Monday, April 28, 2008

Fully Committed

My lovely wife and I were having a conversation about whether or not I could really be objective in my perspective on a show that had one of our children in it. She thought I could – she’s known me to be somewhat brutally honest in my appraisal of performances by people who I feel deep affection for. Like for instance, her. She almost had me convinced until the curtain went down on opening night of “Peter Pan” by which point I was absolutely convinced that I could not. The reasons for this are not necessarily what you might think.

It’s not that I immediately believe everything my son did was awesome in the show (or even necessarily “adorable,” as Ms. Lewis characterized him in the T-D). Here are the two strikes against my objectivity: 1) if anything, my tendency is toward being overly critical of his performance. I noticed the times he fidgeted with his costume, the times he nearly missed a cue, the times when he seemed to lose focus. Of course, the reason I noticed all of these things is: 2) when he was on stage, my attention was about 90% on him and 10% on everything else going on. This kind of detracts from my ability to fully judge a show, mostly because there are at least a dozen nuances (i.e., lines of dialogue, significant plot points, intermissions, etc.) that I missed the first time through the show.

One thing you notice in a big ensemble show like Pan is an aspect of acting that separates the good from the great. From what I’ve seen over the years, many child actors, no matter how adorable they are, have moments on stage when they break character. Most of the time it’s a subtle thing – a glance into the audience, a moment when they don’t react to something on stage, a relatively flat line reading. What these small miscues make me appreciate, though, are the performances of actors who, even in small roles, are fully committed to the action on stage.

As an example, an actress named Ali Thibodeau plays Tiger Lily, the leader of the Indians, in “Peter Pan” (she was last seen at Swift Creek Mill as one of the March girls in “Little Women.”) There is not a moment that she’s on stage that she doesn’t exude Tiger Lily; she completely embraces her Tiger Lily-ness and any residual Ali-ness disappears behind her faux native regalia. Furthermore, when Tiger Lily dances, she doesn’t just go through the motions, she swings her arms, swaggers and struts, bringing the whole force of an Indian warrior’s personality to bear. The impressive thing is that Ali is a teenager – still a high school student – and her commitment to a character shows a remarkable maturity. If you happen to see Pan, I urge you to spend a moment during one of the big group scenes scanning the Indians or the pirates and notice how well the supporting players stay in character. It’s something I’ve done with big cast shows like “Les Mis” on Broadway and I’ve been surprised sometimes at what I’ve seen.

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