Shakespeare through the Mind

3 Jul

Jack Stirp had to wait thirty years before he was permitted to experiment with directorial projection.

His reputation in classical drama evolved from beginnings as an actor in various regional theaters to fame as a leading director in a prestigious theater of worldwide renown.

Having reached a pinnacle of success by his early sixties, he mourned that he had never tried out his radical theory of applying telepathy to the staging of the beloved works of the Stratford bard before. Jack had a sense of confidence that his vision would work successfully. But there remained an element of risk in anything so unprecedented and innovative.

First of all, he had to choose the right actors for the special cast. This entailed his testing and estimating the psychic sensitivity and receptivity of the talented, experienced candidates who volunteered to take part. Jack only spoke in generalities about what he intended to do, with no specific description of how their acting might be influenced or controlled. No one should in any way become alarmed by what their director planned to do with them.

In time, Director Stirp had the type of persons who would meet his requirements for a psychically managed production of William Shakespeare’s “Othello”.

The actor chosen for the lead role was a fairly young, handsome, and muscular popular stage star named Tom Cravet. He was a well-educated thespian who had his own ideas on how a character was to be portrayed, but he possessed enormous mental sensitivity and psychic capacity despite his stubborn will. Jack Stirp was certain that he could keep him under directorial control once he was in the right emotional state through hypnotic suggestion.

For the part of Desdemona, the pick was Martha Bleaker, a lovely dark-skinned beauty with a mellifluous voice that enchanted all listeners to it. She had an uncanny ability to draw the attention, credibility, and sympathy of any audience to the character she happened to be playing, regardless of what drama it might be in.

The hardest major role to cast was that of the villain, Iago. The actor had to combine high emotionality with telepathic receptivity so as to permit outside control by the director in charge of the dramatization. A veteran of Shakespearean productions who had often been in plays along with Jack Stirp himself was the final choice. The versatile and talented Morris Stuart was the winning candidate.

The experiment would begin with these three roles and actors under the director’s psychic projections, with the remaining cast members acting in the traditional manner of theater work for centuries before.

The director summoned the three lead players to his private office to inform and instruct them on his plans and how they would be affected by his modifications directly through their three minds.

“This has never before been attempted,” he told the three sitting across the room from him. “I intend to start from the finale, the last murder and suicide scene of “Othello”, and later move forward into the earlier acts of the drama. The aim is to enhance, enrich, and give a specific focus to the emotional development of each of your characters. I believe that will be possible when a number of actors, the three of you, become perfectly coordinated in thought and feelings. That can be done through transcending your individual qualities and differences and allowing one mind merge three persons together into a unified unit.

“It will be difficult, but I believe that the four of us are capable of achieving that degree of parallel mental operation. First of all, it will be necessary to met each of you accustomed to being under hypnosis while performing your part on the stage. My plan is to begin today, at this time, right here in this office.

“Does anyone wish to volunteer to be the first?”

It was Tom Cravet who raised his right hand. “I might as well be the one.”

“I can be next,” said Morris Stuart, a tall, slim figure with long, curly black hair and hazel eyes. His voice sounded rough and reluctant, full of doubt about what he had agreed to be involved in.

“That will place you last, Martha,” said the director, smiling at his new Desdemona.

It took Jack Stirp only four minutes to put the entire trio of actors into trances under his control.

He then rose and stepped over to Tom Cravet, whispering to him in a tone that the other two actors were unable to pick up or overhear.

“As the character Othello, you must understand and portray his essential core. He is an ambiguous human being. His most important concern is his own self-image. The mind of Othello is self-absorbed and evaluates others in terms of only himself. That is why he comes to accept all the lies told him about his wife, Desdemona, by Iago. He is worried about his career and standing as a professional military general. Anxiety is the emotion that turns into and is expressed in his jealousy and rage centered on his new wife.”

The director looked at the face of Cravet a short while, then stepped away and approached the entranced figure of Morris Stuart, the actor slated to appear as Iago.

Stirp bent forward and quietly whispered to the hypnotized villain of the play.

