Blog posts tagged "theater"

Exit, Chased by a Bear

February 20th, 2004

Saw Seattle Public Theatre’s production of Winter’s Tale with Todd and Sarah this evening. It was community theater, and enjoyable. Winter’s Tale‘s tragecomic (The Tragedian would have been apalled by the lack of blood) , Greek-infused form is something of an oddity in the folios, and while its been praised for its realism, I’ve yet to encounter a production that brought that home for me.

With Shakespeare’s more obscure plays you often wonder if there is a reason they are obscure. Last time I had these thoughts were in the lead up to SSC’s Coriolanus, which in the end was one of the most stunning, riveting, inventive productions I’ve ever seen bringing out a richness and contemporaneity missing from much of the Bard’s more traditional works. On the other hand Pericles is just awful, and I can’t imagine why anyone would perform it. For me the jury is still out on Winter’s Tale. This is the second time I’ve seen it, and it has yet to be compelling.

A Dying Breed?

It did however get me thinking about the nature of the Shakespeare plays, and the nature of the actors we’re producing these days. Heather Hawkins as Hermione was wonderful. Except for the dramatic denouement in Act III she owned the words and made them hers in that way so essential to bringing Shakespeare to life. Next to this the actor playing Leontes (missed his name) struggled under the awkward weight of his prosy, melodramatic lines, and at times you squirmed at the sheer flowey-ness of it all. Hawke was great, but Hermione, while pivotal, is written more to a human scale. Leontes, like Hamlet, or Lear, needs a specialist, a patrician in old the RSC mold of Olivier and other greats to make the words sing. Otherwise they go leaden, and lumpy.

I’ve had the privilege of watching a few such figures at work, Tony Church in SSC production of The Dresser will always be memorable (a play about the fading patrician as it were), James Edmondson as Lear in Ashland (who is returning this season to direct the sorry king), and merely seeing Gielgud speak was enough to send shivers. But it seems to be a dieing breed (quite literally), and I wonder if we’ll have to see a radical shift in direction in order to keep these works alive. I’m not worried about them becoming un-doable, afterall we have actors who are being asked to carry heavier loads (Hirson’s La Bete’s entire first two acts are a physical, comic soliloquy in verse, and the Homebody of Homebody/Kabul must be a harrowing role), but I has my doubts that we’re producing a new generation of actors who can stand up, and play these old words straight.

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SSC and Merry Wives

August 2nd, 2002

I was working Merry Wives of Windsor today, mostly directing traffic, and trying to cram the 600+ people who showed up unexpectedly for a Thursday matinee, into the Glen

Doubts

This production has almost restored my faith in the play. Almost. Its a light weight, campy play, not all that good, written at the whim of the Queen because she took a liking to Falstaff. Master Ford is often played unbearably, so that you cringe every time he steps on stage, very few Shakespearean actors know what to do with the 2 pragmatic wives, and the only way one can play Falstaff is broadly (pun intended) and in doing so many people lose track of his humanity.

Besides, it is a very English play, and a comedy at that.
The humor turns on class, class pretensions, accents, and making fun of the Welsh and French. Never a scene slips across stage without some blue collar elocuting out of their depths, and tumbling, via some malapropism, into sexual innuendo.

Dxxx Sxxxx

That, and Dxxx Sxxxx absolutely ruined the play for me in 1993, with a horrendous production set in a 1970s trailer park. Sxxxx is always over the top, and his artistic contributions have been both brilliant and formative over the last 20 years. No one who saw Prince Hal as Boy George, ride into the Glen on a motorcycle will ever forget it. Nor Sxxxx’s cross cast Midsummer Nights. And one of my all time favorite theater memories, is his production of the Tempest, set on Gilligan’s Island with Ariel a flaming trapeze artist, Caliban dressed in leather boy bondage style, and “water nymphs” dressed in 50s style bathing suits, dancing in sprinklers in front of the stage, who also served as something of a chorus, holding up beach balls, karaoke style, of Ariel’s songs.(of course I had a crush on one of the nymphs, might have had something to do with it) But Merry Wives was dreadful, and he cast himself, hideously, as Mistress Quickly.

The Good

But back to this years show. Ford in particular was masterfully done. His jealousy amusing without being despicable(and more believable, with Mistress Ford being cast very sexily, at several points appearing in Marilyn Monroe garb for this 50s production) and his transformation into Master Brook, subtle. And Falstaff was also human enough to connect to, to care about, again so often played in equal parts despicable and buffoon.

The setting is in the 1950s, but without a single American Graffiti prop. This is not James Dean’s fifties of teenagers. This is a 50s of adults, mercifully void of poodle skirts, muscle cars, and Grease casting extras. A beautiful set, in orange and turquoise, relatively minimal, as is usual for outside productions, but very expressive.

And I wish plays sold sound tracks, because this one was a great mix of hits of the 50s , masterfully synced, in snippets, with the action on stage.

Also heard a rumor that Ashland is opening its New Theater (yup, thats what its called), replacement for the dearly departed Black Swam, with a production of Macbeth. Which is just asking for it, calls to mind Terry Pratchet’s line about standing “in a thunderstorm, wearing copper armor, shouting ‘All Gods Are Bastards’.” But not just any Macbeth, a 5 person, 90 minute, no intermission Macbeth. Wow.

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Coriolanus

July 9th, 2002

“Its a very popular play elsewhere, its play regularily in countries that take their theater and politics seriously.”

Shakespeare Santa Cruz is producing Coriolanus this summer, one of the few Shakespeares I truly know (knew?) nothing about. I sort of grouped it with Pericles as another Plutarch story that fails to translate to modern narrative forms. An obscure tragedy.

We went and saw Michael Warren tonight, UCSC professor of Shakespeare, and he corrected a few misconceptions.

First, its not an obscure play.

Second, its not failed, simply more expiremental. Separated over a vast time and space gap, set in Roman mythic history, Shakespeare had much more freedom to play with the roles of individual, the nobility, and God, all tropes that were largely fixed and not subject to much debate when writing more comtemporary work. (the hand of the Royal censor being heavy indeed)

Also its a really good cast. This almost makes up for them doing another staging of Merry Wives, a truly lousy play.

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