Monday, April 16, 2012

The Grubby Fullness of You Breathing Life into Me

I'm still mad about a show.  Funny, isn't it, how some memories can hurl you straight to the emotional core of a chronologically stale event.  That is the case with this show -- just mention it ... whisper it, and I'm back on my high horse with my right index finger in danger of poking out an eye.

Many things we view as scabs or splinters to picked at and reviled, however, can lead us to discoveries.  Although I could wax metaphorical about this grain of sand turning into a pearl, I'm still too mad at this show to endow it with such grace.  Instead, I'll just admit from my high horse that today, this show -- this grubby and misshapen outgrowth of my life -- actually led me to a discovery of worth.

To begin, I hated the show because I believed it lampooned its central characters.  The direction called for caricatures, not people.  It encouraged cartoonish-ness, not authenticity.

Who the hell am I to make such statements, though?  Where lies the boundary between Mickey Mouse and Marlon Brando?  Isn't it invisible?  Isn't anyone's opinion correct?

Well, no ... and here is where I glimpse the line in the sand: a central character in a story should always have a perceptible gap between their internal and external worlds.  I say "central" because often stories need foils and side characters for the sake of efficient narration.  But if a character comprises a hefty portion of the narrative drive, then you better show me your conflict.  You better round yourself out with some aspirations, desires or incongruities.

Why?  Because then I can feel for you.  Why again?  Because I, too, as long as I can remember, have carried my own conflicts and gaps and incongruities.

We see this in stories time and time again -- the hooker with the heart of gold, behemothic Citizen Kanes yearning for childhood sleds of wood, and (to quote one of my more colorful friends) ballerinas who like to take it up the ass.  The audience can relate to these juxtapositions of light & dark, leather & lace and grace & wrath simply because we perpetually live out those longings.

I believe our human condition inherently leaves us with gaps between our internal longings and our outward actions.  If I always acted out a coherent version of my internal world, then perhaps I would taste immaculate happiness and feel completed.  But it's the disparity between my internal self and my external self, my aspirations and my abilities, my moral chaos and my rule-abiding alacrity which makes me relatable ... and urges me on to live another day, to again attempt redemption.  Without the conflict, I am simply a flat line-drawing of qualities to be colored in ... and a two-dimensional structure does not breathe.

I argue that as an actor, it is my responsibility to find that conflict within the text to make my character a real person -- an embodiment of both our pathos and relief.  I want to see a father yearning for recognition but trapped in self-defacing habits.  I want to see the mother feverishly chasing after all-that-glitters because she's unable to locate the nidus of her personal worth.  And I want to see the woman who brusquely and nonchalantly brushes off her past precisely because it haunts her in every blade of grass, every meal and every shadow.  Show me the people who have yet to find their unified self, and I'll sit, stay and listen as patiently as the most devoted lover.  Because then I will be sitting with my self ... my full self ... and in doing so, I will encounter a measure of peace and satisfaction ... and more importantly, I will be reminded that I am not once and not ever alone.

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