Shrewpost 5: the dress and the dramaturgy

Late last week, I had a child care melt down in the middle of rehearsal. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket mid-scene – it was Ella’s day care. During break I listened to the message: Ella had thrown up mid morning. Susan was out of town, and I was locked in till four. During the next break, I had a comic sequence of talking to Susan on the cell phone while the artistic director was waving the office phone at me, which I picked up, only to have the cell phone go off again. Ultimately, our super-sitter was able to pick her up. It turned out she was fine.

Remember when there were no cell phones?

I have extolled the virtues of the citizen actor, but this is the challenge, isn’t it? You want a life that has more than your art, sometimes that “more” intrudes.

But on to the shrew.

Walking to rehearsal recently, I thought, Kate is the older sister I always wished I’d had. We could have made each other happy and staved off the other’s particular misery. And so begins the work beneath the scansion, beneath the memorization. So begins the complex work of exploring this question: who is this woman to me? And then, following that question into jungle thickets, I find other ones, like: how do I feel about “woman”, about femininity, about sexism, about courtship and marriage?

I will leave you dangling now, the public aspect of the blog having a self-censuring effect. But I will tell you this: these are dark pathways for me, moody, hot and tender. The personal energies around them for me now include both ancient wounds, and fresh, stinging jibes. Kate is a wounded woman, and I have been raised by, in love with and at war with wounded women much of my life.

There is an immediate connection I have to her. We finally have a rehearsal hoop skirt for me, and I while I love exploring it, I feel ridiculous in it. So the Ben-as-Kate sensation mirrors Kate’s own sensation of being held up to public ridicule early in the play, especially if the initial cage entrance holds. Fiona Shaw, in the article of interviews I keep re-reading, talks about being the only woman in the room frequently in rehearsal, and how that informed many of the choices she made as an actress. I can relate to that sensation of feeling like “the other”.

Re-reading that article, I realized that one advantage I have being a man playing Kate is that I don’t feel the need to “represent all women” with my choices. How could I? Nor do I feel like I have to navigate some man’s thinly veiled sexism in a working relationship, something the actresses talk about having to do frequently with male co-stars or male directors. Juliet Stevenson remarks that she felt her choices sometimes over-compensated for the sexist atmosphere she sensed in the rehearsal room.

These are brilliant actresses in this article – all British. It made me think again about the difference between American and British notions of “actress” (or “actor” for that matter). Certainly there are American actresses as smart and articulate, but I don’t think we cultivate those qualities. Perhaps it’s a generalization, but I worry “actress” in America leads to American Idol. Compare with Fiona Shaw, who has the confidence to complain about incompetent directors “who cram the area between the text and the performance with ‘interpretation’ and allow it to masquerade as creativity.”

Another actress, Paola Italian Last Name, used a phrase about Katherine which jumped out at me: “the journey into laughter”. Yes, this is the journey I want to embark on: out of the darkness of bitterness, grief and anger and into the freedom of humor and lightness, laughter and hope. But enough with these Brits, and back to the murky question I keep dodging: who will Ben’s Kate be?

Commedia side-bar: Tranio and Biondello are directly descended from 1st and 2nd zanni. Baptista is a de-fanged Pantalone. Lucentio is the heroic lover, Biancha the Enamorata. Kate? She’s a kind of twisted, dark Servetta, and Petruchio a heroicized Capitano.

Finally, today, we came to The Speech. “The speech is your friend, Ben” Ceal said smiling. Still un-memorized, I read it through exploring some of Ceal’s staging ideas. I wasn’t actually “doing” it. I was reciting it. It’s actually a beautifully written and constructed speech, as long as you don’t listen to what she’s saying. Later, Ceal, Tom and I sat and talked about it.

“The most important idea in it to me, ” I said, “is Kate’s notion that fighting is wrong, that conflict solves nothing. And it feels like it needs to be something she’s saying mostly to, or for, Petruchio.” We agreed to devote an hour or two just to the speech later in the week. And I panicked. Next week is the week before tech.