“Charles has run raving into the storm. The irony is breathtaking!” – Oliver
Every week, Slings and Arrows pulls a quote from the play it’s focusing on that season to reflect the themes of that episode. Here, at the episode 3 “tipping point” of the six-episode, “That Way Madness Lies” proves to be more on-the-nose literal with its definition of the action than many previous episodes.
We begin with Geoffrey. He’s seeking therapy, which is good. You figure that will lead him to increased mental stability in the future. Father McTeague seems to be making real progress with Geoffrey, especially in regards to his relationships with Oliver and his own father. Seems that Charles is just the latest in a long line of father figures that Geoffrey feels the need to giving everything he has.
However, he’s also butting heads in rehearsal with Barbara, who has fallen headlong into her own narrative on Goneril (Recalling the original theme of these posts, I have to admit that this is something some actors do in real life as well). It would be one thing if Geoffrey could vent at her and be done with it, but she also is currently living with him and Ellen. Tensions rise around the house and Geoffrey finds himself packing up and staying with Charles.
Here, Geoffrey reaches the true moment of decision for Lear, his company, and possibly his life. He spends time with the dying man. He sees that ailing father, struggling with illness. He is asked to help Charles administer his “medication” (y’know, the heroin). Charles handing Geoffrey the needle practically screams to Geoffrey “here, put your fingerprints on this gun; you’re in it now.”
Watch the entire episode here
Deeper and deeper falls Geoffrey, until finally Charles, in an illness-fueled state, blows up at the other cast members and loses his bearings in the show. Geoffrey escorts him away, but the damage is done – the company knows something is wrong. Maria, ever the SM, witnesses Charles with his pills. She’s in it now, too. A decision at hand, Geoffrey tells the company Charles is a drunk and “has agreed to attend a meeting.” As Oliver Wells puts it, “This won’t be the last incident. Better lay the groundwork for deception now. There are lots of drunks in theatre; it’s an easy sell.”
With Geoffrey falling deeper into his enabling madness for Charles, and Charles falling deeper into his own delirium, Richard starts falling into the worst madness of all – success. Geoffrey, distracted by everything else on his plate, gives Richard a crash course on play structure, which Richard then uses to exert the authority needed to help save the musical from Darren’s maniacal clutches. As Geoffrey suggests, Richard does his work, makes his point quickly, and offers the solution, which curries the support of both the composer (who is also apparently in the show?) and the cast. Richard’s revisions make the hit preview a smash, and now he’s found a new support structure in the musical theatre company.
Also finding “support” with the musical company? Paul. Sophie, understandably upset by Charles’ repeated abuse, seeks solace in passing the abuse along to the musical theatre cast. Like many other folks though, Sophie is falling into a sort of coping-driven madness, which her good friend Paul enables further by suggesting pranks and stink bombs and the like. But Paul, too, falls into a sort of madness, and falls in immediate lust with musical lead Megan, and eventually her bed.
Oh man…where to begin with Megan? Well, for starters, it’s hard not to see her as a negative cypher of “musical theatre people” because she doesn’t seem to have enough to the rest of her character yet. She’s the undeserving object of Sophie’s abuse, sure, but she’s also an idiot. Paul attempts to talk to her about Lear and she quickly assures him that she was once in West Side Story, so she totally gets it because it’s based on a play by the same guy who wrote Lear. Ugh.
This hour continues the series’ descent into more straight-up drama, as most of the laughs were provided by a harried Oliver, and the storylines themselves kept focused on the impending insanity. It’s a serious telling to suit a serious story, but it can be hard to watch sometimes. Particularly, it’s hard to watch so many characters, including ones we love, act like assholes, even if that is the point.
Slippery, slippery, slippery.
Caitlin Griffin responds.
Is Lear’s storm more internal or external? Is Geoffrey’s? At the end of this episode, Geoffrey’s maelstrom of events is far from over – and it’s all of his own making. He refuses to control Charles in rehearsals, he can’t deal with Barbara’s nagging either in rehearsal or at home, and he is blind to the little storms taking place in everyone else’s lives at the Festival even as he rescues Charles from the raging storm he’s run into.
It’s easy to forgive him, of course, after all he’s just been turned out into the storm by Ellen, who would rather deal with the domestic discomfort she, herself, created by inviting Barbara and her catty chatting into their house. It’s not exactly the bond of sisterhood, but it’s a similar rivalry/friendship that Regan and Goneril share – enough to turn the person they should both defer to (at least in the rehearsal room) out on his ass.
But should we forgive Geoffrey? Should we pity Lear? We’ve seen them make the bad choices and bad decisions that put them in these situations, so why is it that we’re so inclined to do both? Richard’s actually the one with his finger on that pulse: the audience has to care about the characters. Richard as the everyman brings a slice of humanity to Darren that draws the line between the audience and the performance, and it’s one that we – as Shakespeare’s ongoing audience – still feel drawn to. We care about these characters despite their flaws.
There’s a danger in that, too, however – we are immediately drawn to Cordelia, appreciate her rise to the throne of France, and are punished with her as she meets her unjust end. We care about Gloucester, the Fool, Lear, and one by one they’re all pulled away from us. Perhaps some of us even care for Goneril, Regan, or Edmund (I know I do), and we’re no less punished for it. Sometimes right at the moment we should feel the most joy with them. Why subject ourselves to that?
In this episode, Geoffrey starts to remind me less of Lear and more of Kent – Lear’s destructively loyal right-hand man. He’s sacrificing this production, his relationship with Ellen, his leadership of the Festival all for Charles’s last shot at Lear. Watch this clip from the documentary Every Little Step. Who could say “no” to this aged dancer? When you’ve defined yourself for your entire life as someone who does a particular thing – a dancer, a singer, an actor – what happens when your instrument – your body – fails at being that thing? Charles says that he – like the theatre – is fighting a slow undignified death. Geoffrey asks, “Is this really how you want to die?” “Wouldn’t you?” We know Geoffrey’s making all the wrong choices – and they’re only getting worse – but we can’t help but admire his dedication to the man he looks up to.
Now go watch something happy – it’s going to get darker before it gets any lighter at New Burbage.
Stray Thoughts and Quotes:
“Every artist has one person that they want to communicate with, to please. Is Oliver your person?” – Father McTeague “Ooh, I love that.” – Oliver
“One of the pitfalls of being a common man is not understanding your own reality. You are amused by something but incapable of understanding your own amusement.” – Darren
“Talking to you about musical theatre is like talking to a dog about why it licks its own ass.” – More from Darren
“[Darren] should make you nervous…he’s an idiot, in a position of power.” – Geoffrey, saying much but ignoring more.
The musical moment where Paul falls for Megan has her singing with a wind machine blowing on her. Unseen. Just like Lear? Is Lulu “the storm”, too?
“This isn’t a sitcom!” – Ellen “Yes it is! I have a broken wang, and there is a lizard queen living downstairs!” – Geoffrey
This week in “Poor Anna” – Richard ignoring her plight of trying to get the Bolivians home, while basically running the entire Festival.
“Theatre ethics? That’s like saying ‘whorehouse morals’.” – Oliver
God, East Hastings is SO cheesy. What are those costumes?!