes for last night's
readings to me at this address.

Also, here's the line-up for the last two class
sessions.  Please let me know if there are any
problems with this:

December 12th:
Doug
Laura
Nicole
Diane
Elizabeth Creely

December 19th:
Karen
Sean
Chris
Maureen
Evelyn

That's 5 pieces a night, so please try to hold your
reading to 20-25 minutes.  It might be necessary to
skip over scenes we've seen before, and give us an
overview, instead of a complete look.

If there's anyone who feels they won't be prepared to
have their work read, just let me know, okay?

Also, I have a couple of slots left in Directed
Writing for next semester, so anyone else who's
interested, please let me know soon.

All best,
Roy

If there's anyone who feels they won't be prepared to have their work read, just let me know, okay?
> >>

you mean this is an option? I've been so stressed getting my MA thesis together, and 2 papers, that I'm unable to make much headway on my Irish piece...both (older) Lizzes and I are trading plays and making comments directly...so that's fine with me not to read if you need the extra time.

maureen

Yes it's an option if you don't feel prepared.  I'll
take you off the list.   Anytime I can be helful with
the writing let me know.

I've been thinking about the note you wrote on your
summary of your project.  Sometimes it's just not
possible to bend our minds around forms that don't
work for us.  I've yet to get very far in the pursuit
of fiction.  But just in case, here's a simple
exercise to try to touch off some dialogue:

Take two of your characters together, give one an
opening line that's accusatory or argumentative (short
and sweet like: "You're wrong!" or "I can't believe
you said that.").  Then just let them fight it out. 
The only rule is make each of them fight as hard as
they can (short of killing each other and getting out
of the combat the easy way.)

All best,
Roy




Re: Short Plays angst

thanks for the triggers and the advice. I've a whole week to hammer on it. My thesis is damn near done and printed out on 25% rag, thrice vetted & signed, etc., it goes in Fri. the 13th (who could resist such a date?); the 2nd draft of my really really big paper (32 pp) where I didn't know what the fuck to write about on creative process (with all my flailing, I think I came off sounding like a megalomaniac), it was accepted as done by Maxine! (Other than bibliog.); my Stanislavsky paper to Brian is in, so the slate's somewhat clean, so to speak. (BTW, his was a dynamite class...) I've got 2 more CPITS kid teaching days to do and a kid art/poetry show to mount by next Tues...

Now that we're at the end, I must confess that I think I'm suffering from some sort of crisis of identity (or lack of) in your class...as I never felt quite welome or accepted, and I can't quite put my finger on it...something didn't quite gel with the group. 

At first, it was really tough for me just to keep showing up (Nicole & Evelyn kicking my ass ever forward). There were times it felt a little like high school....I kept trying different ways of improving the group dynamics—short of demanding that someone let me read a part....there were about six of us who were ignored, then as pieces developed, no one wanted to change readers...so there were vast tracks of time during rehearsal when we had little to do. It drove me nuts.

Ultimately, you were right, there were far too many people in the class and I'm sorry I was one of the extras clamoring to get in and now I'm suffering from Catholic guilt...mea maximum culprit. However, lest you think I'm not engaged, there are several people with whom I am reading and commenting upon hard copies of their plays and vice versa.

When I take stock, it's hard to believe that it was only last Fall that was the first time I was exposed to play writing (many, many thanks to you!)...I can really feel the difference in my mindset...and in my writing. That quantum leap--the whole reason why I came back to school in the first place. Playwriting somehow made it a LOT easier for me to edit my poetry MS; I was no longer attached to the preciousness of words in the same way because I'm beginning to think in terms of characterization. But I still write blind, and then get stuck.

I'm not sure how best to keep involved with playwriting next semester, but I do know that I want to stick with it. Greenhouse seems like too much of a time committment... unless I can do a directed writing and sit in on some of the Greenhouse stuff..any wild ideas? The person who's teaching playwritng..was she the one who started to teach Greenhouse last semester but then got called away (if so, I wouldn't go near her class with a ten-foot pole, she was that insulting last semester!!!) Sorry, but she was awful! Several of us older types wanted to lynch her up after the first session. Unfortunately, I dropped the class before Brian took over.

I'll shut my gob now...

Maureen

Thanks for this message.  I'm sorry the class hasn't
worked out so well for you.  My apologies for that. 
And for not being able to do more about it.

Yes, the class is too big, which makes my chaotic
organizational style not work so good,, but I can't
blame it all on that.  I'm going to have to rethink
some of the ways I approach organizing the scenes in
class, as well as different ways to maximize
interactions.  Though hopefully I won't have the big
crowd problem again.

GreenHouse is a big time commitment so it might be
better to avoid.  The woman who you speak of isn't
around anymore.  Anne Galjour who's teaching the MFA
workshop is a solo artist and playwright who's
well-known here in the City and beyond.  I've seen her
do excellent dramaturgical work at the Bay Area
Playwrights Festival and other places.

My Directed Writing list for next semester has gotten
very full very fast, but we might be able to do an
independent study or some such thing if you're
interested.

Roy

Roy,

No need for you to apologise, (but thanks...perhaps I should also apologise for bringing it up? I just thought you might like to hear my 2 cents' worth... By the time I got any clarity on it, the group dynamics were already set...and then you changed the format (thank god). 

Post Mortem: I think it was mostly a weird case of disembodied group dynmics (or cliques); one idea would be to put people up into arbitrary groups and do some theater games in order to create tribal mind, safe haven, so that there's a safety net in place. Then the larger class size wouldn't have mattered so much...I get slammed with class angst all the time with teaching kids poetry...the ones that want all the attention...

At first, I thought it was just me, it was MY problem, and I tried to work with it (or around it), but...and I certainly didn't want to say anything to you as you seemed to have enough on your mind w/ the (fabulous) play and your kid (how is he, by the way?), w/o a whining student saying how come they won't play with me? 

Maybe I'll check out the other playwriting class...thanks for the info!







Saturday, November 30, 2002

HOUSE OF MEMORY, CISSY SPEAKS:


HOUSE OF MEMORY, CISSY SPEAKS:
                        —With thanks to Sebastian Barry’s Steward of Christendom.

Sure, the old man, he was out walking the lunatic meadow again
after telling me you mustn’t be talking to shadows.
Conversing with himself, the trees, and God Almighty.
And the ginger cat followed him like a dog,
her tail in a question mark, listenin’ to every word he said,
stopping to sniff the flowers like a large hairy bee. Silly creature!
She must’ve said something because soon enough he quieted down like a lamb.
And all the birds were madly singing by the hunter’s moon.

Him out there walking like mad Sweeney himself,
morning, noon and night, talking to the birds and the trees.
I couldn’t bear it, seeing his arms raised up to the night sky,
the watery stars weeping. And him keening like Absolom.
It went all wrong when the birds flew into the house.
Or maybe it was the Kiltegan curse taking root after all.
The field belonged to that witch was next door to theirs, you know,
and her washing the milk buckets in the well made us all queasy.
Uisht! Who is it busy walking on my grave, now?
Him and the cat paraded around that meadow until I was dizzy with grief.
Even the small fingers of sunlight couldn’t banish all that fear
rising up from the dark eye of the well.

Funny how the mind plays tricks. Even now.
I kept thinking of Hamlet chatting up his dead father.
No, I said, Thomas, you come in from the cold.
Willie, he’s not coming back. The Great War is over. Sleep.
Sure, it’s your nightshirt all covered with dew, I said.
Sleep, that’s the ticket. But the grief came anew each time
as if it was the first time he’d heard of it.
He just turned his face to the wall. Then, the awful silence. 

