Sunday, June 28, 2009

One-on-One Friar

I am seeing a pattern in the lines of Friar Laurence. He has some great lines that I love delivering. I cannot wait for the chance to deliver them to the other actors, (mostly Romeo) when we have the books out of our hands. Such lines sunk into my head very quickly, and I owned them in no time.

Then he has some of the most circular, flowery, inflated, borderline insufferable monologues, even by Shakespeare's standards. Speeches I am still struggling to commit to memory even this late in the game. These speeches are not poetic, or insightful in any way, for the most part. They are bloated and obvious, with slippery diction and are otherwise tedious to deliver. I would imagine in most cases, not much fun to listen to either.

Such a dichotomy is there between these two types of lines delivered by the Friar that I am tempted to believe Shakespeare did this on purpose.

Yet why? I am not a proponent of the idea that every single little oddity or inconsistency within the Shakespeare canon was in fact intentional in order to illuminate some deeply hidden allegory. While I think this does happen of course, there is not something profound lurking behind every hitch in the writings of the Bard. Sometimes it is just a quirky thing that slipped in.

Yet, when considering the totality of a character within a piece, or at least within a scene, I think it is very possible that difference in language and tone among the various appearances of a character, no matter how small, can in fact signify something. Is it so with Friar Laurence, or do I, as an actor, just happen to love certain lines, and not others? There are a number of ways of looking at this conundrum.

To begin with, the exciting, visceral lines that the Friar delivers come almost exclusively when he is speaking to one person, sometimes two. (There are some notable exceptions.) Most of his great lines come when he is speaking to Romeo, in fact. The speeches that I mentioned tend to come usually when he is addresses a larger group. It is almost as if he is more prone to wind-baggery (to coin a phrase) in front of larger groups. Could this be Shakespeare's way of making him appear more clerical when speaking to a crowd, as would become his official duties, leaving his more relaxed, informal yet potent lines for his more personal encounters? Possibly.

Yet the longest speech I have in the play comes when he is addressing only he explains the plan involving the sleeping potion, and how that will save the day. He is not addressing a crowd there, yet he has a very bloated speech of exposition.

Which led me to my second consideration...he is more of a bore when making speeches that explain things that are about to happen, or have already happened, than he is when he is speaking in the present, reacting to the moment. This would explain the sleeping potion speech, as well as the recounting speech at the end of the play, (mercifully shortened by the director.) It also would lend some explanation to the shorter but equally uninspired speech he gives to the Capulets when they think Juliet is dead, as she sleeps.

If this be the case, though, why does he become more of a bore, simply because he is explaining something? I toyed with the idea of assuming he is thinking out loud in those passages. These are times when he most be more precise, more political. That may dull what he says somewhat. Slowing it down, and making it more fanciful.

I also considered perhaps he is one way in the first half of the play, and another at the end, though I could not furnish any real reason why that should be the case.

I don't think i can come to a specific conclusion as to why there is such a large difference, and in fact there may not be one, as I said. Or it could be something as simple as Friar Laurence being the most convenient "pipe-laying" character for Shakespeare to use, and hence he was given several speeches that did little more than more the plot forward, or at least explain where it was going next. I am willing to accept that as a scholar, but not as an actor.

Fortunately as an actor, I can go in certain directions that the specific production allow. I can work within the frame work of a particular director's vision, as well as my own interpretation of the character. This is both a blessing, but also a difficulty, as I have to make a decision on my own as to why this difference in lines exist.

And it does exist. Indeed other people in the play have mention how awful some of the speeches are, while enjoying other parts. Yet it does not truly matter. If the dichotomy exists for nobody else that reads the play, it does exist for me, and because of that it exists. And because it exists, I must make a decision about why there is such a difference in the Friar from time to time. I can't say I have come to that decision yet, but I have laid out here in this entry the components from which I will likely build my approach to this difference. If it is possible. If I must simply ignore it, I will, but I am not willing to do so just yet.

It will become easier to contemplate once we start rehearsing whole scenes, without books, and start concentrating on things other than blocking. That is what this week is supposed to bring. We will see. Another reason I am looking forward to this next phase of the rehearsal.

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