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Details, details: Bain Boehlke directs a show
Special to the Star Tribune
Published Mar 3, 2002
Five weeks before opening night of the Jungle Theater's
"The Fourposter," and already artistic director Bain Boehlke was digging
deep into the details of performance.
Day one of rehearsals. Script in hand, Michael (Patrick
Coyle) was telling
his Victorian bride, Agnes (Jennifer Blagen), on their wedding night that
her youth was over. Frightened, she threatened to flee. "What's the
matter? What have I done?" demanded Michael.
"Good, you guys," Boehlke interrupted. Coyle's
reading was too manly for the dorky innocence
Boehlke envisions for the character. To help Coyle
find Michael's guilelessness, he asked him to work
without facial expression. "A frown creates an attitude
you can't leave behind," Boehlke said. "When you
clear your forehead, it takes you down into your
acting. I want you to have your hurt in your eyes, in
the shadow we call the heart."
"His meticulous attention to detail is the hallmark
accounts for the remarkable quality of Bain's
productions," said John Miller-Stephany, the Guthrie
Theater's associate artistic director. "He has a track
record of sculpting amazing performances from
actors. It's his vision of every detail of a piece that
helps and feeds an actor."
Boehlke's sumptuous production of Jan de Hartog's
two-person comedy exemplifies a creative approach
that has propelled him through 10 seasons of plays in his signature style
of poetic realism. Set from 1899 to 1934, "The Fourposter" tells the story
of a couple firm in their deep affection for each another as they negotiate
the tricky terrain of marriage.
Boehlke chose the play because he sees in Michael the
insecure and vulnerable -- the man it is unmanly to reveal. "This play
looks honestly at men," Boehlke said. "Michael is an archetypal, virtuoso
In casting Michael, Boehlke sought a
sweet-natured actor with boyish good looks who
could age 35 years. He knew he'd found his man
during callback auditions, when Coyle and Blagen
worked together as naturally as a real married
couple. He cast Blagen without an audition
because he admired her acting and saw Agnes in
her Victorian demeanor and beauty.
With "Molly's Delicious" still playing at
Boehlke rehearsed "The Fourposter" at the Old
Arizona studio. Rehearsals, running 6 days a week in both afternoons and
evenings, were playful and supportive, but Boehlke clearly had in mind the
intonations he wanted for particular lines and envisioned how each
movement must be rooted in the dialogue and stage environment.
"You pig!" said Agnes. "What?" said
Michael. "I like what you're doing,"
said Boehlke, and he was on his feet and repeating Michael's "What?"
until it sounded goofily expectant. "He still thinks she's playing," Boehlke
"I want you to know I'm frustrating to work with,"
he told Coyle and Blagen.
"I get paranoid about the detail I work in, but a change in emphasis can
shift the whole vernacular of the play. This scene is like a candle flame,
stilling and flickering between you."
After a flurry of interruptions in one scene, the actors
resistance. "It can be frustrating," Coyle later admitted. "Bain has to hear a
line his way. He directs like an actor, but fortunately he's a very good
Boehlke often created an unspoken thought behind a line
to deepen the
performance. When Agnes reproved Michael, saying, "I'd like to wash you
all over," Boehlke had Blagen turn away, glimpse the washstand and think
about the wedding-night intimacy it implied, and for which she was not
quite ready. "It's not in the lines, but if you feel it, the audience will feel it,
too," he told her.
In the mornings, before rehearsals, Boehlke and fellow
set designer John
Clark Donahue combed antique stores for period lamps, pictures and
furniture and chose bolts of fabric for drapes. Boehlke brought them to the
Old Arizona with the glee of a boy showing off his Christmas gifts.
After "Molly's Delicious" closed, rehearsals
moved to the Jungle 10 days
before opening night on a half-built set, and a sense of urgency took hold.
"We're going to up the ante," Boehlke told his actors. "You've got the
steps down; now, you get to work on the dance. We want the virtuoso
level, where everything is married to itself."
Coyle and Blagen perfected the dance on a stage bedroom
transformed daily as wallpaper was hung and drapes, carpets, couches
and pictures arrived. "Now that we're in our actual space," Boehlke said,
"everything on stage aids and abets the world of the play." That was
amplified when Amelia Cheever delivered a wardrobe of elegant period
clothes seven days before opening.
"This is really in the pocket, you guys,"
a beaming Boehlke told Blagen
and Coyle, on the evening of the first full dress rehearsal. "And I'm the
He tinkered less with the acting as opening night approached
concentrated on choreographing the complex architecture of cues that
had to synchronize precisely with the action. Sitting in the center of the
house, Boehlke hunched deep into himself as, scene by scene, he
conjured into being the world of light, sound and music that gives a play
To begin the play, he had the old-fashioned front curtain
open to a silent
bedroom lit by moonlight. "I want a horse and carriage drawing up to the
house and the distant chimes of a church clock," he told his sound
designer. A stage manager slammed the Jungle's outside door for the
sound of Agnes and Michael entering their house, and Boehlke called to
Coyle for off-stage footsteps and laughter. "Now, music," he said, and
Mendelssohn's wedding processional ushered Michael carrying his bride
into their bedroom.
During breaks, he paced, fidgety as a kid before a birthday.
Two days to
opening, and the four-poster bed was built but unvarnished; the drapes
lacked fringes. "I need everything in place," he said, "to create the poetic
world of the play."
All was complete on opening night, and Boehlke greeted
members and critics in the foyer. He sat in an empty side seat as the
grand curtain opened, and surrendered for a few minutes to the
enchantment he had created on stage; but he soon slipped out, too keyed
up to watch this all-important first night.
At the after-party, Boehlke talked to subscribers, eager
for feedback. But
only when the crowd began to thin did he relax. "I go through this agony
five times a year," he said. "It's brutal, but I love it."
IF YOU GO
Who: By Jan de Hartog. Directed by Bain Boehlke. When: 2 & 7:30 p.m.
today, 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Thru March 30.
Where: Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $18-$30. 612-822-7063.-- Minneapolis writer Elizabeth Weir followed rehearsals of "The