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12.10.12

Romeo & Juliet

by William Shakespeare

If you're lucky, at some point in your life you have an experience that fulfills a dream. You get a big promotion, or you meet your soulmate, or you run for President and win (with the help of informed and registered voters!) For an actor, there might be many roles you're dying to embody. Some you may never have the chance to play.. (ex: I dream that someone will cast me as Hamlet someday.) I did, however, have the extreme joy and honor of falling in love and killing myself (sometimes twice) every day for the last two months as the "self-willed harlotry," "concealed lady," Juliet Capulet in the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival's fall production of Romeo & Juliet!


Juliet/Nurse (Lauren Sowa & Darrie Lawrence)
I have now returned to New York and as I'm readjusting to city life, I can't help but feel a little bit of PJSD -- Post Juliet Stress Disorder. It is manifesting itself in me as a feeling of emptiness. A feeling that there's a little hole in my heart. A constant searching for that level of passion and love in my day to day life.. (be warned New York!) and since I can't quite let the play go, I thought I'd blog about it while the experience is still fresh in my mind.

What to say about this amazing and much discussed play? Having done the play twice before (once as Juliet and once as a Nurse/Tybalt doubling that I'll tell you about over a drink.. hint: it involves rolling down aisles and fruit-throwing) I thought I knew it. And yet, no matter how familiar you are with a Shakespeare play, the mix of people that create the company will take the play to places you never dreamed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that from the first session of table work until the final curtain call I was learning new things about this play and this incredible, loyal, loving, girl.

The play begins smack dab in the middle of an ancient feud. We are never told what these two distinguished families are fighting about, but we know that it goes back generations. I think it's an important detail that the cause of the hate is never specified -- not only does that allow for each production to interpret it for themselves, it also places the focus on the hate itself and makes it harder to side with one family over the other. (Hard, but not impossible, since the Capulets are like, way better.)

The young men of Verona are quick to quarrel. The town is at peace - there is no war going on. All of that youthful energy is just pent up waiting for some release.

Tybalt.    What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?
Benvolio. I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword.
Tybalt.    What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word
                As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. 

I have always seen Tybalt as a soldier without a War. The very thought of peace makes his blood boil and he is loyal to a fault. The mere appearance of Romeo at his house is enough for Tybalt to want to kill him. If Verona were fighting a war, then the young men would be banding together for a common cause. Instead, they are fighting each other. If only the Prince had attacked Venice to obtain a summer home, then perhaps they could all lounge by the water and have babies. Alas, the Prince just kept winking at those discords.

And what of these two "star-crossed lovers?" Are they just crazy kids, acting out of teenage rebellion and lust, sure to grow apart if they lived a full life? I think not.

Call me crazy, call me a sucker, tell me I'm naive, but I think the love that Romeo and Juliet share is pure and true. To find that kind of connection with each other, after being raised in an environment of greed and hate, shows just how remarkable these two people really are. You know what, dear reader? I'll take it one step further and make the bold statement that Romeo and Juliet are the most responsible characters in the play. They choose to connect rather than push the 'other' away. They choose love over hate, acceptance over judgement, loyalty over an easy out, and peace over war.

When Romeo first sees Juliet, he says:

What lady's that?
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Did my heart love til now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty til this night.

He doesn't know she's a Capulet until after he's fallen in love. It is the same with Juliet:

My only love, sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me
That I must love a loathed enemy.

A perfect example of how 'hate' is a learned behavior. Juliet loves the man, not the name, not the title. "Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself, thou, not a Montague. What's Montague?... What's in a name?" If either had known who the other truly was, it's very possible that this play would be called Juliet & Paris: aka Cap Lady Cap (The Early Years). 

