Search Results

Keyword: ‘Theater Talk’

Austin Pendleton

February 26th, 2011 No comments

Was watching an interview/discussion with Austin Pendleton on Theater Talk. It is a wonderful interview with plenty of insight into acting, directing, and theater relationships. Pendleton was talking about his upcoming productions of both Three Sisters and Detroit. Detroit is on the cover of American Theatre, either this month or last month, including the full text of the play. With Three Sisters I can only think of the Wooster Group production and Willem Dafoe speaking in his wispy, mellow way.

Anyway, the other night I was watching Zoldessy choreograph the movements of the actors in the East Storefront. He kept having them move and the he’d stop and think about it for a bit and then he’d talk about it and then he’d have everyone go back and run through the movement again. Zoldessy must have spend :30 minutes or :40 minutes on a page-and-a-half of the play, and I could tell the actors were getting antsy and there were only 10 pages left in the play and the hour was getting late, etc.

It was at this moment that I remembered the interview with Pendleton. In that interview he recounted how Jerome Robbins, during a 1964 production of Fiddler on the Roof spent 6 hours staging and re-staging a scene that was all of 5 minutes on stage. Now, Robbins could get away with it because he had paid actors who were acting as their job. Nonetheless, Robbins was, according to Pendleton, very committed to telling the story, that is, making the reality of the characters and their relationships truthful and real. The 5 minute scene was the family preparing for the Sabbath, and Robbins felt that the scene showed relationships and established character and was important enough to examine and block again and again until it was just right.

Pendleton then talked about his first gig as a director and how he blocked out the whole play in his mind. And then, with some other play that he was directing he didn’t get the chance to do that and felt awful about it, and unprepared, but, to his chagrin, discovered an organic approach, what he referred to as “expressive blocking.” Pendleton felt that this kind of experimenting is important and characterized it as working with clay, but you’re working with actors. And once the actors are interacting you begin to see things.

Jarod and I were at Happy Dog the other day talking about how much Zoldessy is bringing out in the play that is not apparent in the text, and much of this has to do with this process.

Pendleton also attributed a heuristic to Kazan, I think, that when it comes to successfully staging a play that it’s 80% casting, and 18% the ground plan: a ground plan that is expressive of the story.

Pendleton also talked about approaches to directing actors, including spending a certain amount of time at the table discussing the scene. What’s the event in the scene that moves the story forward. How are things different at the end of this scene than they were at the outset. Very traditional in that respect.

Detective Fiction, Angela Lansbury, and Oedipus

May 27th, 2009 No comments

I just watched the 5/16 episode of Theater Talk with Angela Lansbury. During the interview she was asked about her role as the mother, Queen of Diamonds, in the 1962 classic version of The Manchurian Candidate; in a follow up question she was asked if she had seen the remake and her opinion–she replied “yes” and “no.” Lansbury said the acting, etc., was great, but how can you have any interest when you already know what the “secret is?”theatertalk

I had to laugh to myself because, being as ‘stuck’ as I am with Oedipus on the brain right now, that is sort of the crux of Oedipus: that everyone knows what the secret is (except the characters in the play) and the dramatic irony makes it all the more powerful.

In an article I just finished reading by John Belton, he remarks that the attitude, if you want to call it that, expressed by Ms. Lansbury, is precisely the modern problem, here Belton quotes Frederic Jameson, (“Reification” 132):

“Thus the detective novel, unlike Greek tragedy, is ‘read for the ending’–the bulk of the pages becoming sheer devalued means to an end–in this case, the solution–which is itself utterly insignificant.” In other words, withing the contemporary culture of mass consumption, narrative undergoes a process of materialization and reification which abstracts it from the Real, gives it an “unnaturality” (Jameson, “Reification” 132), and reduces it to the status of an instrument, rendering it dramatically different from earlier forms of popular culture, such as Greek tragedy, which were “organic expressions…of distinct social communities” (Jameson, “Reification” 134).


This made me think of cigarettes, which some cigarette companies characterized as nicotine delivery systems.

Thus, Belton writes:

Detective fiction…emerges as a much more mechanistic restructuring of the reading process whereby phenomena are reorganized into formulaic categories which reduce the complexity of experience to a series of delays, snares, equivocations, partial answers, suspended answers, and jamming actions.


Oedipus, by contrast, was meant to be “read” for its irony, for the “interplay of various levels of knowledge (that of the audience, that of Oedipus)” 934 etc. Not for the end in-and-of-itself.

There is much more that Belton has to say about the differences of epistemology between Sophocles’ way of knowing and the modern detective writer’s way of knowing. But delving into this would go to far astray (which I may have done already) from the main point that struck me as I watched Theater Talk this morning.


John Belton. Language, Oedipus, and Chinatown, MLN, 106(5), Comparative Literature (Dec, 1991), pp933-950

%d bloggers like this: