by Mahira Kakkar
What is it to love full heartedly? Without stinting? This was the question that came up in rehearsal for me today. Our director, Mark Lamos, has been saying some things about this play and about Viola in particular that have really resonated for me. He mentioned that we keep hearing about her “manners” in the play. And indeed everyone seems to fall in love with her within a few days or minutes of knowing her, so what is it about her that makes this happen? Sebastian says about his sister, “She had a mind that envy could not but call fair.” Mark has been trying to make a point of this with me. What if Viola always defaulted to grace? To generosity? To hope? What if she assumed the best of everyone and felt for everyone? And if they did behave badly she didn’t take it personally but put it down to breeding? (Olivia says to Malvolio: “To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take these things for Birdbolts that you deem Cannon bullets.”)
Viola was born a lady and was brought up well. I imagine that as a child she was educated widely and deeply and was taught to play well with others. It is no wonder that people keep asking Viola where she’s from because her good form keeps showing through. My story is a little circuitous - but here’s my point: I think Viola is smarter than I am. I think she’s a better human being than I am. I was telling a friend of mine this, a little shame-facedly because I thought he might laugh. I told him I was learning so much from her. It’s true. I leave rehearsal every day consciously trying to have space in my soul. And I keep asking myself more and more in my daily non-actor dealings with other people “What Would Viola Do?”
It’s not easy to be an actor. But what a fine example Viola sets me. In the midst of all the turmoil and post-having lost everything, she loves full throttle. She doesn’t go into lockdown, survivor mode, she constantly tries to work her way through things and when she can’t, she takes a big breath, let’s go and leaves it to the stars. Perhaps Viola is touched and/ or conditioned by grace and does not know any other mode of being. Whatever the case may be, she sets a fine example and I sure am happy to be spending so much time getting to know her.