Talking to shadows he was. I don’t blame him. Willie’s gone.
But I do blame the hawthorn he slept under all the day,
the bees breaking their hearts over closed flowers in late afternoon.
I was so afraid, I wanted to bring him some tea, but it was no use.
I said to myself, if only we could catch the honeyed words.
Put them in a jar for some creature comfort later.
Ach, I could kill for a good cup of tea, Annie.
Make it strong enough for the mice to skitter across.
Give the cat a fightin’ chance to earn her keep.
Scald the pot! Oh for godsakes, child, that’s a poor way to be making tea!
You’d think you were brought up wrong, but then you had no mother—
or father, for that matter, after he went off in the head.

Do you remember what they say about sleeping under the hawthorn?
I’m sure that’s how it all began. His mind wandered to all sorts of strange places.
Once he said he was with Hannibal crossing the Alps. Imagine that! 
Poor lummoxing beasts climbing mountain passes
with no more understanding of snow than the man in the moon.
And him worried about elephants trembling at the sight of snow.
Wanting me to knit elephant sweaters! Imagine that!
I thought to humor him but then I’d never hear the end of it in the Hereafter.
Should I use the popcorn stitch or a cable stitch like the Aran sweaters?
They were dogtags, you know, for the lost fishermen,
in case the sea returned our treasures.

Sure, I didn’t know what to make of it.
There he was, ranting through the ages,
a fine white snow covering him.
Petals drifting down on him from the hawthorn
until he was blanketed white as snow.
I blamed the hawthorn, I did.
We were told never to pick it or invite trouble into the house.
Thorns into the bed. Or a changeling.
And that he was. A changeling, after they let him go.

Annie, your father was like Hannibal all alone in Abyssinia.
He was leaderless after he turned over Dublin Castle to them.
A loyal servant of Ireland and to the Crown, he was. 
The Crown was good to us. The King, when he came to visit,
it was after Queen Victoria died....
your father called her the Flower of Christendom, he did....
the King, he praised my hair.
Blue-black as the barrel of a rifle it was.
I was wearing a new polka-dotted dress.
And all the little tea cakes staring up at us like Christmas presents.
I wanted to dance. But your father, he stood
like a great tree in the middle of the dance floor.
I was afraid he’s take root right there.
They began to whisper and laugh.
Shame upon us bright as Brigit’s cloak over the land.
I had to coax him off the floor with tea cakes.
And them all laughing at us.

Annie, don’t be so hard on your father.
Was a time he was a different man, he wore invincibility like a cloak,
but after he turned Dublin Castle over to Collins and the like,
he was a changed man. After that, he was dreaming candlelight into song.
He admired Michael Collins, he did. But they called him a traitor.
Blamed him for Larkin’s death. And the others.
He never even carried a gun. Just the billy club was enough.
He kept Dublin orderly and safe. It was his job. Annie, he did it well.
They gave him trouble with his pension, the new government,
and him, Chief Constable working for Ireland and the Crown 45 long years!
And they called him a traitor. It broke his mind, it did.

There’s always betrayal at the heart of it.
They should look to themselves.
Who was it gave the order to kill the Big Fella?
Themselves alone. How he wept when Collins died.
There was real hope for the Big Fella, you see.
Not for “King” de Valera,
him with the stone heart of a mathematician
leading us back into slavery
with rings through our noses like cattle to Rome.
Dev, the called him. More like devolution.
Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.
Soldiers of destiny they called themselves.
All it brought was more civil war.
As if there wasn’t enough bloodshed already.

It all began with your brother Willie’s death,
it unsettled your father something terrible, it did.
You know, he was never quite right in the head after that.
I remember when he saw God in the face of his newborn son.
That settled him down right enough.
But why is it fathers and sons never see eye to eye until it’s too late?
Poor Willie! All he wanted was a kind word.
And your father, like a big lump of a stone.

Poor tyke. He was only six
when I was with Dolly in the childbed,
my own blood racing to meet Lough Derg.
Such a long night it was.
And I couldn’t stop it, for the life of me.
To let the birds in was to let death come into the house.
When the candle failed, the birds began to sing,
it was my father came to me, but it was so queer,
he was my husband wearin’ my father’s face.
I didn’t know who I was talking to.
He began to keen. Hush, I said.
But the candle guttered.
Him, crying like his heart would break.

’Tis a pity I never got to hold Dolly.
My arms and breasts still ache to hold her.
Where is she now? America? And your sister Maud?
She never comes home. Only you.
Why do you keep returning to this house, empty of memory
with no family of your own to fill it? Poor Annie.
Your back curving like a riverbend of hammered pewter at dusk
that no man would ever set sail on.
Pour us another cup of tea dear, you’ll feel right as rain.

Will this cursed rain never stop? It’s driving me mad.
Poor Willie. In what foreign field does he lie in?
He was so proud to be in the Rifles, he was. Caught in the crossfire.
But you can’t lose a son without blaming yourself, your father said.
You can’t fight a battle without spilling some blood, I said.
They said it was a whole generation Irish blood—not English—
that fed the fallow fields of the Somme. Fodder for the Crown.
That’s all we were good for. Fodder, that’s what your father said.
They say there’s guns and war medals enough rusting on uniforms
in shadowed cupboards of every country of the world.

Willie, he was our own Finn MacCool.
We called him William after your Gran’Da.
But the others, they thought it was King Billy we were referring to.
And they shunned us at the market. Painting the door orange.
Calling your Da a spy for the Crown. We were good Catholics, we were.
Sure, it was the Crown who put the food on our table during the Troubles
when there was little else to be had. What else could we do?
They were jealously counting all our Sunday roasts stacking up into eternity.
Accusing us of putting a little something aside for purgatory.
But jealousy is ever the traitor’s mistress.
The Have Nots hungering after the hard-earned good fortune of others.
I told him it was enough to make any man crazy serving two mistresses:
Catholic Ireland and Anglican England.
But he couldn’t hear me.
Not a single thing I said.
’T’was a pity I was only talking to the shadows.

’T’is such a pity the old man went off his mind like that,
waving that sword and babbling in the grasses
like a babby wanting his mother.
Annie, I swear he wouldn’t harm a hair on your head.
’T’was only his wounded pride speaking in the graveyards of betrayal.
The sword was a symbol of the power he’d lost.
And the crows diving at him like banshees.

When the candlelight fails,
when they’ve killed the heroes,
and the potential of the father’s only son
lies buried in the cold clay,
when that stony love slips down their cheeks
into the glittering face of the well,
what loyalty was left for there to crown?
This coffinship of a house is adrift in a sea of memory
and here I am, talking to shadows.
Sure, it’s a false quiet after a storm.
There’s a good girl now, Annie.
Put the kettle on the hob and we’ll all have tea.

11/30/02

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Christmas Tree (Monologue)

THE CHRISTMAS WE HAD TWO TREES (Monologue)


I remember the Christmas my grandma dragged home a madrone tree from up the hill instead of a real Christmas tree, and I thought the world was gonna end. As it was, I was having some trouble picturing Santa Claus squeezing his belly down the stove pipe in our new house. Besides, it was a sin NOT to have a real Christmas tree. We could get in trouble for it.

The Christmas before last, my Santa logic was seriously shaken when I saw all those Santas ringing bells over black cauldrons all over the City. Then, one of the Santas dragged me onto his lap. He asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I could see his beard was fake, there was this little bit of white elastic around his ears—like on my underwear, so I peed my pants and cried. Then they took my photo and laughed and put it on the mantle next to the angel.