“Your Iago has to be a personality who is infinitely cruel, far beyond the boundaries of good and evil. You will have to convince the audience that there is no amount of motive sufficient to explain your satanic mendacity. In a subtle, unconscious way, what you crave in this drama is to become Othello himself, to take on his life and his essence. In pursuit of this invisible aim, you are willing to ruin every aspect of Othello that stands in your way. Your mind is able to manipulate reality in an uncanny way. You are willing to kill and destroy what you are unable to become.”

One actor remained for the director to instruct and prepare. He moved near Martha Bleaker and started to speak to her in a muffled voice.

“Your role is the difficult one of the young debutante beauty. An honest virgin with loyalty and dedication to your husband, you embody the fatality of goodness in a forsaken world of evil experience. Desdemona is not fit to thrive or survive in the hell of humanity. You must show the audience a soul meant for another, better world.”

Finished with his guiding instructions, Stirp snapped all three of his actors out of hypnotic trance, into everyday consciousness.

Morris Stuart and Martha Bleaker had gone to the same prestigious drama school in the East. They had also appeared together from time to time in the course of their two careers. It was not unusual for them to meet and discuss what they had experienced in common during the hypnotic exercise under the direction of Jack Stirp.

The pair in an old artistic-dramatic bar in the theater district of the Midwestern metropolis.

They sat down at a small table and ordered light meals and mixed drinks.

“What do you think of this mumbo-jumbo, Martha? Did we get into something deeper and stickier than anybody anticipated at the beginning?”

“I don’t know what is going to happen when we’re up on the stage doing “Othello”, and I fear that this psychic method will result in a disastrous fiasco. Is Stirp going to make us, his cast, into laughing stocks? Is the audience going to mock us as ridiculous puppets of a crazy director carrying out a wild experiment?”

Morris’s hazel eyes dilated and darkened. “What can we do but go along with him? From all that he told us at our joint séance, I have the impression that his intention is to build up the role and image of Othello, so that Tom Cravet rises to a kind of super-stardom. Notice how Iago turns more rotten and malicious than ever before in the whole history of dramatic performances and productions. And your character of Desdemona becomes an abstraction symbolizing purity and naivety to an incredible degree. My Iago and your Desdemona will come out as exaggerated caricatures of what Shakespeare originally created when he wrote the play. Am I right?”

He gazed into the clear but shadowy face of Martha, waiting for her to reply.

The actress suddenly grimaced. “Yes, that may be what is causing me such great discomfort and unease about where Stirp is taking the play. The man seems to be out of control, flying about through unconscious instinct alone. Does our director know what he is doing, or has he gone totally mad?” She appeared to be panting with anxiety.

Morris extended his long right arm, placing his hand on hers. “You and I have to look out for ourselves and not make ourselves subordinate to either the director or his favorite, Tom Cravet,” muttered the one playing Iago.

The handsome young star of the experimental production of “Othello” was wearing pajamas and a kimono over them when he made his way to the front door of his flat to answer the buzzing sound. Who could it be so early in the morning? he asked himself.

The surprise visitor happened to be Martha Bleaker. “Come right in,” he mumbled to her, getting out of the way, then closing the door behind her. Morris led her into his tiny kitchen and the two sat down at a breakfast table.

“What brings you around at this hour, my dear Martha?” he inquired without preamble. “Is there anything bothering you? Can I be of any assistance to you, my Desdemona?” The actor gave off a twinkling grin.

She frowned, speaking in a cold, hollow tone.

“I have not slept all night, thinking and worrying about the play we are in. Perhaps I should never have agreed to take the part I now have. It is going to end up a disaster, a catastrophe. I can foresee what is coming to us.

“Morris talked to me yesterday, and what he said caused me terrifying pain. He is not our friend, Tom. Not at all. I now understand that he is an enemy, a foe to both of us. That man is out only to advance himself, at the expense of anyone in his way, of his fellow players whom he can use and exploit.” She paused, looking directly into the eyes of the one assigned to be her Othello. “Morris means to twist your part, along with mine, to elevate his position as the star actor with the central role. He means to put both of us into the shadows as he emotes all over the stage, out into the theater and the poor audience.”

“What are you saying?” gasped Tom. “How would he hope to make such things happen when we interact and play our parts? I don’t understand you, Martha.”

