by David Dower
Very late in the film Stage Beauty, which you have one more chance to see as part of our Shakespeare on Film series, there’s a scene where Claire Danes’ character is playing Desdemona to the Othello of Billy Crudup’s character. Their acting takes on a sort of naturalism that stuns the Restoration-era audience and they hold their collective breath. The camera pans the stunned faces, searching the stage for some sign that this is still a play and not a murder they see before them. We spend quite a bit of time on the reaction of the audience, in fact. And the music swells and, I am not embarrassed to admit it, my eyes well up with tears. I’m a sap, you see, for the audience. And this scene of this distant audience, with none of the contemporary comforts or stage technologies we have today, being so utterly transported as to be afraid to breathe or blink or even trust their own instincts in the moment, overcomes me. I am undone. My own breath catches and my own heart stops. The film has many, many things to recommend it– are you listening young actors in our midst?– but for me this moment was a pure gift. It was the reminder that, of all the choices I had for what to do with my life, the fact that I have spent it chasing exactly this relationship between the stage and the audience was truly a choice to follow my heart. I know when I settle in to watch Shakespeare in Love on screen and Hamlet on the mainstage, I will be twice again reminded and doubly blessed.