Letter from Cyprus

We got down and dirty with Act III tonight. (It's the Act where neither Othello nor Iago EVER STOP TALKING.) I choreographed a couple of knife fights the other night, which actually look pretty kickass, I'm kind of proud of myself.

The cuts in the script have been judicious. Being an outdoor performance, beginning at 8 pm, we absolutely must bring this beast in at no more than 2 hrs. and 15 minutes, including an intermission, due to neighborly considerations. Hence, some cuts. Painful, but necessary (I'm an Actor, yes, but at this point not even I can play "declin'd into the vale of years"). Othello loses some pretty definitive bits, but not nearly as much as Iago, who just doesn't stop scheming, the little bastard.

I believe in a Living Text, I believe in a playable text, and I believe that not mine nor any individual production of this text will ever be The Definitive Production. At least, not yet. Much better to always have room to improve, and add things as our pace improves, than to sink under the ponderousness of weightiness from the outset. For myself, I'm confident I can play the nuance of the verse in many cases more effectively than I can speak it. I recognize that this is a dangerous and modern trick, but I often feel it necessary. We can always do museum-piece authentic performances; it's the rare, movingly effective performance that I'm aiming for.

I'm feeling cautiously positive about things, all in all.

If I spend more than two hours at a time on my lines, something breaks loose and I don't rightly retain whatever comes after. Actually, this becomes an obstacle only in that I constantly want to spend more time poring over these verses.

Much has been made of how Othello's language and usage are unparalleled amongst the passionate tragic heroes. There is an unusual number of one-and-only coinages in his text--words that appear nowhere else in the Canon, or in the English language, for that matter. Words like agnize, unbonnetted, antres, out-tongue; phrases like ocular proof, exsufflicate and blown surmises, goats and monkeys--these distinctive usages and combinations, taken with his distinctively awkward thought-lines, make for a verse that's tumultuous and visceral, erratic yet unstinting, powerful in its awkward heft. When I work through this Verse I feel like I'm slinging an intricately carved sledge hammer, crafted of teakwood and adamantine.

In working on Othello, often think of images of U.S. Grant, with that wearied, tenacious, piercing stare half-hidden in his thick beard. I think of matadors and toros bravos (I am a Taurus. Iago the Toreador= Santiago Matamoros=Iago the Moorslayer). I have images of Chinese Army soldiers training as UN Peacekeepers, and of ancient Assyrian lioness-demons (Desdemona=Beloved of Demons).

I still have a pile of ten more scripts to read, for more staged readings tommorrow, in a high school, this time. I just finished writing a very surprising letter for a very beloved friend. Portions of said letter may soon appear here shortly. Go, Now, buy and read Paula Vogel's latest, "The Long Christmas Ride Home (A Puppet Play With Actors)." It joins Sarah Ruhl's "Eurydice", Joseph Addison's "Cato: A Tragedy", Christopher Marlowe's "Massacre at Paris" and Naomi Iizuka's "36 Views", and, of course, that which I'm currently working on, all of them Plays I Would Trade Portions of My Everlasting Soul to Perform.

Gather ye rosebuds,



sirbarrett said...

Welcome to Cyrprus, goats and monkeys!! I know you won't, but I wish you'd kill that bastard Iago. I can never trust his honesty. I just watched the extended matrix and saw some pretty good fighting, but no swords. When we play chess, we should also recite Shakespeare cause B would like that.

Nigel T. said...

"For myself, I'm confident I can play the nuance of the verse in many cases more effectively than I can speak it... it's the rare, movingly effective performance that I'm aiming for."
-- polyform

"You can't act Shakespeare until you can speak him."
-- Patsy Rodenburg, Director of Voice, National Theatre and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

One of the above knows what they are talking about. The other one is up a creek without a proverbial paddle.

Anonymous said...

Paul speaks verse better than just about any actor his age as well as a few too many actors twice his age. He isn't giving himself enough credit, and Mr. T hasn't seen him perform verse, I'm guessing.

sirbarrett said...

Yeah, how do you act Shakespeare anyway? He wrote plays of course, but you don't act HIM, you act out his plays. Patsy Rodenburg sounds like someone who talks a little too much for someone who runs a music school. If she wants to act Shakespeare, she should sing him for us. And who needs a paddle when you've got a 600 horsepower motorboat?

sirbarrett said...

To clarify: I think maybe both the above people know what they're talking about. I shouldn't have said Patsy talks too much. You can't talk too much, so I'm glad to hear from her, and she's right, but you Paul, are putting the all in this. There are so many different techniques to acting, but everyone figures out their own method. This discussion that's unraveling is very interesting as well.