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Malvolio Production Diary: fourth blocking rehearsal

The fourth and penultimate blocking rehearsal was for the Maria/Toby/Andrew scenes, including both II,iii and II,v as well as I,iii and III,ii. Lots of drunkenness, lots of Toby.

We did II, v first, the letter scene. Lord. I know I said this before, but that scene is so fucking long. And I have no idea what I am doing with it. In this rough blocking, the director has (of course) left a good deal of my action up to me—at this stage we aren’t locking in when I stand or sit or cross. The three observers are upstage in hiding (tho not actually obscured from view) so I have the entirety of downstage to play with. The only real marks are that I have to be up and in the center where the letter has been left in order to find it (that is, if I am sitting down and have completed a thought, and then get up in order to be surprised by an envelope on the ground, it will look stupid) and my eventual exit. Other than that, I am at liberty. For the moment, I am starting my speech seated, but the points I have chosen to rise aren’t working for me yet, so perhaps I should begin from a standing position. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure none of my stuff is working yet, so a decision may be hasty at this point.

The carousing scene (II,iii) is more complicated to block, of course. The important thing about this scene is that it also has to be funny. Funny, loud and fast. In one of the essays I recently read (it was, I think, Keir Elam’s introduction to the Arden edition of the play) the writer observed that the scenes alternate between slow, quiet scenes and loud, fast ones. That’s not strictly accurate, but I do think that there are a good deal of each of those and that a decision has to be made and stuck to about which is which. The audience has to be alerted at the beginning of the scene, and in this play (not so with every play) it’s best to play into, rather than against, their expectations. Malvolio’s are all fast, loud scenes, until the end at any rate. Orsino’s, not so much.

My inclination is to come down the stairs and stand there glaring, creating a guilty hush in which to begin ranting. I don’t know if it will work. For one thing, coming in at full rant knocks Toby back onto the wrong foot, which he can slowly recover from—Sir Toby is not at this point in doubt that Olivia will choose him over Malvolio: Am not I consanguineous? Once over the initial shock, he gains the upper hand quickly, mocking and berating the steward: Go, sir, rub your chain with crumbs. Malvolio is reduced to threatening Maria—overall, he is completely bested in this scene by Feste and Toby, and knows it.

We are not (as yet) putting in the traditional lazzi for the scene. In modern dress, we lose the opportunity for the candle bit, anyway; it can be done, but the candle would obviously be there just for the gag. I didn’t ask (meant to, forgot) what Malvolio will be wearing in the scene… the nightgown bit seems unlikely but not impossible. I do feel that Malvolio should trip and fall going out, but as I am going upstairs, that decision will have to wait for the actual set construction to see what works.

Tonight we block Act Five and then we’ll be done with the rough blocking. Whew.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,