She lowered her voice and murmured. “That snake thinks he can use the directions projected to us by Jack Stirp to make himself the sole focus of attention. You and I will become background dummies that he alone manipulates. He believes that the director, along with you and me, can be made to function as his tools, as the instruments of his personal self-dramatization.

“I am telling you the conclusions he compelled me to reach. They are the genuine truth, Tom,” she breathlessly asserted, her sweet voice turned hard and rough.

As rehearsals came to an end and the date of the first public performance arrived, the director believed that he had perfected his hypnotic-telepathic control over his three main actors within the final act of “Othello”.

Jack Stirp, absorbed in his shaping of the characterization of the trio of roles, was unaware of the tense conflict hidden from him by the primacy of what Shakespeare had written and his own interpretation of the meaning of his lines. Doubt and suspicion filled the minds and emotions of the three central thespians.

The overflowing audience had no knowledge of the experiment being carried out by the director and his three stars. They were curious to see and hear what Stirp intended to do with the trio of well-known, talented interpreters of Shakespearean parts. It was plain to all of the public that this would be a presentation worth attending.

Expectations appeared satisfied through the early acts of the play, building up to the dramatic crescendo of the final fifth act.

The audience knew what lay immediately ahead: Othello would strangle his wife to death, then commit suicide in regret and expiation. That was how the bard had composed the story’s conclusion, that was what Fate necessitated for the principle personalities in “Othello”.

A motionless silence gripped the public focusing upon the action up on the stage.

Director Jack Stirp stood hidden by the back curtain, looking from the side at his actors, projecting thoughts and impressions as he had many times before in the rehearsal sessions covering the finale of the play.

As each of his star actors recited lines of the last scene, his mind concentrated on each of them in turn.

The moment when Othello was to choke his wife to death arrived, each character reciting his and her lines.

Desdemona: O, banish me, my lord, but kill me not!

Othello: Down, strumpet!

Desdemona: Kill me tomorrow: let me live tonight.

Othello: Nay, if you strive,-

Desdemona: But half an hour!

Othello: Being done, there is no pause.

Desdemona: But while I say one prayer!

Othello: It is too late!

An unexpected, unrehearsed, unforeseeable sequence of events then transpired.

Instead of Othello taking hold of his wife by the throat and starting to strangle her, the opposite occurred.

It was Desdemona who reached out her arms and placed her hands on the throat of Tom Cravet, the stage Otello.

No one in the audience, on stage, or backstage realized what she was doing for a dozen seconds as she squeezed and stifled the actor playing the play’s lead.

Tom struggled for breath, unable to shake himself free of her grip on him.

A sensation of things going array spread on all sides. Gasping and murmuring sounds arose through the theater. Feelings of alarm shot forward, developing a rapid acceleration.

Martha put her entire body strength into what her passions dictated she accomplish.

Director Jack Stirp sensed his mind spinning, unable to reign in what was now beyond his control.

What had gone wrong? Had his projections become mixed up, so that Martha was receiving the instructions meant for Tom? Or was there some deeper explanation for this fiasco?

Morris Stuart, watching the actors off-stage a distance from the director and waiting for the moment when Iago is to reappear on scene, sensed abysmal panic within himself. He had to do something before it became too late. But what was possible for him?

All of a sudden, the actor representing the villain of the drama leaped forward unto the visible scene.

He was the one who vigorously stepped forth and separated Othello and Desdemona, Tom Cravet and Martha Bleaker.

The actor pushed and pulled them apart, putting all his tall body and its weight into taking her hands away from the throat of the muscular mad husband.

At that instant, Martha seemed to awaken from an entrancing nightmare. Without a word, she began to run to the side of the stage, then off of the scene.

Tom could now breath freely, calming down and restoring self-control. His mind broke out of the trance it had been kept in through hypnotic-telepathic projection by Jack Stirp.

The latter, weakened and fully exhausted, appeared to be distant, vacant, and beyond any normal motion or activity.

The stage crew decided on its own to bring down the curtain.

In total daze, the audience escaped the theater swiftly, however it found that it could.

The director and several of the actors soon discovered that their careers in presenting Shakespeare plays were finished and would never be rescued or renewed.

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