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A loss of my old computer's hard drive enforces a gap between the last journal entry back in April 2003. I will write them eventually when I recover old emails sent out. Workwise - I was occupied with playing Jack in The Importance of Being Ernest in New York, a top secret military film for NATO and stepping in with a week to go in rehersals to play the role of Peachey(long story)in The Man Who Would Be King, the adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling short story which was going out on the Fall tour for Aquila with Othello. However I had to leave the tour at the beginning because I was contracted with Aquila to journey to La Jolla in Octoberin California to play the Antipholus twins in Comedy of Errors.

On my return I agreed to join the Aquila Spring tour to play Iago in Othello for the month of January - stepping in for Tony who was in New York writing the music for Aegamemnon with Olympia Dukakis.

 

So here's my news on the madness and joys of touring and being a part of the Aquila Theatre Co in Spring 2004.

I have did my first show as Iago without major problems. It was the second Othello on Bermuda . A nerve-racking night, but I was well-received and didn't make any major mistakes. I just concentrated on being exact and clear... any acting that came along was a bonus. We had parties again every night. The rest of the cast joked about all the friends and fans I have here. This is my third year. "They should call this Willis' Island ," one wag quipped.

Immigration at Bermuda was very pleasant. Two lots to go through. The second one asked whether I was on Business or pleasure.

"Business," I said.

"What do you do?"

"I'm an actor."

"Are you with the Shakespeare group?"

"Yes," I replied with some trepidation as we had just given customs our 10 boxes full of all manner of suspicious costumes, props and pieces of set.

"What part did you play?"

"Iago."

"The bad one."

I found myself feeling surprised that he knew who Iago was and immediately ashamed for making the assumption. He then looked at my passport and laughed.

"Well of course... of all the places... you were at the right place... you were born into it, weren't you?"

I saw that he was pointing to the 'place of birth' column. I agreed with him that being bon at Stratford had indeed set me up for at least an association with Shakespeare. He then stamped my passport, closed it and gave it back to me, I tried not to snatch it out of his hands, as I realized that he believed I was a UK citizen based in the UK, and wasn't asking for my green card or any awkward questions about its status.

We flew to Philadelphia , and then on to Charlotte , North Carolina . At Charlotte we were met by Andrew, who had driven the tech truck from NY, a journey of 1000 miles. We greeted him warmly and he went to unlock the padlock of the truck's loading door. The key somehow snapped off and it's tip remained embedded inside. Andrew was mortified.
"It's a disaster, a disaster!"
There was a lot of teasing from David Delgrosso, our tour general manager.
"One simple job in the plan, Andrew. It was so simple... and what happens?!!!"

We then drove 2 hours to Asheville NC and I am now back in hotel land and van land... and feel quite at home. Saw a sign at the local bank: No concealed handguns allowed on the premises

Ah, Middle America ... what a joy to be back! In Greenville , South Carolina , The South Bank Show came to film us. The show goes out on March 28 th at around 10pm .


Sue, Kathryn, Joe and Tracey in party mode.

Very tiring morning... Our producer Peter's energy amazing. South Bank filmed the morning's show and that night's. They also filmed a few scenes after the show and also interviews. One with me. I hope it won't be shown really. I'm really crap at them. But we shall see in March. The show was okay, but my performance is just scratching the surface of Iago. Not much subtlety. I just haven't had the time.

Apparently the South Bank producer had such a crush on Peter last night, that, according to one of our girls, 'it wasn't even funny!' So may be we'll be featured more than I initially thought.

So we are going to be featured along with the RSC and excerpts I suppose of my perf will be shown along with Tony Sher as Iago. Isn't life funny? (I understudied Tony in Torch Song Trilogy and he paid me the ultimate compliment when he stole props and bits of business that I had developed for the character... after asking me of course!)