Luckily for us, the young lovers are not as conservative and close-minded as their parents' generation. They love in spite of and perhaps because of their differences. I suspect they know deep down that they aren't really so different after all. That 'ancient' grudge is not theirs to harbor -- it belongs to their parents, and their parents' parents.
Romeo (Sheldon Best) & Juliet (Lauren Sowa)

Talking Dots
In doing research for the play I stumbled upon this piece of artwork. It is called Talking Dots by artist Hanna Bischof. It is a visual representation of ROMEO & JULIET. The play is color-coded in terms of positive (red), negative (black) or neutral (gray) feelings of the respective characters, represented by 60,000 colored dots. "At one glance the emotional course of the story can be felt." When I first saw it, it immediately made me cry. You can see so clearly where they fall in love, and just how quickly that all falls apart. (For more info about the artist, as well as the images of King Lear and Hamlet, follow this link.)

I'm incredibly proud to have brought this story to thousands of students, teachers, and residents of High Point, NC. R&J stresses the importance of tolerance, cooperation, and love in the face of adversity -- all of which are relevant, timely, important issues. 

Until we meet again Verona.. 

26.7.12

Othello

by William Shakespeare

I am currently playing Desdemona in a production of OTHELLO at The Gallery Players.

Desdemona/Othello
I have so many thoughts running through my head about this play at the moment, so I'll try to keep this post coherent and somewhat organized.

In accepting the role of Desdemona, my main concern was to find the human being within the archetype of "obedient wife," "saint," "weak woman," or whatever other criticisms that have been assigned to her over the years. Most women I talk to think Des is submissive and uninteresting. I think it's a shame that the qualities of obedience, loyalty, faithfulness, and love could be seen in our modern world as "boring" or "weak." In playing her, I chose to make these qualities my strength.
Choice among my freedoms is my freedom to be
obedient. I obey because I want to: I choose to.  -Boyd K. Packer
I also strove to give her a personality outside of her violent fate. She is more than just 'the girl who gets smothered at the end.' (oops, *spoiler alert!) Her journey is quite extreme and I wanted that to be reflected in all of its wonderful complications.

I had never seen a production of Othello before working on this play and every day I discover something new. I'm constantly hearing lines in different ways and falling more and more in love with the language of the play. That is, in huge part, due to our amazing (and devastatingly handsome) cast! Seriously. If you like men in uniform (and women in corsets) this show is for you.
Cassio, Othello, and Iago

Iago, for all his evilness, has some of the best lines in the play. To Roderigo, in reference to his love of Desdemona, Iago tells him:
'Tis in ourselves that we are thus, or thus. Our Bodies are our Gardens, to the which our Wills are Gardeners. So that if we will plant Nettles or sow Lettuce, set Hyssop and weed up Thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry -- why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our Wills. If the balance of our lives had not one Scale of Reason, to poise another of Sensuality, the Blood and Baseness of our Natures would conduct us to most preposterous Conclusions. But we have Reason to cool our raging Motions, our carnal Stings, unbitted Lusts, whereof I take this, that you call Love, to be a Sect or Scion.
I find it interesting that Iago advocates for the use of reason, essentially to avoid acting on impulse or taking action that one might regret because, while I think Iago is really effing smart, at the same time, I think he is one big ball of 'raging Motions.' That might be his tragic flaw. No one can say he doesn't think through his actions - he does, out loud even! - but if he could check his own jealousy he'd make a better end. Of course, if he did, we wouldn't have a play.

David Patrick Ford as Iago
As a Resident Artist of The Shakespeare Forum, I watch actors every week bringing in monologues to work on and if there is one character that consistently inspires the men at Forum it's Iago. I have seen angry Iagos, gleeful Iagos, Southern Iagos, EVIL Iagos, you name it. (side note: I've never seen a female Iago at Forum -- though I hope someone reading this takes that challenge!) Afterwards, debates get heated, opinions are strong, but the work is always passionate. There's something in this character that ignites the imagination and excites the inner villain in us all. Our Iago, the wonderful David Patrick Ford, gains our trust by embodying 'honest Iago,' and maintaining that earnestness until he speaks to the audience and allows his true thoughts to shine.

