Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Come make him stand upon this molehill here ...

Oh friends ...  I had such a fantastic time yesterday working on the smart and sexy new adaptation of Henry VI by Ben Prusiner  (with Re:Verse Theatre) -- one of the brightest shining stars on the theatre horizon. Ben's done a fantastic adaptation of the trilogy of Henry VI (with a touch of Henry V) that heightens the strain of perpetual war, and I had the great privilege of playing Margaret! (Talk about a dream!). Ben assembled a cast the stuff that dreams are made of: talented, giving, and passionate about the work entrusted them. It was an absolute joy to be there -- in every regard. I woke up this morning, unable to shake Margaret, and so I thought I would share this fantastic speech with you. This is Margaret's 'molehill' speech: one of the best opportunities to "chew up the scenery" -- as they say! I also used my best actor's sense memory to channel the outstanding performance given by the of the Duke of York, who made it especially fun to speak these words. (His "she-wolf of France" speech that followed was absolutely amazing!) Ben will be hard at work continuing to refine his vision, and I can't wait for the next incarnation.

Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland,
Come, make him stand upon this molehill here,
That raught at mountains with outstretched arms,
Yet parted but the shadow with his hand.
What! was it you that would be England's king?
Was't you that revell'd in our parliament,
And made a preachment of your high descent?
Where are your mess of sons to back you now?
The wanton Edward, and the lusty George?
And where's that valiant crook-back prodigy,
Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice
Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies?
Or, with the rest, where is your darling Rutland?
Look, York: I stain'd this napkin with the blood
That valiant Clifford, with his rapier's point,
Made issue from the bosom of the boy;
And if thine eyes can water for his death,
I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.
Alas poor York! but that I hate thee deadly,
I should lament thy miserable state.
I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.
What, hath thy fiery heart so parch'd thine entrails
That not a tear can fall for Rutland's death?
Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad;
And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus.
Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance.
Thou wouldst be fee'd, I see, to make me sport:
York cannot speak, unless he wear a crown.
A crown for York! and, lords, bow low to him:
Hold you his hands, whilst I do set it on.

Putting a paper crown on his head
Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king!
Ay, this is he that took King Henry's chair,
And this is he was his adopted heir.
But how is it that great Plantagenet
Is crown'd so soon, and broke his solemn oath?
As I bethink me, you should not be king
Till our King Henry had shook hands with death.
And will you pale your head in Henry's glory,
And rob his temples of the diadem,
Now in his life, against your holy oath?
O, 'tis a fault too too unpardonable!
Off with the crown, and with the crown his head;
And, whilst we breathe, take time to do him dead.

Monday, August 13, 2012

what a piece of work is a man!

I have been absolutely riveted by the London 2012 Olympics, and if you are like me (in the wrong time zone, unfortunately) you have been forgoing precious sleep to watch. Even when I know the outcome (and it's really difficult not to these days, when your time zone is five hours behind the games), I still find that I can't pull myself from the screen -- I am so transfixed by what my fellow 'man' can accomplish. Who doesn't love an Olympic dream? I have always found the athlete's task similar to the actor's -- that sport and performance have much in common. 

What I really find awesome -- in the most literal sense of the word -- is simply what a fellow human being can accomplish; many times against all odds. When I watch these amazing athletes from all walks of life accomplish things that many of us can't even fathom, I always think of this speech. I am humbled that I am -- that each of us is -- capable of achieving my own moments that celebrate the wonder of the world around me. 

It reminds me of that 1980's film Vision Quest. There is a scene in it (and you can find it on You Tube, I'm sure) where the young wrestler visits his older friend and discovers that the man has taken the day off from work, just to watch him wrestle in the big match that he's been preparing for. The man is dressing in his Sunday best, which takes young Loudon by surprise. When Loudon asks him why he's taken the day off, he launches into a beautiful monologue about how amazing it is to watch Pele play soccer (futbol, I know) and how moved he is to be a part of a (human) race that can achieve such greatness -- to him, it's one of the reasons why life is worth living; how noble we are in our abilities. (Forgive me for paraphrasing badly, but this is how I remember it). I think of this speech then, too (and since Pele was featured in the Olympic closing ceremonies, I suspect that this is a truly fitting comparison).

I must confess outright, that it's also difficult for me NOT to hear in my mind's ear the sung version from the musical HAIR, which I had managed to perform in two separate productions in a three year period as I was on the cusp of adulthood. Once that music gets in your head, it's really (REALLY!) difficult to silence -- darn you, Galt MacDermot!

Now what is going on with Hamlet is certainly more complex, but these are the moments in my life when I find these particular lines resonating with me. And after 17 days of sheer wonder, I can't keep myself from thinking "what a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty!" I've begun to speak this with these thoughts in mind

This speech is also listed in Sylvia Morris' greatest Shakespeare speeches.

Here it is: the voiced counterpart of what I've been thinking since the games began.

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late--but
wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

I am including a second recording, in which I consider the lines that precede the speech and the thought that Hamlet knows his friends have been sent to find out what is going on. I'm not taking a vastly different interpretation, as I did in the two very different versions of Constance's speech (have I reason to be fond of grief?) but the moment before speech was informed differently -- version one right after I wrote the post, and version two right after I reread the preceding lines.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Is this a dagger ... ?

For my next 'hearing' I've selected another of Sylvia Morris' favorite Shakespeare speeches, this time from Macbeth. One of the reasons I'm most excited about offering this speech is that it gives me a chance to explore with you the inherent stage directions within the text.

Right at the very start, we know that Macbeth needs to spot an object: the dagger. We encounter our second piece of stage business in the second line: Macbeth needs to reach out to grasp it (or attempt to). In line three, we learn that he comes up empty handed, and looks again to the apparition. We have a progression as he questions the reliability of his senses, and he moves from feeling to sight to thought. He begins to reason with his senses as a sensible (or rather, sense-able) being. In lines eight and nine he sees the dagger as clearly as the actual dagger he draws (our next stage direction). Lines twenty-eight and twenty-nine conclude with a rhyming couplet, which may indicate an impending exit, and then we have a sound effect: the bell. Many editors include the stage directions "a bell rings", but even without their clarification we know he hears the bell for he follows with "... the bell invites me" -- the explanation offers a reason why he's remained onstage despite his rhyming couplet -- does the bell halt his exit -- already in progress?


Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

I have been reading Tim Ingold's book Lines: a Brief History, in which he states, "Whether however a line is real or a ghost - whether, in other words, it is a phenomenon of experience or an apparition - cannot always be unequivocally determined, and I have to confess that the distinction is decidedly problematic" (Ingold 2007: 50). This quote is located at the precise juncture of this speech. The line drawn between Macbeth and the dagger exists; it's a palpable presence to Macbeth, but it's decidedly problematic for him in this soliloquy that he can't discern whether "it is a phenomenon of experience or an apparition". Personally, I love being able to draw my own 'lines' between the various things I'm working on, and I was delighted to read this as I've been thinking of this speech. Don't you love it when those things happen?