If I try to put a starting point in my life to the moment I felt like I was acting it was probably when I was a toddler sitting in my high chair making faces at my grandma and grandpa. They thought it was the cutest thing they had ever seen. I had a distinct advantage over my younger sisters as I was the first born so everything I did they were seeing for the very first time.
I would imagine that in the history of the world the most basic and earliest form of storytelling involved “making faces”. Before there were musical instruments, stages, curtains, falling chandeliers or projections we had our faces.
(First class-photo of The Actor’s Studio)
The ancient Greeks used masks to transport the actors and therefore the audience to a different place and time. Often creating a heightened sense of joy, fear, anger etc… by the exaggerated facial features sculpted or painted on the mask.
There have been a variety of ways to “make faces” throughout the ages and nothing is more timeless than this “simple” way of telling a story.
Not all stories can support this deceptively simple way of theatre. If you don’t have a text that is well written and well crafted then it can just look foolish or childish.
(Ain’t she cute though?)
But with the right story, a timeless story, told with well drawn and universal characters you can heighten the audiences experience to another level.
John Doyle, the director of The Visit, to a degree, had this way of story telling in mind when constructing this version of the musical written by Terrence McNally and John Kander & Fred Ebb. It’s a timeless story of love, romance and passion destroyed by greed and materialism and the destruction and possible redemption that comes through, of all things, revenge.
Sounds complicated… don’t it. But that’s where using this simple but very specific form of storytelling is so perfect. It’s really a boy loves girl, boy ruins girls life, girl returns in the twilight of her years to exact revenge. And those versions of young love are the beautiful and fresh, unpainted faces of Young Anton and Young Claire.
The townspeople of Brächen Switzerland who allowed the ruination of this innocent young girl have reaped the ravages of their iniquity on their faces. And John along with our incredible costume designer Ann Hould-Ward and our makeup designer Jared Janas have come up with their take on a contemporary mask.
Based partly on the work of theatre designer Boris Aronson and partly on the art work of Ivan Albright. Boris known for his work with the Yiddish Theatre and his collaborations on musicals like Cabaret, Zorba, Fiddler on the Roof, Company, Follies. Annie’s mentor was a student of Boris’ so we have a direct line of style and design ethic to our production.
The artist Ivan Albright may be most widely known for doing the portrait of Dorian Gray for the 1943 movie The Picture Of Dorian Gray. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, along with his identical twin artist brother Malvin, and was of the school of the American Magic Realist. His style really captures the grotesqueness that Dürrenmatt describes and writes in the original play of The Visit.
(Self portrait of the artist)
So combine these two inspirations as well as folding in the idea of the Ancient Greek masks but trying to make it feel contemporary and allow the actors to be seen and able to act through these painted masks and you get what we have on the stage eight times a week at the Lyceum Theatre.
The Visit is dramatic, romantic and emotional. It evokes a timelessness that makes this piece of theatre exciting and able to stand the test of time. Only the future knows that for sure but if I were a betting man I’d say that this musical will be around and admired for many years to come like that of other playwrights that have come before and whose stories we tell over and over in order to get a new look on our own deepest hidden truths buried behind our own faces.
(Chris Newcomer as one of Claire’s eunuchs.)
(Matthew Deming as the other of Claire’s eunuchs – you gotta have a pair.)
(George Abud as Anton’s son Karl. He’s a young man but still has inherited a bit of the hard living courtesy of his father’s indiscretions.)
(Rick Holmes as Father Josef. One of the town fathers who was around and complicit in the banishment of young Claire. He’s an older character but as a holy man who has done wrong, very wrong, he probably has some of the more grotesque features going on stage.)
(Finally myself as Schoolmaster Kuhn. Although he is the good friend of Anton and the last hold out to comply with Claire’s heinous demands he still allows his intellect and morality to be corrupted by greed. Though the years weigh heavy on his face nothing compares to the festering blisters on his soul. A fun musical for the whole family! (Ha! just kidding) a musical for the those who are looking to be enlightened and seeking some sense of truth to life.)
“You be good… and I’ll try.”