Monday, January 30, 2012

A Moving Moment from Philaster Rehearsal

There’s a moment in Philaster in 4.6 where our hero, wounded, asks Dion, Cleremont, and Thrasaline to help move him closer to the bleeding Bellario. No explicit stage direction exists to guide this movement, and the text is unclear with its embedded directions. Does he actually move? Do the other three characters help him to do so? If he does move, how close to Bellario does he get? Most importantly: why does he need their help? It’s moments like this which make the rehearsals for the Actors' Renaissance Season so fun to watch, because the actors have to answer these questions themselves, and quickly. When you only have two weeks to put up a show, you don’t get the luxury of lounging about, debating at length over staging.

The first few times they ran the scene, they skipped over this moment. There’s so much going on before and after it (stabbings galore, mostly) that the actors hadn’t had time to address it specifically. They ran the scene with Philaster standing, having run away from an altercation in which the Country gentleman stabs him, and Thrasaline, Cleremont, and Dion leading Bellario away on his feet moments after Philaster stabs him (I wasn’t kidding about the stabbings galore). Since, later in the play, Dion mentions that their wounds were superficial, they played the scene as though they weren’t hurt.

But Philaster says: “some / good body lend a hand to draw us nearer” (4.6110-1), which is a clue. The actors decided that if Philaster needs a hand to move about six feet, he must be seriously wounded. This means they had to rethink the scene in which he gets stabbed to make it clear how hurt he is, and it also means that Greg Phelps, who plays Philaster, has to change his physicality in the scene in order to portray it. Bellario must also be near death, if he cannot move to get closer to Philaster, and Miriam Donald, who plays Bellario, had to adjust accordingly. After deciding on the severity of the injuries, both actors immediately changed their physicalities, and the scene suddenly started to make more sense.
“Lay me gently on his neck” (4.6.113) is the next clue. Does it have to actually be on his neck? That seems painful and awkward, and they decided against it. Instead, Greg leans on John Harrell’s Dion in order to limp over and collapse next to Miriam. Greg crawls behind her and takes her in his arms so that her upper body is off the floor and cradled against his chest. He weeps and implores the others standing by, “Can you see / such clear, pure blood drop and not cut your flesh / to stop his life?” (4.6.120-2). It’s an extremely touching moment, and adds another layer to the already complex Bellario-Philaster relationship.

This is what the Renaissance season is all about, and it is a joy to watch the process. The actors took a moment that had previously been a bit of a strange throwaway and turned it into one of the most powerful parts of the play. This whole process happened in just twenty minutes. Look for this moment when you come see Philaster, which opens on Friday, February 3, with a Pay-What-You-Will preview on Thursday. With the way the scene is shaping up, it’ll be impossible to miss.

-Lia Razak

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