Script Analysis was a bit of a Q&A today on Internal/External and Exposition. We have an exam coming up, and a paper in which we review various aspects of the first UF play (which I have now seen on opening night), Mrs. Whitherspoon. I think I will include that paper just for laughs. So here are the blogs for the week, and the paper:
ACTING FOR DIRECTORS:
Today was the day for our scene in which I play a very gay serial killer. Well, we don’t actually know if I’m a serial killer (I do…), that’s a mystery for the audience. It’s a comedy, but we went further with it and farced it up. We pulled it off very well and got a number of compliments including our making good use of a large space and on my ‘gay’ walk and body language. In the end, I think our director managed to come up with a more comedic and measured approach to the scene…she slowed down and made our delivery more deliberate and this broadened what otherwise is a too-short and rather weak scene. So I’m pleased with the result but I am so glad it’s over. Working with this scene has been taxing, but I certainly learned a lot about what I expect of a director, of myself in a role, how to make something out of near-nothing, etc. And mostly, I must remind myself to be serious, but at the same time not take things TOO seriously. One can get lost in prima-donna ego mode. The other scene was much better, and I think it’s fair to say that I am a fan of and believer in crotch energy. I made comments in class to that effect, that even though some of my peers goof off and poke fun and the repeated criticism from Dr. Young, “More crotch energy” or “Open the crotch for power” or “Move from your crotch”, it’s all too true. Crotch energy is the source of conflict, conflict is the source of drama. Simple as that. Now we move on to monologues, and hopefully (especially as most of these monologues will be of a classical nature) I’ll get something substantial to chew on and test my metal.
Not much to report today. We continued work-shopping monologues. Professor Hamilton would make Stanislavski-type suggestions (we are studying his approach) and in almost every case, we saw dramatic improvements. We addressed actor habits (those quirks or ‘tells’ that are out of character—for example, nervous pacing, unsure footing, loss of focus when trying to remember lines, over or under-breathing, and the like). Also, I met with Nichole over the weekend and in exchange for collateral (my Higher One credit card), I now have a copy of Shopping and Fucking. What a twisted play this is!
I did absolutely nothing conscious regarding Alexander or Alexander Technique today. I just did my own thing, went to a party, and had one too many drinks.
Today, we presented scenes in my Acting for Directors class and I did some Alexander posture work and deep breathing to gain control over stage fears. It was quite effective. I often have more shallow breath and breathe up in my chest before I present scenes and do stage-work with an audience. Alexander got me breathing fully with my diaphragm and helped to calm my nerves and enter a state of relaxation and trust in myself that I would deliver the goods. And of course, I did.
Informal Critique/Analysis of UF’s Production of, Miss Whitherspoon
By Tom miller – 9/21/2013
Miss Whitherspoon was written in 2005 by Christopher Durang. The play incorporates elements of farce, absurdum, black comedy, and modernism. In UF’s production, care is taken to deliver a set that is both functionally impressive, yet minimalist enough to allow for many of the play’s ideas to be realized within the minds of the audience members. We are led on a cathartic journey of one woman, a ‘reincarnation resister’, to find her purpose and clear her “brown tweedy aura”. Characters include Gandolf (possibly the very same one from the Lord of the Rings), Jesus Christ, and a giant chicken. Right off the bat, we know we are in for an unconventional ride. This critique will seek to comment on major aspects of the production including set, lighting, sound, costumes, acting and directing.
Upon entering the theatre, we are confronted by an opaque flat dome covering the middle of the stage upon which abstract lava lamp-style illuminations undulate like jellyfish. Soft ambient space music is heard which sets an other-worldly tone in the theater even before the play begins. This dome is used throughout the performance and often represents planet earth, thanks to the marvels of a colorful projection background. The dome is also a play area, and actors frequently walk across it as if they are traversing the top of our planet, giant and God-like. When Miss Whitherspoon is in ‘Bardo’ (a sort of no-space between various forms of heaven and earth), a giant fly-in moon descends dramatically from the ceiling and hangs just above the dome. It’s a great set piece with its own internal lighting. At times it is a solid crescent and at other times, this moon glows radiant and white with surface details fit for NASA. It is a moon in which Miss Whitherspoon sits, Speilbergesque, and spins over the world for an affecting and engaging stage picture. Many things fly in from the ceiling. Among the first astonishing surprises, Miss Whitherspoon is engaging the audience directly (fourth wall be damned) about her various physical and mental issues regarding fears of terrorism, random violence, SkyLab falling…suddenly, SkyLab—or a pretty big piece of it—indeed falls from the sky with a crash. This is a play where actors better hit their marks, or their marks may very well hit them. That danger translates providing a welcome edge to the proceedings. Naturally, then enters the giant chicken. “The sky is falling.”
