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Posts Tagged ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Frederick, Maryland, September 25:

We performed Merchant of Venice for a mid-sized audience that was large-sized in enthusiasm. I think they may have had the most feistiness per capita (hereinafter referred to as F.P.C., in units of ‘whoopage’) of any adult audience so far. We knew we were in for a fun time as early as the pre-show speech. When Evan employed the usual fundraising analogy, illustrating that ticket sales only cover 60% of the theatre’s operating budget by asking the audience to imagine Josh (or, in the speech, usually, “Josh Here”) being forced to perform in only 60% of his costume, someone shouted out, “Nice!” which was followed by several whoops and sporadic applause. Josh smiled gamely; it’s not an easy job having every girl aged 14-40 (and perhaps younger and older) in the audience in love with him, but by God he gets up every morning and faces the task.

The stage itself was long and very shallow, with the result that we were not actually able to bring people on stage with us, as we needed the narrow sides for the actor benches.  (For more on our staging of Merchant of Venice, see my post about Orrville, Ohio.) This also necessitated some altering of our thrust blocking, which a few of us agreed after the show had kept us in our heads from time to time. But Aaron once again thought it was a good show, and as I continually insist that Mr. Hochhalter is Omniscient and All-Seeing, this proves that we as actors generally have no way to gauge our own performances. Unless we do something really obvious like trip over ourselves, or throw up on stage. Both of which I have done at various times in my on-stage life, and I promise you, neither of those are nearly as bad as feeling ‘kind of off.’ For you may blame the uneven boards of the stage or the cooking at ‘Bob the Chef’s,’ but nothing shields you from the self-blame and self-hatred of the Kind of Off Performance.

A very nice girl asked Chris Seiler (Shylock) and I questions after the show in the interests of writing an article for a school publication. Amongst other things, she asked me if I was nervous to do “The quality of mercy is not strained,” because, as she pointed out, she had to memorise it when she was in High School and she was sure there were always a number of people in the audience who were reciting it along with me, as she herself had done that evening. I think I said that it’s not often that a woman gets the famous To-be-or-not-to-be speech in the play, so I hadn’t much thought about it, though that was partially code for ‘I wasn’t very nervous about it before, but I sure am now.’

The Quality of Mercy does indeed have a kind of here-comes-the-big-one aspect to it, far more so than the only other comparably famous speech I have had so far, namely “O Romeo, Romeo, why the hell you gotta be called Romeo?” And I was never aware of any nervousness about that line, in part because a quarter of the world thinks it’s ‘where art thou Romeo’ and not ‘wherefore art thou Romeo,’ and another quarter of the world thinks ‘wherefore’ means ‘where,’ so I mostly focused on trying to clear up the meaning. Also I split up the text like it was my job, or at least like I never went to Shakespeare and Company. Also I have played Juliet three times.

 She also asked me what my least favourite part of touring was, to which I promptly replied, “Eating fast food.” But I was thoroughly stumped by her question, “What are the best and worst parts about playing Portia?” I sat on the edge of the stage, apparently waiting for someone to come by and either close my mouth or place the answer in it. We put the question aside and came back to it at the end, but I still didn’t have a good answer. The relationship between an actor and a character is, in my experience, too complex, and, I fear, too delicate for that kind of judgment. Some kind of superstitious foreboding makes me quail from even writing more here—laugh at me, if you will. So simply blathered about how much I love Portia and how much I love her spirit, and ended by saying that there is no worst thing, because the most problematic thing is the most difficult, and the most difficult is the most interesting, and the most interesting is the best. That’s why I love doing Merchant of Venice—no one is wholly good or bad, and every situation is mired in complexity. And that’s also why, when Paul and I were making up our Dream Tour Seasons, I said that my ideal tour would be the ‘problem play’ season: Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and All’s Well That Ends Well. C’mon! That would be so much fun!  But probably difficult to book.

On the whole, however, the ‘interview’ made me feel, inaccurately and only for a moment, famous. These feelings were perhaps alleviated by the fact that our (unisex) dressing room was a little L-shaped nook outside of the Ladies’ loo, and we were assailed in various states of undress from either side until a sign was put on the door and some prohibitive duct tape was put at the top of the stairs. As we left for the stage, ducking underneath the tape, Ginna whispered to me, “Now we know why it’s called ‘duck’ tape.” Ahh, the glamour of the theatre! I laughed a great deal, in part because I love Ginna and in part because I still get a little twinge of nervousness before a performance of Merchant. But Aaron Hochhalter, All-Seeing and Omniscient, said we were beginning to hit our stride with this show, and despite my continual self-criticism, I somewhat agreed.

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