Somewhere in Wisconsin is a small town called Platteville. A town, as I have said before, is always a relief. It means a break from the usual malls and parking lots that make up a lot of touring life. A town means places to explore, and people to meet, ones that actually might walk around in the streets. Why has this country got an obesity problem? Very simple. Outside of the major cities, everyone drives a car. They never walk. This country is geared towards the highways and the super malls. On returning to New York , I am always struck how much fitter and thinner the people are. Why? Manhattan is a small city and everyone walks everywhere. I was always struck when my wife Lori, a girl from New Jersey , but who has lived in New York , would put on her sneakers and put her heeled shoes in her backpack. It's what all New Yorker girls do. This winter however, being one of the worse, it is more likely to have been thermal boots as the temperatures in the city have been icy and the snow thick on the ground. We have a day off here, but there are not too many points of interest to explore. There is the Rolla Jamison Museum , (who?) and the Roundtree Stone Cottage historical site - anything over a hundred years is historical. I'm I'm tempted by the Spam Museum , but I think I'll give it a miss. The snow is deep and the air is cold and I have three roles to present with little rehearsal for Friday.

I have said good bye to Iago. The deal was I would takeover Iago for Tony for January, and then do the three parts in Othello, and Peachy in The Man Who Would Be King for the remainder of the tour. My NY agent was not pleased, but understood I think when I told her that personally I was waiting for so many things to happen - the main one being the green card which has been delayed by two years because of September 11th- that being on tour was actually a good place for me at this moment. Now, I am wondering if I have underestimated how difficult it would be to give up Iago and drop down the batting order.

I was lying on the stage before warm-up contemplating this very dilemma, when Tony, huge and broad and grinning from ear to ear loomed over me:

"Ready to relinquish my role then?"

He then lay down on top of me and whispered in my ear.

"I'M BACK!"

 


Tony

The truth is of course I'm not ready. Saying goodbye to Iago is like losing a lover, albeit this has been a brief affair. What a writer Shakespeare is! I have played Prospero, Benedick and now Iago in the last two years, and like a lover who you are mentally and physically in tune with, it spoils it for anyone else that comes along.

The last performance was in a theatre that was just the right size, with the audience accessible, without the dreaded mikes, where Iago could command his audience's attention subtly, draw them in, flirt with them and in some cases seduce them. Tony calls him a 'comic' villain. I would be more inclined to say a dangerous charm and affability. He has great wit, personall I like exposing the dark side.

I started out only scratching the surface, but by the end, I had found depths of anger built on some deep dark river that flows through his psyche. For this Iago, it wasn't about a secret love for Othello, as has been the motivation in the past - one being when Olivier(Iago) famously kissed Ralph Richardson(Othello) in a late rehearsal Olivier had just read an essay which said that Iago was driven by a homoerotic longing for the Moor. Ralph gently pulled away and said: "Dear Boy." And the kiss was never tried again! Much of his motivation is famously ambiguous, and as I told the South Bank Show, I couldn't tell you and I don't think he could if you asked him to explain his reasons for destroying those around him, but two of the underlying themes of the play - jealousy and reputation- are a huge influence of the course of events. They are the trigger for Iago. This is the man who will say one thing to someone whilst thinking the opposite. So whilst jealousy is to be avoided because 'it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on' - he will confide that he will have revenge on Othello on just the unproven rumor that he has slept with Iago's wife. 'Reputation,' he says to Cassio, 'is an idle and most false imposition oft got without merit and lost without deserving', we already know that he is enraged that he has been passed over for promotion by Othello; that coupled with the rumor of his wife's affair with his boss, his own 'reputation' in his eyes has been horribly besmirched.

