Posts Tagged ‘directinghamlet’

‘Directing Hamlet’ is rich with subtext

A probing look at life and the theater

By Rita Moran

Thursday, June 23, 2011

“Directing Hamlet,” Michael Perlmutter’s well-wrought and well-acted drama,  is in the Backstage space at the Santa Paula Theater Center, but is surely  destined for a main stage. Perlmutter, whose career includes acting, directing and playwriting, is on a roll locally. Another of his plays (“My Perfect Alibi”) was staged recently at  the Bell Arts Factory in Ventura.

But there’s nothing hidden about his talent, which shines in the sophistication of the subject matter and dialogue in “Directing Hamlet.” Dealing with a has-been director and a novice actor (played keenly by Joe Boles and Curtis Cline, respectively), Perlmutter turns a coaching session for Shakespeare’s tragedy into a probing look into life and theater, mixing and matching the old saying “Art imitates life,” or occasionally, “Life imitates art.”

Boles as Lee, the grumpy, sometimes preoccupied director, and Cline as Brian, the young man at the beginning of an acting career, enjoy a rough-and-tumble relationship from the very first word of Brian’s attempt to recite “Speak the speech, I pray you ,” one of Hamlet’s singular moments.

Perlmutter’s pair of actors is charged not only with speaking the speech but also with conveying the subtext of each man’s shaping moments and relationships offstage, the incremental revelation of which leads to an understanding of what the brief coaching sessions are really about.

Despite the serious undertone, Perlmutter provides wit along with wisdom. The opening scene, in which Lee overruns every attempt by Brian to finish a line, or even a phrase, is as amusing to the audience as it is frustrating to the young actor.

But the point is made, missed so often in performances both professional or amateur, that Shakespeare’s lines actually mean something and should be delivered less as declamatory speeches and more as conversational communication.

The lesson dawns on Brian to some satisfaction for Lee, despite the answer to his original question about why the young man wants to play Hamlet, surely one of the Bard’s most difficult roles: “Because it would look good on my résumé.” That’s not the soul-searching response Lee wants to hear, but it is honest, and probably rings true for many actors.

Despite the gap between the two men in age, philosophy and to some extent, life experiences, they find their way to understanding through the inch-by-inch personal exchanges pushed by Lee. A final revelation is abrupt, though not totally unexpected. Perlmutter might add just a few more lines to make that final point, though the shock effectively leaves audiences gasping.

Boles, who near the conclusion of the play gets to recite the great “To be or not to be” lines (and aces them), and Cline do well by Shakespeare’s text, and by Perlmutter’s. Audiences are bound to want to hear more of the latter in future plays by the skilled writer.

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John Nichols/Contributed photo<br />
A grumpy director (Joe Boles, left) and a young actor (Curtis Cline) eventually find a bit of common ground in "Directing Hamlet." Michael Perlmutter's play takes a probing look at life and the theater.<br />

Watching the directors

What the Bard’s most famous play says about acting, art and life

By Jenny  Lower 06/16/2011

The first scene of Directing Hamlet, playing now at Santa Paula Theater Center’s Backstage through June 26, unfolds like a series of Russian nesting dolls. Our play starts off during rehearsals for another play: Seasoned director Lee is coaching greenhorn actor Brian through Hamlet. As if that weren’t meta enough, they dive in with Hamlet’s Act 3, Scene 2 speech to the players, the one where he instructs them to “speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.” Of course, poor Brian can hardly get the words out, so tripped up is his own tongue.

It quickly becomes clear that we are in for a play where language and the nature of acting itself will become the primary focus of meditation.

Playwright Michael Perlmutter, coming off a March production of My Perfect Alibi at the Bell Arts Factory in downtown Ventura, also directs this talky but skillful two-hander that manages to stay nimble and funny enough to keep the audience engaged throughout the nearly two-hour running time. Though the story advances to a somewhat predictable conclusion, Perlmutter is a local playwright worth watching to see what else he has up his sleeve.

The play opens at the first all-day rehearsal session between Brian (Curtis Cline), a 19-year-old using Shakespeare to beef up his resume, and Lee (Joe Boles), a formerly award-winning director who has backslid into regional theater after two divorces and various professional setbacks. Lee provokes Brian to get him past his stiff, self-conscious acting, pressing him to reveal details of his personal life in the process. The push and pull between actor and director, the antagonism embedded in the creative process, and the nature of art as both escape hatch and therapy all become fodder for the play’s gradual, circular advancement.

