In The Crucible, the Proctors sit at their plain table with John’s brief failing between them. He is a good man. He makes every situation better, more reasonable. He is a natural man. The land is his, and he is the land’s. Everything is in the quietness. She is the quietness. Christopher Innvar with a voice which lurches sadly, breaks the silence. Kim Stauffer, with a face barren and wide, makes cautious answer, and holds the distance between them in her hands. These marvelous actors do not push the scene or frighten the quietness. They wait upon it. It becomes their whole union. Maybe the best art is the stillest. One thinks of the necessary silence in Rembrandt’s great “Prodigal Son” where the hands, the fingers of the aged father are the only speaking agents, his old head only cocked in a certain way that seems to speak. Or the earned sense of settled quiet I heard in Peter Pears’ singing at the end of his time on the stage, most of it at least a half-tone flat. What is this? As I saw at Barrington Stage, this is a listening. Listen first, sing later. After the miners rose encapsuled through dark tunnels in the earth, after the silence, there was singing.
Garrick Ohlsson sat on the bench in the Troy Music Hall and adjusted his clothing for quite a while. He then looked at the keyboard kindly, like it was a dear old pet. This was a listening. Out came a poetry that made two hours of Chopin seem like one long revelation of the Romantic inside. There was no hurry. When the music forced him to move his fingers rapidly, to compel, he seemed less at ease, waiting to return to the great inside, where the listening was.
There was a listening man sitting next to Josh Aaron McCabe in Shakespeare and Company’s chock-full-of-ideas The Real Inspector Hound. Mr. McCabe made the most of his turn as a critic, sitting among the throng, and the listening man to his right began to act. His performance was the most natural I saw that night. It leavened the archness of the play. It made it seem like play.
Musicians, actors, endure much in their work. Why? Because they have listened. They have heard. They have heard the horns of elf-land faintly blowing. Faintly? Yes. But there.