Early Christmas morning, I tripped down the stairs, my head bouncing on each step did funny things to my vision. But when I rounded the corner and saw the Christmas tree with its glass bulbs and icicles blazing, it was like the sun on our diamond-rainbow glass cabinet, I forgot to cry. Huge piles of presents! All the little presents are mine, ’cause I’m the smallest. But why did Santa give me all these key rings? There must be some mistake. Was he still mad at me ’cause I peed my pants?

After that New Year, we moved, my grandma closed up the house with its diamond-rainbow glass cabinets where the Blue Willow bird bowls lived—I loved eating my cereal out of those bowls—and all the hidey-holes with old shoes and dust. I also loved how the fireplaces in every room whispered—sometimes you could hear cars driving in them.

We moved to the country, Grandma said it was our summer home. But it had a firebox attached to the stove—and it was our only heat. No more fireplace chimneys whispering, only a stovepipe the size of my grandma’s leg.

I remember I was newly five and my momma said I was on temporary loan to my grandmother to keep her company. When we moved, it broke up the family. Only the two of us. The aunts and uncles were all gone. I missed the dogs. Towser was all mine, and Mickey was my aunt Toddy’s. They were boxers. Grandma said that my parents were divorcing, and I knew both my uncle Myles and my grandpa were dead of cancer. But they always whispered that part.

I remember my grandpa standing at the front door, a suitcase in his hand, and he was saying goodbye. I wanted to know exactly where he was going ’cause Uncle Myles went away the same way too and he didn’t return from the hospital, they said that he would never return. I remember how his freckles looked like cereal flecks on his skin—it was all orangy-yellow like my crayons.

My grandpa’s voice was different, it was rough like the cat’s tongue. I don’t remember when it changed. Sometimes he’d whisper. Said his throat hurt too much. Was it the cigars? They made my throat hurt and my eyes too. He whispered, “To the hospital.”

And then I wanted to know when he’d be back. I was not ready for the answer of “heaven,” so I asked where else it was beside in the painted dome of the Star of the Sea church where I was baptized. Grandpa pointed up to the clouds in the blue sky and said something about angels. Sometimes they called me an angel, but mostly I was a little monster; did he find another angel he liked better? Was it ’cause I stamped my foot at him?

Of course I wanted to go too; he’d need someone to blow out his cigar matches there too, I said. They laughed and shuffled their feet nervously. I was born on his birthday, a whole month before Christmas, they said I was Grandpa’s little monster. They said I’d also learned some nasty habits from him—to cuss, and drink stale beer. I remember that I liked the taste of cigarette butts and licking the saltiness off the new red match heads.

I hid in a forest of legs watching the stained glass window spill its red and green light onto the black & white tile floor. If I went with my grandpa, would I see the rest of my family again? Why was everybody leaving? I was relieved when he didn’t ask me along with him. I just wrapped my arms around my grandma’s leg.

I don’t remember my grandpa returning home from the hospital, but they said he did—only to die again on New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember that part either but I do remember the doctor coming over and taking a bit of meat out of the big hole in his stomach. It looked like what they fed the dogs. Or bits of tuna. They said the whole family all returned home from their parties early. No one could exactly say why. Was heaven in the room, in the bed he died in?



Our first Christmas on our own in the country, I was mad ’cause Grandma sneaked out of the house without meearly in the morning before the fire was lit. She hiked up the top of the hill with the saw. I remember when she came home she was wearin’ lots of sweaters, and baggy black pants over her longjohns. She was dragging a bare madrone tree, the only leaves were in her hair—it always smelled of Wildroot—she put it on after every hairwash.

We have to heat water in a big tub, we don't have a hot water heater so she didn’t wash her hair very often. Sometimes she trimmed it herself with small scissors in front of the bureau mirror, with pictures of Jesus and Mary watching on, and there was a crucifix over a small crowd of perfume bottles—unused Christmas gifts. She said she liked the Bushmills better, dabbing it behind her ears.

I just wasn’t ready to let go of the Christmas Tree, so I trudged up the ridge in a drizzle on ly tiny five-year-old legs and dragged home my own tree that I cut down myself—it was a fir that was more sprout than tree. We made another cross for the base and the two trees stood tied side by side, my tree was too weak to hold ornaments or lights, and the one angel we had kept doing swan-dives off the top. But the red-skinned madrone tree, with its lights, silver glass balls and songbirds, was strong enough to hold up the Christmas angel. So I climbed up the ladder and placed her at the crown of Grandma’s tree.

Her madrone tree was beautiful, but at the time, it just didn’t feel right. I remember she told me the story of Rhiannon’s Birds, how their song could make the dead come alive and the living to forget everything. But I didn’t forget. She said we were building a new life, starting with the bones of the tree. And the red-skinned madrone, peeling from the heat of the firebox, showed us the heartwood under it—green with the promise of life to come in spring.



© 2002 Maureen Hurley for Roy Conboy's monologue class. Well, Grandma never said that last part, she didn't articulate feelings like that, she was more private, but it needed an ending...

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Stanislavsky and Chekhov: A Collaboration


STANISLAVSKY AND CHEKHOV: A COLLABORATION

One of ten children, Konstantin Semiyonivich was born in 1863 to Semiyon and Elizavetta Alexeiev of Moscow. Semiyon was the son of a successful textile merchant who made gold and silver thread for the clergy and nobility. Family folklore has it that Stanislavsky’s grandfather was a serf who made enough money selling peas (or money) to buy his freedom, and by age 22, he was wealthy man. Elizavetta was the indiscretion of a nobleman and an actress of little talent and less intellect. Though tempestuous and neurotic, she lavished attention on all her children and they were all encouraged to develop their particular talents. Konstantin, or Kostiya, as he was affectionately known, didn’t display any particular talent, overshadowed by the talented tribe of Alexeiev painters, writers, dancers and musicians.

The Alexeievs were avid theater-goers and Kostiya was a particular fan of the circus and ballet. His favorite ballerina was Stanislavskayia. Their nanny developed pantomime skits with the children in the small family theater and Kostiya began to show considerable talent in his roles. When he was six, one role he variously refers to in his dairies was of Grandfather Frost, where instead of pretending to light a small fire, he really lit one, nearly burning down the house. Thus the roots of theatrical realism and Method Acting were born. The Alexeiev Circle produced several theatrical productions (as well as notebooks) a year for family and an extensive circle of friends and business associates.

In 1886, the Alexeiev Circle came to a close; siblings married or moved on; Konstantin Alexeiev was involved with several amateur theater companies. He joined the Moscow Amateur Music and Drama Circle where he received favorable notice in Gogol’s Inspector General. Billed as Mr. K A v for his family’s sake, and not to upset their business connections, he resisted becoming a professional actor because of the negative social stigma associated with professional acting. However, he was so badly bitten by the stage bug, he appeared in dicey vaudeville and burlesque productions as well as the State Theater, the Mali—this, after his father spotted him in an unsavory play and gave him an ultimatum: that if he must act, to at least pick reputable theaters. During this time, the State had a monopoly on professional theaters and imposed severe censorship restrictions. There was little more freedom to be had in amateur theatrical circles.

During 1887, Stanislavsky worked with a brilliant director from the foremost theater in Russia, the Mali Theater. Fedotov was a founding member of Belenski’s intelligencia, a polemic elite who saw the artist’s role to modernize and liberalize art and culture from a stagnant and repressive society. Under Fedotov’s innovative direction, Konstantin realized there could be no going back to the old ways of acting (the rant & rhetoric school).

