Saturday, June 27, 2009

Twelfth Night in the Park: Part 2

During the intermission, I do an interview with an entertainment reporter from New York 1. This is the complete transcript:

INTERVIEWER: So -– have you met Anne Hathaway?
ME: Are you kidding? I married Anne Hathaway!
INTERVIEWER: I meant this Anne Hathaway.
ME: Ah. No. Not yet. But I did send her a note backstage.
INTERVIEWER: Really! Can I ask what you wrote in the note?
ME: Of course you can.
INTERVIEWER: So, uhm, uhh, what did you write in the note?
ME: I’m not telling.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a poem?
ME: Why would I write her a poem?
INTERVIEWER: Because you’re a poet.
ME: No, I’m an actor.
INTERVIEWER: But you wrote in blank verse.
ME: Blank verse is not poetry. Blank verse is dialogue.
INTERVIEWER: So what kind of dialogue would you like to have with Anne Hathaway?
ME: Something actor to actor.
INTERVIEWER: Actor to actor then –- if she asked you, “What do you think of this production?” what would you say?
ME: I would say, I love outdoor theatre. But I’m biased. I spent most of my professional life performing outdoor theatre.
INTERVIEWER: You mean writing for outdoor theatre.
ME: No, I mean performing. The writing was just a way to make more money. Acting was what I did seven days a week. Well, all right, six. They didn’t let us perform on Sundays, unless we got a special license.
INTERVIEWER: What else do you like about tonight’s production?
ME: The fact that all the actors are in the same play. You’d be surprised at how rare this is. The live music. The singing. I love Orsino and Viola singing along to “Come Away Death.” I love it because it fits the mood. I love it because it says something very specific about each character. I love it because it says these characters share something between them, whether they know it or not. And I love it because it’s what we used to do when we created or assigned parts in a play. We said “What can you do?” and staged the scene to highlight to the talents of each actor. Which is what Dan Sullivan is doing tonight. You have actors who can sing in the cast? Then find a way to get them singing. Makes me want to write more songs.
INTERVIEWER: And Anne Hathaway's performance?
ME: I still have a hard time seeing women play the female parts in my plays. But I think she's doing a wonderful job.
INTERVIEWER: Is there anything you don’t like about the play?
ME: The fact that my son never lived to see it. He was a twin. He and Judith.
INTERVIEWER: So you wrote the part with him in mind?
ME: Oh yes. I wrote it with my son in mind, and I wrote it for his uncle Edmund to play.
ME: My brother Edmund.
INTERVIEWER: He was an actor?
ME: He was a very good actor. Who knows how far he would have gone, if he hadn’t died of the plague? Actually, I know how far. I wrote the part of Edmund in Lear for him. In the first draft he was called something completely different. Can’t even remember now what it was. But after he died? It was always Edmund.
INTERVIEWER: And you wrote Sebastian for him?
ME: Of course. Same way I wrote Antonio for myself.
INTERVIEWER: So you acted in the original production of Twelfth Night?
ME: Oh yes. All the sharers did.
INTERVIEWER: And you played Antonio?
ME: I always played the Antonio parts. This play, Merchant of Venice, . . .
INTERVIEWER: You played Antonio in Merchant of Venice?
ME: You're having a hard time with this, aren't you.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a rather large role for you, isn’t it?
ME: Not as large as Iago.
INTERVIEWER: You played Iago?
ME: Well of course. If you wrote Iago, wouldn’t you want to play him?
INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry, I’m having a hard time with this.
ME: I know, I know -- everybody says I was a writer first and an actor second. Everybody meaning a bunch of old men who think that I scribbled those plays to be read rather than performed, and revised, and ad-libbed around, and generally treated like, oh, the written equivalent of a trampoline. I didn’t write plays for them to be read; I wrote them for actors to perform.
INTERVIEWER: So what other parts did you play?
ME: Prospero, of course. Buckingham. Jacques. The Friar in Romeo & Juliet. Don Pedro in Much Ado. Banquo in The Play We Don’t Mention. Claudius.
ME: And the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father.
INTERVIEWER: So, if you were doing Hamlet tomorrow, say, would you cast Anne Hathaway as Ophelia?
ME: “Cast.” Oh yes, that thing you do now where an actor gets jobbed in to play a part. We never did that. We assigned parts. Or else the parts were written with the actors in mind.
INTERVIEWER: So who was Ophelia written for?
ME: Lauren Ambrose.

