Jude Van de Voorde (Live Blogger)
Chair: Christopher Marino, Theatre University of North Carolina and Alchemical Theatre of Wilmington
To kick it off, first give an intro to the presenter’s relationship to the play (dating or long standing relationship) to spark ideas. Bill will give ideas about the scene and they will be performed by the actors present. Conversation and free flow are principles of this colloquy.
The play: The Dutchess of Malfi
Mandy Hughes: This play was part of her masters thesis (The gothic and it’s manifestation in plays). She read
Julia Griffin: First encountered when she was young. She is hoping to address some past longs as it is a confusing play.
Bill Gelber: He remarks on the lycanthropy is in the play and how much this play is a spectacle play.
Christopher: Seen several productions and directed in Chicago at Trapdoor theater (Avant Garde)
Bill: He teaches period styles. He wants actors to remember the audience and their proximity. This is an odd scene. She has to act in two ways: nobly and lowering herself to the level of her scene partner. How will the audience see this? Is it correct? Is she self conscious?
He wants to see what the audience thinks of it and what that does to her performance.
John Harrell and Constance perform the scene.
She is forgetful, and tells him what to write down. Is struck by him calling her beauteous. Talk goes to heaven as she is making up her will. She asks if man should not be happy when he is making up a will. They talk of marriage. He speaks of a man who never marries, he never bears the name of father.
Bill Gelber: Whether or not he or she will bring it up
Julia: This scene is both characters attempting to play at two things simultaneously. The audience needs to see a contrast physically against what words the characters are saying.
Bill: There is a stiffness which both characters don’t like. She is joking about marriage and the will to try to tell him what she wants.
Christopher: This scene is sort of the heart of the play. It’s so intricate, especially with the listening. How he view it, the duchess has lots of notations and turns. They are much more reminiscent of Juliet than she is of a duchess. She was married when she was young, and doesn’t quite know how to deal.
Bill: The danger of him possibly saying no.
Mandy: She knows about the maid listening in and he does not.
Julia: Two things. First, she gets concerned when we talk too much about the duchess being not her own agent in this scene. She is very planned and well ordered. Second, her big question about this scene is that it sounds like Antonio never says “I’ve always loved you” and she keeps giving him the romantic opening and he is sort of like… oh yeah… And because of the status difference, he sort of has to say yes. What happens if Antonio says yes because of her status and not because he loves her.
Bill: There is that danger, and she does ask him. The writing of the will is a sort of play that’s going on.
Mandy: Is he comfortable with sitting down, or does he realize they’ve been alone together for a while? Does she touch him?
Christopher: He does have an idea spatially. If Constance is downstage for most of the scene so the audience can see the duchess and Antonio cannot. Constance performs downstage and with her back to the audience. John proceeds as normal and takes the chair at the center of the stage when told to. (Christopher doesn’t think this is a male-female power struggle. It is more of a scene where the duchess has a lot to lose. There has been a lot of talk about secrets.) There is a lot of empty feet in the verse of this scene. In a way these characters are getting on the same page, even in verse, but that is in a later scene than this.
Laura Cole: She has played her twice and loves the character. The duchess cannot help but look at Antonio and the chemistry is excellent. The audience knows how much he admires her. This throws a twist in this scene because of the problems of status and how much she has to lose.
Mandy: Does she lose her train of thought because she finally looks at her?
Christopher: It reminds him of when Juliet is at a lose for words when she sees Romeo again.
The scene plays again with this in mind. There is more tension in the duchess avoiding eye contact, keeping him behind her.
Christopher: It changes the dynamic.
John: He has played this play once. Antonio is sort of stiff.
Christopher: At the beginning of the play, Antonio wins the match and possesses lots of physical prowess. Even when the duchess says, “You have ta’en my cares upon you” could mean to take charge of. So Antonio goes to get the books. The duchess means that he has taken her cares upon him so that she can still be beautiful. Approaching this sort of work has to be done in certainty, even though its still a theory.
Audience: Shoes are so loud on the stage and what is the soundscape of this play? It’s a very loud play, and this scene is so quiet.
Christopher: One experiment in Chicago was pure candles, 50 or so of them. The spatial relationships were about the throw of a candle (about 4 feet away was too far). Candles resolve some of the spatial problems because of this. The White Devil introduction says that the Red Bull (the playhouse it was performed in first) was too “black and too open.” The space of the theater can affect these spatially intimate plays and their language. The writing of this play is very careful.
Audience: The way that sound travels in an open and too large space affects the emotions in the words. If the theater is too black and open it can ruin the play. Also with the duchess avoiding eye contact it keeps the string taught and the audience hangs on every word.
Julia: One of her frustrations before was the stoicism of the duchess and the play becomes Bosola’s play, because Bosola has the most drastic journey in the play. She never figured out how to give the play back to the duchess. But it was frustrating because she knew that she wanted it to be a play about the duchess. Having grown up more, she now sees more ways to hand the play back to the duchess. That production was in a dark proscenium theater, and when the duchess can interact with the audience, that alone may make the play the duchess’s.
She wants to see if in continuing the scene there can be a moment where john can take Constance’s place, swapping the staging.
The scene begins again. John will perform it with the appeal of a football player.