In 1889, Stanislavsky formed a theater based on Belinski and Gogol’s ideals. With a $30,000 ruble windfall from the Alexeiev Company, he founded The Society of Art and Literature—with little thought how it would be funded in future, let alone, for the next ten years. Their first piece by Dostoyevsky was held up by the censors, so Pushkin’s The Miserly Knight was their first production. Kostiya was no personality actor, and to his chagrin, he was given the character role of Baron in The Miserly Knight. To get into character, he had a friend lock him in a dungeon, but all he got was ill; he realized he needed a theatrical focus, not just physical surroundings. However, his role as Baron got rave reviews.

In 1889, Stanislavsky performed at least eight roles; and married his leading lady, Lilina. Thereafter, he averaged four roles a year for the rest of his life, often directing as many plays—as well as being an acting coach, lecturer, and perennial fund-raiser. During this time, he took up the stage name Stanislavsky, to protect his family businessr eputation. Also during this fruitful time, he had two children. In 1895, he was Smirnov in Chekhov’s The Bear. This was his first connection with Chekhov, a productive (if tempestuous) collaborative relationship which would change the shape of theater to encompass theatrical realism.

In 1898, in collaboration with director Nemirovich-Danchenko, a former war corespondent, Stanislavsky founded the famous Moscow Art Theater (MAT). The MAT’s extraordinary success was due, in part, to their use of ensemble acting instead of big name stars, and to the development of realism in theater. Stanislavsky had been on stage most of his life, and had seen all the major theatrical production in Moscow, as well as numerous productions in France, Austria and Germany where his father’s business often took the family.

Stanislavsky realized that if theater was going to be meaningful, a clear break with tradition was not only necessary, “it needed to move beyond the external representation that acting had been.” (PBS Online, American Masters; PBS.org). Actors needed to bring their own character and “emotional memory” to the stage. During the next forty years, he created an approach to theatrical productions that “forefronted the psychological aspects of acting.” (Ibid). The “System,” as it was called in Europe, or the “Method” as it was called in America, held that “an actor’s main responsibility was to be believed (rather than recognized or understood).” (Ibid.)

Stanislavsky’s sensational production of The Seagull astounded theater-goers—who well used to the pompous rhetorical style of personality actors—they had never before seen such psychological use of dialogue, realistic action and sound utilized as an integral part of a play. Favorable word got back to Chekhov in the Crimea but he never saw the production. When Chekhov came to see Stanislavsky in Moscow, Kostiya hastily mounted a production of The Seagull but Chekhov was not impressed. He liked the idea of mise-en-scène, but insisted that The Seagull was a comedy, not melodrama. He gave his next play, Uncle Vanya to the official theater, the Mali. Stanislavsky was bitter. Gorky replied that on a bad day, Chekhov hated everyone. (His mood swings due to undiagnosed tuberculosis? He died in 1904). Nonetheless, a strong relationship was forged, not only with Stanislavsky, but with one of his leading actresses, Olga Knipper, whom Chekhov married in 1901.

Stanislavsky’s innovative interpretations of Chekhov’s plays made Chekhov a popular playwright, and Chekhov’s intimate, realistic plays about ordinary (middle class) people changed the shape and subject matter of theater from that of the aggrandizement of classical or historical subject matter to that of the individual and the emotional inner landscape of the mind and the psychological realm.

Perhaps as a reaction to industrialism, a parallel example of the emotional climate that was sweeping Europe, is graphically exemplified in painting where the shift from classical subject matter of the Salon (Davíd’s neoclassical Oath of the Horatii), to the emotional realm of the individual is best exemplified by renegade Impressionists (Manet’s Odalisque—a real prostitute!) Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, written in the 1850s, and ignored by a baffled audience—a forerunner of this bold new theater style,—was rehabilitated by Stanislavsky in 1909. (Stanislavsky played Rakitin.)

A brief list of Stanislavsky’s Chekhovian roles produced at the MAT include Trigorin in Chekhov’s The Seagull (1898); Astrov in Uncle Vanya (1899), Chekhov thought Astrov was Stanislavsky’s finest role; and Vershinin in Three Sisters (1901); he appeared as Satin in Gorky’s Lower Depths (1902) (Gorky was a close friend of Chekhov’s); and Gaev in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (1904). He did many of these roles when he was on tour.

In 1905, the Russian Revolution, a general strike and civil unrest weren’t good for theater but MAT managed to keep its doors open—barely. Chekhov’s triple bill including The Seagull sensationally flopped because the subject matter didn’t fit the times; however Gorky was always popular draw at the box office. Increasing financial difficulties were somewhat alleviated with MAT’s first foreign tour to Berlin in 1906; Uncle Vanya was a real success, but in Vienna, Three Sisters was a flop. Stanislavsky started to work on his first draft on a Manual on Dramatic Art, taken from his production notebooks, which he began to shape into several manuscripts around 1901.

In 1907 Stanislavsky had a major falling out with Nemirovich over directing Maeterlinck’s daring new play, A Blue Bird (based on realism). After some 150 rehearsals, the play still wasn’t ready to be staged and Nemirovich cracked, “we’re all pretending we’re cats and dogs or cockerels at rehearsal.” During this time, Konstantin met Isadora Duncan and founded an acting school based on his ideas.

At the onset of W.W.I, Stanislavsky was stranded in Germany, and in 1915-17, after a private revolution, Stanislavsky & Nemirovich parted company but the MAT continued to function as three entities: Nemirovich’s Moscow base, a provincial touring company and the European touring company which Stanislavsky headed up.

In 1917, the Russian Revolution liberated privately-owned business; Stanislavsky’s family business was converted into a steel cable manufacturing; Stanislavsky’s only salary was from the theater. Luckily, he had Lenin’s ear and support. In 1919, Russian theaters were “reorganized” and the new proletariat audiences had to be trained how to behave in a theater. Among other things, Stanislavsky had to chide them to be quiet during performances and to remove their hats.

During the turbulent years 1922 to 1925, Stanislavsky’s MAT troupe was on tour throughout Europe and America: Zagreb, Berlin, Paris (where the sets almost didn’t arrive; the lighting was full up but the audience was electrified by the performances), Vienna (where MAT again flopped—maybe they just didn’t like Chekhov). Stanislavsky was a sensation in America, where acting was sill largely done in the old style. John Barrymore was elated by Stanislavsky’s performances of Chekhov, claiming that it was the greatest theatrical experience of his life. A young Lee Strasberg, was so elated that he became an actor. (Strasberg later co-found the Actors’ Studio with Robert Lewis where Stanislavsky’s method acting was employed: it revolutionized theater and cinema in the west. Disciples who studied with Stanislavsky in Moscow included Stella Adler her husband Harold Clurman, Stanford Meisner, and Isadora Duncan; other noted method actors include Marlon Brando and Gregory Peck.)

As a result of Stanislavsky’s American success, in 1922, Little, Brown & Co., contracted Stanislavsky to write an autobiography, My Life in Art, which was botched, because he was literally writing it between shows while on the transatlantic road. Meanwhile back in Moscow, it was a changed world; Lenin was dead; the Soviet Union was formed.

