Monday, July 13, 2009

Malvolio's Strip Tease

Opening Night of 12th Night went well for me, though I found myself more nervous in performance than I'd been before it, which took me by surprise. I went up in an early scene but covered seamlessly enough to have required intimate familiarity with the text to catch, but the flub was enough to terrify me for the rest of the show. Before going on for the letter scene, I was sure I'd go up again. Also, we could feel the Durant audience, which only rarely--once a year at most--gets a chance to hear Shakespeare, working to keep up with the unfamiliar language, so it wasn't yet comfortable laughing. But, then, I got out there for the letter speech. The first big laugh of the night came on "If this falls into thy hands, revolve." The audience liked my pirouette. The next big laugh came on a well-placed ad lib I've built in midway through the monologue to make clear a bit that would have read to Elizabethan audiences, but that modern audiences can't hear, without help. Then, the smile moment at the end killed. That's a moment hard to mess up. The trick? Just don't smile until then! Easy peasy.

I felt stiffer in performance, though, than I have been in rehearsal. Rehearsals have been joyful for me. Joyful. I've been working with greater fluency, ease and fun than I ever have before. So, if I took five steps forward in rehearsal, I felt as if I were taking three steps back in performance.... for net forward gain, so I have nothing to complain about. Also, I did loosen up, at last, in the yellow stockings scene. I finally re-found the full-blooded humanity that I had in rehearsal and felt I'd lost earlier in the performance. Director Aaron Adair had suggested that Malvolio undress during his monologue in this scene, and this strip tease went well. I was now relaxed, secure in knowing the audience was with the story (they'd roared on Malvolio's extravagant, long-legged, prancing entrance, on which I do a kind of suzuki-John Cleese-esque can-can kick.) I've never been the guy who brings down the house, so getting to look out of Malvolio's eyes as he drew these huge laughs was an absolute blast, a roller coaster ride. And, it really is key that I felt as if I were looking out through Malvolio's eyes and that it was he getting the laughs, not I. I executed my job as dexterously and accurately as I could and didn't get in Malvolio's way.

One actor who's experience, talent and training I trust tells me he is thrilled to see me "all trained up." When we worked together last year, he'd seen me "entangled in training," not free to behave on stage. Now, he says he sees me doing work that's obviously that of a trained actor but fully alive. I feel secure reporting what he says. I feel as if I'm just now coming into my own, on stage. And it feels marvelous.

Now that I know the laughs are there, I look forward to our next performance. Malvolio kicks ass. What a role.

UPDATE: it's not quite accurate to say I've never drawn big laughs before--I did in last year's Complete History of America, Abridged, especially in the George Bush bit. I'm not sure why I don't count that... maybe because Malvolio feels like 'real' acting, and CHAA required mere 'performing.'


anonymous said...

Wouldn't that be the surprise of a lifetime to discover that your real niche is comedy?

David Millstone said...

Yes, indeed, it WOULD be. I don't quite see it happening, but who knows....

JanP said...

Told ya. ;-)