The first spReAd the love book challenge post is up! Will you review and donate?

•March 2, 2015 • 4 Comments

The first 2015 spReAd the love challenge for fans of Richard Armitage was made recently — to write about, and donate, one of your favorite children’s books! If you would like to join the challenge, please let me know and you can use my blog for a guest post.

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spread the love

The first review is of The Little Witch (Die kleine Hexe), a favorite twentieth-century children’s book in Germany, which is less known outside the country nowadays, although it was translated into 55 languages in the 1950s and 1960s.

img_1629Learn about the little witch, and give her some love, here! (The post is in English and German and the author will reply to comments in either language.)

The post is by fellow Richard Armitage fan suzy, who blogs at silverbluelining. I enjoy her blog a lot — it includes commentary on popular German cultural events and bands, but also (this is the part I enjoy the best) on music she’s liked over the years. One of the things that continues to astound me about the US/European divide is that although we all lived through the same years and the same international music culture together, there are still so many things I’ve missed. And I’m always learning about them from Suzy.

Along with her post, to spReAd the love, Suzy donated a graphic novel version of The Hobbit. Check her post out!

Tomorrow we’ll have a guest post from Runa on one of her favorite children’s books: A Monster Calls. Sounds scary! Can’t wait!

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indedxIn honor of Suzy’s post, I have donated a copy of The Boxcar Children, a tremendously popular twentieth-century children’s novel, to this library. My spReAd the love posts are made in honor of the Golden Learning Centre Library in Balmertown, Ontario, Canada. If you are looking for someone who needs a book, ou can donate to this library from their amazon wishlist, here!

Readers’ favorite shots from the Hobbit films

•March 2, 2015 • 6 Comments

Responses to my question of yesterday: What are your favorite cinematic shots in the Hobbit films? Answers posted in no particular order.

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Reverse angle on a shot from the previous post: Bard (Luke Evans) at the parley with Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Reverse angle on a shot from the previous post: Bard (Luke Evans) at the parley with Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

jholland would like us not to neglect Luke Evans: “from both angles, looking in at Thorin and looking out at Bardfrom both angles, looking in at Thorin and looking out at Bard.”

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Bard (Luke Evans) encounters the elvish Army in Dale, in the Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Bard (Luke Evans) encounters the elvish Army in Dale, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

saraleee: “I liked the moment when Bard first encounters the elf army. The contrast between his shabby coat and the gleaming gold of the armor, and the way they part to let him pass like the opening of the Red Sea — that was cool.”

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The dwarves and Bilbo trek through the mountains after leaving Rivendell, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

sparkhouse1 says: “The shots from the helicopter showing the company of 13 strung out, with Thorin well in the lead, along the very top of the mountain range.”

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) rejoins the company to ask them to fight one last time, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) rejoins the company to ask them to fight one last time, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

jholland says: “Thorin walking backlit out of the gold cavern when he finally decides to fight.”

utepirat agrees: “When Thorin finally decides to join the battle and leaves the mountain without wearing his ridiculous golden armor, wow!”

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) makes his entrance at Bag End, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) makes his entrance at Bag End, in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Screencap.

utepirat says: “For me the initial scene was Thorin’s arrival in Bag End (AUJ). I watched it in the cinema on 1st January 2013. I sighed and fell instantly in love with Mr. A though I knew his work well before.”

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Bilbo (Martin Freeman) urges Thorin (Richard Armitage) to hang on, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

and

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) apologizes for putting Bilbo (Martin Freeman) into so much peril, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) apologizes for putting Bilbo (Martin Freeman) into so much peril, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

jholland adds: “the death scene, when the camera angle was low, showing Thorin’s profile. That took my breath somehow.”

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Bilbo (Martin Freeman) responds to Thorin’s death, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

From @CarolynMasini: “Bilbo sitting over Thorin’s body and he lets out that sob.”

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Thranduil (Lee Pace) reacts to Dain’s insults on the battlefield, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

cRAmerry: “I like the expression on Thranduil’s face, when listens to Thorin’s cousin insult him in the leadup to the battle. The disbelief about this effrontery, which then dissolves into a sort of disdainful smile.”

