Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silhouette's 2009

I used to hate script analysis. I had this teacher in undergrad who had an entire class that you had to take for the degree based on Harold Clurman’s teaching. The end of the seminar was crowned, like a Christmas tree star, or a giving birth, actually, by a 50-page paper filling in the outline of the script analysis. It was the only all-nighter I did in college. I had to find the spine, polar attitudes, yadayadayada. I think I got one of the worst grades I ever got on anything, and knew less about “Three Sisters” than when I started. I do think it’s useful—I heard a great interview with Carol Channing saying she couldn’t figure out Dolly Levi until she found the spine, so it does work, I just wasn't getting it at the time.

Flash forward another couple of years, and I’m studying with a professor, Carol Rosen, on the other side of the country. She has us look at plays from what Peter Brook calls “silhouette, or that image that stays in your mind once the play is done. That thing you experience, reading or seeing a play, that will be burned into your mind. For many, that’s something like Ophelia’s death in Hamlet—you never see it, but everyone remembers it. I think I was looking at "The Seagull", and caught on to Masha’s dancing to the sound of Constantin’s violin as she’s talking about loving him and how she’s going to “tear this love out of my heart, tear it out by the roots” while dancing to his music. I’ve never forgotten that image. It gave me a way into the play. Now, after doing that with other plays, I know “Three Sisters” pretty darn well, too. I’ll always thank her for that. It opened up how I experienced something – start with the image you won’t forget, and that’s the candle flame that will light the rest of the way for you.

I was thinking about silhouettes the other day, and thinking about what images were burned into my mind this year from movies. And, I think, I’ll expand it to theater. Here are a few, in no particular order**:

**If you haven’t seen some of these things, more than likely there are SPOILERS**

La Danse - Medea

Angelin Preljocaj coaches Delphin Moussin in a scene from Medea in Frederick Wiseman’s doc. We see her working her way into it, rehearsing with him and by herself. He coaches her in a gesture Medea makes to end the ballet, after she has killed her children. She just opens her hand as if she’s blowing away a dandelion. He says it’s not explicable, it’s ineffable, and she’ll have to know what it means and trust the audience. The moment she performs it is spine chilling. I don’t have an order to this list, but to have a moment that feels like performance and those feelings on film is rare. So thrilling.

Helen Mirren – Phedre

Great performance broadcast on screens by the National Theater. Although I kind of giggle now at all the British calling her what sounds like “fedge”, hee, the performance was astounding. The grimace on her face as she stopped what she was doing, lifted her arms, looked at herself and said “I stink of incest” was mind-boggling. Tour-de-force.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I loved this movie. There are a few things I remember, but it felt like a gust of air entered the theatre the moment the three bandits stop on the road to talk to a wolf. The wolf’s austere silence was riveting, in marked contrast to the hi-jinks before. Even more, the movie became expansive and resonant unexpectedly, as shocking for me as if he would have walked into the theater. All at once there was doom, fear, possibility, sadness, gratitude all at one moment. I have no idea why that moment hit me that way, but it did. The scene in front of the waterfall was pretty fab, too.

Julie and Julia – Meryl Streep

Another wonderful performance by Meryl Streep, of the she who can do no wrong category (and I still kind of think that even after seeing “It’s Complicated” last night-eesh). There was so much about this perf that I loved, and I really hope she gets a deserved 3rd Oscar for it—only 2nd lead for those who are keeping score. The moment for me was at the train station, when she finally meets her friend Avis (Deborah Rush) with whom she has only corresponded. Julia walks up to Avis and simply takes her head in her hands and says “It’s you”. Streep makes this moment so beautiful, with the layers in the line from “how wonderful” to “how could it not have been” to “why has it been so long” and mostly, “of course”. It’s surprising, delightful, and rich, which is what she specializes in. That moment just got me, right…here….

Precious – Mo’Nique

Mo’Nique is surprising in this movie. Not only does she show herself extremely gifted as a serious actress in a role that could have been easily overdone, she does it in a way you’re simultaneously empathetic and disgusted. What I’ll remember is her sitting in the social worker’s office (another surprise – Mariah Carey—who knew?), giving the aria of a lifetime. To start it’s probably one of the most disturbing monologues I’ve ever seen. On top of that, she just keeps that engine running, discovering with us as the character is voicing, more than likely for the first time, what heinous ideas have forced her to ruin her life and those around her. She is a beast, but it’s the richness of the performance that she is discovering this along with us. I was gobsmacked. Truly.

Lydia – Octavio Solis

I wish more people saw this. I was floored by this play. I was emotionally brought low. Beautifully performed, including a skilled, superb performance by Stephanie Beatriz as Lydia. I won’t go into too much of the plot, but there’s a girl who’s been in an accident right before her quincinera, and her mother brings home a young illegal girl to take care of her. It’s set in El Paso in the 70’s. There’s a lot of drama, including an older brother who turns out to be gay and is gay-bashing for thrills. The tragedy in the center of the play is revealed through flashback and, um, possession, really, but I won’t ruin it for you. That aspect is like a reverse “Suddenly, Last Summer”, where the gays aren’t destroyed physically, but the act of hatred at the center causes damage to those who don’t accept the love of the two men. I don’t want to ruin it so I’m being vague-ish, but what I won’t forget is the girl downstage center, Ceci, played by Onahoua Rodriguez, writhing on her mattress through most of the action of the play. She does get up and talk, but watching her succumb again to her physical state after narrating to us is heart-breaking. It wasn’t my favorite performance in the play, but her physical work was excellent. I’m running out of superlatives here, but suffice it to say it was a pang each time she went back. Her physicality throughout the play to be basically a large spastic infant was precise, fierce and committed. I wish wish wish more people had seen it.

There may be more, but those come to mind right now. Feel free to share your year-end silhouettes and link away.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Very cool silhouettes. I loved what you wrote, especially, about Fantastic Mr. Fox and Precious. I'm wondering what you'll think of Broken Embraces. I loved it so much I can't even write about it.

I guess I have a bit of a silhouette over on my blog, too.