Pictured: Shawn K. Jain, Vichet Chum, and Jesse Hinson. Photo by Meghan Moore.
If your holiday dance card is not completely full, and you are looking for a show that evokes the best of the season – the importance of friends and family – consider Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, in its final week at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. Not content with being a daring sequel to Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice – the show also represents a fine example of an overlooked directorial skill: blocking, or the art of making actors appear real. Because real people do stuff, the stuff one would normally do if you weren’t confined to a stage, waiting to deliver your next line or make a dramatic exit.
Some blocking is explicitly written into the text. Think of the stylized fight scenes in The Royale. (Whether a director is obligated to follow these instructions is always contentious.) But typically, “business,” as it’s called, is left to the director and actors. And it can be a lot of fun. Consider the subtle jabs in Native Gardens, like when Virginia Butley dashes her cigarette ashes in the neighbor’s yard as a way of protest. Or the entertaining antics of the landscapers. Good blocking is the foundation of comedy. The scions of silent film can tell you that.
The key is being truthful to the character. The actions should be so natural, the audience doesn’t notice them, but they contribute to the sense of reality constructed on stage. An actor in a play of mine complained that she felt like she had washed a single glass a hundred times. She did. But to each audience, it was the first time.
In a way, blocking is the “lagniappe” of acting – a little something extra, as they say in New Orleans. It’s what takes the character beyond the text, adding complexity and depth – an “under-script,” perhaps. With a large-cast play such as Pemberley, not everyone can talk at once, so good blocking is a necessity; you don’t want people just standing around. Director Sean Daniels and Associate Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary excel at augmenting the script with so much clever and illustrative business, it is as entertaining as the witty dialogue. From the hanging of ornaments to Lydia’s shadowing of Arthur de Bourgh, these simple actions (everything on stage is deliberate) grow organically from the script, until each actor not just occupies space and delivers lines but becomes – well – real.
–Karla Sorenson, Cohort
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs November 28 – December 23