In 1925, My Life in Art was finally published in Russian. At one point, Stanislavsky had seven different manuscripts circulating; what he needed was a good editor. Instead, he fell victim to poor western editors who knew little or no Russian; hence the confusion over what his teachings are on “method acting.” Stanislavsky signed over literary executive power to an American, Elizabeth Hapgood, who had translated and edited the American manuscript in 1922, but she didn’t know diddlysquat about theater. In 1936, his manual, An Actor Prepares, was finally published in English but the 14-year-hiatus (17 years in Russia) between parts 1 and 2 of the notebooks was too long a time wait, hence the over-emphaisis on Stanislavsky’s naturalism which he did not consider the central focus of his work.

And Stanislavsky was sacked by Nemerovich as Rostanev in Dostoyevsky’s Village of Stepenchikovo, he considered it to be his own personal tragedy. He never again took on a new character role. In 1928, after suffering a massive heart attack while on-stage, Stanislavsky collapsed while playing the role of Vershinin in Three Sisters. The idea of realism had taken such root that the audience thought it was all part of the act. Stanislavsky later quipped, “You can die on-stage but you can’t miss an entrance.”

Stanislavsky retired from acting but not directing. During his lifetime, he appeared in over 100 roles. From Othello, Malvolio, Tzar Ivan, to Satin; Stanislavsky also directed Molière, Shakespeare, Bizet, Chekhov, Gorky, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Ibsen, and Pushkin. During 1930-36 he directed some nine plays, many of which were musicals or operas. Because opera students had no theatrical training, it proved to be an ideal training ground for Stanislavsky to test his acting theories. Stanislavsky left behinds a mass of unrevised manuscripts including An Actor’s Work on Himself, II, and An Actor’s Work on a Role. “Stanislavsky has been used, rejigged and modified with varying degrees of intelligence or seriousness.... What is important is the spirit of honest inquiry, the asking of simple questions, why? what for? and that acknowledgment that with every play, every role, the process begins again.” (P. 324, Benedetti, Jean, Stanislavsky: A Biography, (1998) Richard Clay, Ltd., GB).

In 1938, Stanislavsky died of heart failure and is buried in the New Maiden Monastery in Central Moscow, where all of Russia’s elite are laid to rest. One corner of the graveyard is reserved for members of the original Moscow Art Company—including Chekhov. In the winter of 1989, one hundred years after Stanislavsky had founded the Moscow Art Theater, I laid red carnations on Chekhov and Stanislavsky’s graves. I imagined another kind of collaboration going on beneath that fresh blanket of snow.



BIBLIOGRAPHY

Benedetti, Jean, Stanislavsky: A Biography, (1998) Richard Clay Ltd., GB.

Jones, David R., Great Actors at Work

(unknown—I tried internet search; it’s a xerox fron Brighde Mullins)

Gilman, Richard, Chekhov’s Plays: An Opening into Eternity (1995) Yale.

Schmidt, Paul, The Plays of Chekhov (1997) HarperCollins.

American Masters at website: www.pbs.org

Nov. 26, 2002
CW 810, Thorstenson
Oral Presentation










Friday, November 1, 2002

Play outline notes from Roy Conboy


Hi all,

I'm writing to offer some clarification about this  week's assignment.
As I announced in class, the assignment is to write a one-paragraph summation of your project. This isn't an easy thing to do, but it's a useful exercise. Use it to try and clarify for yourself the dramatic nature of your project.

Helpful hints:

- Take some time to go back and reread the scenes you've already written. Resist the urge to rewrite, and try to see these scenes with fresh eyes.

- Analyze what's already there. Ask yourself some fundamental structural questions.

If your piece is driven by a character's journey (such as Laura's scenes about Penny), ask yourself:

Who's the main character?
What is her journey?
Where's she going?
What's she after?
What are her obstacles?
Who are her enemies?
Who are her allies?
What is the play telling you about what she needs to accomplish?
How will she accomplish what she needs to accomplish?

If your piece is driven by other factors (such as Peter's multi-plex scenes), adapt those questions into something like these:
What's the dramatic focus of the piece?
What is the dramatic journey and who's taking it?
What holds the play together and keeps the audience in focus?
Are there any characters or circumstances in the play that haven't been explored?
What is the play attempting to accomplish for the characters?
For you?
For the audience?


- I never outline before I start, but I do outline when I'm halfway through, because it helps me to analyze what I've already written, and to begin to see it's larger movements and rhythms. I use a very specific format. For each scene:

1. Assign a title.
2. List the characters in the scene.
3. Describe the setting.
4. Note the length in pages.
5. Write a one-sentence explanation of the action in the scene.


This often reveals to me what's missing from the play, as well as giving me ideas about the nature of the play's journeys.

My theory is that the first half of any play contain almost all the answers for the rest of the play.
Understand what you've accomplished so far and it can point the way to what needs to be done to finish the play. Or put another way, let the play speak to you and it's own emotional logic will begin to become apparent.

Okay? Clear as mud?

So next week we'll use these one paragraph summations as a springboard to discuss each project, and think about what their opportunities are, and where they might go on their journey to finish. And I'll ask you to hand in the summations at the end of class.

Questions and comments are always welcome.

Roy

Monday, October 21, 2002

SACRIFICE


SACRIFICE

The river of cars on 580 slowed to a trickle
not the raging current of the workweek 
and there it was, the song of the broody pullet 
growing stronger each morning 
on the apartment balcony 
my wake up call, familiar out of childhood, 
a crooning hen as she tried out her new song
from her perch on third story balcony
incongruous pastorality in the neighborhood
both waked and soothed us
and kept us anchored to the rhythms of the past.
But when the woman began to sing on the balcony
the chicken’s song rose to terror pitch
as I watched the shadow on the wall.
The woman sang, raising her left hand
then her right with the chicken in it
three times to the east, a quick twist,
then, a vast silence.



10/2/02





the motion hypnotized the chicken
(rest is missing)




My cousin and I call our aunts “bags”; but we’re bags in training.... so I can relate to the handbag... after all, the ubiquitous backpack (this is where I usually break out into a rousing chorus of broody chicken calls to the consternation of my neighbors.)
Did I mention the Eretreans have taken to slaughtering chickens every Sunday from a balcony in downtown Oakland? You can tell when the drums begin to pulse.


SACRIFICE (missing text)


SACRIFICE 

there it was, the song 
of the broody pullet 
growing stronger each morning 
from the apartment balcony 
my wake up call, 
familiar out of childhood,
crooning hen
as she tried out her song
from her perch on third story 
an incongruous pastorality 
in the neighborhood
both waked and soothed us 
and kept us anchored t
o the rhythms of the past
But when the woman
began to sing on the balcony
the chicken’s song rose to terror pitch
as I watched the shadow on the wall
the woman sang raising her left hand
then her right with the chicken in it 
three times to the east
then silence. The motion 
hypnotized the chicken

10/21/02

This is one of those ASCII swallowed poems. I was able to save this much, but not the ending.  I don't think I have a hard copy either. 



more orphans

My cousin and I call our aunts “bags”; we’re bags in training....so I can relate to the handbag...after all, the ubiquitous backpack (this is where I usually break out into o a rousing chorus of broody chicken calls to the consternation of my neighbors...

did I mention the Eretreans have taken to slaughtering chickens every Sunday from a balcony in downtown Oakland? You can tell when the drums begin to pulse.)
u
The river of cars on 580 slowed to a trickle
not the raging current of the workweek

Thursday, October 17, 2002

House of Memory (Cissy Speaks), monologue rev.


HOUSE OF MEMORY, rev.