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Thranduil (Lee Pace) reacts to Dain's threat to split his "pretty" head, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thranduil (Lee Pace) reacts to Dain’s threat to split his “pretty” head, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

And similarly, @CarolynMasini: “Thranduil’s smirk after being called pretty.”

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and Kili (Aidan Turner) after their reconciliation in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and Kili (Aidan Turner) after their reconciliation in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Kathy Jones says: “I like the shot of Kili and Thorin touching foreheads in Erebor. There has been little interaction between them, and the affectionate gesture is so heartfelt. I see forgiveness, hope and love and despite knowing what is to come, it is an upbeat moment because the dragon sickness has gone.”

suzy: “Kili and Thorin forehead to forehead, when Thorin found himself.”

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) sees Fili in Azog's grasp, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) sees Fili in Azog’s grasp, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

... and after he sees his nephew's death. The same.

… and after he sees his nephew’s death. The same.

Kathy Jones says:  “one more would be Thorin shaking his head “No” after Fili tells them to run. His eyes hold a compelling mixture of grief and determination.”

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) gazes down at Erebor after killing Azog, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) gazes down at Erebor after killing Azog, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Mermaid: “The last look on his home, which he has given his all to protect. Then he draws breath and stumbles, never to rise again.”

austoz: “There is a shot of Thorin looking over the edge of the ice cliff after the fight with Azog it’s just before he falls to the ground. His eyes are wide, he knows he’s done for and he sees the eagles and sort of takes a last breath before he falls.”

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) casts off his grandfather's crown, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) casts off his grandfather’s crown, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

suzy: “The scene when he threw away the foolish armor away.”

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Speaking of armor:

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) presents Bilbo (Martin Freeman) with a mithril shield, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) presents Bilbo (Martin Freeman) with a mithril shield, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

saraleee: “And my absolute favorite was when Thorin presents Bilbo with the mithril vest — the gold lighting seemed almost molten, Bilbo was wearing his usual fuzzy woven clothes and Thorin was hard and clanking in his royal armor. There was something feverish and unwholesome about the scene.”

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and, last but not least, by almost universal request:

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) gazes, enchanted, at Bilbo, after seeing that he holds an acorn in his hand, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

OT: So, Mr. Nimoy

•March 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Posts from fellow fans that also recount their memories: from Fabo — My first alien crush — and at I’m a Lady Butterfly (in French, machine translation here), which has a lot of images I hadn’t seen before.

Maybe it’s not appropriate for me to write about Nimoy in the same way that I did about Richard Chamberlain, insofar as it wasn’t that kind of crush. I’ve been smiling at the many friends in my RL Facebook feed who have been reminiscing about watching “In Search Of,” because while I remember that, I had forgotten that that, too was Leonard Nimoy. And he went on to other things in his life — so that many constituencies remember him well.

For me, Nimoy was solely about Mr. Spock, and Mr. Spock had no physical or romantic attraction for me, or at least not in the mass I would experience it later. I had a poster of him on my closet for a few years (before my mom asked me to remove it). The image was something like this one from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, if I remember correctly:

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Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, on Vulcan after his resurrection in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The plot was stupid but the thing it spoke to — Kirk and Spock’s friendship, stressed to the point that Kirk sacrificed his son in the process of trying to save his friend — was not.

The poster was right under a little plaque I received from a Sunday School teacher with the Bible verse, “Commit thy way unto the Lord.” I think mom had been talked by someone into being worried about Spock’s ears. That’s really not what she should have been worried about, I think; rather, potentially, anyway, the problem with Spock from the standpoint of conservative Christianity was more that by that time he was turning into a Christ-like figure, with a sacrifice to save his comrades that killed him, and then a resurrection in that film.

Thinking back now, two things occur to me that were important at the time, although I don’t think they were clear to me then. The first was the question of Spock as half-human and half-Vulcan but raised as a Vulcan to have mastered his emotions (something he didn’t always succeed in doing, and a motif that reappeared in the first Star Trek film, when he rejoins the Enterprise crew after failing at the Kolinahr ritual to purge himself of any remaining emotion). That was an always productive axis for me to think about — both my feeling in general that I needed to suppress and master my emotions, but also my mixed feelings about that process. Mr. Spock offered a model to think about.

