I have a brother. We are close in age. The experience of our childhoods, of our culture, of our parentage, good or bad, are virtually identical. Those who meet us separately often comment on how drastically different we are. Those who see us together shockingly proclaim that we are practically the same person. I find this fascinating. The truth, of course, is absolutely both perspectives. As an actor (at risk of artsy pretentiousness) I am interested in this dynamic from both a personal and sociological perspective.
The other day my brother was asking me about the show… specifically my process as I develop these two sides of the fraternal coin, as it were. He is especially interested in this kind of stuff when I’m working on a play; which is funny because he hasn’t seen me in a production in roughly two decades (distance, time, motivation, whatever). As I described for him the details of the history I have been creating for these two brothers, he noticed that there are quite a few similarities to our childhood. I explained that my training, influenced heavily by psychological realism, leads me to self-examination as a jumping off point. This was the first step in my process for this show. From there, the mental informs the physical.
He readily questioned me about the second part of my process. I went into it… deeply… I have a tendency to ramble. The gist was this. The differences. What separates them from my personal understanding? These two bothers must have had a major falling out. Duke Senior, Duke Frederick…Good duke, bad duke? What if the Frederick was the bad duke as a result of a terrible thing that Senior did to him in the past?
Guess what. I have a secret. Sure, Duke Frederick does not appear to be a good person (probably a personality disorder), but he is that way due to the actions of his brother. Similarly, Duke Senior seems like a great guy. However, he spends his life trying to make up for the terrible things he has done in the past. It’s kind of a guilt thing. My brother was fascinated by this. He was interested in my catalyst for this approach.
The answer is in the study of psychology. Specifically the Diathesis-Stress Model. This model illustrates that both inherited genetic traits and specific conditions providing stress factors are required for a mental illness, or disorder, to manifest. That stressor causes a break from normative cognitive function resulting in the appearance of the previously unapparent, less apparent or dormant disorder. The disorder may remain permanently apparent or come and go with periods of relative normalcy in between stressors.
So, it became very important to my process to discern the stressor that caused the break between the dukes. It seemed to me that this break caused them to lean heavily into their differences. My brother became very curious and asked if they would have been close if it weren’t for this event. The answer was, I believe they would. Best of friends, most likely. This pleased him, I think. It rejoined the characters and our own history. I think he enjoyed feeling like he was a part of the story, and indeed he is.
By the way… What triggered Frederick’s apparent personality disorder? What caused Senior to deal with his life through avoidant coping? If you are interested, ask me when the show is over.