Welcome to another entry in my ongoing craft analysis series (more about it here -- in particular, note that this analysis is not necessarily correct but my attempt to understand). Several weeks ago, I watched the Berkeley Rep's production of Rinne Groff's "Compulsion". I talked a little bit about the play earlier.
This play centered on a single main character and several satellite characters around that character. What I found interesting was that the main character spent every scene on stage as if the other characters were merely figments of that character's imagination. Making them seem even more like figments, only two other actors (one male, one female) played all the other characters. However, I hadn't noticed that the main character's editor and wife were played by the same woman until my sambo mentioned this during the intermission.
I'm interested in how the actor (and playwright and director) made these characters seem different. In writing, the characters come from the author and therefore the author needs to develop ways that characters exhibit different traits and personalities. To do this well, one can use multiple techniques to create this experience.
In the play, this was accomplished through four different mechanisms. The first was a change in physical attributes of the character. The primary difference was a medium-length, curly, blonde wig worn by the editor that contrasted with wife's short, straight, brunette hair.
The second mechanism was the difference in dress. The editor wore business attire with boxy shoulder pads that shaped her body differently than the sun dresses worn by the wife and resulted in the body types of the two characters appearing to look different beyond just the hair.
The third mechanism was in the body language. The editor expresses confidence and acts as if she has power over the main character. Her body language is dominating and done in a way to emphasize the aggressiveness of the business place. The wife plays a very sensual role and takes a more pleading role towards the main character and importantly in the first half of the play is largely overlooked by the main character.
The last mechanism is the voice. In particular, the wife is French and because this is a play you hear her accent with every word that she says. However, it's more than just this. Her word choice uses specific words that indicate that she is French and she remarks on one of the large English words that her husband uses in a way that foreign speakers might and turns it into a joke about the language.
I enjoyed the way that this play used these four different mechanisms to differentiate this character. What ways do you differentiate characters?