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After he thinks he has killed his friend, Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is overjoyed to discover that he’s alive, in Amok Time.

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Secondly, however, there’s the whole question of friends who love each other so much that they are willing to risk death, even to die for, each other. Kirk’s clueless attempt to support Spock during the pon farr in Amok Time leads to his temporary death at Spock’s hands, for instance. And, in The Wrath of Khan, explicitly mentioning a utilitarian maxim, Spock decides to expose himself to radiation poisoning in order to repair the damaged warp drive so the Enterprise can get away from the Genesis device.

But this is not, as far as we know, only a utilitarian calculation — because Spock cares about all of his friends aboard that ship. His decision to sacrifice himself is motivated equally by logic and emotion. And the notion of a friendship that could surpass romantic attraction: that is, and remains, hugely attractive to me.

What are your favorite cinematic shots in The Battle of the Five Armies?

•March 1, 2015 • 11 Comments

James The Tolkienist is at it again, ranking the ten best cinematic shots in the Peter Jackson Tolkien films. Quoting him: “In filmic terms, a shot is basically a number of frames. A shot can be anything – a landscape, a setup, a character’s face – in front of the camera. It can be of any length in duration, without breaking away from the action – thus, without any editing cuts.”

James love this one: Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the dwarves charging forth from Erebor.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) leads the dwarves as they seek to rally the defenders of Erebor in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) leads the dwarves as they seek to rally the defenders of Erebor in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

I’ve discussed some I like before, such as the shot I called Thorin’s Caspar David Friedrich moment, or this one, when Thorin retrieves Orcrist from the body of the orc that Legolas (Orlando Bloom) has just skewered:

Thorin (Richard Armitage) pulls Orcrist from the body of a falling orc, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) pulls Orcrist from the body of a falling orc, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

But here are a few more that, off the top of my head, impressed me. I noticed in compiling these lists that I seem to like shots that play with perspective.

The one that immediately occurred to me involved Bard (Luke Evans) using his son Bain’s (John Bell) shoulder to aim the black arrow after the windlass failed. There are number of shots here that really compel the viewer.

First, the nocking:

Bard (Luke Evans) aims his arrow at Smaug over the shoulder of his son, Bain (John Bell), in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Bard (Luke Evans) aims his arrow at Smaug over the shoulder of his son, Bain (John Bell), in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Then, the look of on his son’s face when he realizes what is going to happen:

Bain (John Bell) bravely allows himself to serve as guide for his father's arrow, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Bain (John Bell) bravely allows himself to serve as guide for his father’s arrow, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

and the sheer determination on Bard’s face as he tracks Smaug and starts to aim:

Bard (Luke Evans), his face full of bloodlust, aims at Smaug in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Bard (Luke Evans), his face full of bloodlust, aims at Smaug in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

And then, the release of the bowstring and the whoosh of the arrow past Bain’s shoulder and notionally, that of the viewer:

Bard (Luke Evans) lets go the arrow that will kill Smaug, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Bard (Luke Evans) lets go the arrow that will kill Smaug, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

That was just a delightful series of shots. OK, what else did I like?

Liked the tunnel perspective of this shot:

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) comes to parley with Bard in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) comes to parley with Bard in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Loved Bombur blowing his horn, I think because it was a reminder (one well-needed in this film, which really cut down drastically on the character sketches for the sake of brevity) of the thing that got the dwarves this far — that even the people whom one might think were a drag on the company had their unique talents and special roles to play:

Bombur (Stephen Hunter) blows to announce the dwarves' entry onto the battlefield in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

Bombur (Stephen Hunter) blows to announce the dwarves’ entry onto the battlefield in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

And then, I really liked the eerie feeling I got from watching Azog underneath the frozen lake from Thorin’s perspective — a moment that made me shiver.

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After his fall through the ice, Azog (Manu Bennett) floats as Thorin watches him, in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Screencap.

