Jim's Richard III Blog

What had started as a blog of Richard III rehearsal process at Cal Shakes has now evolved or devolved into a small novella. The author is petrified to change the name for fear it'll disappear, and wouldn't know what to call it anyway. Many stories are included and questions are even answered sometimes!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Breaking It Down

We had a note session the day after our first-half run--Carey was not displeased, I think and I think she's spot on; the show has a good solid footing and the choices being made aren't passive ones. One of her notes to me was to make Richardetto more serious in his guise as the Doctor, and though I didn't say anything at the time it felt wrong, even though she's absolutely correct in her perception that something vocally has to be different with him and that that difference is currently lacking.

Why did it feel so wrong to me?

Break it down, Jim.

Richardetto has no previous scene before we see him in disguise, no scene in which we see him before his world was turned upside down by an unfaithful wife; and no mention of their relationship, none of children, zippo. So perhaps the question to ask is not who is this man, but who was he? Let's get in the Way Back Machine......

At the time this play was written (early 1600's) the sciences were just beginning to evolve in Europe--Chemistry emerged gradually from Alchemy; Astronomy, Biology, Anatomy and Medicine were beginning to form into more exact sciences largely through experimentation by wealthy/titled men many of whom began their explorations as hobbies. Gradually these various intellectuals formed organizations such as the Royal Academy in England--experimentation began, observations were made, notes taken, papers written and the Sciences were born. In a nutshell.

These are my givens: A noble, learned man married to a lusty, passionate woman, who is perhaps not having the passion returned to the same degree; she may have loved him but has allowed herself to be lured away from her husband with false promises of love and marriage--a couple who've been married for sometime (I can't tell how long) and who seem to be childless. The man is a sober, well respected member of the community--and I think it buys me more, gives me more fuel if he did love her though he may not have known quite how to tell her and it likely had some aspect of ownership to it. Women were pretty much chattel and most marriages were arranged at this time -- it was business and love was a bonus. I think theirs is a 400 year old dysfunctional relationship. This is my starting point--Richardetto Ground Zero.

It suits my purposes as far as "character logic" goes to imagine him an emotionally distant man and to imagine him one of those early scientists--he pulls off pretending he's a doctor and does it well enough to garner a reputation for himself and be engaged by at least two men of status during the course of the play. And he seems to know about poison.............

Next, I looked at the language in my first two scenes; In the first, before the audience knows I'm in disguise the sounds are very different from the second; in the first scene (as Doctor) round, open vowels abound and there's a more relaxed feel to his language--in the second when I'm alone with my niece and it's revealed who I really am and what my purpose is the language is sibilant to the point of being nearly reptilian. His first line "Thou seest, my lovely niece, these strange mishaps--how all my fortune's turn to my disgrace, wherein I am but as a looker-on whiles others act my shame and I am silent." feels practically spat out, hissed.

This is why Carey's note felt wrong I think--the man is dead serious already (he's faked his own death to come back and watch, come back for revenge), so the vocal part of his disguise feels as if it should be more of a polar opposite; heartier, more relaxed, warmer--let's say he's got a good bedside manner. Carey sounded very open to it today when I sounded her out about it and laid out my logic--now I just have to do it well....

But at least I'm making choices; I had a minor stroke of inspiration in act 5; when Susan Gibney was reading her dying speech after being poisoned (Am I giving everything away? Plenty of surprises left, folks) her final two words are "O--O!" Then she croaks. And I thought to myself "Now, why in the hell would I just stand here and gasp along with everyone else at the party?" This was a woman I'd loved, bedded, been intimate with-- she's a source of deep pain--she's property stolen, a source of public shame, and violent, conflicting emotion. I couldn't just stand there, could I? And then I remembered--

"Hey, I'm a Doctor.................."

I had a professional reason to go to her -- a public rationale for doing it. Perfectly in keeping.

And now when she reaches the end of her life's final speech I cross to her, and lift her head; she looks straight into my eyes and for the tinniest second sees the loyal husband she thought dead.



Blogger alexae said...

kinda unrelated... but have a good opening tomorrow!

June 10, 2008 at 11:32 PM  
Anonymous Sean Childress said...

wow- it pays to keep scrowling past the typical plot summaries in order to find something useful. I'm playing Richardetto in a production in Louisville and your comments regarding the vowel/consonant distinction between R's first and second appearance are delightfully illuminating and I'm ashamed to admit are precisely the the type of thing I should've already keyed into, even with my all too limited Shakespeare and Co. training. Your comment about Hippolyta's death scene also struck a chord.I too wondeed at my ludicrous cocktail party stance during her volcaniuc demise.Just last night the blocking was adjusted. Any other insight about the character, however minor,would be feasted on, especialy anything regarding the "My wrecthed wife" speech. My email is shildress.sean@gmail.com Do you know a Liam Vincent? I studied Theatre with him at Boston University. He's a S.F. based actor and I beleive he's done some work with Calshakes.

January 7, 2009 at 7:46 AM  

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