IV. An Actress Talks About Welded.
We'll call her Catherine Sinclair--a pseudonym she requests for personal reasons. Miss Sinclair has worked extensively Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and in television in New York. She auditioned for the part of Eleanor in the José Quintero production of Welded at Columbia.
* * *
SG: Why did you audition for Welded?
CS: If someone said, "Pick a play," I wouldn't choose Welded, but the chance to work with Quintero on an O'Neill was too good to pass up. The play is not a very good one--but it is fascinating, because you can see so much of what would become typical O'Neill, and it's a tremendous challenge to see if you can make the thing work.
SG: Why is it a bad play?
CS: Better to say it is undeveloped, in the light of what O'Neill later produced. The leads are very talky and theoretical, you hear the playwright's voice postulating this and that, and so it's very hard to make it ring true. But the play reminds me somewhat of Chekhov's Wood Demon, which preceded Uncle Vanya by six years and contained its major themes. Looking back, you can see the tremendous potential in both these early pieces.
SG: How would you play Eleanor?
CS: The problem with Eleanor is to make the emotions ring true. She can't be played as sensible or philosophical, even if her part is full of philosophical talk, because the talk is stilted and doesn't make sense when read as logic. But if she is played as being in the grip of an overwhelming passion that she can't understand, you can capture that half-raving quality of her speeches.
You have to play her as so self-involved that the audience might laugh at her, but she should never be aware of what's funny. The character is quite Chekhovian in that way. In the first scene of the second act, she stomps all over John without meaning to; she just isn't paying any attention to him. If, in any way, she could seem to know what she is doing to him, she would be horrible. There is no emotional justification in the play for her to be humiliating John consciously; that knowingness would add another dimension to the play which doesn't exist, so you have to be careful.
SG: Aren't all the drastic mood changes a problem to act?
CS: Not really. We all go from one emotion to another quite rapidly. Emotional progression doesn't have to be spelled out, but the inner logic has to be there.
SG: How do you act something that doesn't ring true on paper?
CS: Try it different ways, to see what works. Envision someone you know who might act that way, or a situation you've had in your life that is similar, to fill out the inner logic.
SG: What is your favorite scene in the play?
CS: The scene between John and Eleanor at his house. He is the best written character in the play, the most believable because there isn't that labored quality to his speech. I understand him the best and sympathize with him. And in turn, he makes her scene more interesting because she is playing off someone real. The entire effect is quite moving.
SG: Which scene do you think is the most difficult to believe in the play?
CS: The scene between Michael and the prostitute is almost impossible. The set-up is such that you know Michael is going to be made to see some truth, and you know it's going to happen in that scene. Michael's lines are artificial, grandiose and incoherent. You combine the woodenness of the situation and the poor character being struck by lightning bolts of Truth--the effect is embarrassing.
SG: Why stage a play that is so uneven?
CS: The challenge and the lure of it are that it contains so many of O'Neill's basic themes. The potential is so obviously there--there are some wonderful exchanges in the play, and whole scenes that work. The hope is that, even though it's uneven, by under-standing the vision he later clarified, you will be able to all work like mad and pull the thing together, illuminate it so the genius will shine through.
SG: What is it like auditioning for Quintero?
CS: I trusted him immediately, and felt I could do anything for him. At the initial interview, I felt he was interested in the play, and in what the actors had to say about it--how each character could be envisioned; this is after a long day of auditions. He listened carefully, he watched. He never seemed to get tired, didn't hurry people through their readings, but took the time to develop each one. A remarkable director and a very warm presence.
* * *
At the time I talked to Miss Sinclair, she had not seen the play. Her comments reflect thoughts about the character and the play as a whole in their early stages of formulation. It is, in many ways, a luxurious vantage point, before the actor has to adapt her character to the work of other actors or to the overview of the director.
Yet I found Sinclair's approach convincing as Ellen Tobie's and Philip Anglim's never were. The play is admittedly very difficult to act, but Tobie's rather sensible complement to Anglim's foppish torment is an unbelievable and unworkable balance. I didn't feel Tobie's Eleanor caught in passion, helpless; and it is passion on which the play turns. The anguish and fascination of the play lie in its attempts to "explain the unexplainable--by which we live."
© Copyright 1999-2007 eOneill.com