Rylance was, after all, the first artistic director of the Globe Theatre in London, turning that institution into a notable success, and both acting and directing productions of the works of Shakespeare. Instead, however, he arrived as the madcap, enterprising center of the swinging French farce Boeing-Boeing, in which two men try to keep three sexy "air hostesses" on separate flight paths while avoided a head-on collision. But it is perhaps wise not to predict the career movements of a praised English actor who was raised in Wisconsin, a leading Shakespearean interpreter who openly questions whether Will wrote his plays, a soft-spoken man who abhors microphones. Rylance, who is nominated for a Tony Award for his work, talked to Playbill.com about the Shakespearean aspects of Marc Camoletti, and the shameful aspects of acting with mikes.
Playbill.com: Do you think it's kind of funny that someone with such a reputation for Shakespeare should be making his Broadway debut in Boeing-Boeing?
Mark Rylance: (Laughs) Yes. It is pretty funny. I guess it is funny. It's a good play, though.
Playbill.com: Before Boeing-Boeing came along, the sex farce was a form that was basically thought to be dead on Broadway.
MR: Well, I don't think it's a sex farce. I think it's a romantic comedy. I think it's known as farce, and in the 1960s it was adapted into a kind of British sex farce. But when we came to work on it we returned it to the French original, and the original is much more to do with a romantic comedy in the sense that the passions and the chaotic nature of the desires of the men, and indeed the weather patterns and the kind of nature in the play seem to be destructive. But like a great colander, it sorts out the characters to where they potentially will be very happy. They end up with a single partner each. There's a classically happy ending, which makes it different than a sex farce, which doesn't have any kind of ending like that.
Playbill.com: It does have that kind of pairing-off ending you see at the close of Shakespearean comedies, doesn't it?
MR: That's what Matthew [Warchus, the director] and I saw in it, that it was something that was very well-crafted, at the top of the form of farce. I think farce has maybe become a bit debased or lost its way, but Camoletti, when he wrote this in the late '50s, I'm told he did a lot of research in the classical roots of it. So I think it has a very good structure and conception.
Playbill.com: That's interesting. Not much has been written about the author, Marc Camoletti, since the play came to town.
MR: He was an architect himself, like the main character. The play starts with the character's great scheme of having organized the whole thing [of having three flight attendant fiancées on different flight schedules]; the whole thing is like poetry, like geometry. And that immediately attracts the forces of Pan and nature to bring it down. (Laughs) Playbill.com: Was there a great exchange of ideas between Warchus and the cast?
MR: Oh, yes. Matthew is very unobtrusive. He doesn't stage or block things. He really casts well and lets the actors play and find things, and shapes it from what the actors bring. He's not the kind of person who comes in and tells you what to do. To me, it was particularly exciting this time. Because I'd done the play before [in London], I had some sense of where the level the scenes were going to get to. And it really was fascinating to see how gentle and patient Matthew was in giving the actors time to discover things for themselves and let the play take its own course.
Playbill.com: I was talking to Mary McCormack and she said every performance is exciting because she's never quite sure what you're going to do.
MR: I'm a little bit different. I wish I was more different every night, to be honest. Things happen. I do get ideas in the midst of performance. I'll never do anything that will throw another person out of character. But the thing grows and changes and things happen by accident. A lot of the time I don't know why the audience is laughing. Part of that is my training with directors I worked with in England who were very adamant that you should always [be] fresh every night, which became a pressure in itself.
Playbill.com: Can you give me an example of something you've done in the past week that you had never done before?
MR: A lot of it just goes out of my head. It's a bit like asking a tennis player or a footballer "Can you give me an example of a new move you did?"
Playbill.com: You do this production without miking, which is unusual on Broadway these days.
MR: Yes, that's something I insisted on. I can't bear microphones. I thought that miking almost ruined the Pinter play for me; it was totally unnecessary to mike those actors in The Homecoming. It separates the actors from the audience. The sound man is doing the work for you. It's a real horror. It's just fearfulness on the part of the producers and lack of practice from the actors. It's a great shame, I think. I think it's a great shame in musicals as well.
On this one, there was a big debate on it, because the producers were worried about it. It was a mutual agreement. I'm not inflexible. In the previews, Matthew Warchus came and took me up to the circle and said he'd come that night and there were three rows of people in the back of the circle who weren't laughing. Everyone else was laughing. He said, "It's clearly not a fault of you and the company being heard. Everyone else is laughing and you're being as loud as you can." There's a problem acoustically in that theatre. They've done something to the circle, or it was built badly initially. The sound was just not getting back to the circle. He'd watched it for a few performances. He said, "Either we're going to suffer these people always not getting the show, or we have to enhance the sound here." On that basis, I agreed to that. So, for those three rows of the circle, the show is miked. I think it's a great pity. But there didn't seem any way around it. The point about theatre is the intimacy, the connection between people in one room.