Geoffrey: “Henry, just a quick note before you go back out… you’re fired.”
Henry: “On what basis?”
Geoffrey: “Well, I could just say that I don’t like you, but that isn’t really specific enough and this is all about specifics, isn’t it? So, the truth is, I don’t like you, and I don’t like your acting. I don’t like the fact that you ignore my direction, I don’t like the fact that you play everything to the audience, I don’t like your complete lack of theatrical courage, and I REALLY don’t like that you have turned Ellen against me, but that’s subtext. I’m putting Jerry in tomorrow night.”
Henry: “You ARE insane.”
Geoffrey: “Not at this moment.”
Courage. It’s the final point made in the episode, and the dominant theme through all of this week’s subplots. Does Geoffrey have the courage to defy Oliver’s notes and put his own stamp on Macbeth? Does Richard have the kind of courage Sanjay encourages him to have, to defy reason and follow through with the rebranding campaign? Do the Romeo and Juliet leads have the courage to circumvent Darren (and release their own passions)? And does Ellen have the courage to hear all her biggest insecurities tallied up on a checklist, to be inventoried by a “normal” person helping with her taxes?
This theme is most obvious in Geoffrey’s storyline, which makes sense, him being the main character and all. Slowly but surely, the pieces are starting to add up as to why Geoffrey is so terrified of Macbeth. It isn’t so much that it’s a “very difficult play to stage effectively”, but it represents a true new phase for Geoffrey. This is his first true show as permanent artistic director of the Festival, a show where he must assert his ownership of the company and his job, and he’s handed a director’s passion piece with a giant pile of notes and a pat on the back (not to mention the literal spectre of his predecessor).
I found myself numerous times this episode thinking, “Man, this task would be daunting enough without the ghost backseat-directing”, which I believe is the entire point. Oliver isn’t there to guide Geoffrey this season, he’s there to haunt him. He is now an obstacle to be overcome, a representation of any apprehension Geoffrey might be feeling towards his own instincts and the task at hand. Notice how often the two of them argue this season.
This change also explains why Geoffrey is getting caught in the act of talking to Oliver more often this season. Oliver is managing to undermine Geoffrey’s authority from beyond the grave and making him look insane in the process. All of this is happen with the assistance of the aforementioned Henry Breedlove, a towering representation of everything Geoffrey is fighting at the Festival.
Of course, this being my favorite part of a TV season (about 2/3 in, where the momentum shifts and things really get moving), Geoffrey is about to hit his breaking point, ironically enough as a result of being caught in one of his “Oliver battles”. Exposed for the insanity that it is (and it is insane, even if Oliver’s ghost is in fact real), Geoffrey mans up and takes a stand. Banquo’s ghost will not literally be present, it will be inside Macbeth’s head. Macbeth and Lady M will pick up the pace, rely on their own instincts, and keep things breathless. And, oh yeah, we’re putting the stripping and washing back in Act One, Scene Five. “Are there any questions?” asks Geoffrey, to which Henry’s predictably harumphy response is met simply with “Good.”
The breathlessness of the married couple’s scenes may have been directly inspired by Geoffrey’s secretive coaching of the young actors playing Romeo and Juliet. Frustrated by Darren Nichols’ sky-high, over-analyzed “direction of the play,” a rehearsal process devoid of actual rehearsing, and waaaay too much all-too-familiar-sounding B.S. about gender roles, Stephanie and Patrick seek out Geoffrey’s help, and he reluctantly sets things right. Do a lap around the building! Push-ups! Quick, jump into the text, don’t think! Having done exercises like this myself, I can definitely say it’s an effective tool, especially for the young love they’re trying to reach in their portrayals.
So energized are the kids that the sexual tension starts to seep into real life. “It’s really poetic, but it’s really…sexual, too,” observes Stephanie. To which I say, YUP! I remember fondly my first deep analysis of the lovers’ dialogue from R&J, and man, that stuff will make you blush. Seriously, if you haven’t read it since middle or high school, blow the dust off your copy, look up what “vestal livery” is, and start a tally of all the reference to things growing and blood rushing and such. “I thought he was gay,” Geoffrey observes after the heat is released. I’m inclined to think Patrick thought that too, until his rehearsal date with Stephanie later. “Oh my God this is hot,” he says. Yeah it is.
The kids aren’t the only ones getting some, though. How about our girl Anna?! She scores a date with playwright Lionel, fresh off a disastrous first rehearsal of his new play workshop. After an awkward session of constant rewrites and high insecurity upon hearing his work read aloud, Anna offers him a simple thought: “It must be hard, making something out of nothing.” To that, he gives this gem of a response:
“I know you’re just trying to say something bland and supportive but it IS hard, making something out of nothing. And the process, it takes it’s toll. And I become a horrible person. I’m horrible to be around! Would you have dinner with me tonight?”
“Sure,” says Anna. Only in the theatre world can openly advertising our flaws still get us dates. Even on this date, Lionel just can’t switch off his playwright-iness, utterly fascinated by the “real people” that Anna grew up with in Manitoba.
