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Susan Sontag interviewed by Arthur Holmberg What are the main differences between Kundera's play and Diderot's novel? The emotional balance is different. Kundera's play is sadder-the ebullience of Diderot filtered through a Central European melancholy. Kundera turns a rambunctious, picaresque novel into a ghost sonata about the ancien regime. Kundera is more skeptical about human relations and the possibility of pleasure. The range of human options has shrunk. A sense of lacrimae rerum pervades his play. Diderot lived before the revolution. Kundera lives after the revolution has failed. So you have a clash between pre-revolutionary hope and post-revolutionary sorrow. The end of the play can be read as a political reference. The stage directions of Kundera force the issue. Forward, without enthusiasm, into a glorious future we now know isn't going to be glorious at all. Kundera imposes this pathos on Diderot's full-blooded material. The play is a portrait in extremis of the odd couple that ranges in literature from Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to Hamm and Clov-the eccentric, helpless master and the indulgent, clever servant. But the servant has no desire to leave. Kundera, in fact, reinforces the social implications of the mutual dependence of the master/slave bond. What I find difficult in staging the play are the roles Kundera writes for women. With the exception of the Innkeeper/Marquise the other female parts are little more than caricatures, and the actresses and I have to work hard to try to give them some presence. Jacques is the second play you've directed. The first-Pirandello's As You 28 Desire Me-took place in Italy. What are the main differences between working with American and European actors? Whereas European actors tend to be more cultivated than Americans-they have a large frame of reference from literature and art to draw onAmericans tend to be more intellectual. Therefore, the process of working is quite different. It's more democratic here. American actors love to do improvisations . This rehearsal process makes Europeans uneasy. Europeans, by and large, view the theatre as a director's medium and do what they're told without quibble or comment. Americans, on the other hand, are always formulating questions based on detailed and precise critical readings of the text. They're obsessed with the whys and wherefores. I keep saying, "let's go back to the blocking," and they want to talk about the theory of the play. That's unlikely in Europe. Italian actors are very different from American actors. They use everything differently. The body language varies greatly between the two cultures. And working with Jacques, a modernist, self-reflecting drama-I realized again what a central presence Pirandello is in the theatre. He is the single most influential playwright of the twentieth century. He was the last of the great playwrights of bourgeois intellection . He raised the private agonies of the drawing room to a metaphysical pitch. I find the way you choreograph the actors' movements through space extremely potent. It's been five years since I saw your Pirandello, but I can still see in my mind's eye the fluid patterns you created on stage. How did this plaisir du plastique enter your work? My hero is George Balanchine. I attend ballet regularly, and by watching his work I learned a great deal about what real stagecraft is. Acting is physical work. A good part of the director's task is to teach actors how the foot and mouth connect-how the mouth can say these particular words while the feet move in that particular direction, without tripping over furniture. And once foot and mouth get connected, it's hard to disconnect them. I found this out with the Pirandello. Right before opening I decided to change some blocking. Suddenly foot and mouth no longer connected and the actors were either bumbling over the lines or stumbling over their feet. You've directed four movies as well. What are the main differences you've found between your role as a director of film and of theatre? Film really is a director's medium. The final product is constructed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 28-30
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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