Yes, that's right, and our mullein is not packaged for smoking, which is why many theatrical productions use it. We used it during Cuckoo's Nest, and with the ventilation system working, no one noticed. As we pointed out before, for some people the difference between a non-carcinogenic herb and tobacco is significant, and the potential for irritation is significantly diminished with the ability to use the ventilation system. Again, I would ask you please to clarify that in next week's issue for those who may not wish to attend based on your description of the smoke problem.
I did not want to get into the legality of the cigarettes because I am not an attorney, but in their ban on the public indoor smoking of tobacco products, the Colorado Revised Statutes state: "'Tobacco' also includes cloves and any other plant matter or product that is packaged for smoking." (CRS 25-14-203)
Regardless of the legality, I wanted to focus on a simpler issue. The smoke from the mullein cigarettes is likely to bother some theatergoers and they need to be aware of that ahead of time.
First, Todd, let me thank you for a great review. It’s much appreciated. I wanted to say a couple of things, though.
The most important is that we’re NOT using real cigarettes. It’s illegal to smoke tobacco products in public establishments, even onstage. Telling people that is likely to keep them away from our show, and that’s not good. Instead, we’re using hand-rolled mullein which, when smoked, is used to treat respiratory ailments (http://firstways.com/2011/12/07/five-surpr…). I realize that you say you found the herbal smoke just as irritating, but for those who care about the difference, I’m hoping that after reading this you might be willing to print a retraction in next week’s edition so that it only endangers one weekend’s attendance, which, for a house our size, can mean a great deal. We planned to have the fan going, as well, but as you pointed out, the lights were using too much power. The building was wired in the 30’s, some of the wiring is unstable and it, not the crew, is having some problems handling our lights; the assumption that we would take the trouble to install all of that, which took weeks, and then not use that time to teach our board ops how to use it is just silly. I know critics have to play it close to the vest, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask about things now and again. We’ve addressed that issue now, at any rate; the lights are stable and the ventilation is back.
Regarding Blanche: I chose to interpret Blanche a little differently than some have. I don’t think she is a coquette (“a woman,” according to Merriam-Webster, “who endeavors without sincere affection to gain the attention and admiration of men”) – though she has her moments. She is deftly manipulative, to be sure, and often dishonest, but I’m not sure what you mean by coquettish; Blanche is a grown woman, not a debutante. A lady accomplished in the art of commanding male attention goes about it subtly: she certainly doesn’t have to show the effort. In my opinion, the notion that coquettishness got Blanche into trouble is a very shallow interpretation; Blanche is also a woman of penetrating intelligence, a characteristic that seems to be overlooked quite often in favor of her sexuality and personal frailties. The decline of her life has been brought on by things much darker and deeper than the empty desire to be admired. Her agenda is much more complex and a good deal more serious than that, and she tells us so.
Though Blanche is plainly unstable, I also don’t think she completely loses her grip on reality as early on as some people tend to assume. Remember: she’s not (…spoiler alert) taken away to an institution at the end because she’s crazy; she’s put there because her sister Stella doesn’t want to believe the horrible truth about her husband. It’s Stella who doesn’t want to face reality, not Blanche. The text doesn’t support the notion of her as someone who is completely, irretrievably insane. Nothing she says in the previous two scenes before she is finally taken away is actually that crazy. Some of it is lies, some is wishful thinking, some of it is truth – but she knows she’s lying when she lies. In fact, in the last scene with Mitch, just two scenes from the end, she’s more brutally honest about herself and the reality of her life and choices than she has ever been. She doesn’t let go of reality until AFTER her final confrontation with Stanley. I’ve seen very fine actresses descend into the maudlin and succumb to the impulse to ‘play crazy’ in this role, and frankly I consider it the most ham-fisted and least imaginative choice.
Tennessee’s own sister was put away and subjected to one of the first wave of an epidemic of pre-frontal lobotomies performed mostly on women, not for being insane in the true sense of the word but for having some behavioral and possibly chemical issues and for being inappropriately sexual, and he never got over what had happened to his dear Rose, whom he called “the best of us;” when you place Blanche in that context it becomes clear what he was trying to tell us about her. Mostly she’s just a desperate woman with nowhere to go, in a world which has no place for her, who uses the appeal that has gained her such admiration in the past to try to find some safety, and whose behavior becomes more outrageous and departs further and further from propriety as she fails. She may retreat into idealism or outdated notions from time to time, but in many ways Blanche is incredibly strong and much more realistic than we give her credit for. In fact, I think it’s important to consider that the trip to the asylum isn’t the end of Blanche’s story; it’s just where we leave her.
I’m not protective of my own performance as much as I am of Tennessee and of Blanche; nor am I offended by your review: you were very complimentary, and I appreciate that. I’m not so arrogant as to think that I got this exactly right: no actress ever really does; it’s far too deep and dense a role for any one performer to find and do justice to everything that Williams put into it. It’s kind of the Lear of female roles that way. Tennessee used to tell each actress he worked with on this role that she was his favorite Blanche, because there were so many ways to interpret it; each interpretation is going to focus on some of the nearly endless facets of this profoundly complex character and see them differently than another performer – or reviewer – might think they should. In the world of interactive media, however, reviews have become opportunities for interesting artistic discussions rather than the one-sided pronouncements they once were, and I think that’s great for everyone, including the audience. Criticism is an art; their work, like ours, is open for interpretation and evaluation.
There’s infinitely more to Blanche than most people who don’t delve deeply tend to see. Williams has given us a portrait of a woman of substance in serious trouble and out of control, not a weak, delusional flibbertigibbet whose vanity and flirtatiousness have brought her to a deservedly bad end. We’ve accepted a set of givens about women and sex and sanity in the past that demean and dismiss women in general and Blanche in particular. I think looking beyond that makes for a much more interesting experience.
As a prop mistress for this show, I too want to clarify that real cigarettes are not being used for this production. We are using hand rolled mullein. Also, Mr. Wallinger came on a night when the building electrical shut down in the beginning of the show. He implied that the light techs might not have known what they were doing. Our light tech is indeed very capable and was having to make fixes during the show. The electrical issue has since been resolved.
Thanks for your comment. The cigarettes may not be tobacco-based, but they're real in that they're lit, unlike e-cigarettes or baby powder-based stage cigarettes. To me, the smell and irritation were indistinguishable from that of tobacco cigarettes.
To clarify one important error, the production is NOT using real cigarettes. It’s illegal to smoke tobacco products in public establishments, even onstage. Instead, they are using hand-rolled mullein which, when smoked, is used to treat respiratory ailments.
I should clarify that I said 'the concept of Blanche's journey is OFTEN treated un-gently'. I've also seen it done beautifully. Don't want anyone thinking I've hated every production of this I've ever seen. Who knows, too, whether we'll succeed at it; we can only try.
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