One minute after Joel Schwartz's Just a Quiet Note begins, Isabel gives herself a fix. Since the fact of dope addiction no longer has much shock value, this was merely distracting. Slipping into a documentary frame of mind for a moment, I wondered vaguely whether the actress's technique was authentic, and waited.
I suppose Schwartz means seriously the sketch that followed. It concerned an abortive reading of Hamlet, directed by Isabel's alcholic lover, Alex, who is the brother of Isabel's former lover--who died of an overdose of heroin. Alex reads Claudius, Isabel Gertrude. Hamlet is appropriately performed by Absolom, an idiot-child orphan the other two have inexplicably accumulated some five minutes before the scene opens.
I really can't see what Schwartz is getting at. If he said anything about dope addiction, or alcoholism--or life--the lurid plot props would be perfectly reasonable. But he doesn't. The play has no application either to the underworld or to the world in general.
It isn't really fair to quarrel with a writer's theme. What annoys me is Schwartz's laziness and pretension. He's had four plays produced at Harvard now, yet he still relies on obvious symbolism and surprisingly ineffective theatrics. He really seems to think that an adequate substitute for craft and perception.
His characters never emerge from their case histories. The liquor and drugs are essentially camouflage for the shoddy writing. His art is a side show.
The actors--Beverly Doyle (Isabel), Jim Shapiro (Alex) and Thomas King (Absolom)--and their "working partners"--Jesse Kornbluth, John Mercer, and Judy Zellweger--also performed some improvisations by way of demonstrating their rehearsal technique.
The idea, it seems, is that since drama is a matter of action, actors should practice not particular lines and crossings, but complete "doings." If, for example, the script calls for a search, the actor should improvise, hunting for whatever he wants to, until he becomes sufficiently involved in the action. Eventually, this should train the actor to concentrate, and to control his movements and voice by controlling his attitudes.
If you think about the word, "doing," a while, and about what is meant by it, you may begin to develop a whole new attitude about what the theatre amounts to. In any case, to judge by the conviction with which the cast performed Just a Quiet Note, the technique is a good one, and Director Kay Bourne very skillful with it.