Bloom's SpoonsThursday, October 15, 2009
Theatre is much like film. Casts and the crew who work with them have a pecking order. There are positions in film like the grips. I have no real idea of what they do. Do they hold things? Many in theatre, like in film, are essential, some are also unsung. One of them is the Fight Director. In films like The Matrix we would all understand that the Fight Director or fight sequence director would be most important. A broadsword fight in a Bard of the Beach production of Macbeth would also be on that same league.
Then you go with your daughter, as I did tonight, to the opening performance of American playwright William Gibson’s, The Miracle Worker presented by the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company. You would never consider that a fight director would have any kind of relevance in a play based on the early life of Helen Keller. Fight scenes here? Impossible!
Yet there are fights in this extremely fine production directed by Meg Roe (I remember her well from her killer role as an actress playing an autistic youth in the recent Vancouver Playhouse production of Toronto, Mississippi) which use scissor, spoons and other thrown objects that are so central to this play that without them The Miracle Worker would fizzle. It is a fight between a headstrong little girl who is unable to connect between the signs for letters, and the real objects, things and people they define, and a just-as-headstrong woman of 20 (not a teenager!) with a past that might just prevent her from finding a solution to the process of thought through language.
The unsung hero of that virtuoso spoon fight is Fight Director David Bloom seen here in picture above left. During the scuffle for the fallen spoon the theatre was so quiet that all I could hear was that spoon drop.
Two little girls play Helen Keller, Margot Berner and Emma Grabinsky. If I understand well my program notes my daughter Hilary and I saw Margot Berner tonight. She was superb in her battle of wits with her nurse and teacher Annie Sullivan played by Anna Cummer.
I must diverge here to give my account of my extraordinary experience in having Cummer in my studio back in 2005. I happened to ask her if she could cry on demand. I had been lucky before in that I had photographed two acresses who could do just that. Cummer looked at me and left the studio. A few minutes later she returned and stood in front of my camera with a face that was ravaged by sorrow. Little tears began to pour down her eyes.
In this production of The Miracle Worker all the other actors, Hamza Adam as Percy/Doctor, Tom Butler as Captain Keller, Jennifer Clement as Kate Keller, Marci T. House as Viney and Bridget O’Sullivan as Aunt Ev were good given that it was just about impossible to compete with Cummer and Berner's strong performances in roles designed to be just that.
For me there was one other actor who stood out. He is one of my favourites in town. Ryan Beil played James Keller, a young man who does not seem to know how to please his father. Beil has a kind of Stan Laurel universal face that can adapt to any situation. I thought he was excellent in the Main Street Production of Glengarry Glen Ross. I ache to see Beil in a comedy that goes beyond the role limitations of this summer’s Bard on the Beach production of The Comedy of Errors. Beil can be funny and especially so if let loose!
As Hilary and I watched the battle of wits between little Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan I kept whispering in her ear, “Lauren and Rebecca (my granddaughters and Hilary’s daughters) are easy in comparison to this!”
It was around 11pm that Hilary called to say, “Lauren was impossible. She threw pens and pencils with such force against the kitchen stove, that she broke them. She refused to write down anything for her dictée. Her father has grounded her, including no TV until Monday.”
I wonder if David Bloom might have approved. In the play Annie Sullivan says, "Obedience without understanding is a blindness, too." What would Sullivan have opined on grounding?