(Notte Bene: This monologue is an offshoot based on the original play, “The Steward of Christendom,” by Sebastian Barry (1995), a story is about a Dublin Castle policeman Thomas Dunne who is going senile; his wife and son are ghosts. Two of his three daughters have abandoned him. Only Annie, whose back is deformed by polio, visits him. The play is set in Baltinglas, County Wicklow, Ireland, circa 1930. Barry recounts the story from Thomas’ point of view. The main conflict is that Thomas, a Catholic, was a chief constable for Dublin Castle, was considered to be a traitor to the Catholics because he worked for the Crown. The poetry of the script resonated within me. But I kept thinking about the poor wife Cissy who died in childbirth ca. 1904.

This monologue which came from a small poem I wrote while attending the play reading in Sept. at the Irish Historical Society. I imagined another version of the story his dead wife might speak from the grave. I wrote a lament, and later went back to glean scant biographical material from the play, there wasn’t much. Then, asynchronous time became an issue for revision. Cissy’s story stops in 1904. The play takes place in 1922 and 1932. How much does a ghost know? How does it learn new material after death? Hamlet’s ghost is cognizant and seems to be able to learn new material after death. Then I found out that this is based on a true story—Barry’s family—and that there are a couple of books out on it. So that complicates things a bit. I didn’t know whether to jettison it or adhere to what little biographical facts I do know. So I felt I had to rewrite it to fit the facts as Barry’s still very much alive. I’m at that stage where I wonder if it’s wise to continue with this character or to move onto fresh territory. But I can hear her speaking to me. She won’t shut her gob. However, the actor who read Dunne’s part, knows Barry, so I’ll try and get the books, do some research and see if this is something worth pursuing. For a possible rewrite, I thought Annie could also be present with the mother talking to her, but Annie, not hearing her, has her own monologue about life treating her unfairly, being a spinster, wanting a family, feeling abandoned, feeling guilty about committing her father to the asylum...)

The events recounted are of W.W.I. Willie is their dead soldier son. Dunne’s wife, Cissy, inn a cottage in the Wicklow Hills, is speaking to Annie’s photograph. 



CISSY: (Seated at the kitchen table, she is talking to her daughter’s photograph.) Ach! Annie-girl, your father, he was out walking again in the lunatic meadow after telling me you mustn’t be talking to shadows... and there he was conversing with himself, the trees, and God Almighty—for all I know. The ginger cat was following him like a dog, her tail curled in a question mark, as if she attended to every word he was saying. Stopping to sniff the flowers like a large hairy bee with whiskers and mewing as if to answer. Silly creature. I wonder what she said to him because soon enough he quieted down like a lamb. And the birds singing by the hunter’s moon. It was all wrong I tell you. What were they saying I wonder and when did we forget the language of birds? Was a time we knew, you know.

I don’t blame you for committing your father to the hospital. Really I don’t. Imagine him brandishing a sword over your head like that. You’re absolutely right. Something had to be done. It scared the living daylights out of me and I felt so helpless because I couldn’t even comfort you. What use are these arms? All I could do was watch. My penance, for I don’t know what, reduced to nothing but a shadow myself I am, ’tween worlds. I couldn’t bear it seeing his arms raised up to the night sky and the watery stars weeping. And him keening like Absolom. Thing is, as he railed and ranted, I swear the moon coyly paused behind a cloud as if to listen.

Maybe it was the Kiltegan witch’s curse taking root after all. Took a long time ripening. A sad harvest. That field belonged to the witch was next door to theirs, you know, and her washing the milk buckets in the same well always made them a bit queasy. A sudden chill. Again! Uisht! Do you hear it? Sure, I shivered. And who was busy walking on my grave? There’s been enough of that lately. And the way they paraded round and round that meadow until I was dizzy with grief. Even the small fingers of sunlight couldn’t banish all the fear rising up from the dark eye of the well.

Funny how the mind plays tricks. Even now. I kept thinking of Hamlet chatting up his dead father like that. No, I said, Thomas, you come in from the cold. Willie’s not coming back. He’s dead. Sure it’s your nightshirt all wet from the dew, I said. Sleep, that’s the ticket. But the grief began anew each time as if it was the first time he heard of it. He turned his face to the wall. Then the awful silence. No. I don’t want to hear that speech. To sleep no more...

Talking to shadows he was. I don’t blame him. But I do blame the hawthorn he slept beneath all the next day, and the bees breaking their hearts over the closed flowers in the stillness of that late afternoon. And I was so afraid. I wanted to bring him some tea but it was no use. I thought to myself, if only we could catch the honeyed words. Put them in a jar for some creature comfort later. Ach, I could kill for a good cup of tea. Make it strong enough for the mice to skitter across it. Give the cat something to do to earn her keep.

You remember what they say about sleeping under the hawthorn? I’m sure that’s how it all began. His mind wandered to all sorts of strange and fantastical places. Once he said he was with Hannibal crossing the Alps. Imagine that! Poor lummoxing beasts climbing mountain passes with no more understanding of snow than the man in the moon. Him worried about the elephants trembling at the sight of snowflakes. Wanting me to knit them all sweaters! Imagine that! Me, a knitter of elephant sweaters for creatures more ‘un 2000 thousand years dead. I thought to humor him but I’d never hear the end of it in the Hereafter. Should I use the popcorn stitch or a cable stitch like Aran sweaters, dogtags for the drowned fishermen lost at sea.

Sure, I didn’t know what to make of it. There he was, ranting through the ages, a fine white snow covering him. Petals drifting down on him from the hawthorn until he was blanketed white as snow. I blamed the hawthorn, I did. We were told never to pick it or invite trouble into the house. Thorns into the bed. Or a changeling. And that he was. A changeling.

Annie, your father was like Hannibal all alone in Abyssinia, he was leaderless after he turned over Dublin Castle to them. A loyal servant of Ireland and the Crown he was. The Crown was good to us. I remember when the king came to visit. It was after Queen Victoria died. Your father called her the Flower of Christendom, he did.

Did you know that King Edward he praised my beautiful hair? Blue-black as the barrel of a rifle it was. It was 1903. I wore a polka-dotted dress. All the little teacakes staring up at us like Christmas presents. Oh! How I loved to dance. But your father, he stood like a great tree in the middle of the dance floor. I was afraid he’s take root right there. They began to whisper and laugh. Shame spread like Brigid’s red cloak. I had to coax him off the floor with the teacakes. And them laughing.

Annie, don’t be so hard on your father. There was a time when he was a different man, he wore his invincibility like a cloak but after he turned Dublin Castle over to Collins and the like, he was a different man. After that, he was always after dreaming candlelight into song and questing for distant horizons. The glory of Rome. He admired Michael Collins, you know. But they called him a traitor. Blamed him for Larkin’s death. And the others. He never even carried a gun. Just the billy club was enough. He kept Dublin orderly and safe. It was his job. Ach, it was terrible the way they treated your father. There was some trouble with his pension, with the new government, and him chief constable of Dublin working for Ireland and the Crown 45 long years! And they called him a traitor.

There’s always betrayal at the heart of it. They should look to themselves. And who was it gave the order to kill the Big Fella? Themselves alone. How he wept when Collins died. There was real hope for the Big Fella, you see. Not for “King” de Valera, him with the stone heart of a mathematician leading us back into slavery with rings through our noses like cattle to Rome. Dev, the called him, more like devolution. Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. Soldiers of destiny they called themselves. All it brought was more civil war. As if there wasn’t enough bloodshed.

