~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke


Stage Beauty ~ Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A few weeks since my last post. I've been working on my Pitman shorthand, but it's slow going. I've decided to use the book to find the core basics that I'll need to learn to perfect it, and not bother with the fancy things like "halving a stroke to add t/d" etc. I kind of like the idea of knowing it all, but it's so excruciating trying to develop a facility with it that I suspect I'm liklier to abandon it altogether if I had to layer things like that on top of the other stuff. I'm not using it for dictation anyway, and even as is (notwithstanding a few shortcuts I'd like to get under my belt from further along in the book) it's much faster than longhand. So I'll be ahead with my note-taking anyway, be it for a lecture or meeting, or from a book. Yippeee! But there's still at least another few months' work on it, getting comfortable and to the point where I don't have to think before I write or decipher before I read. I'm at the "puh-eh-rrr" sounding out stage for now.

I saw the film "Stage Beauty" recently and rather enjoyed it (notwithstanding some anachronisms, that nonetheless, in one case, made for an electrifying climactic scene). I pulled it up with a low level of commitment and expected little from it. It is set during the Restoration/Charles II (IIRC) in England, depicting a fictionalized version of the transitional period where theatres went from men only (and therefore had men in drag playing female parts) to allowing women on stage.

Ned Kynaston (sp?) was the drag player who found himself suddenly out of fashion (to his own confusion and dismay: "A women playing a woman? Where's the trick in that?"). The role was played by Billy Crudup--well cast, IMO for his understated style of regular acting (as opposed to how he played the female roles on stage) and his looks, which work well in the context of a beautiful man/woman (not androgynous, per se, but rather, he's pretty with a touch of the masculine as a woman, and handsome with a touch of the feminine as a male, rather than one who looks genuinely, Tilda Swintonishly androgynous).

The other main character, Maria/Margaret Hughes was done by Claire Danes, whom I don't really like much, but I managed to forget it was her and got into the role she was playing relatively early, so it worked out for me. :-D

There were a number of wonderful oppositions and dualities produced in the film, as one might expect with a narrative whose subject is the interplay between male and female and its variations.

I also liked the way in which Ned's sexuality was ambiguous and confused. One has the sense that he might have grown up primarily straight under other circumstances. But, in this world, because of the circumstances under which he ended up playing the female roles on stage, he has a very wide nominal comfort zone with regard to his sexual encounters. But instead of going for the easy "scarred, twisted sexuality" route (though it's not easy for the person who's stuck with it, of course) that one often finds in depictions of a straight guy who is forced away from his sexual orientation, Ned is comfortable with both--just confused as to how to position his identity, once he is thrust out of his role as drag-female star. And so his agony is only in part due to the confusion of his sexual identity (in my take) and is primarily found in the loss of his public identity and the fact that, like Norma Desmond, he is now obsolete. He knew who he was on stage, even if his sense of self was confused as soon as he stepped out of the footlights.

Maria, by contrast, is very clear on who she is at a personal level, but struggles to find herself and her identity as a performer and a public persona, and so there's a strong and interesting counterpoint to be found in that.

The other thing I really liked about the film was the way in which it got multi-duty out of its climactic scene. Not to give too much away, I hope... but, I love it when a spectacle (play/film) is able to layer a climactic scene so that it has multiple meanings to the audience, depending on how much the watcher knows. An example of this would be in "Hamlet", with "the Mousetrap", the play Hamlet has the players perform for Claudius. We know of the nominal layer--the narrative itself. We know of the hidden layer--that it is Hamlet's dramatization of the Ghost's story of Claudius's crime. And we know of a third layer--more than a dramatization, it is also a trap. A way for Hamlet to determine whether Claudius really is guilty. And so, Claudius and Hamlet, as spectators to the players' performance, also become part of the spectacle itself.

The play/film "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" adds several more layers to that, and so, if one is familiar with "Hamlet" then Stoppard's play positively throngs with resonances, layers and nuances. What fun!

Well, "Stage Beauty" doesn't go quite to that extreme. But, it has a wonderful climactic scene on stage, which resonates along those lines. It is the climactic scene of the play being performed. It is also the climactic scene for the characters we've seen, discovering their identities on stage and in performance while enacting private tensions we know about because we've been watching them in their world through the film. And the magic is that we sense the audience in the theatre, who knows nothing of those tensions, also senses them and reacts to them. And then there was a final thread of foreboding subtext that was worked in from early in the film that added an additional edge to the scene.

All in all, the ultimate catharsis--horrifying, involving and in some way exhilarating because it was so deftly accomplished.

::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 10:20 AM::::


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Anduril Elessar
Susan Deefholts

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