I post this especially for younger artists (in film, the drama, music) who are friends of mine. You’ll know who you are.
My hope is that my contemporaries will also find this talk as valuable as I do. I agree with it premises and its conclusions: they echo mine, being, in fact, foundational ideas in my life.
I’ll tease you to listen with this quote from the talk: “What is the point of drawing the second mustache on the Mona Lisa?” I hope you’ll be patient with it and not click away after 30 seconds, such is our habit now online. I suspect you will see it all differently after you’ve listened.
Some years ago, I recorded a Rawi Hage’s, DeNiro’s Game, in a Beiruti English accent. The print version had won the 2008 IMPAC International Literary Award — it is a wonderful work that moved and impressed me — and I was honored when Audible asked me to read the audiobook version of the title.
For several weeks, I studied the accent with the help of two supremely intelligent and encouraging Yale grad students, both of whom had grown up in Beirut, one Christian, the other Muslim. Since that time, I have, never having visited Beirut, felt a strong kinship to the city, without ever knowing why exactly. Perhaps it is simply romance.
And then, today, I was reminded of that once again reading this article written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and how history is driven down to in the details, well beyond the shallow, pernicious parlance of the modern day.
To hear one claim that ideas can’t be acted, when they are in fact precisely what one demonstrates through the body, is to be witness to a kind of malpractice. Some may opine that dramatic action consists entirely of the actions of one character in reaction to another, and vice-versa, but this is like drawing a bird, having never seen it fly.
Here is a wonderful demonstration-in-action of what some call “textual analysis” (really just a thorough understanding of the ideas in the text), in which McKellen proceeds upon the premise that “sense,” once grasped, populates itself upon the body. This is opposed in my mind to “Method, and the concomittant intentional placement of superficial characteristics upon character. The former more difficult than the latter, but achieving greater results.
We live in an age with a profusion of material comforts and a paucity of aesthetic ones. But I sense the change, see the evidence of it happening before my eyes, even where I’d not considered it possible. We who agree on this — and you know who you are implicitly — will nourish it, foster it and bring it to fruition in time.
Here’s another Swede — after Hedda Stiernstet about whom I’ve not posted but will — who mightily impresses me on the small screen: Sofia Helin in The Bridge.
Is my admiration only because I am unable to parse the language, the vocal inflections? Or does she really have something? Partly the former, I think, but definitely the latter.
The actress plays a detective with superior police skills and a mastery of facts but a complete lack of awareness of the the personal sensibilities of others, often brutally, and yet she is not malevolent. I am entirely persuaded.
Here’s the video with Dag Malmberg as her superior officer, a man of patience and experience, with precisely the sensibilities her character of Saga lacks, evident immediately at the start of the dialog, even without understand the language.
From an article in the Telegraph (UK, 2015): “Becoming Saga, she explains, requires a lot of physical effort. She has to change the way she talks, holds her head, moves; has to become straighter, tenser, more alert. ‘It’s like a vice gripping all over my body,’ she explains.”
Here’s a production I don’t think I have ever shared.
(Listen with the audio player at the bottom of this post).
“Gone with the Wind.” Well, really gone! I do the voices in this parody meant for the stage, but delivered in audio.
The scene is a small theater in a mid-sized third tier town, run by a superannuated and usually drunken producer, Maury Mishpucha, whose last good credit was in 1946. His cousin owns the theater, which he keeps only because he can’t sell it. Assorted has-beens and hacks populate the stage, playing to an audience of bums. They don’t get far into the production, when Wally the Wino perks up and starts heckling, Larry the Lip offends Sir Prolix Verbose (ask me to do him for you when we meet) and all hell breaks loose.
Featuring my characters:
Miss Verity Take
Dr. Ruth as Ruth Gordon
Jimmy Stewart impersonator Stewart Jimmy
Dalek the Alcoholic
Toshio Mifune’s Third Cousin twice removed
Festus from Bonanza
Lady Bracknell (in pumps)
Lenny in the Grapes of Wrath (as done by Mel Blanc)
and many more…
The sound design is by John Colucci, with whom I worked at scifi.com when they had a budget for internet theater. Ages ago. But you will enjoy it.
A few delightful images of myself and fellow cast members in the SAG-AFTRA staged reading of Norry Niven’s, Six Painted Ladies, at the Margo Jones Theater, Dallas, TX.
In the staged reading of Norry’s short film, I played Valfierno, a French con artist, who plays with the fulcrum of the ingenue to lever out the dough from her oil baron father. Having sold the Eiffel Tower any number of times, he is confident that he can sell the Mona Lisa. The film is set in Texas in the early 20th century.
In this first image, Valfierno pushes on the fulcrum of the ingenue Mrs. Waggoner in order to lever the dough out of her oil baron husband (bourbon-napping upstage center).
Shondra Marie, Doug Jackson, Tommy Habeeb, Wendy Pennington, Wyntner Woody
I am tempted to caption this, “Cher Madame Waggoner, do you happen to have any Grey Poupon?
Photography courtesy of John R. Strange and the Selig Polyscope Company.
I’m very pleased to say that I will read the role of Valfierno (a Frenchman and a con man), in Norry Niven’s Six Painted Ladies, set in early 20th century Texas, at the SAG-AFTRA Script-to-Screen in Dallas on Sunday, May 7.