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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Sunday Read: Actor's Notes - Paul Hopkins and In Absentia

l-r Paul Hopkins, Jillian Fargey, Jade Hassouné (photo:

From With-In Absentia
Actor's notes 
by Paul Hopkins

I’m currently performing in Morris Panych’s new play, In Absentia, at the Centaur. I play Tom, husband to Colette. To me, this is a story about love. And boy, do I love this play. It reminds me of what I love about theatre: The opportunity to explore the big questions. Below are various thoughts, questions and obstacles that I had during the rehearsal process. The audience only gets to see a prepared meal. What’s below might give a taste of some of the ingredients that went into it.
FYI - The play, in case you haven’t seen it: Colette lives in a house next to a lake in cottage country. A year earlier, her husband was kidnapped, in Columbia. She’d agreed to pay the ransom but then never heard back from the kidnappers. Since then she has remained in limbo, not sure whether her husband is alive or dead. She has taken to talking to an imaginary husband, and receiving consolation from her neighbour and sister. The play begins when a young man shows up at her door, seemingly out of nowhere. The play moves forward from this moment but is comprised of little scenes that jump back and forth in time.
I Love Theatre. Theatre allows me to bathe in the ultimate questions alongside smart, compassionate, engaging people. Rehearsal for this play, especially early in the process, was all about examining and uncovering…trying to find a way to use theatre and its devices to express or manifest this beautiful story about love. 
In Absentia and Morris Panych. The term “In absentia” is Latin and is typically used to refer to a defendant in a trial who isn’t present at the trial. Morris suggested, in an interview, that it refers to an absence of God. Is this a play that puts God on trial? I wonder.
What a joy to have Morris in the early rehearsal. Most interesting: he doesn’t have all the answers. Thankfully, neither does the play. 
The Play. 
  • The play reads beautifully. Putting it on its feet...a noble challenge. 
  • The structure of the play reminds me of something a friend said about his Vipassana meditation retreat. You realize that your mind is constantly swirling around unsolvable problems. The structure of the play is like her mind swirling and checking out every angle to find a solution where there is no solution.
Is there a God. For Colette, she begs the question of Tom: Is there meaning in life or is it random? Tom thinks some things don’t make sense. Colette can’t accept that and needs to find meaning behind her horrible circumstances. Is there a God or an ultimate reason behind reasons? Tom thinks there isn’t. Colette thinks there has got to be something. I think Tom eventually changes his mind: Love exists when everything else is gone.
Colette and Hamlet. Hamlet came up a few times in rehearsals: 
  • Imagery of being frozen, static, unable to feel or move forward: Hamlet: Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt, Thaw and resolve itself into a dew. Colette: This isn’t feeling this is the absence of feeling… They want to move forward but can’t.
  • Lots of soliloquies: does the character step out of the action to soliloquize? How does it move the action forward?
How do I play Tom? 
  • Tom isn’t a ghost or a spirit. Okay. Is he a figment of her imagination/sub conscience? Is she channeling his spirit? So are my intentions linked with hers? Morris uses the image of a dream. The characters in a dream have their own motives. What motivates characters in a dream? We have taken to calling him an entity.
  • Why does Tom move, enter, exit. I’m directing myself while onstage. I need to be in the story not outside of it. Yet I’m playing a character outside the story. I guess I can use it. What do I do with my hands? Morris suggests this isn’t a bad question for my character to have. Why do I leave the stage? Why do I enter the stage? I don’t know… I’m lost… So is the character? 
  • A guide. Tom’s is a guide for Colette’s journey. He loves her. He challenges her. He consoles her. He steers her. But he’s limited in what he can do from where he is.
  • Lost. I keep getting lost and don’t know where I’m supposed to be on stage.
Tumaco, Columbia. What a terrible place. No trustworthy authority, ruled by corruption. Part of the US war on drugs. Farmers of coca can make twice the minimum wage, $12 an hour. Then the U.S. army comes in and fumigates their crops. So they move to Tumaco. Thank God this isn’t the air we breathe in Canada…as far as we know.
Confession. Colette confesses her sins, as if it might bring him back if she purged herself. 

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