Wow. (Finally) invited back in the room to watch the first rough run through the whole show. What a massive, mighty monster of a play! A tremendously complicated effort, with scores of scenes and a half-dozen fights and seven bodies piled up by the end. There should be some nifty rehearsal video of fight rehearsal coming soon, but meantime, some impressions that linger:
John Ford might have been a failure as a lawyer, if indeed he really trained for the law; but as a playwright he had his moments, and plenty of them. There are passages of exquisite beauty and emotional resonance throughout 'Tis Pity and like Shakespeare they are across the ethical spectrum. Some of the writing, as poetry, achieves real heights/depths, and structurally the play is extremely inventive, amibitious, and modern. There are virtually jump-cuts, including one remarkable moment when we jump ahead a matter of months in the space of an eye-blink, as one character talks and time seems to whirl past him in a sentence. Remarkable.
The play is—in a good way—all over the map in tone. There’s gut-busting comedy (not really slapstick, but good character-based laughs) that turns on a dime to knock the wind out of you, into pathos at least. There’s violence, cruelty, betrayal, and revenge a-plenty. There is romance of all sorts, in unexpected and often quite uncomfortable ways, and it’s managed beautifully even in the current rough stage of the process.
The rehearsal room has the air of a creative beehive of endeavor. The big, white room, lined with windows on either side and blasted up to two stories of height, is an extremely conducive space, for all its cavernous acoustics and rough, semi-industrial aesthetic. The cast announced today that they really don’t want to leave the rehearsal room, one of the few ever that elicits that response. There are props scattered about, but not too many—mostly swords and blades of various kinds. There’s some basic indicators of space, to define some apertures, but not much. There’s a recycled statue of Venus, standing in. And of course, colored tape on the floor to indicate the shape of the eventual set. Even with so little, the piece already has shape, life, specifity, and momentum.
Little by little, the cast of a dozen and a half is coming together as a unified and cohesive band. They’ve been pretty tight since the start, getting along well, but since the various plot strands are so distinct, they’ve been rehearsing almost as if it were a movie, in for a few hours intense work, then away for days, and only in small groupings. Now, they are beginning to see each other’s work, and to start inhabiting the same world of performance reality.
Still curious to see if a few plot points, important as the premise for action and motivation though not really for much detail, come clear. They seemed to land but they are dicey. The sort of thing one coughing fit in the audience can just wipe out, leaving a roomful of people very, very confused. We don’t have the benefit of all knowing the story of this play in common, which is mostly a huge boon (nobody comes in reciting lines along with the actors, or already jaded about the outcome, or even likely prefering another version they saw) but does leave us a bit vulnerable. There’s less inclination to take the play’s extremes as a given, to give it permission to challenge; and there’s less familiarity with its basic parameters. So, we’ll see…..
One aspect was a huge relief—there seemed to be a tremendous sense of momentum driving the first “act” as we’ve divided it, and leading naturally or even inexorably towards the intermission break. It’s an artificial imposition on a five-act play, so that’s always a risk.
Given that we’d cut and gently adapted the script, it was a relief as well to hear how well the text played. I missed nothing that we’d removed, and actually caught a few more places where we could make useful (small) adjustments for clarity and distinction.
The show should be beautiful, costumes are coming together quickly, and as drew’s photo illustrates the set is not far behind either. With music, dance, fights, blood, scenery, and lighting this should grow into an extravaganza worthy of the challenge and potential of the piece itself. A fantastic opportunity to work on this bear.