Pick a character the audience will immediately recognise. A solitary woman in a black opera cloak with white stripes for pockets, like piano keys. Fingers tapping out a tune, standing in a foyer, waiting for something to start. A glass of wine. Watching everyone and everyone watching.
I didn’t wear this cloak for a long time. The original button at the top was too garish, but I finally replaced it a few years ago with a better button, black and small, and now I wear it everywhere.
Now I wear it everywhere, but mostly it makes me think of nights of theatre, opera, ballet. Of the places you have to go to to see things, of actual buildings that people have built for this purpose. Of hustling free tickets and learning over time that the worst sort of drama is when it doesn’t make you feel anything.
Falling in love with Chekhov because he gets it, how fine the line is between love and hate, between anger and passion, between duels to the death and marriage proposals. Discovering him at sixteen and doing a gleefully over-the-top interpretation of Madame Popova from The Brute for drama class. Subtitled: A Jest in One Act.
SMIRNOV: “So you think you can get away with it because you’re a woman. A creature of poetry and romance, huh? Well, it doesn’t go down with me. I hereby challenge you to a duel!”
POPOVA: “Trying to scare me again? Just because you have big fists and a voice like a bull? You’re a brute!”
Many years later I tried to audition as one of his Irinas or Ninas or Annas, but I found it takes more effort to be understated and controlled than it does to act hysterically and passionately. Wishing I could just be a better actor. Giving up.
Arriving home late one night after seeing The Cherry Orchard with a lover. Unbuttoning our coats, sitting on the edge of my bed. Realising it takes more effort to act hysterically and passionately than it does to be understated and controlled after all. The dreadful lesson: that the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference. Wishing I could just be a better actor.
How many love affairs could be subtitled A jest in one act? And which ones would translate the word as farce instead?
Giving up. The worst sort of drama is when it doesn’t make you feel anything.