I am now 12 days away from opening night. Although some of my actors are still having a hard time with their lines, panic has not set in yet. At this point in rehearsal all the blocking, major character development and broad stroke themes are down. This week we begin to polish and begin to get deep in. I work to find the words and phrases that will advance my actor’s thinking to a fuller understanding of the character and the play.
With my first play, “The Lesson” by Eugene Ionesco, I was delightfully surprised that this help came from the latest issue of Gilbert Magazine. Ionesco’s work is primarily concerned with language and how as a tool for communication it doesn’t live up to it’s marketing claims. To help explain this to my troop I’ve used examples From the Marx Brothers in how language is a great bag for comedy because we really have no idea what we are saying to each other or we only assume we know what the speaker means, (“Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas I’ll never know.) But Ionesco, a big fan of the Marx Brothers, is not just about the comedy of language he shows us how it can be used to subjugate a people or advance an intrinsically evil agenda or hide one and at the same time letting us think it was a good idea to start with. Bill Cliton’s statement, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is.” Is pure Ionesco.
The Professor, in Ionesco’s play, claims that language is a scientific thing and “you can tell immediately what language is being spoken simply by listening to the person speaking it”, and “Since language is so difficult it is a wonder the common people can speak at all.” In comes Gilbert Magazine with its GKC’s Essay ‘Allegory’ upfront where he states, “For the truth is that language is not a scientific thing at all, but wholly an artistic thing, a thing invented by hunters, and killers, and such artists long before science was dreamed of. The truth is simply that – that the tongue is most truly an unruly member, as the wise saint has called it; a thing poetic and dangerous, like music or fire. …And It is not merely true that the word itself is, like any other word, arbitrary; that it might as well be “pig” or “parasol”; but it is true that the philosophical meaning of the word, in the conscious mind, that the gusty light of language only falls for a moment on a fragment and that obviously a semi-detached, unfinished fragment of a certain definite pattern on the dark tapestries of reality.” Or as the Maid says in the play “Philology leads to calamity.”
When I first began this adventure I wanted to do a Chesterton play. He was rejected by “the committee” basically on the grounds that he was a Catholic apologist and we did a C. S. Lewis play last year -after all. No, they never read the play I submitted it was rejected solely on the fact that Chesterton’s name was on the cover. So for my second play I came in through the back door of apologetics and submitted J. P. Sartre’s "No Exit". In Peter Kreeft ‘s Essay The Pillars of Unbelief—Sartre (an essay I gave to my cast) he states,
“Jean-Paul Sartre may be the most famous atheist of the 20th century. As such, he qualifies for anyone's short list of "pillars of unbelief." Yet he may have done more to drive fence-sitters toward the faith than most Christian apologists. For Sartre has made atheism such a demanding, almost unendurable, experience that few can bear it.
Comfortable atheists who read him become uncomfortable atheists, and uncomfortable atheism is a giant step closer to God. In his own words, "Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position." For this we should be grateful to him.”
He then goes on to say, “Sartre's most famous play, "No Exit," puts three dead people in a room and watches them make hell for each other simply by playing God to each other—not in the sense of exerting external power over each other but simply by knowing each other as objects. The shocking lesson of the play is that "hell is other people."
It takes a profound mind to say something as profoundly false as that. In truth, hell is precisely the absence of other people, human and divine. Hell is total loneliness. Heaven is other people, because heaven is where God is, and God is Trinity. God is love, God is "other persons."
Now if only they could get their lines down.