For those interested in following the progression of this journey, the cast
and crew of Merchant of Venice met last night for the first time in the
Dusty Loo Bon Vivant theater for our first read-through. Nervous energy
coursed through the laughter and greetings and people looked around at each
other when they thought they could get away with it, trying to size up those
they didn't know and being happy seeing fellow warriors from other battles.
Although I've been doing theater on a fairly regular basis with Theatreworks
for 32 years, because the last eight have been spent mostly away from
"normal" theater, it was not a surprise that I saw relatively few old
friends in the cast and crew. Nevertheless, there is an enormous comfort
working with the likes of Tom Paradise, Steve Wallace, Michael Preston and,
Jeff Flygare --veterans and comrades all from many a battle fought. This
goes double for Murray, with whom I've done tons of shows, and for Ryan
Neeley, whose competence and grace as Stage Manager under (inevitable)
pressure has contributed enormously to several shows I've been privileged to
work. And I was delighted with the energy and obvious talents of those I
did not know but will get to know across the next weeks.
The read-through, itself, was predictably awkward and choppy. There was
scarcely a line I uttered that I didn't immediately wish I had said
differently, not a moment that I felt was anything but a tentative toe
dipped into Shakespearean waters. First table-work is like that: we sit
around like so many ingredients of a soup that has yet to be made, to come
together, to meld those ingredients into an artistic whole. And of course,
I became more aware than I had been working on the lines at home of how far
a road I must travel, how much complexity there is in this process.
Here's just one example of how plot forces actors into choices and how what
one actor chooses impacts another:
Shylock's daughter, Jessica, runs away from her father. But it ain't that
simple; she steals her father blind to finance her flight AND she runs away
with a Christian, just for good measure. Running away for love, eloping as
it were, is pretty easy to understand. But stealing from her father, whose
business is based on ready cash? What's that all about?
If I play Shylock as a tyrannical father, it gives Jessica motivation to
say, as she does at one point, that her life at home has been "hell." If
I'm physically abusive, distant, and generally pissy, it gives her some
sympathy with the audience and makes her flight more understandable. But,
at this very early point in the rehearsal schedule (and without having had
the kind of consultation so necessary between actors and the director), I
don't like the idea that Shylock is a loathsome dad. Too easy. I'm more
inclined to make him kind, relatively thoughtful of his daughter, but
completely out of touch with her, as dads have been since time immemorial.
The kind of dad who would try to forbid his daughter to listen to certain
music, go to certain concerts, etc. The kind of dad who would believe that
he was protecting his kid and doing all this "for her own good" at the very
time in her adolescence where she needs to break away from parental
authority, lover or no lover. If I play Shylock this way, Jessica becomes,
to the audience, more unsympathetic; more self-centered and self-indulgent
that we would otherwise think.
But I can't make this choice on my own. And I can't make it now. I have to
be open to all sorts of possibilities and i certainly owe it to the actress
playing Jessica to discuss her feelings about all this. How SHE wants to
evolve her character during the rehearsal period will impact me and vice
Just one tid-bit for those following this blog who have not, themselves,
been involved with a really good script like this one.
Can't wait to dig into all this stuff at rehearsal tonight.