And this is what gets broadcast later that night:

INTERVIEWER: So -– have you met Anne Hathaway?
ME: No. Not yet. But I did send her a note backstage.
INTERVIEWER: Really! Can I ask what you wrote in the note? Was it a poem?
ME: I’m not telling. But I think she's doing a wonderful job.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Twelfth Night in the Park: Part 1

June 20, 2009. To the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park to see the Public’s Me-In-The-Park production of Twelfth Night with that young actress who has my wife’s name. Because it is Father’s Day weekend, I take the Da as my plus one, which does not go as badly as I feared, or as well as I hoped. But it never does. At least this time he doesn’t give me a lecture about the plot, as he did last year during Hamlet. “I never got that pirates shite,” he said. “Why pirates? And why don’t we see them? If you’re going to have pirates, then show them to us.” “Yes, Da.” “Aren’t you the one who’s always saying, Don’t tell us -- show us?” “No, that’s Ben, Da.” “Ben?” “Ben Jonson, Da.” “Ah, Ben. How is Ben?” “He’s good.” “Is he here tonight?” “No, he’s probably at The Dead Poet. He thinks any play with pirates in it is a mouldy tale.” “I like pirates,” says the Da. “Pirates are fun. Not many plays out there which wouldn’t be better off with a crew of pirates in ‘em.” “Not many, Da,” I said, and mentally made a note to give him Captain Blood for his birthday.

When tonight’s play begins (with live music; well done, Daniel Sullivan) the Da, as usual sits there with his arms across his chest, now and then reacting with a harrumph or a grunt or a wry grin and a shake of his head, which is the closest he ever gets to admitting that he wants to laugh at one of my jokes. I know all this and yet I am still looking for him to do something different whenever he sees one of my plays. I keep hoping for a conversation, even though I know that this is a man who does not string more than five words together at a time unless he is under the influence of either anger or drink. Or talking about pirates. I do not know why, after several centuries, I still look for his approval. But I do. It’s the opposite with the Mum. When I took her to see Mary Stuart on Mother's Day, I was the one with my arms folded across my chest, and she was the one walking on eggshells because she could tell I was jealous of the translation.

So I try to ignore the Da and appreciate the actors, which is only made difficult by an intense little man in the third row who appears to be mouthing all the lines along with the actors, and shaking his head now and then at a missed word or anything remotely resembling an ad-lib. Whereas I am enjoying every little ad-lib and bit of business because I wish I’d thought of it first. The company is extremely talented. There is more music than in most productions, and more harmonized singing, with both Viola and Orsino joining in on the songs. It makes me wish I had written them a duet. And (yes) it is extremely odd to see a woman with my wife’s name playing a part I wrote with my daughter Judith in mind. But she is quite good for someone who has learned to act in front of a camera instead of an actual audience, and while her Viola is neither as funny nor as vulnerable as it could be (there is a reason she’s always making jokes about her cross-dressing, Anne dear) she is certainly better in the part of Viola than Julia Stiles was a few years ago. Or for that matter Sam Gilburne, for whom I wrote the part. You can guess at his strengths and limitations during his scene with Olivia, which was written for the other Sam, Sam Crosse (as was Rosalinde; as was Gertrude).

Thinking of those long-dead boys makes me think of how much the play has changed since the original version, the one just titled What You Will, in which there was no Malvolio subplot, but a cross-plot romance in which Sebastian married Olivia, Viola married Antonio, and Leonato wound up alone (because someone must always end up alone). There was much more confusion between the twins in that version, which meant much more for my brother Edmund to do as Sebastian. But then Elizabeth wanted a play to honor that pompous fool Don Virginio Orsino, so I cut the cross-plot to shreds, changed Leonato to Orsino, added Toby and Andrew and Malvolio, and gave Sam Gilburne a little more to do by creating Maria as a double-part with Viola. (So odd to see them on stage together in modern productions.) That took all of two weeks to write and rehearse, and by the time it was over, the play had turned into another Midsummer, where the chief company actors got the small beer parts and the groundlings in the company got the meat and potatoes, which fit the Twelfth Night occasion well.

This production is very much in that vein, with the weight coming down heavily on the Malvolio side of the scales. And because the actors are so good, I cannot help but rewrite the play in my head with them in mind. Raul Esparza is too strong to be wasted as Orsino; we need to see more of him, and in this script Orsino disappears for the theatrical equivalent of days. I would beef up his part, and cut the foolery between Toby and Andrew, most of which is clever references to topical events of 1600, such as that stinker about the lady of the Strachy marrying the yeoman of the wardrobe. (Memo to self: nothing dies faster than a topical reference. Better yet: memo to Stephen King.) I don't even remember who was the butt of that joke; all I do remember is that it got the biggest laugh of the day when we did it in front of Elizabeth. It reminds me of all the references to Lord Strange's Men in Love's Labor's Lost. Talk about the funniest play in history. Not a single in-joke was lost the first time we did it. It was like an industrial for the Elizabethan nobility But now? Nobody within twenty miles of me even knows who Lord Strange's Men were. Well, possibly that little man in the third row who's mouthing all the lines. He probably knows. He probably even knows who the lady of the Strachy was. Which means he’s one of those bardolaters who thinks I was a poet first, an actor tenth, and a crowd-pleaser last of all. I have the intense desire to go up to him during intermission, and give him a heart attack by telling him that, if I was writing this play now? I’d be making Britney Spears jokes. (And memo to self or not? You know I would. I would be making bad puns on her last name for days.)