Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Play's The Thing

Last night I didn’t come home wondering why I had ever agreed to direct a production of RICHARD III.

For most of my adult life I’ve been drawn to this play – first as an actor and later as a director. It’s far more fun playing a bad guy than a good one. There are an almost infinite number of ways to express satisfaction bordering on breathing heavy while following even the most simple of inclinations (like taking a sledge hammer to the screaming car radio next to you at the traffic light, or shoving a cell phone somewhere after listening to half of an inane conversation in the elevator.) In any case, when RICHARD says “Off with his head,” (and he says it often), there’s an empathy there. Admit it.

So I wanted to play RICHARD. I even had half a dozen or so words memorized. “Now is the winter of our discontent …” That was good, and made me sound so so cultured. And then there was “since I cannot prove a lover, I’m gonna be the best villain you ever saw in your life…” (or words to that effect.) Honesty here. I respected that.

But when the opportunity came along, I shied away from auditioning for the role. After all, this was Shakespeare. (See? Even his name pops up in italics.) I mean, this was like playing God, and only Morgan Freeman and George Burns played God, and look what happened to them!

Eventually I fell into directing and playwriting. (No fool here. As an actor I played a role. As I director/writer I played ALL the roles.) That’s what I told myself. The truth was, I was never comfortable memorizing lines at the best of times. And. getting older, I found I wasn’t healing as fast as when I was younger, and actors will gladly throw themselves in front of the Avenue C Bus if someone asks them to.)

So I directed stuff – lots and lots (and lots) of stuff. I was most successful in directing comedies and musicals, but I also directed dramas that were considered respectable. Please understand that none of this was ego driven as ego is normally regarded. I like dealing with concepts. When I see that an idea will work, that’s enough, I’m happy. Everything that follows is simply a necessary part of the job. (Frankly, even confiding my thoughts and motivations to you feels uncomfortably close to bragging.)

So I never directed a Shakespeare play – until some fool theatre asked me to. Actually the conversation was more along the lines of …

    Me: Richard the Third? You’re doing Richard the Third?! I’ve always wanted to direct that play!

   Theatre Rep: Okay.

That was it. See where blind rhetoric can lead? Let that be a lesson to you.

So here we were – first rehearsal, second, third … Actors approach reverently, eyes lowered (And when was the last time you saw THAT happen?) And I fake them around the stage, and I’m surrounded by living bobble heads thinking I actually have some kind of clue about what I’m doing. (Note to Malmesbury. You’re the only Brit I know. Do you understand this stuff? God, you really do come from a superior race.)

And then we came to last night. At some point the blah blah blah became passionate dialogue – surprised everyone, most of all me. People were caught in the moment of discovery. I could see the excitement. Where did it come from?

The question is, will it be there again tonight?