I feel Iago's own inner child howling out in pain, and then fury, before diving back into that deep dark river which is his own jazz-dancing, his inner music (Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for some reason, which I sang to the audience during the "What's he then that says I play the villain?") - Iago's constant Machiavellian manipulation of people. His aim is to get himself back to the top ranks. With Cassio dead and Othello convicted of murdering his wife, Iago must think that the Venetian State will look to Iago and promote him even further than the lieutenant that he achieves under Othello - perhaps even general. The plan works brilliantly, better than he ever hoped. I am sure he never imagined the depths of jealousy that Othello would sink to, but once he does, Iago improvises and updates his plan. The one person he takes for granted - his wife - is his undoing and it is she that destroys the final coup de grace in the final act. I never felt it was to do with racism by the way. Iago in our production has a black wife, but if the audience want to see it that way, then that is fine by me. In fact I think the ambiguity is the fascinating element that is so brilliant about the part. The audience should come away trying to work out the reasons for his actions and why, perhaps, they were so attracted to him initially. In my opinion it's never the actor's job I think to explain them.

Everybody was very kind and attentive on my last 'Iago' night. I think they have enjoyed having a new energy brought to the show. It has made some of them explore again their own characters because they have had to react in a different way to this unfamiliar Iago. Hopefully it will all bode well for the New York run in May and June.

It was also Timothy Reynolds's last night with us. Mr Timothy Reynolds's has been a real joy to work with and to know, and a great mature and laid back influence on the touring band of brothers. he came in to play Desdemona's father Brabantio, the role am now taking over. We will all be sorry to see him go.

At the theatre we met a good-looking young man called Andreas, who the girls all developed an immediate interest in, only to have all flirting hopes dashed when at every opportunity he whipped out a photograph of his beautiful English girlfriend. Andreas took us off to a local bar where we threw off all cares and woes and inhibitions and rather startled the locals at first. By the end of the evening people were dancing with us up on the bar counter and around the room. Jay at the height of the festivities phoned Tony who was back in New York and fast asleep.

"Hey Tony! We love you, man... and we just want to tell you welcome back! Hey everybody! Say welcome back to Tony! WELCOME BACK TON - EEE!"

It was 2 o'clock in the morning - our time - and 3am in the Big Apple. Tony alarm had been set for 5.30am to catch his plane.

Tony took it all in seemingly good heart when he arrived the next day.

"You're out of the Jessica and Tony inner circle, Jay!"

Back in New York , Peter and Robert, as co-directors, are putting the final finishing touches to Agamemnon. Peter's knowledge of the Greek Classics is immense... The balance of the creative team is always a delicate one in Aquila. Everyone chips in to a certain extent.The play's first preview was last night. We await news from the front-lines with baited breath. If it's a success - and that all hinges I suppose on the one reviewer from the New York Times, then Aquila 's ship may have to be sent in for modifications and the crew updated. I'm sure Olympia (Dukakis) is tremendous as Clytemnestra. She is an incredible actress and an inspiring person as I can bear witness when I took part in the summer workshop. At 71, she is still putting herself out on the line, still punching, and not giving a damn. A wonderful example to us all!

***

 

 

I have spent the last two days hiding away and taking the time to listen to music and read. I have to admit I felt a bit down. I spoke to Lori a couple of days ago. She was going to talk to the accountant about the taxes. She seems to think I won't have to pay anything. We talked about the hope of the Green Card coming through this month, and we skirted around other matters.... (cut to)...I mean three times!!! For Goodness sake!!! And that coupled with losing Iago has just made my mood a little sombre... but in a good way.

The phone has rung a number of times, but I'm afraid my young friends will just have to put up with me being boring for awhile.

There is a hill above the hotel and on top of that is an old large rock face jutting upwards towards the sky. I can just about make out some dark holes that seem like caves entrances on its sand-coloured surface. In the whiteness of the land it stands out like a strange totem. If this was a Stephen King story, then this would be the rock to explore and be haunted by the ghosts of a dead Indian tribe, which would then descend on the horrible strip mall below and wreak its revenge among the petrol pump attendants and Dairy Queen servers and Hotel receptionists and the snowmobilers and ice fishermen. Heather wondered why they lit it up at night - like the castle at Hastings .
"To keep an eye on the ghosts, so they can see them coming!" I replied.

