Boeing Boeing or, What is it about Mark Rylance?

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Yesterday, I watched the 2008 production of Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti [directed by Matthew Warchus] at the New York Performing Arts Library in Lincoln Center. Some thoughts…

You need to learn how to be without people watching.

I have been studying why Mr. Rylance commands attention* — he doesn’t seem to obey the typical actor notions of super objective or through line — doesn’t explain anything. Doesn’t make it clear what he’s up to. He is thinking, that’s for sure.

He is never a jerk. In Boeing he plays a bumbling incompetent who becomes even more competent than the charismatic hero. “How can you manage to stay so calm?” He was frustrated by the maid yet he was careful with her. He was bothered by the maid: she insulted him, his attire, his demeanor, his intelligence; claiming he wouldn’t have the brains to carry out a scheme like her boss does, and you know how he feels, but he is so subtle — not being sarcastic subtle. He has no sarcasm. “You’re very optimistic,” he tells her. He says what he means without heavy subtext . He is beyond subtle. He is careful not to hurt. He is always enlightening. Always seems to be making other peoples lives better.

His brain works slower than his impulses so the words come out before his mind has fully taken the time to construct the sentence.** His words come out before his brain has formed them. Everything is fresh minted, but it doesn’t have that ‘discovered’ quality which can be a little formulaic and repetitive (especially in Shakespeare). He feels something, then speaks and sometimes the words match what he feels — sometimes they don’t. The man is before the brain, and that process is done effortlessly: as though it’s the most natural thing. 

The problem with the idea of actors playing actions. The actor: instructs, cajoles, charms, sours…pick any action verb and substitute; the problem with that is you (the actor) know what you’re doing before you do it. I’m sure he does all the work before, but you don’t see it onstage. You know he’s a consummate professional, it’s not as though you’re thinking what alley did they pull him from? But he’s not polished. He doesn’t have a theatre school carve to him. He doesn’t have a I’ve worked in the theatre all my life mark on him. He’s too risky.

Preoccupation. He is always preoccupied. Always doing more than one thing. Even if it’s thinking about something he isn’t necessarily speaking about, his occupation with the thought holds such a powerful place in his mind that the words he speaks which at first might seem contrary (or simply different, or sometimes unwarily-complementary) will suddenly infiltrate the space in his mind that contained the original thought. When that happens it’s as inclusive as it is magical.

It seems he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. That’s why he stands out among the great actors he shares the stage with.

* I realize this is the second blog in a row that is inspired by you, and hence is concerning you, but I have had this blog going for over six years now and you’ve only got three posts out of hundred’s so what I’m saying is don’t get a restraining order just yet.

**I do not know Mark Rylance personally and everything I write about him in this email is based solely on the character he was playing.

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