Monday, December 17, 2007

Monna Vanna

Monna Vanna closed in Los Angeles. I was fortunate to have a small part in the play. I'm grateful to the Executive Producer Quent Cordair Fine Art, the Producer LizBeth Lucca, the Director Joel Marquez and everyone involved with the show. Without the initiative of the producers and director, I surely would not have had a chance to act in Maurice Maeterlinck's masterpiece.

I was asked by an audience member why this play is Ayn Rand's favorite. It is because the play dramatizes value-conflict in a good plot that leads to a climax. Like Aristotle, Rand held that plot is the soul of drama.

My only reservation about the play is the translation. On a line by line level, the play is difficult. The syntax is complicated and the sentences are long with subordinate clauses and whatnot. The dialogue is hard for the audience to understand, and several people told me they had a hard time following it. (And I know from the inside that it's hard to act.)

Here is one example from my lines. This is just the beginning of a long speech:

You know, Prinzivalle, the esteem in which I hold you. I have given you more than one example of it that you cannot have forgotten -- but there are others of which you are ignorant: for the policy of Florence that men call perfidious when it is but prudent, requires many things to remain hidden for a time, even from those who are most in her counsels. We all obey her deep-laid plans, and each man must bear with courage the mysteries that make the strength of his country.

Remember, an audience member sitting in the theater does not have the luxury of rereading a line or pausing to contemplate its meaning. A playwright must write with that in mind to help the audience understand clearly and vividly what is being said. Monna Vanna has line after line like the passage quoted above that I fear create a kind of haze in the audience's mind. They have a vague, general idea of what is being said, but not a clear one. Part of the comprehension problem lies with modern audiences that are not used to listening to classical drama. Movies and television are more visual, with brief dialogue that is often epigrammatic. But part of the problem is with the translation -- or maybe even with Maeterlinck's writing.

I would like to see a modern translation done by someone who understands 1) contemporary idiom; and 2) that the human mind can only deal with so much at a time before it loses understanding (the crow epistemology). If I were translating, I would find places to break up some of the monologues into dialogue (perhaps my translation would be an adaptation). Being monologue heavy, the play reminds me of the French neo-classicism of Corneille and Racine, which I believe is the hardest type of drama to act -- harder even than Shakespeare or Greek drama. I'm glad I got the opportunity to act such a difficult style, but I think the play could be more powerful in a better translation.

Now I'm happy to have some time off. In January I'll be auditioning for an interesting project: a local group is doing Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in repertory, with the same cast in both shows. I'll let you know whether or not I get cast.


Anonymous said...

Good points. But you did a very good job in the role anyway. The feelings and a majority of the ideas came through in your acting.


Myrhaf said...

I'm glad to hear that, SM. Thanks!