Other locations of the play are represented stage right and left in minimalist montages. Much is left to the imagination. Locations are typically represented by one main piece [a baby crib indicates a home, a desk indicates an office.] A dog, when not played by the protagonist, is represented merely by sound. Audio is used sparingly but effectively throughout, primarily during the ‘reincarnation’ sequences in which lights flash on the back wall and the projection on the dome begins to spin. Some additional background music might have helped to support some of the longer monologues which, though well delivered, tended to go on a little too long.
Costumes are effective in this production. Gandolf had the requisite flowing white robes, long white beard, and a wonderful prop staff, which (controlled by the actor) lit up like fire at the end to punctuate some of his louder lines. Gandolf’s voice was suitably Godlike thanks to a touch of reverb from the sound designer—this together with the costume made him a believable and commanding presence. Miss Whitherspoon’s brown tweed dress matched her character’s aura and as the play went on and she removed several items, her undergarments were lighter colors and indicative of her aura becoming cleansed. Jesus, (played as a black church woman) wore an eye-popping blue day dress with flamboyant Kentucky Derby bonnet. It is as if the Speilberg’s, ‘The Color Purple’ collided with Cukor’s, ‘Hello Dolly!’ Much of the play centers on a tryst with Hello Dolly’s Rex Harrison, so in Miss Whitherspoon’s abstract world, this choice made all kinds of sense. The ‘doghat’ with fur and floppy ears was a great piece of couture for when Miss Whitherspoon returns to earth as a canine—fully functional yet simple. Amanda Schlachter as Maryamma was dazzling in her authentic-looking gold lamay and silver speckled sari. Costumes for the teacher, and the low-end New Yorker family added great dimension to the characters—in particular, a sweat-stained wife-beater shirt stuffed with false beer-belly for a rather repugnant waste of a husband. The most interesting of all are costumes that function at the same time as set pieces. Twice when Miss Whitherspoon is reincarnated, she is returned to earth as an infant. The actor inserts herself underneath and headfirst into a baby-carriage. Laying at her neckline on the carriage is a small baby body with movable arms (operated like a puppet by the actor) with its own little baby outfit. The effect is absurd and startling—to see a grown woman’s head on this tiny baby body—it was a remarkably twisted goofy comic vision.
Obviously, the primary actor has certain physical demands and Stephanie Lynge effortlessly carried the tasks at hand. Her Miss Whitherspoon is an insistant, nervous, frightened, sensitive, lonely complex person. One is reminded of Ellen Degeneres in the way Lynge’s mannerisms—her stuttering, uncertainty, feistiness, vulnerability—all bear upon the challenges the character faces in the world of the play. Lynge absolutely carry the play like the weight of the earth on her shoulders. The other actors are all serviceable and good in their roles, but Lynge really glues it all together. In some cases, certain characters try a little too hard for laughs. Audiences sense this and actors are usually better trusting the material, committing to the characters, and letting the laughs fall where they may.
In all, the themes of the play resonate well. We all have doubts, would like to have second chances, wonder if we’ve made the right decisions and the best of our opportunities. Yet we endure and go on to uncertain ends. Kevin Marshall’s direction of Miss Whitherspoon is clean and economical. It allows the actors to shine, presenting a complete and understandable world, and most certainly does not get in the way of the play, which is important. One senses balance in this production. Earth, moon and ‘Bardo’ represented as the centerpiece, the various reincarnation locals set equally on either side bespeak the balance that Miss Whitherspoon herself seeks. The blocking makes great use of the full staging space and in particular, it’s always refreshing to see actors walking across the top of the earth, as well they should.
Directed by Kevin Marshall
Lighting and Production Design by Dan Hopper
Scenic, Properties & Projection Design by Jason Myron Wright
Costume Design by Janae LaFleur
Sound Design by Ben Hawkins
Stage Managed by Colette Rackleff