So this farce I’m directing (I know, I owe you more posts on it, and I promise, I will deliver), is Boeing Boeing, and there is a scene in the second act which describes Robert, our leading man, going into the bathroom, washing his face, strutting around a bit, trying Bernard’s after shave, getting some in his eye, and covering his face with a towel while he tries to get the after shave out of his eye.
Actually, it says he covers his head with a towel, and how that is supposed to help his eye, I don’t quite know.
It also makes no sense to me that he goes to wash his face, because the audience can’t see into the bathroom, and they’re going to wonder what’s happened to him. I’m also unfamiliar with after shave that comes in a spray bottle, but — that’s neither here nor there.
My actor has played the role before, in a production that was apparently very faithful to the 2008 Broadway staging with Mark Rylance, and the “strutting” was more detailed than that, which the script thankfully does not describe for us. My actor says the shtick worked some nights and fell flat on others — which doesn’t particularly surprise me.
I had no intention of using these particular stage directions. I made another suggestion, which ended up with Robert having his face buried in a newspaper, addressing the essential need of the scene — to have Gretchen not realize he isn’t Bernard. I thought what my actor did with it was creative, truthful, and very humorous, but he’s uncomfortable with it. Fine, I said. Let’s look for something else to do, and if we don’t find it — quite honestly, I don’t care if all you do is come out of the bedroom, sit down, and read the newspaper. That will be perfectly sufficient.
Now, as it happens, I have a copy of the original 1967 script (in such pristine condition that I am the one who has broken the spine), and so I decided to check out the original and see if the stage directions are the same.
Guess what they are?
Robert comes out of the bedroom, sits down, and reads the newspaper.
Same script, albeit different translations — which just means that the “translator” of the new version has edited the original to make it a little more contemporary, a little shorter, and in a case or two, a little funnier. I’m not sure that it is a genuinely new translation, because the original translator is dead and most of the lines are identical. Where there are changes, there is no way that someone could interpret the words that differently. No, I think they decided to revive the play and just needed it cleaned up a bit, and the estates of Marc Camoletti and Beverley Cross agreed.
So it is clear from this example that the stage directions in question were NOT written by the playwright, but were, indeed (as I have always argued most stage directions are) the product of the Broadway production stage manager’s script, which is the one which goes to the printer. You simply can’t argue that they are the playwright’s intention, because they aren’t. No, they are actions that were probably created by Mark Rylance and are tailor-made for him — and difficult for another actor to pull off as successfully.
So do I feel any obligation to use these stage directions?
The other reason I don’t want to use them is because they just don’t make sense to me. Of all the things in this fabulous apartment that Robert wants to explore — the bathroom? Which the audience can’t see?
And with all due respect to Rylance, I’m not sure that I agree with all of what I’ve seen of his performance. I think Robert is a little more interesting than his portrayal. So why would I want to be hemmed in by these actions?
Now, Rylance is a fine actor, and I didn’t see the Broadway production, and it is entirely possible that his interpretation is entirely valid. I don’t happen to share it, and I’m not sure that my actor does, either. That may be Rylance’s truth, but if it isn’t my Robert’s truth, then it has no place in this production.
Simple as that.