In speaking with Othello, he explains the importance of reputation:

Good name in Man and Woman, dear my Lord,
Is the immediate Jewel of their souls; Who steals my purse, steals trash-
'Tis something, nothing,
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands-
But he that filches from me my good Name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

I love this speech because taken out of context the words are so true and so pure, and yet when you consider how much of a dick Iago just was to Cassio, essentially destroying his reputation, these words take on a whole new level of meaning and show just how good Iago is at deception and manipulation. A few scenes prior, poor Cassio is distraught, bemoaning his night of revels:
O, that men should put an Enemy in their mouths, to steal away their brains, that we should with joy, pleasance, revel and applause, transform ourselves into Beasts. 
O, Cass, we feel for you.. cause we've all had a night like that.

Something I've been thinking about a lot with regards to this play is the audience reaction. Today, even if you don't know Othello you probably know that Othello kills his wife and that Iago is the "bad guy." When this play was first performed, was it possible that the audience might have thought of Iago as the good guy until the end of the play? As the hero, even? Iago speaks to the audience often, Othello does not. This gives Iago a huge advantage - he can get the audience on his side.. he can bring us along on his journey, argue his points of view for our benefit, explain his actions so we'll see where he's coming from. No other character is afforded that opportunity. It's interesting because when my roommate saw the show the other day she mentioned that she was almost entirely on Iago's side. (She added she might have been completely on his side if her roommate hadn't been playing Desdemona) I found this kind of awesome because it proves that the audience wants to be let in - they want to be a part of this journey, and since Iago is the only one who reaches out, we might be swayed to his dark side.

I'd be interested to take an audience poll -- who do you feel for, root for, during the show? Iago? Othello? Desdemona? All of the above in different moments?

Whenever you work on a show you come in with certain ideas, and those ideas grow, shift, sometimes change completely, and always because of the people in the room. There were two relationships in this play that grew into something completely different from what I anticipated at the beginning of rehearsals and those were Des/Emilia and Des/Iago. Pre-rehearsal I would have said I am 100% closer to Emilia in this play than I am to Iago. Now, I would say that is the complete opposite. My Desdemona finds little comfort in Emilia - we're not very close, we don't see eye-to-eye on men, relationships, love, loyalty, and by the end of the show, I'm so emotionally exhausted that I can't put on a polite smile and entertain her insults towards my husband or her playful quips about cuckolding for the greater good. The one person I come to rely on is the last person I should -- Iago. He is there for me, emotionally, and purposefully, taking action to fix things with Othello, drying my tears, giving me strength. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I die never knowing Iago's true colors.

"It is the Cause.." Othello and Desdemona
The Desdemona I have found is faithful and trusting almost to a fault. "If I do vow a friendship, I'll perform it/ To the last article." She loves fiercely, not just Othello, but Cassio and Iago. These men are part of her world because they are knitted to Othello and Othello is her world. Putting that much trust and love into others leaves one vulnerable. But even that vulnerability is my strength. As we say at Forum - "Love is the strongest choice," and I believe I have made love my choice, even in death.

"O, these Men, these men!"

Othello is full of passion, faith and loyalty. So much of it misplaced, and that is the true tragedy.

Photos: Courtesy of Meg Goldman

17.6.12

Guest Post: Long Day's Journey Into Night

Ahoy readers!
I would like to introduce the first installment of a new feature on A Play A Day -- the Guest Post! This is where I ask a friend and colleague to write a post about a play they've read that speaks to them. 
Our first guest blogger is Kimberly DiPersia! Enjoy her take on Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill!


Long Day's Journey Into Night: A Woman's Perspective, 100 Years Later

It's actually amazingly well-timed: Eugene O'Neill's classic play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, is set exactly 100 years ago: The summer of 1912.

In spite of countless male actor friends, who fell over themselves in praise of this play (and of course they would, it's got two super-rich, meaty roles for men in their 20s), I never read it until now. Unabashedly, it was because I didn't really feel that jazzed about reading a play that didn't have a role in it that I could play. As a young actress, I wanted to read the meaty parts for me.

