Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

December 27, 2010 at 2:03pm

On with the show

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When I watch a play, I take in all the same elements you do - set, costumes, lighting, music, dancing, movement, acting, writing and so on - but I also look deeper. As I said before, I watch for focused creativity and unity, meaning consistency of setting and tone. Here's how those two elements play into the body of a show:

Do the director's choices amplify or detract from the show? Directors are the last members added to the theatrical team, but they can elevate a quality script to an unforgettable experience. Imaginative staging turns lunch money into spectacle. Is every scene played "on the nose," or has it occurred to the cast that some characters may be lying? Is the lighting purely literal? How about the music? Were the only surprises in the show written by the playwright, or did this troupe come up with ways to keep us mentally engaged during quiet moments?

Do all the characters look and act as if they belong in the same play? Is the acting or performance style reasonably consistent from actor to actor? (It'd be weird, for example, if only one member of a Molière cast rapped.) Does the director understand the world of the play, and has he or she helped us absorb it? Do the details make sense? Props are a dead giveaway. (Next time you attend a production of Macbeth, for example, keep an eye on the banquet scene. Table forks weren't used in Scotland until five hundred years after the time of the play.) Do the characters seem comfortable in their costumes? Are those costumes accurate? (Here's another example: Cleopatra VII seldom wore Egyptian clothing. She was Greek and preferred Hellenic togas for all but ceremonial occasions.) Does each background character have a plausible function in his or her fictional world?

With regard to acting, I'm a Meisner guy - I was trained in the largely reactive technique popularized by director and acting teacher Sanford Meisner - so I'd rather watch actors interact with each other than pose for the audience. "Heroic" and "fabulous" bore me. Mugging annoys me. Does each actor understand what he or she is saying? Are they racing through Elizabethan meter in some horrendously misguided attempt to shorten one of Shakespeare's plays, thereby rendering it incomprehensible? Is he or she droning Sophoclean dialogue because some academic scholar said that's the way Oedipus Tyrranus was performed 2,500 years ago? (It probably wasn't, by the way.) Do the lovers have sexual and romantic chemistry? Is the villain inexplicably melodramatic? No one, not even a truly evil person, actually says, "Bwahaha." I've never seen it happen in 42 years, and neither have you. There is such a thing as reality, even in a thriller.

LINK: What I Look For, Part II

LINK: What I Look For, Part I

Filed under: Arts, Theater, All ages, Tacoma, Olympia,
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