Anna is a real champ in this series. Witness the effortless way she deals with the loss of some $33,000 in revenue after the chaotic Frog Hammer ad campaign, or the way she coyly hides the results of her drunken night with Lionel (or rather, fails to hide). She can always be counted on for a good reaction to Richard, and she is given ample opportunity as she watches the man she secretly loves caterwaul on a clarinet.
Oh Richard…your gullibility will be your downfall. Faced with plummeting revenues and cancellations left and right, he attempts to talk some sense into Sanjay and Frog Hammer. Sanjay, though, is way too good at this to buckle under Richard. Everything is going to plan, he insists! So why not stop thinking and go wear ridiculous shirts and play clarinet? Colm Feore, as I’ve said before, is a fantastic actor, and I love the intense sympathy he radiates to Richard, which easily forces him into compliance. I may know how this Frog Hammer thing turns out, but I have to wonder if even a glimmer of hope is visible to the first-time watcher.
One last thought on Richard: in an episode preoccupied with “courage,” he manages to be sucked dry of it by being told to show it! Irony is fun.
Finally, Ellen could do with a little less courage, as she manages to find her way into several holes and dig herself deeper and deeper. Her audit would be challenging enough as a freelance performing artist, but it is made worse by her terrible book-keeping and insistence that “there are people at the Festival that are worse than me. Much much worse.” Way to throw your colleagues under the bus, Ellen.
Deeper holes emerge when she recruits her brother-in-law to help with her taxes. Heated words are exchanged about life choices, envy, personal ambitions, whether acting is something you’d ever wish on a child, and lots of other touchy subjects…before our subjects become touchy. Yes, Ellen hooks up with her brother-in-law. Yikes.
So, with Breedlove now out of the picture, Ellen in personal AND tax trouble, and no hope in sight for Richard’s Frog Hammer trap…on to the final two episodes!
From Caitlin Griffin
(who, by the way, has just been extensively quoted by the UK’s Telegraph re: Julian Fellowe’s Romeo and Juliet adaptation: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/william-shakespeare/10278154/Romeo-Romeo-whats-Julian-Fellowes-done-to-you.html Hooray Caitlin!)
For all his misguided artistic mumbo-jumbo, you have to appreciate that Darren really is trying to do something with his Romeo and Juliet. He was brought into this production with a pre-chosen cast with someone else’s vision in mind. Now he’s rebelling against that and trying to find his reborn artistic voice. He’s not arguing with a ghost, like Geoffrey, but he does look like a madman railing against the constraints of the text and its history.
It can be easy to attach a “message” to Shakespeare. Sometimes he had something to say himself and we can echo those points. Sometimes we attach our own baggage to say something different. Broadway is about to get a Romeo and Juliet with a racial conflict. A performance of Twelfth Night once used the Antonio subplot to explore homophobia. In the early 20th century, The Merchant of Venice was performed either in support of Nazi propaganda (Germany, mostly) or of the Jews being oppressed (New York, mostly). You can say almost anything with Shakespeare.
What is Darren trying to say? I don’t think he really knows, because he’s not really clear on the text. He’s stuck on the statement over the story. So the kids go to Geoffrey for help. The coaching he gives them helps them hear the urgency in the relationship between their characters, and shows Geoffrey something he’s missing from his leads in Macbeth, as well. That exercise gives him the confidence to make clear decisions for his cast before their preview.
Darren says he’s not interested in asking questions [they’re] not qualified to answer, but, instead, in asking questions that don’t have a specific answer. Does he really want to confront gender identity with this show? Until he can decide on the questions he wants to ask with this production he doesn’t have a direction in which to go.
Have you ever seen a Shakespeare show with a political or social message? What was it? How did it affect you?
Stray Thoughts and Quotes:
The opening sequence gives us a glimpse at the buddy-sitcom that never was, with Geoffrey living at the theatre with his wise-cracking ghost roommate. “Well now you’re up, I’ll make eggs.” Oliver.
Customer service veterans will know too well the pain hidden in Anna’s face as she deals with the angry subscriber.
I don’t know anything about Canadian tax law, but it sounds as confusing as American tax law.
Love how Ellen compulsively overdramatizes throughout the hour. “I plead ignorance! … Is there a way I could plead that? Officially?”
Anna and the customer, the tax agent with Ellen, Geoffrey as “management” to his cast…the idea of calm, collected management echoes much in the first part of the episode.
“Having been a misogynist once myself, I say yes!” – Darren, showing admirable self-awareness in pursuit of a scattered vision. But then again, I don’t have that passing familiarity with Roland Bart he believes I should possess.
“I’m in hell! This is my hell, not being able to give notes.” – Oliver
Emily the ASM’s over-reading the stage directions at the workshop cracked me up. It’s something I hear quite often and of which I myself have once been guilty.
Brian is still at the bar. I’d say reminder of continued presence, but he probably had a scene that got cut.
“Improvise your lines. But make it real!”
“OK, you’re paraphrasing. That’s not what I want you to do. I want you to tell the story, as written, but in your own words.” – Lionel . “That’s what paraphrasing is.” – Ellen