So — those were a few of mine. What are your favorite shots in The Battle of the Five Armies, or, since we haven’t done this before, in the Hobbit films in general? If you would like to leave a comment with a brief explanation, I will post a screencap for you tomorrow.

A less than peaceful Sabbath with The Crucible on screen and Richard Armitage

•February 28, 2015 • 20 Comments

[I know some fans now become upset when others refer to The Crucible on Screen. I sympathize with everyone who has not yet been able to see the production in any form. I offer those people my peace, however, since I do have legal access to the play and I’ve decided I am going to write about it. I continue to believe that the piece will become available to general subscribers to Digital Theatre, once the company has exhausted the film’s cinema and institutional subscription potential. As far as I have been able to ascertain, rumors to the contrary are as of yet suppositions not based on any evidence beyond the ongoing apparent delay of the North American release as a digital download.]

[Edited for typos.]

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Tonight, I took the opportunity to watch the production from my institution’s library subscription to Digital Theatre Plus. Worked a charm, streaming delivered smoothly, and while the video quality itself wasn’t amazingly high resolution, it was more than satisfactory. I’m going to drop some initial impressions here, though I’ll have more to say eventually.

Now having seen it myself, I find that assertion tremendously interesting. I’m not speculating on what Armitage meant, but rather using the idea of “capture” to talk about the film.

To me, anyway, the onscreen version is a thing fundamentally and decisively different from the stage version. Naturally, live theater and video are two different things. I don’t think the difference necessarily disadvantages our perception of the screen version — just that the two phenomena are only deceptively similar manifestations of the same event. In that sense, the screen version certainly “captured” some aspects of the play, but it comes by no means even close to reproducing the event as I experienced it. The scenes cut into the video version were played about a week after I left London, and Yael Farber came back to tweak the production, and I found some obvious changes between what I saw and what one sees on screen.

The energy of the work is noticeably different — though it was a shouty play when I saw it and it is shoutier here. Although the run time is back up to 3:19 (when I saw it, it was more like 3:05), it seems to move more quickly, primarily because of the editing, which, although very traditional in style, focuses our attention very quickly on the most important thing happening on the stage. On the one hand, one of the more valuable aspects of the production in the round with the audience so close is largely lost in the video: my awareness that everything I was seeing was inevitably, almost disturbingly, perspectival, the interpretive problem I couldn’t avoid that despite the fact that I could have been catching spit from some of the actors, I was only ever getting a section of the “truth” of what was happening right before my very eyes. On the other hand, however, the screen version, with its “omniscient camera” editing style, probably gives us a clearer idea of what Yael Farber, or perhaps Yael Farber and Robert Delamere together, wanted to say.

The latter lends itself better to thought about the play, for me. I brought a lot of stuff with me to this play, as this blog has made clear, but the sheer fact of Armitage’s physical presence overwhelmed a lot of that when I saw it live. From that perspective, the astounding personal energy of Richard Armitage on the Old Vic stage — while there’s a palimpsest of it here — is simply not fully captured by the screen version. I concede, however, that this is probably one of the most “physically angry” roles that fans have seen him up to this point that didn’t involve the active employment of a weapon, so those who didn’t see it on stage may be somewhat taken aback by just how “unleashed” Armitage can be as an actor. Although he never shoots a gun, Armitage’s Proctor has a subtle malevolent vibe (first seen when he threatens Mr. Putnam) that explodes again and again. I never believed Armitage’s statement that he could throw a chair until I saw him on stage, and now I very much accept his subsequent assertion that he has has to learn to tone himself down in real life as a physically imposing person. On the other hand, the video version focuses the Armitage fan back on the production of the play as a totality. It was certainly clear in London that it was an ensemble work rather than a leading man play (in contrary to Richard III, for instance), but that becomes even clearer from watching the video version. As a viewer, one simply can’t follow everything Proctor is doing in response to what the character observes, because he is repeatedly cut out of the screen. (The same thing happens, and is a greater loss, to Adrian Schiller as Hale.)

