Saturday, April 01, 2006
A letter to Ruth-less.

(Someone wrote in to Kakiseni with some questions for Gavin, but I've responded instead...basket.)

Hi Ruth-less,

Gavin and I have been developing the character of Ruth ever since the very first reading. In fact we didn't really 'settle' on Ruth until the very week we opened. After reading the script and going away with the character development assignments given by Gavin, I came to my conclusion that Ruth's outlook on life is a constantly shifting paradigm. This, in essence, almost makes her childlike, impulsive and impudent - her actions are defined by her stream of consciousness. She is not calculative, but more cunning. I think perhaps her assertion of power is not validated by responses to her provocations, but merely her actions alone – the fact that she is not intimidated by Lenny, her petulant nature with Teddy. None of them respond to her in the stereotypical manner, (i.e. I Roar, You Cower.) Plus, a more logical explanation for Ruth's 'weirdness' is Teddy's line (in response to Max's suggestion of keeping her in Act 2 ) - " I'm afraid not, Dad. She's Not Well, and we've got to get home to the children." We had pretty much avoided this statement since the first reading, but ultimately the character development was such that we had to acknowledge it. Ruth isn't well. In fact, she's a little loopy.

So, in response to your questions - the lying on the floor, the nervousness and the general staring into the space was choreographed to convey the inconsistencies of Ruth. The goal was that Gavin did not want the audience to know what she was thinking, or what she was going to do next. It was important to discern that she was thinking of something, but what exactly it is or what she's going to do with it is meant to keep you guessing.

Teddy and Ruth. Yes, she is always this insufferable to Teddy. Our back story to Teddy and Ruth was that they were once in love, (hence the slightly melancholic goodbye between Ruth and Teddy, Teddy's pain when she dances with Lenny..) but ultimately Ruth's 'weirdness' did not complement the makings of a professor's wife. So, the last few years of their marriage have been rather turbulent, to say the least.

The last scene - Ah, the negligee. I have never worn so little clothing in public, so if it was just a gratuitous 'for-the-lads' moment I would have castrated Gavin with a butter knife. But since I believe it really wasn't, he is still walking upright. This particular 'visual' addresses the portrayal of women in this household and the issue of the 'male-gaze'. Women, in this household represent both the mother and the whore - the extremes of the male gaze. Max, in the same breath admires Jessie has a wonderful mother – "the backbone to this family...what a mind" and derides her as a "slut bitch of a wife" with a "rotten stinking face" . When Ruth comes down in her final incarnation as a possible replacement for Jessie, she represents this paradox. Her image suggests that of a whore - the objectified sex symbol, but yet her actions propel her to the top of the food chain. She demands without compromise, they agree to all her demands instantly. It is also a commentary that she has arrived in this position (no pun intended) through sex. Even though throughout the entire play, she doesn't really sleep with anyone. (With the exception of possible Lenny because of his "professional opinion"…we also explored the possibility that Lenny and Ruth might actually fall in love, because she is the first woman to challenge him, and he likes it! Or, like any other man, he's looking for a mother..)

So, I will tie this up by quoting theatre critic Michael Billington, who interviewed post-and-pre-nobel Pinter, "You can never say with Pinter that one interpretation is wholly right or another wholly wrong. What you can say, with reasonable certainty, is that the play continues to get under our collective skins..."

Anyway, I hope this has helped answer your questions.

p/s The rest of the cast might have something add...


At 1/4/06 14:05, Blogger Gavin said...

I'm glad you answered this question cos you've put it more intelligently than I ever could.:)

At 2/4/06 09:35, Blogger U-En said...

A friend of mine who came to see last night's show was fine with the general weirdness of the male characters. She was instead disturbed exclusively by Ruth, whom she saw as predator rather than prey.

For me, Ruth's is probably the most difficult role in the play to interpret and understand. Hers (and to some extent Teddy's) are roles that cannot be easily understood without some amount of talking cock.

Her dialogue possesses no obvious intent, and usually her meaning is completely divorced from her words -- a fact she herself makes explicit in the opening of Act 2 ("My lips move [...] Perhaps the fact that they move is more significant... than the words which come through them."

It would be nice to invent some logically coherent explanation for Ruth's behaviour, for example, she might be insane. It would be easy to marshall a host of feminist arguments against her, and against Pinter.

But when faced with particular lines whatever explanation we invent becomes either too simple (and thus inadequate), or it goes down the toilet altogether.

For example, Ruth's dialogue about legs and lips moving (Act 2 opening) looks on paper to be a defence of her husband Teddy in the wake of the general mayhem caused by Lenny's attack on the table.

On paper, Lenny's world is one that does not admit to form without function. The table has no existence without purpose and no purpose without the external application of will (once you have the table, what will you do with it? Where will you take it?).

Ruth counters with an argument in favour of the thing-in-itself, that ontological fact is proof enough of purpose: ("My lips move. Why don't you restrict your obsevations to that? Perhaps the fact that they move is more significant... than the words that come through them.").

This is the same as the "Art for Art's Sake" argument. For Ruth (in this scene anyway) Art is its own justification, but Lenny would argue that Art has no purpose unless it can either be used by people or if it can influence people.

Neither Ruth nor Lenny really wins, but it doesn't matter. In fact the whole argument doesn't matter. What does matter is that it's Ruth who takes up the philosophical challenge instead of her philosopher husband.

So far so good, but just as you settle on what might be a decent interpretation, she does a 180 and hits you with a non sequitur: "And there's lots of insects there. (Pause.) And there's lot's of insects there."

Max, Lenny, and Joey get up and go without explanation. Initial reaction: Hah? What the hell?

Ruth's words for me are a red herring. The key to understanding her is not her words alone, nor the context in which they are said, but rather the actions and intentions for which her words provide a feint in another direction.

As for the negligee scene, for me we come back to the question of action and intention versus things. A lack of clothes increases vulnerability. Jia-Wei has mentioned the male gaze, and that is precisely what the men are doing at the beginning of her entrance... they're standing around gazing in an atmosphere of supreme domination.

And yet, in the dialogue, it is Ruth who attacks, and finally triumphs. She counters every one of Max's salacious double entendres with seemingly innocent replies. She effectively has him on a string from the get-go. She out-negotiates Lenny on his own turf. The underlying commentary has become inherently political, and we've shifted back to Pinter's usual power-play.

And then she throws a parting non sequitur to Teddy ("Don't become a stranger") that seems to propel him out the door.

If this is not weird, then I don't know what is.

At 2/4/06 15:06, Anonymous midnite lily said...

It would be nice to invent some logically coherent explanation for Ruth's behaviour, for example, she might be insane.
Actually, I'd think the idea was how men already don't (or need to) understand women, because of the way the play is sexually skewed. Look at the ratio of men to women that Pinter's written. On the surface, it may look like he's written a chauvinistic piece that would send feminists demanding his *ahem* head.

I think what the audience saw was Ruth being manipulated into being a whore. Instead, the fact that Ruth's prowess was portrayed subtly and successfully shows what a woman can achieve without the (many) men around realising it. Sex & control was the theme and orientation of the play. She is a tease, a tease in control. She can dress less, while he can look but cannot touch. She can speak, but speak in actions and her movements. Words don’t move a man. Hence her success over Teddy’s (intellectual success) weighs far more.

It’s as though Ruth’s character representation says, "intellectualism alone gets you no where, without a body, I mean, a presence like mine."

Now that I’ve said all that, I now think that Ruth shouldn’t have gone all the way (as said earlier in my blog). Hmm…


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