Reviews for An Actor Prepares
Rachel Indeed chapter 1 . 4/4/2010
Sorry to be behind in my reviewing, but what a pleasure to find more new stories awaiting me! As always, you draw a complex psychological portrait ~ I really love the way you delve into Illya's gift (and curse) as an exceptional actor ("Trust" is the other story that really excelled in the same study). In "Trust" we saw the aftermath of one of his lesser performances, and got a sense of the cost it exacted: when Napoleon can't read him, when they can't be sure they are picking up each others' signals, the situation can be terrifying. The Gurnius Affair obviously ups the ante, and it was chilling but compelling to watch Illya methodically turn his mind and imagination to the formative experiences of a sadist. I loved the last passage about the tunnel, and the realization that every performance changes the performer, leaving him with a different perspective on life and a frightening awareness of his own potential weaknesses. It seems like Illya should hate this, should guard his own identity from such corrupting influences, and yet in some ways I think he recognizes himself and develops his own integrity all the more clearly through such experiences. It makes me think of the drabble in your "assorted ficlets" in which it's clear that he grew up under jackboots himself, and learned young to give his audience convincing performances while holding his true self, silent but vital, inside. Some days, I feel like that process has somehow led him to security and independence in his own personality ~ he can radically separate himself from the people his intuition leads him to convincingly embody. And yet stories like this remind me that he can't stay fully disconnected from his actions and character on these missions; it takes something out of him, to go to these interior places and force himself not to react against brutality but rather to inflict it in strategic and necessary bursts. All I can say is, I could *never* do his job.

Thanks again for the lovely vignette. It's great to read your work.
Emma chapter 1 . 3/8/2010
This story is quite fascinating. The idea that Illya would read Stanislavsky to prepare for that part is brilliant.

The quotations from the book were always perfectly used, and Illya's efforts to be so good, his utter detrmination while knowing he's on a very thin line indeed are rather chilling...

It almost seemed to me that Illya did find, not what would have to happen to him, but what did happen to him that could have made him become someone like Nexor - that thin line again indeed, because he's not that sort of person, but could have been. He identifies with the pain of Nexor, but he's the one who pictures that pain in the first place - thus he does draw on his own experiences, and in that sense the recoil he has, "Don't touch me", is not Nexor's reaction, but his own.

On a side note, I thought it was uncharacteristic of Illya to start when the archivist came in - which was very interesting, because, IMHO, it went to show just how affected by the mission he was, and at the same time, it could also just be another interpretation of Illya's character in the first place...generally speaking you write him as being a little darker than I see him...a bit like we both read our Stanislavsky and thought up different interpretations of Illya!

I also liked that Illya didn't think at all of his own childhood during the war - somehow it made it seem all the more like he was transposing his own feelings and experiences to the character he was about to play...almost like this Nexor is in effect a very twisted version of Illya.

Oh, and that's funny, because I read Stanislavsky translated in French, and Tortsov, to the best of my belief, is not once referred to as Arkady Nikolaievich. He's just Tortsov, which always puzzled me, as it didn't seem very Russian at all that we never knew his given name and patronymic.

Thank you for sharing,

PutMoneyInThyPurse chapter 1 . 3/8/2010
The archivist bristles. "So sorry to have kept you waiting, but we had to get the Soviet Ambassador to intervene directly with Moscow University Library, seeing as an English translation wasn't considered good enough."

"Have you ever read any English translations of Russian? They bear about as much resemblance to the original as Smirnoff's bears to vodka."

"Never drink the stuff," says the archivist. "I'll have to take your word for it. I still don't see what good a book on play-acting is going to do. What are you hoping to find in there, anyway?"

"A magical If," says Illya.

Oh, *Wow.* I love it all, all - the snippy tone of the archivist, the epigraph with the magical If, the archivist's incomprehension that *must* have followed from Illya's cryptic statement!

And oh, the pain of what follows!

That quote from Stanislavsky is amazing. "An actor playing a character very different from himself - a murderer, let us say, like Macbeth, or a traitor, like Marquis Posa – does not ask himself, "In what way am I like this man?" Instead he must ask himself, "What would have to happen to me for me to behave in such and such a way? What events, what experiences, would change me so that the character's behaviour becomes understandable to me, even reasonable?" How well it fits into what you're trying to do especially as you go to great pains to show that there's not much concrete info there, nothing for Illya to hold on to.

"Look, Maximilian, the man is crying. See how ugly he looks. His eyes are red, and there's snot on his face. You don't want to look like that, do you? So pull the trigger."

All of that - the graduation from teaching him "what happens to boys who cry", the reminder of it in the puppy sequence - getting him cowed, then teaching him to produce it in others - "Ask him questions, Maximilian. Ask him how he got here. You can see he's afraid of you. Teach him to be even more afraid. Teach him what real pain means. But be careful that he doesn't die." making a torturer of him, training the compassion out of him, and little details, like the repetition of his own name, 'Maximilian', like an indoctrination, anchoring him there, brainwashing him again and again, making his father's love dependent on the *things* he does - *shakes head*

...And poor Illya. Poor Illya especially as we know what he is going in to do, what he will be forced to do... and we wonder if he is flashing back to some moment of his own, or just so caught up that it's already twisted him a little inside: "Don't touch me!"

And this next part makes us ache for him:

"The intercom on his desk buzzes and he blinks, like a man emerging from a darkened room into bright sunlight.

"Mr Kuryakin? Mr Waverly says are you ready?"

"Um, yes," says Illya, and rubs his eyes. "Yes, I'm ready."

The little stammer in a man normally so sure of himself, the blink, the rubbing the eyes - these little details show us how far he has fallen into that pit of darkness, from which you tell us that he will never re-emerge unscathed:

He's about to step into a long tunnel. The walls will close in around him, the light behind him will vanish, and he doesn't know if he will ever reach the other end. But even if he does, even if there is light shining somewhere outside, it won't be the same man who walks out into it.

The horror of it, your story says clearly, is such that none can step into it and remain untainted.

And that's chilling.

Of course, it foreshadows what will happen in the episode. It - you just break our hearts, because "even if there is light shining somewhere outside, it won't be the same man who walks out into it." Not after the Gurnius Affair.

"He's ready to be Nexor now."

And never was such a sacrifice made.

Mel chapter 1 . 3/7/2010
Once again you have achieved something more than just a casual fun read. Enjoyable yet deep. Plus you have an artist's way with words.