The actor, playwright and Princess Bride star is also an essayist. Here, he explains why reading dialogue away from its performance has a magic of its own
On the one hand, there’s something rather strange about the idea of reading plays. You could certainly say that what a play is, really, is what actors do together in front of an audience—or a one-person play is what one actor does alone in front of an audience. When you see a play, you see people, members of your own species, engaged in their ordinary physical life in front of you—walking, sitting, digesting, growing older, talking to each other, perhaps touching each other. Their names, in the play, are not their “real” names, maybe, and the words they say to each other may previously have been “written”—but a play is basically a physical experience, for the actors and for you, and most of what you’re seeing is exactly what you seem to be seeing—the actors are talking, they are touching, they’re thinking, they’re feeling things, they’re living in front of you a certain portion of their lives that will never come again.
The previously written dialogue drives the actors to experiment with saying what is not true. The dialogue forces the actor to practice the human skill of lying. And actors do perfect that skill and can become extraordinarily convincing. Sometimes the actors conspire together to fool the audience with lies that everyone knows are lies. One actor says to another, “I just swallowed poison,” and that is a lie, and both of them know it, although you in the audience are in some sense fooled. But part of the fascination of theatre comes from the fact that the actors are not always lying.