Fracturing face: Difficult lines, lines that move, Richard Armitage

Screen shot 2014-09-12 at 4.08.55 PM***

I don’t know if this is difficult, or moving, or both — but it is a noticeable moment in Armitage’s performance of John Proctor, and it was delivered with relative consistency throughout the nights I saw the play.

Act Two. Mary Warren has just informed John and Elizabeth Proctor that things in Salem are much further along than only that morning, or they had realized. She’s stated that she “saved” Elizabeth, and gone along to bed, and left the stage. Several pages earlier, Elizabeth has urged John to inform on the girls to end the frenzy, and he’s deflected her admonition via escape into a discussion of how she still suspects him (this is the interpretive point that Armitage added for me, which I referred to here — that Proctor can’t grasp what’s going on around him because he refuses to take his wife’s fears seriously, thinking them an outcome of unwarranted envy.) In the wake of Mary’s revelations, Elizabeth now works hard to convince John that he can no longer wait to tell the court what he knows, and adds the request for a favor — that he go to Abigail with the plan to spurn her explicitly.

The line is delivered as Elizabeth is trying to tell Proctor that he misunderstands Abigail — that the blush he displays when he sees her in church is, from Abigail’s standpoint, a sign of attraction and not one of shame. Proctor insists that he blushes for his sin (the phrasing is interesting — “I may blush for my sin,” i.e., I have the right to be ashamed; Elizabeth says Abigail doesn’t see it that way, and then asks Elizabeth what she thinks that blush is. Elizabeth replies: “I think you be somewhat ashamed, for I am there, and she so close.”

Proctor cannot deflect then — although he doesn’t want to admit it — because Elizabeth has charged that Abigail seeks her death, and Miller’s stage directions tell us that he knows Elizabeth is right. Proctor’s response, Armitage’s difficult or moving line, comes then: “When will you know me, woman? Were I stone, I would have cracked for shame this seven month.” (Incidentally, Armitage does say “woman” on stage — my impression from watching the play is that there are little divergences here and there — one that struck me in particular that I may blog about if I don’t lose interest — but that he’s largely word perfect.)

However difficult he finds it, this is a moment where word and body are working together perfectly. Proctor is standing stage right, behind the table, and Elizabeth is seated at it, in a lower status position. Proctor responds, and his entire face contorts when he is forced to say that he blushes for his sin. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it’s as if Armitage’s facial features ball up at the center of his visage until he is nothing but red face against brown beard, closed eyes, nose, and lips protruding with angrily pronounced words. Then he opens his eyes and glares at Elizabeth, his lips still open in anguish and entreaty. He chokes out the line in question — almost as if his face is so full of blood that he can’t speak — and while he stands up straight as if to challenge her, his face indicates clearly that he loses status as Elizabeth has pushed him back into the position of having to apologize. Armitage’s Proctor is simultaneously sad, ashamed, angry, and full of rage, and the compressed energy with which Armitage’s lips push those words out into the theater — and the tortured shape of his lips alone — communicate the sense that he could easily explode if pushed any further. Indeed, during the Saturday afternoon performance, Proctor got so violent in the aftermath of this line (when he gets his gun and decides to go to Salem) that he raised his hand to his wife slightly (Armitage’s typical “hit a woman only with the back of my right hand” move) and she cringed, although it did not go further than that as the end of this part of the scene has Reverend Hale breaking in on their argument by arriving unannounced.

It’s an interesting problem how to play this, because essentially, Proctor and Elizabeth have already had this conversation a few moments earlier — Mary’s revelations rearrange their relationship politics, however, and now they must decide what to do again. So the reprise has to be different and Proctor’s emotions have to change as he realizes there will be an interminable grinding reckoning for this situation. He can no longer be predominantly angry, or at least only angry. What’s added to the reprise by the script is that Proctor has to realize his humiliation is inevitable. Before he’s angry, now, one suspects, he’s rageful.

What’s interesting about how Armitage delivers this line is that, while his response is full of violence, it’s also so clearly marked by sorrow. Proctor turns his rage against himself, and every feature of his face reacts in simultaneous anger and grief. It’s multivalent and leaves open the question of what exactly he’s sorry for: the transgression itself and the weakness involved, his wife’s anger, or the impending loss of his name — with that, the loss of his self-image. The ostentatious crumpling of the face tends to point in the final direction, and the stone metaphor is intriguing.

“Were I stone I would have cracked” — that is exactly what Armitage does with his face. His face — fractures.

