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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon: Timothy Monsion Messes With Bill

(This series of posts describes the projects each of seven artists brought to "Lady Aston's BarnStone Salon," held in early February at my home in Charles City, VA. The first of the series was posted Feb. 7, 2011.)

Timothy Monsion (we call him Thurm) is an actor, AEA, SAG, RBB (Resident Bad Boy). HIs stage, film and TV credits roll out the door. He created the role of the Doctor in Marvin's Room, and was nominated for the Joseph Jefferson Award for Actor in a Supporting Role at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.The play, of course, went to Off-Broadway, and Tim went with it. He's had more TV and film roles than most of us have teeth. His talent runs deep.

There's lots I could tell you about Thurm, but you wouldn't believe half of it, so suffice it to say that he's our Barrymore incarnate: lover of art, women and colorless liquor. He's also a poet, dramaturg, student of Shakespeare, husband, and dad to young Nick, on whom he dotes. His first (and truest?) love, however, is theatre.

In  school, Thurm wasn't a particularly organized person. (Okay, he was a mess.) But he never lost a script. He was loathe to write a paper, but could memorize a play overnight. He doesn't speak any foreign languages, but his accent range is wide and dead on. The man is at home on a stage.

Thurm told us that he recently acted in School for Scandal, directed by and starring Brian Bedford. He'd read the play in college, and it had all the 18th century archaic language and inside 18th century jokes that would be lost on a modern audience. But when he read the script they were using, all that archaic language had disappeared, lines had been cut, the play felt modern, quick and witty. Judicious cuts had been made, and what was left was an 18th century that was understandable and fun. 

"The most impressive thing was that not one review mentioned that the play had been altered or cut. The reviewers assumed it was the original"
So he thought, "Why not?" A Mid-summer's Night Dream would be perfect for our summer theater which had never done Shakespeare. Let me do the same thing with a particular audience in mind - that husband dragged to the theater in the summer by his wife. I wanted him to be in the beer-garden at the intermission in 40 minutes thinking, 'This thing is half over and it's not half bad.'"

Interesting theory, but what would the critics say? I mean, how presumptuous! What right do we have to mess with the plays of Shakespeare? Moliere? 

None, really, but we've been doing it for decades. How many Shakespearean plays have you seen where the time is moved to another era, where the location is moved to another country, where new imagery is woven into the set? And why do we do these things? To comment on the relevance of the plays, yes, and also to breathe new life into the plays so MIDDLE AGED MEN DON'T FALL ASLEEP.

So Tim had us read an intact scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then he handed us his truncated version and had us read that. I have to admit, I didn't miss the cuts. Compare these two speeches by Titania, the Fairy Queen, and you'll see what I mean. Here's the uncut speech:

TITANIA These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

You didn't read it, did you? Who can blame you? The language, while lyrical, is dense and difficult to follow. I know this, you know this, scholars know this. The reason Shakespeare wrote it like this is because words were the only tools (besides painting) with which to create images in the minds of the audience. We have photos and TV and films, so we don't need all this verbage in order to "get the picture." So, why not cut the speech, taking care not to wound its meaning, like so:

These are the forgeries of jealousy,
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, i dale, forest, or mead,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport.
Therefore, the winds, piping to us in vain
As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea;
And through this distemperature, we see
The seasons alter: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter,
Change their wonted liveries; and the 'mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.

And that's it! Nothing about oxen or ploughmen, or rheumatic diseases abounding. As long as one takes care to preserve the iambic pentameter (or whatever it is), it seems to make sense to condense such passages.

Controversial? Hail yas. Heresy? Nah. Purists will hate it, but actors will gild it, and audiences, more than likely, will applaud it.

Then Thurm told us about his association with Peninsula Players Theatre, a 74 year old theatre that recently undertook a successful capitol campaign to renovate its outdoor venue. Thurm has been a part of this theatre for many summers, and he took upon himself to show us the film he wrote, shot and edited. The film was a montage of interviews, early photos, and footage depicting the history of the theatre, which began with "two planks and a passion."

"The movie took two years to make. I interviewed people all over the country. It was made as a short history to commemorate the 75th anniversary of our theater.  It was quite successful, shown at different fund raising events and the 75 anniversary party."

If anyone wants to see it, you can contact Thurm for the website and password: tmonsion@hotmail.com. 

Thurm lives in Studio City, CA. 

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