Plays and Screenplay, Written and in Performance
2022 Year of Aesthetics Series №8
I just had some thoughts on plays and on reading them verses seeing them. I see a clear distinction of “the play that stands on its own on the page” and the one who needs the actors to fill in the characters soul.
Macbeth and Lear are hard reads in my opinion. I find that all the flaws and very few of the virtues or ambiguities of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Lear show up on the page. These plays shine in performance, only if they are well cast. My favorite examples of these two plays are adaptations in foreign language. Verdi’s Macbeth may be the high point of Verdi and Shakespeare, but the opera and play only come to its full impact with a very good Macbeth and an exceptional Lady Macbeth. My favorite portrayal of Macbeth is Anna Netrebko’s, maybe the greatest voice and most meaningful voice in opera she is the perfect lady Macbeth. (Note All three Shakespeare play adapted by Verdi Macbeth, Othello and Falstaff are true mastery. )The Lady carries the play and there is no way to fully depict her in the only in the written word. In Thrown of Blood, the actors tease out the power of the play and bring out more than is on the page.
Lear when I read it for a book club was disliked by the entire group. We couldn’t embody his mistakes, his error, and his tragedy. One of the members said lets discuss Lear shortly next time after everyone sees RAN. The next time we met all of us loved Lear, pitied Lear and saw the depth of his fall. I bring Akira Kurosawa films up twice because he cast actors perfect actors for the rolls. He gets the most out of the text of Macbeth and Lear. I bring up foreign adaptations as an example because, they depend on the actor to be the play, to embody the the ideas of a play originating in a totally different frame work yet they are much more than the text alone. I would rather see these adaptation than read either play. I come away with a better understanding of the play even with the adaptors license, because they are so well cast and the author adds to what is missing on the page.
In comparison, I weep and laugh and imbibe the story, the scene and the characters when I read the Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. These plays are excellent in performance but you can get a good feel of them on the page. (I recommend seeing a performance before a read if at all possible, but not to hold off reading them.) A read of these plays will give you experience similar to a performance. Also after a performance, one can go visit the texts for nuance and questions of interpretation more readily than Lear and Macbeth.
“It reminds me of that old joke- you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.” ~ Woodie Allen
Woodie Alan plays that need Woodie Alan and those that don't.
Annie Hall depends on the particular actors timing. It is built around Allen’s, Robert’s and Keaton timing. On the page it is rather flat as it is hinging on Allen stand up and his relationship and timing with Roberts and Keaton. It is the acting with the script that makes this such a witty movie. Annie Hall is a triumph, but the case was a perfect cast and they brought what was not on the page. I think it is not accidental that Paul Simon is cast as the rock mogul, it is in keeping with the personality rendering the film realistic.
Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, are well written and while they were masterfully cast, the jokes the pathos and the plot are all there in the screen play. I read these plays for this very question, I can imagine other actors in the rolls. I can run the play in my head, they are more fleshed out on the page.
Below is one of my favorite jokes it comes from Annie Hall, it is all Allen and has wonderful timing, but I always run it in my head with him telling it. I am not saying plays which require strong actors is a negative thing, just an interesting occurrence in 400 +years of playwrighting.
“It reminds me of that old joke- you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs. I guess that’s how I feel about relationships. They’re totally crazy, irrational, and absurd, but we keep going through it because we need the eggs.” ~ Woodie Allen- Annie Hall
I love the beginning of Hannah and Her Sisters , as of note I think this film is wonderfully cast!