Of course, I've eventually grown to read more plays regardless of whether or not I could be cast in them, and now that I'm in my late twenties, older women characters who seemed out of reach suddenly seem approachable some day in the future--far off, but future none-the-less.

So I read the play.

This is O'Neill's autobiographical masterpiece: It was published posthumously (even much earlier than O'Neill had expressed in his will), and it carries the history of his troubled family life. An egotistical, alcoholic actor father (James Tyrone), an older brother who follows rather resentfully and pathetically in his father's footsteps (Jamie), a younger more sensitive son who is darkly poetic and suffering from tuberculosis (Edward, who is O’Neill's depiction of himself)...

...And Mary Tyrone, a mother who, suffering from absolutely devastating depression, has fallen into a downward spiral of morphine addiction and mad hypnotic escapism.

The entire action of the play takes place in the family house over the course of a day, into the lateness of the night. The two major events that occur are Edward getting the official diagnosis of his illness and Mary (no doubt reacting to Edward's sickness) slowly sinking deeper and deeper into her "fog."

What strikes me so much is how the men in the family merely want Mary to just stop her madness, stop it with her own free will. As James pleads, "Dear Mary! For the love of God, for my sake and the boys' sake and your own, won't you stop now?" (As if it was that easy.) So they drink and escape themselves, in complete hypocritical fashion.

Of course, as a modern woman, I see Mary's troubles as a mixture of post-partum depression, grief over the loss of a child, and repressed personal desires of a career and independent life (as either a concert pianist or a nun). Something that clearly some modern therapy, antidepressants, and a dose of feminism could fix.

Or could it?

Would Mary Tyrone in the 1950s be a housewife addicted to Valium and psychotherapy? In modern-day a meth addict? Are her flaws deep down in her head--is she deeply suffering from a mental illness, like schizophrenia or manic-depressive disorder? These are all questions that make this role excitingly intriguing to play, with so many layers to explore.

No doubt this play will continue to be produced, as it is a beautiful yet tragic depiction of a family caught in an endless cycle of neurosis, substance abuse, and pride--and it's Eugene O'Neill for goodness's sake!

But part of me wonders if this seemingly timeless play has begun to lose its ethereal luster, and that in fact, it is a product of its time. A play that shows women that yes, we have come so very far. We are not shoved into tiny boxes of housewives and mothers who simply must make do with their family lives and if they cannot find happiness in that then they are lost. We can make choices. We can be that concert pianist and have a choice to have a family or not. And if nothing else, modern medicine can make a clinical depression something liveable, something to cope with.

I wonder when, twenty-five years down the road, I am finally age-appropriate to portray this role, what this play will be like then? Will it have vanished into being a mere period piece, one that we condescendingly look back upon in our advanced society like we do toward A Doll's House or The Merchant of Venice and say, "Look at the outdated thoughts they had then! What a marvel!"

Or will we always be able to relate to crushing repressed desires, reckless escapism, and devastating regret at what-could-have-been? At how sometimes families just don't connect, just can't seem to get it together. And how denial never seems to get anyone more than just further into a never-ending self-perpetuating cycle of self-neglect and abuse?

I think we will. Even though our approaches to cure the symptoms may change over time, we will always be able to relate to the innermost causes: the human condition, as bottomless as an alcoholic's glass.

Plus, these roles are just too good to keep locked away on the dusty shelf of time.


Kimberly DiPersia, a BFA graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts (Stella Adler Studio, Classical Studio), has understudied for The Pearl Theatre Company 
Off-Broadway, is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, 
and co-starred in the award-winning short film, My Angel My Hero.  
She lives in Astoria with her musician boyfriend and quirky dog.  www.KimberlyDiPersia.com

Interested in writing a guest blog? Email me at aplayadayblog@gmail.com!

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