A Chilly Night at the Theater

As Samuel Pepys often said, “To the theatre….” and that’s where I was last night. And I have to write about it here so as to catalogue it, in its way, in a Pepys way, I guess, for the tremendous experience it was.

First a little self-disclosure: I’m going to gush about an actor, and I should make it known that I’ve seen his work for years and have loved it, and have had the pleasure of working with him—in fact, his work on my show was what made my work so good—and I like to call him a friend. So, I’m biased.

I’m also opinionated about things, so I hope in the end I’m being fair.

Also, I’d like to say, this isn’t a review. I just want to write about my experience.

So….”To the theatre….” I went last night. A Tuesday. It was pay-what-you-can night, a night usually attended by theatre-folk, and there were plenty in the house. There were plenty of civilians too. The place was absolutely packed.

Jeffrey Hatcher’s Compleat Female Stage Beauty is about the first female actresses in England (Margarat “Peg” Hughes and Nell Gwyn, the King’s girlfriend) and one of the last actors who was known for playing the women’s parts, Edward Kynaston. Walking Shadow’s production was just as I expected from the talented team that runs it and the talented people they have work for them on stage and off. The show was entertaining, enlightening, touching, funny, tragic and uplifting all while being beautiful to look at.

Yes, I’d say that’s about right.

So to keep from being a review, let me move on to what it was that struck me so powerfully last night.

There’s a moment in the play when Kynaston, whose career has been ended by the decree that women must play women’s parts, is auditioning for a theatre to play a man’s role. He begins a monologue, gets a few lines in and stops.

He starts over. He gets a few lines in, a bit further, and he stops.

His body, his mind, his voice…all the tools he’s used for years as an actor are suddenly betraying him. He finds his hands and arms making soft, woman-like gestures. He struggles with it, tries to control it. It controls him. It’s as if he suddenly doesn’t know how to act, and it’s the only thing he’s really ever known. He becomes lost.

The thing is, Wade Vaughn‘s work has always been incredible. He’s an extremely smart, hard-working and thorough actor. I’ve worked with few people who have his steadfast determination to find the truth. And Wade as Kynaston may be the best I’ve seen him. Watching that scene, I was enraptured by this man Kynaston, and because it’s how I watch actors act, I was even more enthralled by Wade. The depth, detail and wholeness with which he was working, his powerful focus, the layers of character that were coming to the forefront at that moment, were astounding.

I literally got chills watching him. It was that good.

Now…was it really that good? Was I just being pulled in to the play and the story and the characters? (I mean, after all it’s a play about theatre people, I’m bound to be interested.) Was I just proud and happy to see friends doing such good work, and Wade in particular?

Maybe.

Does it matter?

No.

It was effective. It worked. I felt deeply sorry for this character, who frankly otherwise had been, at times, an arrogant bully. But we felt for his human side, his pain, his struggle. In him we saw a moment that could be for any of us: If suddenly I discover that how I define myself can no longer exist, what happens to me? Who am I? What do I then do?

If finding layers of questions—more questions than answers, in a moment created by an actor on stage such as this—if that doesn’t make for good theatre, for good acting….then I don’t know what can. So I feel confident I wasn’t just in the right mood at the right time in the right place to be impressed. That was some amazing work.

I have some favorite moments I’ve experienced watching plays. I think that moment of Kynaston looking at his hands with wonder, fear and pain, will stick with me a long time.

Congratulations on the lovely work.

Compleat Female Stage Beauty continues at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage thru June 2.

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One thought on “A Chilly Night at the Theater

  1. Pingback: Looking over my shoulder « The Man In The Yellow Hat Lives Here

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