Walter Mencken 11:22 a.m., April 26
Insights from within: Robert Foxworth
We watch plays from the house seats or read them under a lamp. If curious, we peruse what others have to say. But what's it like to be that character?
What's it like to be, say, Beverly Weston, the alcoholic poet in August: Osage County? Or, c'mon, let's swing for the upper deck: what's it like to be King Lear?
Robert Foxworth has played both at the Old Globe. It's a testament to his amazing versatility, and one of the reasons he's an actor actors love to watch.
Weston and Lear have similarities. They are fathers with at least three children (maybe even grandfathers). They are late in their lives and find themselves in "no country for old men." Yet each takes an extreme - and opposite - path near the end.
BEVERLY WESTON. Appears only in the prologue to August. He explains his dysfunctional home to Johnna, a native-American woman hired to care for his drug-infused wife. Along with instructions he talks about poets and life and death, and poets who took their lives. Though a mite tipsy from strong drink, he's composed, as if at peace with himself. The play begins with his disappearance/suicide.
"He understands exactly who he is - clear as a bell about it - and where he is," says Foxworth. "He was a poet [wrote one famous book of poems Meadowlark, decades ago] and was probably a pretty good father, though his marriage was volatile, as evidenced by his children.
"He finds himself past something. Never says quite what. And it's time for him to leave. He's so convinced of this he becomes rational: do this, arrange that. He even burns all his writings. It's as if he stopped altogether and has peered into a deeper reality he understands so clearly it isn't a problem.
"So he calmly puts things in order, then just slips below the water."
He seems so sane, so eerily at ease, the suicide comes as a surprise.
"That's what allows him to kill himself - to be strong enough to let go.
"I'm not saying I agree. I want to see what happens to my children and grandchildren. This may not be rational thinking, but it's how I feel."
Though he appears only at the beginning, Weston frames the rest of the play. While doing the role, in effect a crucial cameo, Foxworth kept acting guru Sanford Meisner's advice in mind: "an ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words."
KING LEAR. "There's no mention of a wife. I think he had two. His first gave him two daughters but no son - no heir - and he desperately wanted one (some say the Fool becomes his imagined son). So he had the first wife, let's say, 'eliminated.' Cordelia was the daughter of his second wife.
"Also, to remain in power, he was probably away from his family a great deal - fighting wars - and may never really have known them.
'Like Weston, he too is past something. Even before the play begins, he's having trouble thinking. It's early dementia and getting worse. He wants to keep it a secret.
"He reminds me of Dylan Thomas: 'Now I am a man no more no more/And a black reward for a roaring life/(sighed the old man, dying of strangers).'"
Weston goes gentle into that good night. Lear?
"Rages. He doesn't understand what's happening, or can't believe it could happen to him - that his mind could go. So he's filled with the fear of what's happening. He makes stupid decisions and sinks to the edge of madness."
More like this:
- Talking Lear, or trying to... — Jan. 13, 2013
- Interview: Jonny Weston — Oct. 29, 2012
- Literary August: Osage County — May 19, 2011
- Tracy Letts's August: Osage County at the Old Globe — May 18, 2011
- Words Like Arrows — July 7, 2010