January 18
I sneaked in to see your show “The Importance of Being Earnest” last night at the Ahmanson from the upper balcony.
Normally I would have come backstage to talk with you, but with Emily Thingummy, Esq., your alter ego who thinks nothing of pushing a bogus restraining order against me with automatic approval from L.A. “Family” Court, I didn’t. I also was afraid that theatre officials would not let me in, as you made happen at the SAG Awards in 1999.
Bear in mind that as a director I don’t approve of giving private notes to actors, (I believe that notes before the cast serves to unify the company with good feelings, no secrets, and mutual understanding towards each other). This is not intended for public consumption, but I am left with no alternative but to give them to you this way, through my Blog, which I know you read, and besides, it may help other actors, as in the weekly free Shakespeare classes we used to give. So here goes.
Before dwelling on your performance, I recognize that at the outset you are up against it in the following ways:
1. with that awful ad. introducing you in caricature as a decidedly Californian wrong take on what and who Lady Bracknell was View image,
2. with the fact that you are being treated as a star without peer, name writ extra large above the title with kid-glove treatment by the theatre (is your Susan Smith agent responsible for this? I told you not to go with her) in what is essentially an ensemble production,
3. you have the audience’s and your own memories of what Edith Evans did with it (and you memorably mimicked her in our “Shakespeare for my Father” show) and
4. Your first entrance in a dress carefully designed to match the color of the set exactly, and thus ensuring that you are not pictorially the center of attention. Whoever made that decision, costume designer, director, and I’m sure not you, should be taken out and shot (note to intrusive lawyers, not meant literally, of course!).
And last, in the scene-stealing department, you have your old rival (for the character parts anyway), Miriam Margolyes who the night I saw it stole the show right from under everybody, and became the main reason to see it (and well done, Miriam, my old friend!).
Lady Bracknell above all else is a regal, majestic, imperious, formidable, force to be reckoned with. When she enters a room, she takes that room over, commands it, and no argument.
You didn’t do that, and apart from reasons beyond your control, here’s why. You hadn’t found your character! Which is where I used to come in. To help you discover things with some private coaching.
Base your character on an animal, a bird, a friend, an acquaintance, family even. Your mother comes to mind when she stayed with us in Topanga. Any thing and any body is allowed, if it works, but not anyone else’s view, especially that ad. rendition.
Then, use sense or emotion memories. How about when you had me evicted from our home, you have my pictures, use that, or when you were in court being questioned by me, use that.
I’ve often told you that you can be too “big” in your acting for film, and some stage work. But here you have the chance to big it up to the sky, if you can get the truth behind it.
So, take your mind back to our show and the hours we spent together working on it. Mind your shoes, and play the right music (Wagner?) at the half. Be inspired! As I’ve told you many many times, you can be the world’s greatest stage actress, but also quite amateurishly awful, an observation also aimed I am sure, even, at Edmund Keane.
You have the mouthings and the muggings and the makeup. Now find the character and the weight behind all of that, and you’ll be fine. Forget the subtleties, forget the nuances, Wilde’s lines’ll take care of that. And dump any influences that “Sir” and others might have had on you. And, most important, forget Edith Evans, and we will too!
Good luck for your opening night press performance. And steal it back from Miriam, you can do it!
Time’s short.
And if giving my notes to you this way makes you mad, fine, USE IT!