Having started this week's rehearsals with a run of Act I provided a stark contrast with the mood and trajectory of Act II. The run was an effective demonstration of how far we've come in a couple of weeks . . . and a reminder of how far we still have to go. Pictured on the left Husz and Agnes (Dan Mueller and Victoria Hamilton) have become isolated from each other through circumstance and Agnes' choices.
One of the challenges in producing a piece of "Epic Theatre" is the use of short scenes punctuated by (as Kushner describes) "interruptions." It is tempting to get lost in the story's emotional content. The human drama is extremely compelling, however, we must strike balance between the play's emotion and its intellect in order to keep the production from becoming a cathartic experience rather than an impetus for social change. In Brechtian fashion, Kushner seems to be asking for application of the play's lessons so we are not utterly doomed to repeat history. While we can do our best to iron out these complicated transitions in early rehearsals, the fact is we're not really going to know if things work until adding the show's technical elements. At this point, I find the uncertainty a bit scary . . . and a bit thrilling. This is one of those wonderful leaps of faith one must make in the act of play-making. In terms of the play's emotional arc, Act I is all about establishing the relationships and the subtext between the characters so that we earn the poignancy in Act II. So . . . with that in mind we tackle Act II.
The tone is completely different as the relationships change and become fractured by the growing political tensions surrounding the characters. In working the scenes in fragments this week, we made some nice discoveries about the characters and found some intriguing questions to pursue in the coming weeks.
First of all, in working the Agnes/Die Alte scenes, we discovered some interesting connections between Agnes and the Her Swetts character. In Act I, Agnes tells Baz, "I feel no connection, no kinship with most of the people I see." This foreshadows Herr Swett's assertion of "irreconcilable separation from Joy." This disconnect with humanity and ultimate focus on the self draws together Swetts, Agnes, and Die Alte in a way that they are separate from the other characters in the story.
With that in mind, blocking Act II became about drawing the other characters together as Agnes pushes them away. Baz, Paulinka, Husz, Gotchling, and even Malek all reach out to Agnes and give her the opportunity to exercise her humanity to grab a hold of the "twig" that may save her. With each opportunity, however, Agnes withdraws further into herself, fearful of losing the familiar, the comfort, and the life she has grown accustomed to. Pictured on the left, Baz says good-bye to an unresponsive Agnes (Matt Holland and Victoria Hamilton).
Act II also presents the cast with the challenge of allowing their characters to be impacted by their circumstances. They all (except Agnes) change. Agnes, as we are discovering, doesn't change so much as she allows her fear and shortcomings as a human being to be exposed. Baz and Paulinka undergo the greatest changes in Act II. Baz, after a severe existential crisis, allows himself to care more deeply, to reach out significantly to his friends, to value his own humanity rather than to treat everything as a game of intellect and witty repartee. Although it is difficult for Paulinka, she realizes the value of her own soul. She is who she is: ambitious and tough. But she does also have the capacity for empathy and courage (as much as she hates to admit to it). Act II also reveals more humanity within Gotchling and Husz. For Gotchling, it's admitting to her own vulnerability and accepting the fact that she cannot save Agnes. Husz is in a similar situation of being forced to let go and act selfishly.
Another interesting point we discovered this week is that during the course of Act II, Baz, Husz, Gotchling, and Paulinka all pull together and become more "real" with each other on a deeper level while Agnes becomes an increasingly isolated figure. Pictured on the left Husz and Paulinka (Dan Mueller and Arianne Jacques) toast Paulinka's triumphant act of bravery. While in Act I, Husz seems frustrated with Paulinka's hardened ambition, here they are much warmer with each other after having been drawn together through a shared experience.
Tonight we will see Act II together in order before working these moments of parting in more depth through out the week.