It is a question often asked of me: “How does one go about playing a drunkard and a roué?”
Since acting is all about finding The Truth of one’s character, I could reply that I down copious amounts of alcohol prior to every rehearsal and performance. (Hey, it worked for Barrymore.) However, taking method acting to such a degree would likely land me in hot water with my director, not to mention my wife. And it wouldn’t be The Truth. Suffice to say, the process of submersing myself in Toby’s character and plumbing his depths was conducted in an altogether less literal sense.
Despite having lapped in age my more youthful fellow cast members and having begun my shift into “lean and slipper’d pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side,” I am no stranger to the heady glow (and the painful aftereffects) of making merry, though my enthusiasm for such pursuits has been tamed by time. Beyond personal experience, I can point to any number of well-lubricated inebriates among my own kith and kin. While I will not mention them by name, and in no way seek to glorify such behavior, there are some who carry it off with aplomb, and armed with infectious laugh and ribald tale, anoint themselves Ambassadors of Good Feeling. My Toby is a distillation of situations and personalities drawn from a rich tapestry of celebratory overindulgence – moments frozen in time and made ever more legendary with the passage of it.
Truth be known, Shakespeare, whom I consider the ultimate sit-com writer of his time (if not of all time), carefully limned his comic characters and held them up as a mirror to those loud and boisterously appreciative patrons who stood shoulder to shoulder in the pit, hanging on every saucy turn of phrase, every earthy double entendre. By dint of this connection with Everyman, Toby is, on many levels, more genuinely human and intrinsically real than the heroes and villains who form the larger sinews of the plot, in no small part because his foibles and missteps are our own.
If spirits free us from our inhibitions, Toby indeed is the freest of spirits. A boorish freeloader who displays not even a soupcon of political correctness, he nonetheless embraces his inner child: acting on impulse and worrying little or not at all about the consequences. Like a child, it’s attention, favorable or unfavorable, that he craves – and like any practical joker, he often is disparaged publicly for his pranks, but privately applauded for making life a little more lively.
Oh, and one more thing I discovered about Toby: He cannot dance worth a lick.
From left to right: Nat Jones as Sir Toby Belch, Charleston Stage Resident Actor James Lombardino as Feste, and Eric Brown as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
From left to right: Charleston Stage Resident Actor James Lombardino as Feste, Eric Brown as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Nat Jones as Sir Toby Belch, and Kyle W. Barnette as Malvolio.