And Armitage? I think the fan who did not see him in The Crucible on stage will probably gain an impression similar to those who did, for this piece reveals like never before in what we have been able to see just how much Armitage has as an actor. His work up until this point has always put him in a context where he was an (at times decisive) piece of the production but the whole thing wasn’t resting on his shoulders. (The way he moves his trapezius in Act Four is unforgettable.) Here he bears a lot more responsibility and not only does he not come up lacking, he delivers in spades. More than that: one has the impression that there are still hidden depths in this man, that the next time he appears on stage, he will have not only different things to show his audiences, but perfected versions of them. However I feel about some aspects of his performance (as I noted in my September review of his performance, he sometimes appears verbally undercommitted in the “louder” scenes of the work, and that is still apparent here), what comes across is the incredible power of his physical presence, his energy, his magnetism, his ability to draw all eyes to him with the shifting of his glance or the position of his hands. We don’t miss words here in the way that we occasionally did in the theater, but if we did, his body would distract us from that. In that sense, the video captures so much of his potential, of this snapshot along his professional journey. In Act Two, in particular, we see the combination of the physical and the tender Armitage in ways that we did not see before London — and getting to see that, again, alone is worth this amazing capture. I’ve never before felt like I really had a sense of what an Armitage character might be like as a husband beyond very brief glimpses — and John Proctor is that character personified. Proctor the husband, Armitage the very masculine man — captured.

Some final random impressions: To me, the reduction of the entrancing scene changes (which are still atmospheric, but simply not as vivid) was a huge loss, but I suspect that will be the case only for viewers who are comparing the screen version to the original. The closeups in the washing scene make both the charms of Armitage’s physique and the larger meaning of why he was shirtless at that moment even more forceful. Anna Madeley in particular gains a lot from the closeup style of editing, as does Natalie Gavin, but Samatha Colley (somewhat like Armitage) lost a bit. The choreography of the “possession” moments of the play was altered and improved so that it didn’t seem quite so much like a dance. The kiss is still fantastic.

I can’t believe I can stream this thing at will IN MY OFFICE. I think I’ll be spending a lot of lunch hours with John Proctor. I can’t wait.

OT: Rest well, Mr. Nimoy.

•February 27, 2015 • 6 Comments

Leonard Nimoy has died. Look for a memorial post soon.

Snippets of things Richard Armitage says in the Digital Theatre Plus interview

•February 27, 2015 • 31 Comments

So, it turns out that my institution is a Digital Theatre Plus subscriber. I was able to watch the 16 minute interview. Although we have seen big chunks of it already, some additional information that was interesting to me, anyway. I don’t believe I am breaking any rules by reporting my experience of something that I was able to watch legally.

  • He is interested in playing Proctor as a process of ascent — or the ways that playing the character feels like an ascent, and intrigued by what he sees as Proctor’s occupation of the lowest possible point just before he ascends to the highest one. (Gets to status issues.)
  • Armitage states in one part that John Proctor finds the courage to die for the truth. “To die for the truth is better to live with a lie branded on your forehead.” (Answering our questions about this problem earlier.)
  • He calls the initial process of working on a role “stripping out the text / the stripping out process,” and that involves for him, first of all, learning three things: what the character says about himself, what other people say about the character, and what he says about other people. If you have that, “you have the man.”
  • Some broader reflections on the social history of Salem, particularly child mortality and rough winters, as it relates to the world of the play.
  • Act Four was different to play every night. Part of preparation for Act Four involved putting himself in a stress position before his entrance that he wasn’t allowed to leave until his part started. During rehearsal, Yael Farber put “Abigail Williams” on his back, but Armitage says that wouldn’t have been possible for him for the entire run of the play, but had to do with suffering, toil, and resilience.
  • He thinks that the decision to die relates to the problem of the confession being posted on the church door, that he couldn’t accept that his name would be listed there as someone who had betrayed all of his friends to save his life. Armitage then relates that to Miller’s encounter with Elia Kazan (the one reprinted from Timebends in the program of the play) and Kazan’s statement that he was going to name names and Miller’s inability or refusal to do so. (Servetus thinks this is an over-romanticized and rather one-sided version of what actually happened, but reminds herself that she is a historian and Armitage is an actor and each of us need different things from our work.)
 
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