punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

High School Drama - Act 2: "The play within the play"

The next play was Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," where I played Snout, the Tinker, part of a cast within the play that puts on a very bad production of "Pyramus and Thisby" for the royal court. Mark (an aimer) played Bottom, and he played it well. Mark was a little dramatic in real life anyway, so playing carpenter who was an aspiring, yet poor, actor was perfect for him. He stole the show.


O wherefore, Nature, didst thou lions frame?
Since lion vile hath here deflower'd my dear:
Which is--no, no--which was the fairest dame
That lived, that loved, that liked, that look'd
with cheer.
Come, tears, confound;
Out, sword, and wound
The pap of Pyramus;
Ay, that left pap,
Where heart doth hop:

[Stabs himself]
Thus die I, thus, thus, thus.
Now am I dead,
Now am I fled;
My soul is in the sky:
Tongue, lose thy light;
Moon take thy flight:

[Exit Moonshine]
Now die, die, die, die, die.


These scene, where Bottom's Pyramus kills himself because he thinks a lion ate his lovely Thisby, first was only about 10 seconds of dialogue, follow by a self-impaling. Mr. Duncan had a friend, a fellow English teacher, who said he had "majored in Shakespeare, and wanted to help out." This guy was a pro. This guy really threw us into our parts, and was one the best acting coaches I ever had. Shame I can't remember his name. Mr. Estes or something. Anyway, he told us that early Shakespearean actors were overdramatic on purpose, because it helped the "peanut gallery" (the uneducated masses sitting on the floor of the Globe theater, too poor to afford the seated areas) understand what was going on. And it was a comedy, so the louder, the better. Mark really took this to heart, as this death scene got longer and longer. He really pulled off a poor, overacting actor very convincingly (Mark was a good actor, he really was), and by the end, the death scene became almost 5 minutes long, and it was almost impossible to witness this spectacle and not to break down laughing. He pulled Shatner moves that were stunningly appalling, pausing frequently, repeating lines and winking to the queen, and then "the death stagger." Oh, the death stagger was amazing! It was fully half of the act itself. He thrust his cheap wooden sword under his arm over and over with each "thus," and slowly dragging his lines from his mouth across the stage air with the tonic inflection used by Shatner in his cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" as if the record was a 45 played at 33rpm. I am still laughing now, thinking about this tall, curly haired kid, sword under one arm, screaming at the moon to exit the stage, writhing on the floor like a dying fish, then getting up, and then staggering down, rising again, staggering down, repeating his last words, "Die... die... die..." and then wen you thought he finally died, and the only sound was all the actors laughing so hard they were gasping and wheezing, he'd pop back up again with another, "DIE!" He never broke down himself, and it was his intense seriousness through the scene that made it so damn funny. No matter how many times we practiced this act, and just when the humor seemed to be too repetitive to be funny anymore, Mark would run through the scene again, add something new, and it was somehow twice as funny as the last run.

Mr. Duncan was not amused, but we didn't care. He claimed that a royal court should not be off their chairs, on their knees, gasping and clutching their sore lungs in spasms of laughter. Mr. Estes said it helped deliver the sarcastic lines they give afterwards better. It totally stole the scene away from Flute, the man who plays Thisby (actually, if I recall, we had a girl play the man ... who played a girl ... many jokes about Victor Victoria commenced), who discovers her lover death from his self impaling, and thus impales herself as well, which many considered a self-referencing "throwback" to Romeo and Juliet.

But Mr. Duncan was so burned out, he never promoted the shows and thus, half our performances were played literally to an empty audience. I recall when no one showed up for our third performance of AMND, one of the actresses called out, "Do we have to keep going?" Mr. Duncan roared, "You need the practice!"

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000551.html
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