Friday, August 25, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 25


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 832

It is a rollercoaster for Quentin Collins. Trapped in a cell, he goes from certainty that Trask will see him transform to delighted cockiness that he mysteriously… doesn’t. Released, he encounters Petofi, who gloats that Quentin is still very much part of his master plan. Meanwhile, in the B plot, Tim Shaw and Amanda Harris plot against Trask. Quentin learns that his portrait is aging and transforming into the wolf for him, leaving him physically perfect but saddled with a bizarre and incriminating piece of evidence. His infatuation with Amanda Harris, however, is a worthy distraction.

Watching David Selby perform in this episode is like seeing Acting from the Future. In general, the acting on DARK SHADOWS represents a style that was both incredibly advanced and somewhat primitive. So many of these performers are stage actors unloosed on screen rather than screen actors on their native turf. They are used to larger performances because they need to communicate seemingly-tiny nuances to thousands of people in what might be a cavernous theater. Not that they lack sincerity. Their sense of truth and seriousness comes from being the first generation to train as actors under the evolving Stanislavski system. It’s realism, but realism for Ibsen and Chekhov, designed by those still steeped in a fairly grand tradition of performance. It’s a strange mix of broad and surgical, traditional and raw. And then there’s Selby.

To praise Selby’s uniqueness is a precarious thing to do. He has several age peers on the show, and their training is impressive. I’m thinking, specifically, of Christopher Pennock. But I hesitate to make any substantive comparison because Pennock was asked to play far more heightened characters. Selby had to create Quentin to be as subtle and ‘human’ as possible so the werewolf would be a greater contrast.

832 is a marvelous resume for Selby because it allows him to show joy, pain, bravado, fear, strength, weakness, gravitas and gaiety. Watch Selby and you’ll see all of those things projected with seemingly no effort to speak of. With everyone else on DARK SHADOWS, I’m seeing acting. Good acting! With Selby at his best, which is frequent, I’m seeing a guy named Quentin Collins simply being. His acting is so sincere and unaffected that the Captain Kirk-like gyrations of lycanthropic pain he shows stand out as even more ludicrous than they would on a lesser performer. As awkward as they can be to witness, though, we still buy them as real.

Selby also has fun as an actor, and that’s something often lost with easy naturalism. Watch him nimbly work around Trask and match wits with Petofi here and you’ll see what I mean. We accept Selby’s level of performance excellence as a given in today’s acting. But compare him with many of his co-stars, and you’ll see that he was hardly in the majority in tv of 1969, and that makes his turn on DARK SHADOWS all the more fascinating. Rarely do we get to see an entire artform change before our eyes. Thanks to the work of David Selby, we do.

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