I am shining a light on my ghosts I suppose. When my green card comes and August is here, then I will have to make a decision about where I want to be. I will not give up on the RSC, and may be through my director friend Paul Kerryson I can have an excuse to return to the UK . Or may be something will happen in New York . Who knows? Meanwhile I am going to get my own apartment. I have decided - that's definite.

Tonight the new York Times critic attends a performance of Agamemnon.

 

I saw the film version of Othello - the one with Branagh and Laurence Fishburne. It wasn't bad, but most of the language isn't there. It's by Oliver Parker. Oliver also adapted and directed the latest filmed Earnest. Cinematicly they're both fine, but they both lack intellectual depth and trust of the language''' a gentle introduction to two classics for the MTV children. Branagh was very good and so was Fishburne- nicely paced and true I thought. It showed me what was lacking in our production, and that is the passion, the sexual attraction... between Desdemona and Othello. It has to be about the sex, otherwise why on earth would he become so jealous? And there we come to sexual compatibility... Do you want me to tell you the story of my sexual history?! It's a rather gothic novel I fear!!!

Well then... "from this time forth, I never will speak word." Well at least for the rest of the night.

Amidst the mists and coldest frosts,

With barest wrists and stoutest boasts,

He thrusts his fists against the posts

And still insists he sees the ghosts.

 

***

 

February 13, 2004 -- ... the artistic director of the Aquila Theater, has banned New York Sun drama critic Jeremy McCarter from reviewing any more of the acclaimed Off-Broadway company's productions.

Meineck claims McCarter has been "unprofessional" in his dealings with the theater; sought a directing assignment from the theater at the same time he was reviewing the theater's productions; and used "inside information" he had about one of the theater's actors in a review in a way that was "below the belt."

One wonders what our reception will be when we hit New York in the summer.. Still it has raised the profile of the company, and so if the shows are good enough, it could work in our favor


Peter and I

***

a DAY OFF ... before a horrible week. Tomorrow... well today now, we drive six hours to Iowa City. Peter will be there waiting for us. The same night we have to do a show of Othello and then the following morning get up early for a guided tour and then an evening show. The following day a journey of seven hours and a couple of days later another seven hour journey.

So today was to be savored.

I find I like to spend it these days on my own.

People were making a trip into St Paul's, one of the Twin Cities, which also boasts the biggest shopping mall in the world, but I have been there. I visited there two years ago. The place has unhappy associations. So...Instead I breakfasted and then exercised, before a little morning correspondence and some paying of bills. I am alarmed to see that the value of the dollar is now at nearly half that in pound sterling.

Eventually I walked outside into the snow and cold. I was trying to get to the Mall a couple of blocks away. it was a treacherous walk because no-one walks of course and so one had to scramble across main roads and venture off the icy sidewalks which were treacherous or non-existent. I bumped into Lloyd(Othello) in the mall who was on his way to buy a laptop. After we had exchanged pleasantries and parted, I wandered into Target, a big pharmacy chain. I was just about to pay for my much needed supplies of razors and toothpaste when heard Lloyd's name over the PA of the store. It asked him to report to the store's Guest Services and being inquisitive I went over and asked if I might help or pass on a message. It turned out that he had left his credit card in the ATM. So realizing that other forces were at work, I phoned him immediately and soon he was at the counter reunited with the wayward card.

We then had a long talk about the play. He asked me my thoughts about the way he was playing his part. I gave him mine, which were to do with his emotional journey. I am always genuinely surprised at any respect other actors have for me and any apparent high regard they hold me in. I of course am struggling just as much as they are, but I must give off the appearance of being very much in command. I don't know...it's all a mystery.

Spent the afternoon reading and tonight watched The Remains of the Day. The standard of the acting takes my breath away every time in that film. It was wonderfully British and understated, (Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are both sublime) and I felt very homesick for England here in the frozen wasteland of Minnesota I wanted the pub, I wanted the countryside, I wanted all things English around me, the people, the earth, the ancient and new, that make up that silly green little island.

