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Malvolio Production Diary: the read-through

Well, and we have begun. The read-through last night was, as read-throughs tend to be, variable. Some of us clearly have been preparing by closely analyzing the text, and have already looked up tricky words or phrases. Some of us have not done that yet—some of the cast are in shows that are currently running and have only just emerged from tech week—and some of them have day jobs, so I am scarcely critical that they have not put in a minute for every single minute that I have. There is yet time for all of that stuff. Other may simply not be as comfortable reading off the page; I know several actors who suffer from dyslexia, have difficulty reading from a page, learn their lines by audio, and are absolutely terrific in everything except a read-through. There were glimpses, certainly, of a wonderful cast. And our Olivia is, fortunately for me, an actor after my own heart—super well-prepared, funny, and Shakespeare-obsessed. I think it’s most important that I be comfortable with the actors playing Olivia and Feste—depending on the physical business in II,iii and II,v there could be more or less interaction with Toby, but they actually exchange very little dialogue. Not that I expect to have trouble with our Toby, who is a somewhat older actor clearly very comfortable with the Shakespearean language, but that if I can’t get loose with Olivia and Feste in rehearsal, it will be very difficult—while if I can’t get loose with Toby, it probably means a little less slapstick, is all.

I was struck, again, by how utterly at sea I am with the letter scene, II,v. It is so amazingly long. A hundred lines, maybe, without interacting with anyone on stage (there are people there talking to each other, but I can’t see or hear them). That’s like three times the length of to be or not to be or all the world’s a stage. That’s insanely long. Even after the Gang have fallen asleep (or whatever; at any rate they drop out) Malvolio has forty uninterrupted lines to keep the audience’s attention. So long. It’s madness.

I am starting to identify bits that can be cut. Of course, it has to be done carefully, not to damage the rhythm of the scene, but still, trimming is possible. We don’t see Malvolio actually letting his tongue tang arguments of state or putting himself into the trick of singularity, vaddevah dat means. Yes, I do see the value in the lines, how they are playing to his vanity and add to how ridiculous Malvolio has to be to believe this thing, but balance that against how incredibly fucking long the man is talking to himself. I mean. The loss wouldn’t be that great.

Still, it’s incredibly long. It has breaks, or, rather, changes of pace—it starts with him fantasizing about what would be like to be Count Malvolio, that’s one bit. Then he sees the letter and decides to open it, that’s another bit. Then he starts reading the letter, which itself is broken into three pieces (the poem, the prose, and the postscript) each of which is followed by repetition and explication. I have to identify the moment when he decides that the letter must be for him. I mean, he is so vain he always thinks the letter is about him, but he needs to argue it out with himself. Is it every one of these letters are in my name? Or is he still uncertain-certain through until If not, let me see thee a steward still?

What really scares me about that scene is that, in the end, it has to be an interaction with the audience. Far more than any monologue I’ve had to do in a play, it’s got to be played to the audience. And there is no audience for weeks and weeks. No audience, in fact, until there’s an audience! Well, that’s not quite true, as there will be some audience beforehand, but only a few theater people, who will react quite differently. I will have to trust my director, really trust him, in a truly scary way. Which could turn out terrific! I guess.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

But... but... the key question! What sort of voice did you end up using for the read-through? And were there laughs?


I did not use a funny voice for the read-through. I spoke briefly to the director afterward, who confirmed my instinct that Malvolio should have a funny voice, and agreed to talk later.

I got a couple of laughs, although not so much during the letter scene. We were largely cheerful throughout, but without much laughing out loud. Alas. Still, we got through the whole thing in about two hours, which bodes well.

Thanks,
-V.


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