That Saturday, then, we had a surprisingly light turnout, and so I simply paired up the six people who were there and set them to work on specific scenes in the script. One pair did “Questions” from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” another did a scene between Buttercup and the Man in Black from “The Princess Bride,” and the third pair did a segment of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine.
The “R&G” pair was between a pro wrestler and a middle-aged amateur grappler, both of whom have limited theatrical experience and familiarity with Shakespeare…and none with Stoppard. I set them in the grid and instructed them to find occasions to engage and confront each other. After a few turns of that, I let them incorporate grappling moves into the scene. They came up with a funny and exciting bit of theater, and the more they read through the lines, the more they started to understand the scene. The moves, in fact, started to express the ebb and flow of the scene. Then on a break, I discussed Hamlet, Shakespeare, and “R&G” with the pro wrestler, who had never studied Shakespeare before. They then went back to working on the scene, and came up with a whole new physical interpretation of it. This new version gave new dimension and insight to the scene. It was not all about the grappling, there was use of levels and seemingly random movements that expressed the absurdity of it.
The “Princess Bride” scene became an almost dancelike grappling scene between the two characters. You could feel the emotion, the anger and romance, in the scene in every move.
“Who’s on First” was interesting. I am used to, and expect, and hope for that scene to be done in the rapid-fire, machine gun manner of the original broadcast (which I have on tape and listened to often when growing up). I originally envisioned it as a series of chain wrestling moves punctuated by pro-style throws and slams. Instead, it started with an almost Beckett-like sense of existentialism, and then evolved into a physical expression of confusion and exasperation.
You know, I thought, is there anything truly wrong with re-interpreting Abbot and Costello, like the way we so frequently re-interpret classic theater and opera? Who says that there is only one way to do “Who’s on First” that is entertaining? I have wanted to do that routine as a fight scene for years, and though someone else is acting in it, I am thrilled that they are doing it in a way that I never imagined…and I am even more entertained.