“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances … ”
William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”
Last week Columbus was so fortunate to have a spectacular cast of professional actors performing Tennessee Williams’ play, “Orpheus Descending.” It was an amazing experience, with characters coming and going from the theater’s front, back, sides and even speaking from the balcony. Sometimes it was hard to tell who were the actors and who was the audience.
The night I went, Beth Bartley, as “Carol Cutrere,” played a mad scene while standing on a chair in the audience, right next to Mother Goose. I feel sorry for anyone who missed that.
There was a “Greek chorus” of townspeople; some were little old ladies dressed in small veiled hats and buttoned-up cardigans. The set was an amazing conglomeration of mercantile offerings. There were dress forms, suitcases, clothing, glasses and dishes from the period, bolts of vintage cloth and an antique cash register. The stage’s centerpiece was an eight-foot-tall cross. Local “culturistas” Beverly Norris and Angie Basson, along with Claude Simpson, did an amazing job of amassing and assembling the retro props.
This play is typical Tennessee Williams, an operatic tragedy with no real heroes. Like “A Streetcar Named Desire” or “Sweet Bird of Youth,” the men are almost all evil, and the women are helplessly entangled in the men’s wicked web. It’s no wonder so many of them collapse into insanity.
On Saturday, the show’s producer, Jef Hall-Flavin, offered a free acting workshop. My friends, Miss Moon Pie and Jyl Barefield, and I signed up for the class. (I wonder if Jef regrets that now?)
It was certainly out of my comfort zone. But we planned to reward ourselves with a ladies lunch afterward; therefore, the promise that all would turn out well.
We learned a lot about standing and breathing. We felt the vibration of our voice in our face, and throat, and chest.
However, I think the most important thing we learned was to look into the eyes of another actor. We were taught to carefully listen to what they were saying, not just wait for the cue to deliver our line. This was quite difficult. I tend to be a bit shy, dropping my gaze, avoiding deep contact. This is a good lesson for every day. How rarely we look into other’s eyes and listen to what they are saying.
Jef taught us that acting is analyzing human behavior. “Actors,” he said, ” are people behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
We had fun doing a scene using the same dialogue, but with different meanings and inflection. Once, I was paired with Miss Moon Pie. In our skit, she had a (pretend) health secret, and was trying to keep it from me. (I told Jef that I knew her real secrets, but he wouldn’t let me use them.)
I seriously doubt any of the professional actors are too worried that our class is any threat to their career. Our greatest talent seems to be having lunch at Harvey’s. For Jyl, and Miss Moon Pie, and for me, the story had a happy ending, even if the play did not. “Orpheus Descending” has exited our town to play in other cities, taking with it an astonishing cast, a stunning plot and perhaps leaving three new “actors” on this small stage called Columbus.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. Email reaches her at adeleelliott@ bellsouth.net.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.
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