Love: Tom Stoppard's Preoccupation

Friday, September 23, 2016

By Elspeth Sweatman

A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff at the first rehearsal for The Hard Problem.
Photo by Shannon Stockwell.
"It's a fascinating thing to have a long, ongoing relationship with a writer," said A.C.T.'s Artistic Director Carey Perloff at the first rehearsal for Tom Stoppard's The Hard Problem. "What you realize is that everybody has their own life preoccupations, and they make art in order to try and wrestle with them."

The Hard Problem is the eleventh Stoppard play Perloff has directed at A.C.T., giving her a unique perspective on this playwright's work. In her view, one of Stoppard's preoccupations is the nature of love. "In Arcadia, he toys with the way in which love is an anarchic emotion that spreads chaos amongst seemingly reasonable people. People don't always act in their own reasonable interests because love enters the universe, and then all hell breaks loose." 

"In this play, The Hard Problem, love is particularly focused on mother love. The question of what mother love is, and why that's so profound and why the protagonist, Hilary, can't get over it. Another character, Spike, says that mother love is just 'mother maximizing gene potential.' And he is unbelievably embarrassed at the thought that there is actually a real thing—maternal love—that trumps neuro-scientific analysis."

In The Hard Problem, Stoppard even extends his preoccupation with love to the financial markets and the 2008 crash. "Woven into this question about consciousness is a question about the financial markets and why all these brilliant psychometric, algorithm-driving quants were unable to figure out the market was going crazy. He finally says, 'It's like falling in love.' It's like the market has fallen in love, and the market that behaved predictably has now gone haywire."

"I think Tom's a little bit of an anarchist at heart, and he's really interested in chaos, and chaos comes from internal emotional chaos, that comes from love and desire and sexuality."

The Hard Problem begins October 19 and runs through November 13. Click here to purchase tickets.

Royal Power in King Charles III

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

By Shannon Stockwell 

King Charles III, opening tonight at The Geary Theater, features a king at loggerheads with his ministers. But when did power shift from the British monarch to his ministers?

The Palace of Westminster. By Rennett Stowe. 
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
It began with George I (1714–27) who relied heavily on his cabinet to help him rule because he did not speak English. After he began to distance himself from his cabinet, he had almost no role in the development of laws.

Because George I wasn’t involved in making laws, he couldn’t reasonably be held responsible for the outcomes of those laws. This actually solved one of the fundamental problems of the monarchy: opinions, by their nature, can be wrong, but a monarch was meant to never be wrong. If a monarch had opinions, how could he or she be prevented from making mistakes? The answer was that by disconnecting himself from policy making, George I could never be mistaken; instead, his ministers took responsibility. This convention supported the concept of the infallibility of the sovereign.

It wasn’t until Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837 that the idea of an apolitical monarch became solidified. In fact, it was largely her husband, Prince Albert, who introduced the idea of a monarch staying above party politics. It’s not that Albert believed the sovereign should be apolitical or uninvolved with politics; he simply believed that if people saw the monarch as a neutral figure, uninfluenced by political bias, he or she would be that much more trustworthy.

In holding this view, Albert was trying to strengthen the influence of the monarchy, but it seems to have had the opposite effect. From political neutrality grew the convention that the monarch should never mention his or her political opinions in public. Because of this, the public believes that the monarch has no political effect whatsoever.

But that’s not necessarily true. Queen Elizabeth II has weekly private meetings with the prime minister, which no one else is permitted to attend. The meetings are unrecorded and extremely confidential. British constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor says, “It is . . . because relations between sovereign and a prime minister must remain confidential that it is impossible ever to form an accurate estimate of the influence of the current sovereign.”

Today, it is definitely considered unconstitutional for the British monarch to publicly express a political opinion. But there’s no constitutional convention that prescribes how the heir to the throne should behave.

A.C.T.’s production of King Charles III opens tonight and runs through October 9. Click here to purchase tickets. Want to learn more about the relationship between the king and his ministers, along with other articles about the cultural and historical context of the play? Click here to purchase Words on Plays.

Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.: An Interview with Jack Sharrar, Director of Academic Affairs

Thursday, September 15, 2016

By Elspeth Sweatman

Dr. Jack Sharrar. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.
Amid the hustle and bustle of A.C.T.’s Conservatory offices, Dr. Jack Sharrar’s office stands as a beacon of tranquility. From this den of books murmurs the soothing strains of classical string quartets or Brazilian guitar music. We sat down with him at the start of another busy academic year to discuss his role, his favorite productions, and his 27-year relationship with A.C.T.

How would you describe your job?
I wear a lot of different hats. My title is Director of Academic Affairs. I also serve as a registrar for the M.F.A. Program and the accreditation liaison officer with WASC [Western Association of Schools and Colleges]. And I teach in the M.F.A. Program and the San Francisco Semester. I’ve been here since the summer of 1989. Initially I was working in publications and press, and teaching in the Young Conservatory.

Tell us about one of the classes that you teach.
I teach “The Glorious Ones” and we focus on Shakespeare and commedia dell’arte. “The Glorious Ones” is the title of a short novel by Francine Prose about a traveling group of commedia players. It was also adapted into a musical, and one of our graduates in the M.F.A. Program, Julyana Soelistyo, appeared in it at Lincoln Center and in London playing the role of Armanda Ragusa. She’s also appeared on our mainstage in Golden Child and The Orphan of Zhao.

What’s your favorite time of A.C.T.’s season?
For anybody in education, your clock revolves around fall, when students come back to campus. It’s like a little homecoming every year for the students before they move on to the next experience in their lives. So I would say that fall is the most exciting, but that would be followed by our callback weekend in late February/early March where we bring in the final candidates for the M.F.A. Program.

What are your favorite productions from your 27 years at A.C.T.?
Oh my gosh, there are so many. Enrico IV—a Pirandello play with Marco Barricelli—has always stood out in my mind. Right Mind is the very first show that I saw here and it was quite spectacular. It was destroyed by the earthquake. Jack Fletcher’s Caribbean Twelfth Night was a delightful romp. Shockheaded Peter, too, is vivid in my mind. And Carey Perloff’s beautiful production of Indian Ink.

What advice to do you give to these young actors and performers?

I use this quote from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in all my emails: “Our doubts are traitors / And make us lose the good we oft might win / By fearing to attempt.” Quite often in emails I write “Onward.” In other words, you always need to move forward. Follow your passion and try to overcome the obstacles that may be in your way. But stick to it, that’s the important thing.
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