~ by Servetus on September 12, 2014.

12 Responses to “Fracturing face: Difficult lines, lines that move, Richard Armitage”

  1. You’ve brought it back so vividly. I had lost it in the tumult that follows. This scene took my breath, but it was not at all the line I had predicted was the most difficult for him.

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  2. What would you have predicted?

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  3. I didn’t have a strong expectation for which line was difficult for RA to say, but my best guess was wrong. I must have been projecting, because it is the line I would myself find the most difficult to say. Act 3, “I say – I say – God is dead!” I know RA has said he is not religious, but in my mind that is not the same thing as not believing in a higher power. I have no way of knowing RA’s spiritual convictions or lack thereof, but I suppose I like to believe that he has them. He certainly strives to stay humble and to put others before himself, and by all accounts is an incredibly gracious person. =)

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    • Really? RA is not religious? I thought I had read somewhere that he was a Catholic. Anyway no matter, I agree with you JH. . .I also like to believe that he has them. 🙂

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  4. I thought it could be something in that confrontation scene because it was almost the hardest to watch. My 2nd choice would have been act 4 but in a way maybe it’s slightly easier to work yourself up to that point? He doesn’t hurt anyone but himself in the last act, whereas in this confrontation there is deliberate hurt caused and felt. AND it’s against a person he loves and/or caused by the person he loves, therefore in a direct way while it happens more painful.

    But i would have probably thought it could be these lines “No more! I should have roared you down when first you told me your suspicion. But I wilted, and, like a Christian, I confessed. Confessed! Some dream I had must have mistaken you for God that day. But you’re not, you’re not, and let you remember it! Let you look sometimes for the goodness in me, and judge me not.” as this for me was Proctor at the peek of his rage, unleashed and hurting her back the way he’s felt rejected and hurt over these past 7 months. But i think it’s as much against her at that moment as it is against himself. for me it was always very painful to hear these lines.

    My other ‘moment’ would have been from act 4, these lines: ‘Proctor: Then who will judge me? Suddenly clasping his hands: God in Heaven, what is John Proctor, what is John Proctor? He moves as an animal, and a fury is riding in him, a tantalized search. I think it is honest, I think so; I am no saint. As though she had denied this he calls angrily at her: Let Rebecca go like a saint; for me it is fraud!’ Equally painful, as he was saying them i always felt i wanted to shake my head in desperate no,no,no,nos.

    His choice maybe has to do with the utter shame/guilt in that moment, for me again in a way similar to what he feels – but concentrated in one moment rather than built over 7 months – when Rebecca is brought in as he is about to confess in the last scene.

    I read these words and i see him suffering in front of my eyes…

    And more tomorrow as need to drag myself to bed. Have a little fist about my stomach when i think about tomorrow. One thing i’m sure of i wish sososo much i could take everyone with me to be there all together and be able to watch it, i wish we could all be there… If i could have just 1 wish that would be it.

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    • Hi, Hariclea, I’ll be there tomorrow as well!! Would you like to meet up? If yes, Servetus has my email address. I don’t know if she has yours?

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      • So sorry! Haven’t been online today (little sleep, traffic ridden trip to town, pain, tablets, sleep, nervous! ) now scrambling to get ready to go back Sorry I’ll miss you but we’ll hopefully catch up around here after (can’t even think after at the moment feel a bit like when I used to go to exams!) Hope you enjoy tonight a lot!

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    • I know. Truly, Miller takes John Proctor on such a journey through so many different types of emotions, almost all of which one could argue would be difficult for the actor living in Proctor’s skin to have to embrace. From the state of willful denial (“Wipe it out of mind. We never touched”) that Abigail so skillfully discredits, to the simultaneous shame and self-righteous resentment he wrestles with in Elizabeth’s presence, to the complete anguish of discovering that despite the humiliation of having just ragefully acknowledged their sin in an attempt to discredit Abigail in open court, it was still not enough to override the judges’ egotism and pigheaded determination to uphold the ludicrous stories of spiteful children over evidence and reason. First there’s the emotion of furious hopelessness- the “God is dead!’ line, and right after that he finally really embraces his own wretched veniality and casts himself and Danforth into damnation with “A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this be fraud- God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!” Poor Richard. I can’t imagine putting myself through all that night after night! And yet, from his twitter answers today, he relished the opportunity to experience “the full throttle, uninhibited release of a character” so I suppose it both drained and fulfilled him.

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