It all began with your brother Willie’s death, it unsettled your father something terrible. You know, he was never quite right in the head after that. I swear he saw God in the face of his newborn son. That settled him down right enough. But why is it fathers and sons never see eye to eye until it’s too late? Poor Willie! All he wanted was a kind word. And your father like a big lump of a stone. Poor tyke. He was only six when I was with Dolly in the childbed, my own blood racing to meet Lough Derg. Such a long night it was. And I couldn’t stop it for the life of me. When the candle failed, the birds began to sing, it was my father came to me, but it was so queer, he was my husband with my father’s face. I didn’t know who I was talking to. He began to keen. Hush, I said. But the candle guttered. Him crying like his heart would break.

’Tis a pity I never got to hold Dolly. My arms and breasts ache for her. Where is she now? America? And your sister Maud? She never comes home. Only you. Why do you keep returning to this house empty of memory with no family of your own to fill it? Poor Annie. Your poor back curving like a riverbend of hammered pewter at dusk that no man would ever set sail on.

Poor Willie. He gave his young life to save Europe, so proud to be in the Rifles. Caught in the crossfire. But you can’t lose a son without blaming yourself, your father said. You can’t fight a battle without spilling some blood. They said it was a whole generation Irish blood—not English—that fed the fallow fields of the Somme. Fodder for the Crown. That’s all they were good for. Fodder, that’s what your father said. They say there’s guns and war medals enough rusting on uniforms in the shadowed back rooms in every country of the world. But in Ireland even more so.

Willie. Named after a heroic warrior, Willie he was our only Finn MacCool. We called him William after your Gran’Da. But the others, they thought it was King Billy we were referring to. And they shunned us at the market. Painting the door orange. Calling your Da a spy for the Crown. We were good Catholics, we were. Sure it was the Crown who put the food on our table during the Troubles when there was little to be had. What else could we do? They were jealously counting all our Sunday roasts stacking up into eternity like a leaning tower of Pisa. Accusing us of putting a little something aside for purgatory. But jealousy is ever the traitor’s mistress. The Have Nots hungering after the hard-earned good fortune of others. I told him it was enough to make any man crazy serving two mistresses, Catholic Ireland and Anglican England. But he couldn’t hear me. Not a single thing I said. ’T’was a pity I was only talking to the shadows.

‘T’is such a pity the old man completely went off his mind babbling in the waving grasses like a babby wanting his mother. Annie, I swear he wouldn’t have harmed a hair on your head. The sword was a symbol of the power he’d lost. ’T’was the grief of only his wounded pride speaking in the graveyards of betrayal. The crows diving at him like banshees. When the candlelight fails, when they’ve killed the heroes, and the potential of the father’s only sons lies buried in the cold clay, when that stony love slips down their cheeks into the glittering face of the well, what loyalty was left for there to crown? There’s a good girl now Annie, put the kettle on the hob for some tea?



Oct. 17, 2002 

Friday, October 4, 2002

Stoppard’s “Night and Day” Marginalia 


STOPPARD’S “NIGHT AND DAY” MARGINALIA 

First read of “Night and Day” was tedious and I thought it dated and insubstantial. A big name like Stoppard, and he wrote this? Not his best work I presume. I liked the play's opening with a dream. Confusing the audience early on makes them vulnerable, and more receptive to accept the world of the playwright. 

Guthrie, the photojournalist is a “type” I recognize from hanging out with paparazzi. I was earning my living as a photojournalist (and poet) in rural Sonoma County, but a poet friend Carolyn Forché said, don’t just write about guerrilla warfare, bear witness. And so I went to Latin America and the USSR, documenting whatever I could. I know Guthrie’s egocentric world of by lines, getting the news, and then getting it out, telexes, I was in the USSR right before the fall, and before email and had to get news out via carrier pigeons… 

Opening Ruth’s scene with drums clues us in that there’s a war going on (or the natives are restless), and it sets the scene. Dry humor: is he asleep or dead? Followed by tea, so very civilized...dichotomy of drums and tea. Neo-colonialism. Mad dogs and Englishmen under an African sun. Interesting overstepping of bounds, boundaries, territories—the English in Africa, Guthrie in Carson’s house, the Africans with each other. 

Interesting use of “Ruth” surreally spouting off what would never be uttered in company, polite or otherwise. Makes it farcical, and breaks the 4th wall nicely. We know we'll be hearing from her: when the two Ruths collide, something will happen. Red Alert. Ruth’s very outspoken, an issue of class, sparring with Guthrie about cultural sensitivity as in “boy” vs. Francis....but Francis is still a slave. Ironic. But he'll run off and join Col. Shimbu's ALF commies at the end. 

“Proper drink.” Propriety will be maintained. Which means the crux of the story will use a breakdown of “proper” form. Stoppard is giving us all the germinal bits of the story in the opening lines. Territorial squaring off between Ruth and Guthrie. The barely concealed venom beneath velvet gauntlets. 

“Ruth” resorting to The Beatles' “Help” is funny. Wag-ner Vagner jokes (The Neiblunglings are evoked—more disaster threatening in the wings). I always pay attention to character's names...clues are buried. Ruth-less...without mercy. Guthrie: a good tough guy name. Let George do it. Milne? Gawd: not Winnie-the-Pooh? But Milne has a bit of that in his character. Carson: I think Carson City, comstock mines...lo and behold he's a miner! So we've got the miner wanting to protect his investments. Guthrie: Did you clock the telex? The thirty-somethings aren't gonna get this very specific reference. It carries a lot of weight. Pre Marshall McLuhan global village. It means you can litera(ri)lly get the news in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Even the hotel doesn't have one. How backwards is this place? An urgent message for Stanley (Mr. Livingston, I presume?). 

GOBs (Good old boys) trading “war” stories a la Hemingway. Guthrie's speech about the neophyte getting the best shot. Front page scoop envy and newspaper rivalry. I found the free press versus closed shop scene a bit hard to follow on the page (I was glazing over and not retaining the information—didacticism at work) but when I saw the play, it worked well. Red Alert: The playwright's political message: scabs vs freelance...a microcosm of this war? Newspapers listed in order of importance. Miss the deadline, kill a story. Milne's naivitŽe is excruciating, the naive opportunists get the scoop, but the penalty is that they'll die young: Milne and the Groupie. (Parallel structure foreshadowed.) 

Curious that Ruth, who has suffered at the has of sensational journalism in the scandal sheets, would have had a fling with Wagner, then Milne. Of course, journalists are hierarchical, these guys aren't in the yellow tabloid business. Subplot of love triangle, er, quadrangle is vaguely humorous, but not necessary to the plot. It give Ruth something to do on-stage (if tedious). Did playwright run out of steam? She obsesses on her easy virtue (such as it is) and the trivial realm because women have been marginalized so, but she too wants to retain her power, all the characters are fighting for petty kingdoms on one front or another, whether it be Guthrie, Wagner and Milne; Carson, Shimbu, or Mageeba. 

I like Ruth's warning: to watch out for President Mageeba's laugh but Wagner misses the connection and we are given a taste of real brutality in the midst of a farce. As the tension mounts, Wagner gets his exclusive interview and spar with Mageeba on the relative merits of the free press, but Wagner's beating is the turning point of the play; it will be tragedy from here on out. Milne's death is a necessary martyrdom, part of the story of journalists living on the edge, a tribe apart. Mageeba is a dangerous leopard revealed as Caliban after all. Propriety fails, the white handkerchief of truce ignored, Milne shot. I am reminded that All's fair in love and war... 

Skillful storyline. The course of action in the play takes place on one afternoon and into the wee hours of the next day. The Potteresque musical use of “Night and Day” to close the play brings us back to Ruth's farce: “That’s why the lady..is a tramp.” And the grim realization that they're all whores, every last one of them. 



