THE HEART OF A FIEND

July 6, 2006.

Pericles opens a week from today and King Lear the following week. Working to find a balance with Goneril so that she can be a human being and not a monster as she is typically portrayed. One of the actors came up to me the other night, after a scene between me and Lear, and said that it was the first time that she had ever felt sympathy for Goneril. So hopefully I’m on the right track.

Louis, my director, says that I must commit fully to each moment because Goneril has violent mood swings, just like her father, and the only way to play that is to dive in with very specific actions on each thought. He believes that if I commit equally to the good and the bad, that she will be human and that people will identify with her even if they don’t like what she does. I recently watched The Libertine with Johnny Depp and it helped to see how a great actor could create such a horribly fascinating character even though he says at the beginning, “You will not like me now. And you will not like me later. And I do not want you to like me.” Of course, we do like him by the end, in spite of everything.

One of the clues the text provides for me is a line where Goneril refers to her life as “hateful.” She’s aware of her wretchedness and of the wretchedness surrounding her. She behaves as she does because she sees no way out. Louis says the play is probably one of the most bleak and despairing things ever written; he sees many parallels between the action of the play and the violence and depravity that exists in our own time. He’s also decided to costume it completely in black and white, which should nicely compliment the starkness of the story.

I sometimes wonder where the redemption is but I suppose that the audience is meant to find that for themselves in their own reality. Perhaps part of Shakespeare’s genius is that he does not provide an answer, reason or hope. He presents a tragedy and allows the audience to finish or to change the events of the play by the way they live their own lives. It takes great faith and courage for an artist to tell the truth the way it is without making it easier to swallow. In The Libertine, an immoral and godless man finds, at last, a way to believe. Without the actor’s commitment to his character’s depravity in the first place, would his salvation have meant as much in the end?

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