Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Sometimes actors know best

An addendum to the video, print preview and blog REview of Sylvia at the Civic:

Spoiler alert:
Don't read if you haven't yet seen the show, or if you just don't care about actors talking about characterizations in light comedies. But do read if you're inclined to think that actors know more about their roles than critics (and even directors).

In addition to the wife, dog and husband in Sylvia, Gurney has created three more roles in the play, to be performed by one actor: Tom, a macho boy-dog owner whom Greg runs into while letting Sylvia run free at a dog park; Phyllis, an NYC socialite and friend of Kate's; and Leslie, a sexually ambiguous marriage counselor who tries to moderate the Greg-Kate dispute about their dog.

What's the through-line in those three roles?
Bobo volunteered that he thinks it has to do with neurosis: All three are screwed up, so at least they make Greg look more sane at least by contrast. Director Brooke Kiener — she was gracious enough to write a long and detailed e-mail in response to many of Bobo's questions ... after a long day of rehearsal -- thinks that the three roles form a commentary on gender roles.

But note the level of perceptiveness in the response of the guy who's actually playing these roles, Jerry Sciarrio (and who will appear, in another connection, on the Feb. 4 cover of The Inlander):

From an e-mail exchange, several weeks into rehearsal for Sylvia:

Bobo: Can you describe any through-line or similarity among your three characters?
Jerry Sciarrio: They all present a voice of authority; Tom has the latest and greatest theories about the condition of human-canine relations; Phyllis knows every one who is anyone in New York and can help Kate get where she wants to be; and Leslie has the cure to any and all relationship difficulties. When portrayed by one actor, it suggests that even though these opinions seem different and independent, they all are the same lame answer to a question that only Kate and Greg can answer for themselves.

Bobo: Why not just cast two more actors? What advantage is there to having one actor play all three roles?
Jerry: Gurney says, "It's all about how we project onto others our own kind of fantasies. Just as the husband sees the dog as a very attractive woman, so we ask the audience to project onto this fourth actor whatever he needs to be."
I would add that three actors would get rather bored with the small parts to play! (ha ha ha)


Actors often know their roles best — and Jerry really taught me something here about a play I thought I knew well — which brings up a related point. Bobo has criticized actors for doing X instead of Y in a show, only to discover afterwards that the director requested X. Conversely, I have praised actors for innovating B instead of A in a show, only to be told later that doing B was the director's idea all along.

Criticism's a crap shoot. Trust to the actor, is what I say.

[ photo by Young Kwak for The Inlander; from left: Bill Forant as Greg, Beth Carey as Sylvia, and Jerry Sciarrio as Tom ]

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