Oct. 4, 2002 
CW 810, Thorstenson 
Assignment #4 

Stoppard’s “Night and Day”: a Critical Response

STOPPARD’S. “NIGHT AND DAY”: A CRITICAL RESPONSE


“Night and Day” was my first introduction to Tom Stoppard the playwright. I’ve been hearing about Stoppard’s genius for years, as my partner Neil, who was in a local production of “The Real Inspector Hound”; he recently met Stoppard at UC Berkeley and he was raving about Stoppard’s genius. Because I found the reading of the play both dated and tedious— I will address this later—I also took it upon myself to scan a few of his other plays including “Indian Ink” and “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. I loved Stoppard’s innovative plots and ideas, restricting the amount of information Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have access to, and embedding bits of Hamlet within the framework of the play, or having two dueling critics riding shotgun throughout the play in “The Real Inspector Hound.”

However, the difference between “Night and Day” and Stoppard’s other plays was literally night and day. In the other plays, I got a better sense of the famous Stoppardian farcical style. Moral: don’t judge a playwright by only one play—certainly not the dated “Night and Day”. But this raises another issue: shouldn’t a work of art stand alone and not be supported by the oeuvre and charisma of the artist?

I admit some of my difficulty with reading “Night and Day” had to do with a wandering attention span. Perhaps my mind went narcoleptic because of the datedness of the material, but some of this has to do with my inability to fully visualize a play on the page. I am a practicing dyslexic. I have trouble visualizing the actions of words on the page. I have to see a play or a poem on its feet. I have to hear the spoken word first in order to appreciate them on the page. I have to hear a surrogate author’s voice in my head.

For example, the first time I read Martin McDonough’s “The Beauty Queen of Lenane” I hated it, I really thought the script stunk but when I saw it produced at Berkeley Rep, I gained a better appreciation of the play (though I found the pacing and the bad Irish accents to be amateurish and tedious—not up to usual Berkeley Rep style—but it was early in the run. They did improve with time.)

Which brings me to the cult of Stoppard vs. the play, “Night and Day.” Before I saw the ACT production, I attended the special ACT Prologue interview with Stoppard and I also heard the Michael Krasny radio interview on KQED. I fell in love with the brilliant wit and self-deprecating style that Stoppard is justly famous for. This swayed my judgment so much that I enjoyed the production more than I expected and the storyline as well.

Some of my enthusiasm was because the set was so simple yet dazzling. Clever idea to have the house open up like a clam to reveal the living room but when it wouldn’t close again due to mechanical failure, the actors did a stellar job of carrying on with the play, though many of the outdoor scenes took place in the living room. A surrealistic touch I hardly noticed...except for Francis’ incongruous pillow gathering, the journalists jamming up in the door of the office and the “other Ruth” walking offstage from behind the office, seemed a little odd. I remember being vaguely puzzled by their odd activities, but I was still engrossed enough in the storyline to maintain a suspension of disbelief, though the timing also seemed to be a bit off. And the inconsistent use of spotlights on some of the other “Ruth”’s asides also confused me—especially when Ruth is talking to Jason Milne. I thought she was blurting her subconscious thoughts which was pretty funny as we all have that fear.

What I learned from this Stoppard play, is that if the direction and the pacing are good, a less than stellar play can indeed shine. As with “House of Blue Leaves”, I missed much of the juxtaposition of dialogue and timing cues during my first read. John Guare said that timing is so critical in farce—even a 30-second delay can disrupt the flow of the scene. And Stoppard, like Guare, has a superb sense of timing. Besides, they’re just plain funny playwrights. It comes through in their writing.

One tip that was enormously helpful to my appreciating “Night and Day” was Stoppard’s own comment that he likes to present differing points of view, and that all the voices, including Mageeba’s, are really the playwright’s voice. Once Stoppard confessed this, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. It gave me permission to step back from the play and listen to Stoppard’s subtext. I used to think that having running arguments in my head was uniquely Catholic trait. Something the nuns hammered into us about God and the devil struggling over your mind except that God was actually too busy to be involved in the archetypal struggle of free will among the vast populace, so he sent guardian angels along instead. Do not lead us into temptation...and all that.

Stoppard’s theatrical timing is superb at building suspense. Though I knew that President Mageeba was going to hit Wagner, I was on the edge of my seat waiting, so that the strike was a bit anti-climactic, as if MY timing was off...and I realized that throughout the play, Stoppard is in our heads, playing with our timing, throwing us off balance from the very beginning. The opening scene is a Checkovian microcosmos of metaphor that echoes and reverberates throughout the play—something lovely I completely missed until after I saw the play and then reread it again.

On some level, I suspect an audience wants reassurance that the author is indeed in control of his subject matter so that they can trust him to set defined perimeters so that they can suspend their disbelief and enter into the somewhat voyeuristic partnership of observer/observed. I think this has to do with audience expectation and the dual role of the predictability / unpredictability factor.

Perhaps a surreal digression will back light a murky point I’m trying to make on audience. A psychologist friend and I once sat at a pub window in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, observing a tableaux before us. I was struck by the sheer theatricality of hookers gyrating behind blacklit windows, pantomiming to an eager audience of trench-coated johns in the alley. It was a predictable play. The johns strutted in for the climax of the show, but minutes later, they slunk back out seeming more depressed than anything. Meanwhile the shopworn hookers bounced right back in the picture windows, right on cue for scene two.

We as audience come to the theater with certain expectations. We eagerly anticipate and sincerely hope to be entertained.. But what is our role in the larger play of things? To be teased and titillated or to bear witness? What about catharsis? But if John Guare is right, that theater is where we come to find the truth (versus the sheer entertainment value of TV and film), how do we access a deeper truth when portions of a play have become timeworn and stale? Supporters were raving about the timeliness of this dated play, I found this to be a contradiction.

Poet Wallace Stevens wrote: “it is difficult getting the news/ from poetry/ but men die miserably/ every day/ /for lack of what is found there.” Unfortunately “Night and Day” is a prosaic play. There is a certain timeliness to Stoppard’s play in that news is sensationalism—show biz as it were. Why bother to do this play now? We already know all about yellow journalism, narcissistic self-worship of print media’s altar-ego (stet.) and the minuscule media bytes of cable network news. So what’s the NEW news that we as audience are supposed to come away with? What new truth is unveiled? Perhaps it’s unfair to judge the play, an artifact of its time, against today’s current events—it’s a fossil relic of the news machine of the 1970s. Historicity repeating itself?

If the subject matter of the play, that is, journalism itself, is not the news, then I am led to words as artifacts. In “Night and Day,” Stoppard heavily relies upon didacticism as his modus operandi to carry the play. There is more than a fair amount of belabored didacticism and rhetoric that hinders and slows down the action of the play—especially during Wagner and Mageeba’s exchange. Didacticism’s role is to instruct. I am thrust back on Aristotle’s maxim that learning should be pleasurable, and that theater should provide catharsis for the audience.

What else, besides subject matter, dates a play? The anachronism of the telex didn’t bother me, but the didacticism did. Perhaps the didacticism didn’t seem quite so tedious when the play first opened in 1978, when a maturing generation of angry young playwrights strutted their stuff. But the nature and duration of catharsis is ephemeral. How quickly a fresh idea becomes clíchéd. So, why produce “Night and Day” now? To borrow a cliché, we have witnessed that history is condemned to repeat itself. That much is certain.



Oct. 12, 2002
CW 810, Thorstenson
Assignment #5