creating community through celebration

Harnessing the Comic Genius

Rehearsing with Geoff is a lot like herding cats - there is a great release of exuberant energy, the challenge is to get it heading in a single useful direction. Let me illustrate:

This year we’re producing an Elizabethan show in which Geoff is featured as the Shakespearean comedian, Will Kemp. One of the elements in the second act is an Elizabethan masque presentation of the Demeter and Persephone myth. Geoff (as Kemp) is pressed into service as an emergency substitute for the performer who was to have played the dramatic role of Hades. Geoff’s character has to present the other players with a comic and irreconcilable problem around the return of Persephone to the Land of the Living, a problem which Queen Elizabeth herself must finally step in and rectify.

So one afternoon last week, I found myself in rehearsal with Geoff and Bobby Weinapple, who is to play the role of the Master of Revels – the individual charged with approving and maintaining the probity of all entertainments presented at court. He is Will Kemp’s natural nemesis (the “Hoyle foil” in Calrevels terminology).

We had gotten to the point of deciding that the conflict would arise from Hades’ (Kemp’s) unwillingness to allow Persephone to depart in response to the imprecations of Hermes and Demeter. Instead he imposes a series of increasingly impossible conditions on her release. As we played with comic directions that this dialogue might take, Geoff began a verbal riff that mysteriously segued from Hades’ listing a bunch of petty requirements into a full comic routine featuring a petulant airport security guard. This “Concourse God from Hell” proceeds to subject Demeter to a series of increasingly undignified searches until he finally produces, among other things, a rubber chicken and a Christmas tree from a place of extremely private concealment. All of this was, of course extemporaneous, enacted in mime and without the benefit of other actors. It was sufficient to reduce the other two of us in the room to tears of laughter.

“That’s great, Geoff”, I said (when I had recovered speech) “but it doesn’t exactly reflect Revels core values”.

“Well, you laughed, didn’t you?” was his response.

“Yeah”. There was no point in denying it.

“And who is more ‘core Revels’ than you. You’re the director aren’t you?”

“I know, but maybe we could find a direction that’s a little less…anachronistic?”

As the conversation continued, we discarded the “Cat coughing up a hairball” routine, as well as the “Scottish pizza parlor proprietor”, two bits that had emerged from working on previous shows, and focused on something closer to Kemp’s identity as Shakespeare’s lead comedian. Bobby pointed out that as of the date of the action of this production, Kemp would have played all of Shakespeare’s early fools. Maybe Geoff could interpolate some of that material into the masque.

Yes, maybe he could. For the next seven minutes or so, we were treated to a cavalcade of early fools, late fools, middle fools, and even a few tragic heroes – all lines delivered from memory, all characters clearly delineated, all transitions made with breathtaking speed and precision.

“It’s possible.”, Geoff observed as Bobby and I got up off the floor, “Of course I’d have to work something up”.

And so we’re meeting again next week to work up some more “somethings”. We’ll probably spend a lot of time testing out (and laughing at) ideas that will never actually appear in the show, but that’s the process with Geoff. It’s exuberant, but messy.

And we all feel fortunate to be a part of it.

By David Parr