I sat down to lunch with these two outsize egos at Eats on the Upper East Side to discuss the current state of Broadway theatre. Sitting at a streetside table we watched the bustle of Madison Avenue on a fine summer day while we talked shop, scripts, great roles, and great actors. The most fascinating focus of our discussion was around the pros and cons of staged readings and full performances.
Brilliant Journalist: So Tony, you were recently in a staged reading of “No Exit” that received rave reviews. Tell me your thoughts on how a staged reading is different for an actor than a full performance?
TI: Well, obviously, as an actor, I prefer all the glories of a full production, but I’ve done a lot of readings and staged readings.
WC: I abhor staged readings, but I have seen all the greats do them, Olivier, Geilgud, Plowright, I could go on and on, I abhor them because I never get that full-blown theatre escape, that out-of-self experience that a fully realized staged production can deliver….
TI: Yes, Yes, no matter how well you read your script, no matter how much you live the lines, you and the audience never quite escape from the reality around you the way you do when the curtain rises on a great production….
WC: I saw Ralph Ricardson in a reading of Hamlet, he was incessantly fingering his script and even dropped it twice, believe me there was no magic there, I….
TI: I believe that you cannot truly become the character with a script in your hand and your eyes on the page. I and the audience are always acutely aware of the present moment as much as we might try to imagine we are on the ramparts at Elsinore.
WC: It would be like going to the Met and seeing a production of Carmen with Denyce Graves in skinny jeans with the score in her hands.
TI: I don’t know, with her it still might be magical, just sayin’
BJ: Long ago I used to sing in choirs….
BJ: You know, a bunch of singers doing choral music.
WC: Oh, that sort of thing….
BJ: Yes, and in most of the choirs we held our music in our hands and our eyes would ideally just pop into the music for brief moments and the rest of the time our eyes would be on the conductor…
TI: Like a director you mean?
BJ: Sort of, anyway, I was once in a choir where we memorized all the music, just like you memorize your lines for a staged production…
TI: I have a truly incredible memory, one of the best!
BJ: Yes, yes, but what I am getting at is in that choir where we memorized all the music, we escaped ourselves in every song, we transformed notes and beats and dynamic markings that were all imprinted on our memory and seared into our emotional data banks into something more than the music on the printed page. It could become a transcendent experience for both the singers and the audience.
TI: The Times called me transcendent in the profile they did in the magazine last week!
WC: Transcendent is overused, very few actors I have seen, and I have seen all the greatest actors many, many times, and very few could be called transcendent…
TI: Yes, but I was transcendent in Streetcar last year,
WC: Hardly, you were powerful and appropriately coarse, but transcendent? I don’t think so…
BJ: So what about memorization?
WC: What about it?
BJ: By imprinting something, music, scripts, whatever, does it transform it into something more than the sum of its parts?
WC: You are talking about Genius my good fellow, art in any form produced by a genius is magically something more than the sum of its parts. I saw….
TI: The Times called my performance in Angels in America “pure genius”
WC: I saw it, it was not “pure genius”. But you are right BJ, speaking as a genius myself, you could say that I am most definitely more than the sum of my parts….
TI: Variety Magazine said I could have been sculpted by Michelangelo and that the sum of my parts…...
This conversation has been edited and condensed in a failed attempt to contain these two larger-than-life personalities. Really Brilliant Journalist.