Beauteous strikes the duchess much. “I look young for your sake”
John stands to fetch her something and now they switch positions: she up from downstage left and to center, he down to downstage right.
Constance becomes excited.
Constance sits. John and Constance end facing each other.
Julia: There’s something fascinating in the flipped gender expectations and the flip in the staging conditions helps.
Bill: Can the duchess trust Antonio’s answer? She possesses too much power in this relationship to believe that Antonio answers for love and not for status does she not?
Mandy: This production (one she just saw that was very researched and rehearsed) had lots of winks and nods before the scene. Yet, Antonio was very surprised when this scene came along. She is interested in if there are moments where the duchess loses herself in the scene at hand, and then remembers that the maid is listening?
Audience: Is the duchess the lusty widow who is overpowering Antonio? Did you prepare any of this?
Constance: She has not encountered this play before. With fresh eyes, this scene is well before its time. She is risking it all in this scene. Everything is at stake for this character. It feels very much like a Romeo and Juliet, she is a very young widow.
Mandy: This whole play is people telling her what to do with her body and her power. She constantly says, “I am still a prince” and is reasserting herself constantly.
Jill: She finds it really interesting to say that this is what should have happened. Somehow this is what could have happened. As a post script to other parts of the play.
Audience: The similarities of this situation and the duchess’s opportunities in a second marriage are striking when taken with the possibility of second marriages for wealthy merchant widows.
Christopher: Webster complained about too open theaters: he wanted smarter audiences there. This is the reign of James where people are beginning to have buyers remorse. Maybe these female power figures are dreaming about Elizabeth.
Mandy: Her brothers are so invested in her not getting married, so that they keep her power as theirs.
Jill: She ends up dead, so how much is this pining for Elizabeth?
Christopher: Would it be fair to say that her death is noble? The verse becomes very open and she speaks in a different mode than the rest of the play.
Jill: That has been her big problem of the play. Yes, she has a stoic death but that just turned her off to the emotional appeal of the play.
Bill: Is this scene played with that attitude or against it? Can they try it again with more of a snarky audience?
Audience: The theaters were populated with very specific neighborhoods, some of them quite riotous. People didn’t move to different neighborhoods or theaters. The Red Bull loved audience interactions. The Black Friars thought it was not cool. This play was performed first at the Black Friars, but the white devil was performed first at the Red Bull.
Audience: How many short lines are in the play? How well has Webster established the affinity of both of these characters before this scene? Do they both know that they love each other? Is this a daily dance together? Constantly second guessing each other.
Christopher: Antonio’s false exit might be because he knows that she wants to propose to him. He has tried to make sense of the lines, but Webster loves his anapests, and the verse detail is so minute. Pound for pound Webster packs more into a line than any other playwright. “A politician is the devils quilted anvil, he fashions sins on him and the blows are never heard.” These lines are almost plays within themselves.
Bill: Can we play it again with the audience reacting to it? Channeling the inner frat boy, it is performed again.
The scene is a bit more playful. The audience is a third person in the scene.
Jill: This feels obscene and objectifies the duchess. It feels that this makes the audience side with Antonio and objectifies the duchess. She thinks that this is more objectifying of Antonio and the audience should side with the duchess.
Laura Cole: The duchess can reassert control over the scene by keeping a higher status than the audience.
Christopher: Yes, Constance can take the power back.
Audience: Some of it depends on John coaching the audience. If he knows what she intends we side with him. If he is clueless the audience laughs at him and sides with the duchess.
Christopher: Actors love audience reactions over and above the text. Webster would hate this in an actor.
Audience: Red Bull in the 1640’s the women who attended the shows would often be boisterous and ask the actors to marry them. The women were often the louder audience members and the ones that would be talked about.
Christopher: Webster doesn’t give the audience lots of places to but in. Perform the scene again but the Duchess reasserts power with her lines after the audience responds. Antonio watches the duchess get control.
Audience: Don’t we want to root for both of these characters?
Bill: His actors often have the problem of asserting themselves on the stage.
Audience: If both of these characters are the people who the audience are to root for, and they walk into this scene wanting to tell each other that they love her, isn’t the audience seeing how they are passing ships in the night? Or could be?
Audience: We are also rooting for no one interfering with this couple.
Jill: There is also a tradition of this scene of lovers interacting being awkward and not working out. It is also a breath of fresh air before the tragedy incoming.
Audience: What happens when the maid is in the crowd steering the audience’s response?
The scene will be performed again but Zoe Speas is playing the role of the maid hiding behind a white board.
Christopher: What other things did people notice?
Audience: Circling back to the comment about the duchess not being triumphant at the end of the play. She would disagree with that thesis. Her brothers throughout the play attack her power and describe her as a piece of art. In 4.2. She talks about the chaos going on around her, “yet I am not mad” the maid says she looks like her portrait in the gallery. There is something very interesting in the way that the duchess has divorced what is going to happen to her body and what is going to happen to her soul. She has turned into the statue, physically, but they can only harm her body. Her sanity and self becomes protected by being her soul.
Christopher: The duchess is convicted to die well. She won’t be terrified or bow down. She dies kneeling because it is better to go to heaven kneeling.
Audience: Tell my brothers they may go feed in quiet.
Christopher: With Webster wisdom begins in the end. The characters facing their death brings them wisdom. Thank you all!