losing the suburban

This is a great anecdote from a piece on Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley on an epiphany born of an insult. The context was a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by the great Peter Brook:

I was playing Demetrius. Frances de la Tour was playing Helena. Peter said, “OK, let’s run the scene.” We did, and I thought I’d impressed him with some funny, charming, witty acting. I saw Peter Brook, the great director, advancing slowly across the rehearsal room with a twinkle in his eye. I thought mistakenly that he was about to say, “My dears, that was absolutely wonderful!” I stood up mistakenly waiting for the praise to fill my actor’s begging bowl. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “Dear Ben, that was absolutely suburban.” There was a long pause after the word “suburban.” And he said, “If we want to watch suburban, we’ll stick our heads over our neighbor’s fence.”

He then put us back together by bringing us to the text, and saying, look at the words you just skimmed over. Give them their weight. Give them their value. He infused us with a sense of urgency, what was profoundly lacking in our mistaken reenactment of the scene. He turned it from something sugary into something challenging, dangerous, exciting, and sexy.When we did the play in New York, this one scene got rounds of applause several times.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

H/T Yolanda Seabourne

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