Category Archives: Elements

Love or Hate

At the panel discussion at the Library for the Performing Arts last week, Jeff Robbins asked which is more powerful, love or hate? Which fuels us more?

IMG_5898  “That’s a hard one to answer. . .” said Sr. Danielle Dwyer, “when you were talking about hate being addictive, I think about that as far as how it is empowering. On the other hand, to live in love, I find is much more sacrificial. I find it much easier to be irritated than to try to understand what might be happening in that situation. Love requires much more of the individual.”

Fr. Matt Malone, President of America Media, responded: “As a person of faith, I have to say that [the more powerful] is love. We are created in love by a God who is love, and ultimately I believe that we will live a life of love forever. But I think that is a very big metaphysical answer to the question. IMG_5931Hate is more practical in some ways. It is easier to destroy than to create, it is easier to take than to give, because of the nature of human desire. That ultimately cannot win, because it ends in nihilism.”

In so many ways, for Antonio and Shylock, the destruction in both of their lives throughout the play is rooted in their hatred for each other, and the willingness to destroy themselves in the process of trying to destroy the other. For both of them, hatred was the more powerful force in their lives. Perhaps that self-destructive hatred is one reason why we regard The Merchant of Venice as a cautionary tale, rather than a “comedy” as it is classified in Shakespeare’s canon.

IMG_9498

 

The Stage of Transformation

IMG_9874

 

I don’t know how to describe the moment when something on stage is transformative.  You cannot make it happen. You work, so that all the doors are open for this moment of magic to rush in.  When we rehearse we talk of being “available” so much so that I think it has now lost its real meaning.  Being in the moment is another equivalent, but what I realize again, the moment of magic is not about you, the performer, it is about the life of the story set free again for another group of people.  Its like we pay the ransom for this kidnapped, contained life by doing all we can getting out of the way, learning our parts, researching the story etc. to invite this moment of magic to live and in that mystery words are fleshed, people transformed and a new truth whispered into the audience’s ears. Best not to know how it happens, and an invaluable experience of which I am always deeply grateful to have been a part.

Influences of Shakespeare on Yasmina Reza

 

Among the influences of Shakespeare evident in Yasmina Reza’s plays are the following:

Accessibility to the audience of the time

As Shakespeare never forgot the audience of his time – even though it ranged from the groundlings to royalty and the intellectual community – Reza’s work maintains an appeal the everyday life and human nature of the audience of her time. For Shakespeare, the appeal has lived on through 400 years, but only as it started by piquing the interest of his original audience at a level of universal humanity that has continued its appeal through history. Reza’s plays are not aimed at any particular audience, and therefore offer an appeal to a wide and disparate base. She has said, “There’s no point in writing theatre if it isn’t accessible, because no one will see it. The greatest playwrights such as Shakespeare or Molière – to whom, by the way, I am  not comparing myself – they were also accessible.”

Common themes of maintaining acceptable conduct under a veneer of civility

Audiences often discover that the best behavior of many of the characters in Shakespeare’s comedies are thin and fragile veneers maintained for the purpose of manipulating public opinion (think of Beatrice and Benedict at the height of their civility). In Reza’s work, her characters often struggle to maintain similar veneers, and when those disguises disintegrate, the “real” character comes forth.

Artfully crafted dialogue, invention of words

The quality and artistry of Shakespeare’s dialogue set a world standard in his earliest plays. When he needed new words and phrases, he invented them or borrowed them from other languages. Today Reza’s writes in French, but her plays have been translated into a number of other languages. When translated into English, she has found that American English is superior to the formality of British English. She says, “American English is much closer to French than British English is. English is a beautiful language, but in England it’s very formal and doesn’t allow invention. American English is informal, keen to take influences, to invent words, just as I write in French.” Further, she notes, “I write from my intuition, my sense of freedom, my feeling for words and rhythm.” Shakespeare, of course, always wrote with a keen sense for words and rhythm.

A clear view into characters’ psyches

Shakespeare gave his audiences a look into the psyche of his characters, sometimes using soliloquy, but often using dialogue to reveal the driving forces within – along with the confusion that accompanies intense emotional conflicts. At the same time, he did not belabor his audiences by dwelling on childhood causes for his characters’ current psychological states. Similarly, Reza doesn’t seek to explain or deconstruct her characters’ backgrounds for the audience. She says of her characters, “I’m not interested in what they were like as children, in psychoanalysis, because writing is totally instinctive. I work like a painter. If a painter is doing a portrait of someone, he’s not interested in their childhood; he paints what he sees. There’s no explanation because it doesn’t mean anything.” Reza uses dialogue, permitting her characters to “spill” themselves to the audience through conversation with another character. As a result, the audience is able to enjoy a similar degree of dramatic irony as a Shakespearean audience.

A challenge to self-knowledge

Shakespeare’s plays are not openly didactic, but several offer his audiences opportunities to make observations about human nature that they can take home and apply to their own lives. Reza’s work often offers similar, and perhaps less subtle, challenges to self-knowledge through the characters and plots of her plays.

Clear portraits of human nature through characterization

Shakespeare was a master observer of human nature and an unchallenged artist in creating characters that bring portraits of human nature to the stage. Reza has also shown a real talent at singling out the subtleties of human nature and staging them clearly for the discovery and enjoyment of her audiences as well.

Living and Learning with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

 

Following an adventurous five-month process of living and learning with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar we’ve come to our final show. In one sense, it’s a show like any other in that we desire to communicate the truth of the story. On the other hand, our final show carries with it an added sense of anticipation as our last opportunity to share Julius Caesar with our audience in this setting. The Atrium space at the Church of the Transfiguration has been a generous venue lending a timeless and unique voice to the story. Following the show Sunday night the set will be removed and disappear in only a few hours.

We are grateful for all the generosity of everyone involved with the Julius Caesar production. Before the show each night everyone on set gathers together. Between the makeup and hair dressers, musicians, lighting and set crew roughly 60 men and women have helped in the story telling each night. And countless more throughout the preparation have given generously: Nick Sandys choreographing the fight scenes, John Douglas Thompson, Michael Sexton, Louis Colaianni, and Claudia Zelevansky involved in an intensive Shakespeare retreat the week prior to opening night, carpenters and painters creating the set, seamstress and designers creating costumes, and endless creative contributions.

“How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over, in states unborn and accents yet unknown?”