“Mendacity, Big Daddy”, is how Brick answers Big Daddy’s question, “why do you drink”? He can’t tolerate the dishonesty of the world in which he lives. While not a teetotaler, Lee Strasberg never resorted to drinking to deal with the many slings and arrows that were directed at him. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, even though many other teachers took endless swings at him, he never responded in kind. Usually, he had good, and supportive things to say about the very people who attacked him.
We live in an age of unaccountability. People can say and do anything, and even when confronted with the truth that refutes their distortions, they continue to maintain their dishonest positions until they are accepted as truths. In this regard, I disagree with Lee Strasberg’s having remained silent in the face of the barrage of purposefully misleading descriptions about his work.
At the University where I teach the Sophomore Acting Company, Purchase College, SUNY, I assign “Stella Adler On Chekhov” as a reading to accompany the students first forays into this great modern dramatist. Stella is brilliant in leading us toward understanding the intricacies, differences, and joys of Chekhov’s characters, plays, and scenarios. Every time I assign this, my students marvel at the incredible number of times Stella takes pot-shots at Lee Strasberg. In my opinion, because he didn’t respond during his lifetime, these barbs have been passed forward as facts.
Once, while working in Lee’s study, I ran across something that, if published, might have ended Stella’s attacks once and for all. When I brought this to Lee’s attention he said, “no! That would hurt Stella and she’s too valuable”. Instead, because of his chosen silence, the misrepresentations continue.
The truth is behind all of our best acting. A great film star, James Cagney, (1899 – 1986) once said, “acting is easy. Just look them in the eye and tell them the truth”. It really is as simple as that. The difficulty is in learning how. That part of training, learning the truth-telling, depends on close cooperation between the teacher and the student. I often remind my students that it is important to keep certain information private. This actually aids in achieving open, honest expression. For example, as long as the observer(s) don’t know the identity of who you are creating, you have unlimited freedom to do or say anything without concern of being judged. And yet we often see an actor maintain a deceptive position out of habit or avoidance. If an actor doesn’t want to admit to him/herself the underlying true feelings about a person, or any other creatively imagined reality, it will be nearly impossible to be truthful in that part of a scene. Read the rest of this entry »