I talked to my children briefly. Samantha has asthma and is in a depression over her weight which she can't seem to lose, and Charley found out that his ex-fiancé is now pregnant by her new boyfriend. He seemed very grown-up about it all. All I could do was sympathize and breathe a sigh of relief that I wasn't going to be a grandfather!

Vicky opens tonight in Suddenly Last Summer with Diana Rigg up at Sheffield....

***

Long long journey... and I'm bored bored bored. I am doing hardly anything in Othello and I'm finding it hard work. February - I hate it so!

Peter came upon us like a hurricane, He saw the show the evening he arrived and after we had traveled six hours in the day. The following day he called a rehersal. He was inspirational. He thought the first half had been great but that we were all over the place in the second. We had spoken earlier in the day as he had wanted 'to bring me up speed' with what was happening. I couldn't see him because I had a workshop, but the gist of the conversation was that he was unworried about the critics and their reception to Agamemnon. He thought we needed to get back to the productions being an Aquila show.

I think it means that I'm only going to get a week off before we start rehearsals for Othello in NY which is going to be restaged with café tables and a sort of promenade performance. Once that's on, we start work on "Man" with the Peachey roles merging into one.

" ... a tour de force for you, Rich."

 

Lori opens in Mama Mia as Tanya on Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm very pleased for her that she has a part at last. She's excited. They have a hard tour though playing just a week in each place.


Fun in the snow - Kathryn, Sue, Timothy & Jay

High Speed internet is truly wonderful. It will be hard to go back to snail pace after this. To be able to watch video and surf at lightening speed is a great joy. I also have a programme called I-tunes where I can buy and download music onto my computer for about 99 cents a song. Very dangerous of course with classical and pop and all kinds of music available, you could spend a lot of money. The next step is to buy the I-pod which is the small player which is smaller than a walkman and which plays over 5000 songs of the digital music and no skipping, or scratching... there preserved and very quick to access.

I saw a great review online for Vicky and Ms Rigg for Suddenly Last Summer. RSC Othello opens this week. I was interested to see they're also playing it modern, but it looks like South African army or police. Also pleased to see Mark Lockyer is back there. He may have burnt my home down(another story) but he is a very talented actor.

I'm going to spend the day in bed reading and writing and seeing if there's any good film on cable.

 

***

So the madness continues… We're now in Fargo.  Unlike the film, it turns out to be quite a hip cool college town, but getting here was a strange experience. I drove the white van across the white landscape under a white sky.  It was like a snow desert.  I wondered about in a daze when we stopped for a break and idly considered what effect that bright white light has on the psyche.

 

I just saw a wonderful programme on the black actress, poetess and activist Beah Richards.  What an amazing women. 

 

Both class and race survive education, and neither should. What is education then? If it doesn't help a human being to recognize that humanity is humanity, what is it for? So you can make a bigger salary than other people?

Race, what is that? Race is a competition, somebody winning and somebody losing. . . .Blood doesn't run in races! Come on!

Everything you need, you got.  It's there, perfect and complete - maybe not fully realized, but perfect and complete.

The world you want to live in and that you need to live in needs you to create it - it needs your input.  The world needs to hear what you have to say.  The last word has not yet been spoken... the last word has not yet been spoken.

Words have meaning and a meaning can pierce through your heart and break you from all the chains that bind your mind and body.

She was a black woman growing up in Mississippi and then moved to New York after her poetry became recognized.  She was in the forefront of civil rights and feminine equality, as well as being a poetess and fine stage and film actress, - probably best known as the mother of Sydney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? and then later a teacher.  Her acting style was about 'being'.  She arrived there through her wonderful ability and natural flair with words.  When she taught her students, they always carried around with them a dictionary and every word that they had to say, they look it up, so they would know that word and it's meanings and then they could really own the word when they actually came to say it.

 

When asked if she enjoyed acting as a way of making a living, she answered “You think this is ‘living'?

Sometimes I ask myself the same question. The answer is - ‘only on stage'.

 

 

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