A product of the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York, Boles brings a Method actor’s naturalism to the role of Lee, who himself urges Method techniques on Brian. He is utterly convincing as the no-nonsense director prone to flights of metaphysical fancy. His jokes range wide, with eclectic references to Monty Python, the rhythm method and David Mamet, and turn on a dime. The play charges forward in the space between the jokes, then crumples as the pair’s delicate intimacy collapses like a house of cards.

Cline hits his stride in the second half, with Brian’s breakthrough moments as Hamlet far more convincing than Brian’s self-conscious fumbling as himself. His quick flashes of anger early on burn bright but cool; it’s hard to buy his brief explosions as anything deeper than adolescent exasperation. But Cline, when he allows Brian to become real — as in Hamlet’s speech after he comes upon Claudius praying — can be magical.

A theater lover’s play, Directing Hamlet invites more than a passing knowledge of the Bard’s most famous tragedy to make sense of its deeper levels. Unsurprisingly, much is said about fathers and sons; and, like Hamlet, Brian is beset by indecision. Should he trust himself to this zany director, or be rid of him? Though the resolution, in which we learn why Brian has put up with Lee’s bantering all day despite being tempted numerous times to storm out, is a bit too neat, and Lee’s own back story remains underdeveloped, the conclusion remains satisfying nonetheless.

It should be enough to say the play is a very solid effort worth seeing, and that Perlmutter will no doubt develop further with time — but what do I know? Lee says it best when he tells Brian not to worry too much about the critics.

“Reviews,” he says, and I paraphrase here, “only end up in your family’s scrapbook — or online, next to the porn ads.”

Directing Hamlet, June 10 to 26, Santa Paula Theater Center Backstage, 126 S. Seventh St., 525-4645 or No performance June 18.

Good week.  Good stuff.  Great actors.  We’ve covered a LOT of ground.  Now comes the fun start.   But like operating any plow we’re still going to have to tear up the soil a bit, even if we did just smooth it out, it was so we could tear it up lay down seeds and run over it again.  Water it, then weed it, then . . . Ok we’ve run that analogy into the ground.   Either I’ve corrected my own course well or Joe and Curtis have altered their expectations of me.  Probably a bit of both.  Suzie (Stage Managing) is a Godsend.  I write a miserable note on my highschool composition book I picked up from the 99 cent only store and refer to some obscure line and she can call out what page it’s on before i even finish my thought.  Maybe my thoughts are too long-winded.  Well, we forge ahead.

Looking forward to how this all comes out in the end.

Well, the read thru went very well thank you much.  Then, the next night, we started in on ACT I.  Slight problem: I got more involved.  Kinda like a three-year old with a puppy I tried to play it to death.   Or trying to swan dive into the kiddie pool.  The actors were superb and listened and did their best to play along as if I actually knew what I was doing.  In a sense I did.  In a sense I know these characters like an old lover and I was visiting a pair of prostitutes trying to turn them into the girls who got away.  There is a dance and no matter how much you may want to lead you just can’t dance a tango while the orchestra it tuning up.

That aside we got quite a bit of work done.  We laid out some skeletal blocking.  And I believe we did establish some baseline for the characters.

In my defense it was my hope that, rather than force feeding character upon the actors and by doing so limiting them to the straitjackets I was fitting them for, that my input would offer them a springboard from which they could safely jump off from.  We were at an airport, on that I think we can all agree.  And while we were all staring at the runway, where  I thought I was showing my pilots where their flight plans might take off from, they were hearing me tell them where to land.

I think the biggest problem is you need to take the plane out of the hanger before you fire up all the engines.

So, we’ll return to taxiing on Monday.

DIRECTING HAMLET is a two act character driven drama that examines our motives as artists, in other words: why we do what we do. 

As the play opens, BRIAN, a nineteen year old actor is busy being verbally attacked, prodded, cajoled and anything but coddled by THE DIRECTOR (Lee), a middle aged theatre veteran.  As they stumble their way to bring Hamlet out of Brian both men are brought to their wit’s end. 

Through the progress of their rehearsing one of theatre’s most intriguing characters both men explore their own potentials and limitations, what it is to be a alone in the world and in need of a family, and why each of them have chosen this career path of artistic expression.   Why is art, after all?  What are we celebrating, what are we looking for, and what are we hiding from?