Saturday, June 7, 2008

To like or not to like

It's one of those rare weekends where I won't be going to any show whatsoever. I'll be doing some theater-related stuff on Monday, but that will be as a spouse, not anything in my own right. In the mean time (and while waiting for some more nominees to the post made a few days ago--surely some more of you would like to share what you thought was the best of the season, wouldn't you?), I thought I'd share some ruminations I've had on some plays seen over the past couple months.

Actually, the ruminations are on the approach actors take to their characters. I was struck in two different plays recently how much the actor's feeling about her character affected the final product. I suppose that sounds obvious, but it needn't. An actor can believably and passionately play an evil character without being in sympathy with that character's choices and actions. In the one play I saw, it took me awhile to figure out who the antagonist was. Eventually, by listening to the words of the script and observing the fate of the character, I knew whom the playwright considered the antagonist. It also became apparent that this character wasn't intended to be likeable or sympathetic. However, the way the character was portrayed was in a very sympathetic fashion. It was almost as though the actor had come to like the character so much that she couldn't bear to make her unsympathetic. It wasn't just an act she was putting on to fool the other people on stage, but it seemed as though the actress herself believed that her character was justified in all her actions.

A few weeks later, I saw a situation in reverse. There was a comedic character who was played in such a fashion that it was obvious the actress held little regard or respect for the type of person the character was. The portrayal brought out the humor not by any sort of authentic empathy with the character, but through an exageration of humorous stereotyping.

In both cases, the result was unsatisfying. In the first, it compromised the story and why the plot wound the way that it did. In the second, it seemed a cheap laugh when it could have been a heartfelt one.

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