Malvolio Production Diary: nothing happening here

Tonight is my first real rehearsal (not counting the read-through). We’re blocking out of order, for efficiency’s sake; the play runs along three (more or less) different tracks, so that you can run the Olivia/Cesario scenes in one go and the Toby/Andrew scenes in another, and the Orsino court scenes in another. Or, more accurately, you can have four rehearsals, giving Orsino three nights off, Sebastian two nights off, Olivia two nights off, Toby, Andrew and Maria one night off, and Malvolio one night off, and you’ll have blocked everything but the big group scenes. I’ve had my nights off.

I spent the last two evenings doing a staged reading (well, one night of rehearsal for it and the second performing it) so I haven’t done much work on Malvolio. I’ve read it over a few times (as a rule, once I start, I try not to let any days go by without reading my part through at least once) but not done any further research or even any real thought. And then we’re heading right to blocking without doing table work (which is totally a legit choice, mind you) so I don’t know that the next two weeks will involve much thinking, either.

We’re doing the torture scene tonight. I haven’t the faintest idea what his intentions are about my cell—it occurs to me that I failed to write that at the read-though the director didn’t volunteer anything about the look of the thing, the design, costumes, any of that. When asked, he said that we would be in modern costumes, saying that for audiences that don’t come to the theater already comfortable with Shakespeare, the period Elizabethan costumes can be alienating and make them shut down. I agree with this, largely. There are other reasons to bring out the modern drag as well, as audiences generally can read class, money and even regional differences in our modern clothes much better than in period dress. There are drawbacks, of course (why don’t Sebastian and Viola just DM each other) but everything is a trade-off. From my point of view, the drawback is in my yellow stockings and cross-garters, but we will find a way.

Anyway, I don’t know anything at all about the set, and I know less than nothing about Malvolio’s imprisonment. The folio just says within; the dialogue makes it clear that he can’t see the others. One traditional way is to have him under the stage, with his fingers poking out through a grate; I don’t know if our stage has working traps. Sometimes he is out in the open, but restrained and blindfolded. One production I saw had a very striking image of him in a sort of light box—he was behind a scrim with a light behind him throwing his shadow, so you couldn’t see him but could see his reactions in silhouette.

The script calls for Feste, Maria and Toby outside the cell, and that’s all we have on the call sheet, so our director presumably does not plan to add in further spectators. He still might. It depends on what you want to accomplish with the scene; if it’s supposed to be mostly funny, focusing on Feste’s clowning, then you probably don’t want anyone other than Maria and Toby around. If it’s supposed to be pathetic, with the emphasis on Malvolio’s humiliation, then having members of Olivia’s court hanging around jeering is probably a plus. I will find out, I guess.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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