HOW IS SHAKESPEARE MORE HELPFUL TO ACTORS THAN BRECHT OR BECKETT ARE?—FIRST ATTEMPT. Rebecca Mead in the Talk of the Town in the New Yorker (April 14) describes a conversation between two distinguished Shakespearean actors, Ian McKellen and Michael Pennington. McKellen says that Shakespeare is helpful to his actors, while Brecht and Beckett are “much less helpful”. In fact, he says that “You are not fighting Shakespeare”, which suggests that an actor does have to fight Beckett and Brecht.
I am not sure what McKellen means by this, but I will venture a guess. I propose that Beckett and Brecht are always emphasizing that the audience is watching a play. The audience is supposed to bear in mind at all times that the playwright is causing the events on stage to take place. It is difficult for an actor to play a character in the little world on the stage while simultaneously playing a character that the play is commenting on, a character who continuously displays that he is an artificial construct.
I will consult with Mary Jane and take another crack at this tomorrow.