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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, July 4, 2006
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Festival-Time North & West: Shakespeare & Shaw! *
BORDER CROSSINGS: *
At Niagara-on-the-Lake— *
THE SHAW FESTIVAL: *
Arms and the Man, I Sing… *
The Crucible: a Greek/Puritan Tragedy… *
Magic Fire: Emigrées, Wagner, Peronistas, Colonels, Argentina… *
High Society: Barry, Porter, & Kopit Combined… *
In Toronto at the Princess of Wales— *
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: *
At Ontario’s Stratford— *
THE STRATFORD FESTIVAL OF CANADA: *
Duchess of Malfi: Jacobean Gothic Melodrama on Coast of Amalfi… *
London Assurance: Foolish Regency Fop in the Country… *
Coriolanus & Oliver!: Colm Feore Does Double-Duty… *
At Ashland— *
THE OREGON SHAKESPEAREAN FESTIVAL: *
Cyrano de Bergerac: He Wins by a Nose… *
Importance of Being Earnest: Ashland Bracknell Exceeds Redgrave at BAM… *
Diary of Anne Frank: Holocaust Memorial near Medford… *
Brush Up Your Shakespeare… *
Two Gents of Verona: Who Knew the Amish Were North Italian… *
Merry Wives of Windsor: Preferably the Verdi Version… *
Bus Stop: The Milk-Train Also Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore… *
Passing Through Portland: *
Between-Planes Manhattan Overview: *
Festival-Time North & West: Shakespeare & Shaw!
Not so long ago, Americans could cross over into Canada with only a piece of personal identification, such as a Driver’s License. Passports were not required. Now, however—thanks to Al Queda, the Taliban, and George Bush’s War on Terror—a valid US Passport is a Necessity, especially when Americans want to return to their Secure Homeland.
Curiously, at major airports, US Citizens have to clear US Immigration & Customs on Canadian Soil—before they ever land on their own Native Ground!
Your scribe first encountered this Official Anomaly at Calgary Airport some seasons ago, after the Pan-Canada New Play Festival. There is a reason for this, of course, as not all passengers may be getting off at the flight’s first stop in the United States…
But the new and much more vigilant Border Crossing Policies may have a negative effect on US attendance at Canadian Cultural Events, such as the Stratford Shakespeare and the Niagara Shaw Festivals.
Previously, busloads of school-children, high-school teens, and college-students have easily crossed over to these festivals from nearby Upstate New York, New England, and Michigan, virtually on recognizance of their teachers and schools.
A passport-requirement—with US Passports costing some $60, at least the last time I had to get one extended—may soon put a halt to these valuable International [as in "Between Two Neighbor-Nations"] Cultural Excursions. This is also a potential Loss of Audience that neither festival can afford.
Even some members of the American Theatre Critics Association—who had not been abroad in some time—had to get new passports for their Annual Conference, this year divided between Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shaw Festival and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
Last summer, the ATCA critics were in Los Angeles, conferring with fellow-reviewers from the worlds of Music, Opera, Dance, and Art. The Common Ground was anxiety over the increasing demise of newspapers and other print-outlets, as well as editorial-curtailment of Arts-Coverage in general.
This was still a concern this past June, but the major panel was devoted to Ethical Traps. If some regional critic was asked to endorse the work of his or her local theatre-ensemble, for instance, what should be the course of action, if any?
Is there a Conflict of Interest if you give a good review to your husband’s staging of Charlie’s Aunt for the Elks Club Benefit? That was not reported as a problem, but it is emblematic of the kinds of traps novice and local critics may encounter.
What was missing from the sessions was any panel on the Future of Blogs & Culture Websites. For some Veteran Critics whose papers have died—and therefore have no print-outlets for their reviews—writing for a theatre-website has proven a very rewarding extension of their careers. Not to overlook the continuation of their Press-Privileges!
Instead of other topical panels, Perspectives on Criticism offered three experts. The ATCA critics first heard Prof. Leonard Conolly review Shaw, in GBS as a Critic. He wisely quoted liberally from Shaw’s tart, witty, and often shattering critiques. Oddly enough, Shaw’s feared & admired reviews—in Frank Harris’ Saturday Review—covered a span of only a few years.
GBS’s championing of Henrik Ibsen and his much-despised "Well-Made Plays" was also explored, with a reference to his influential The Quintessence of Ibsenism, now sadly merely a great Charades-Title.
GBS was a fervent champion of the Music-Dramas of Richard Wagner as well and a Bayreuth Festival pilgrim. His Perfect Wagnerite also proved influential. Shaw’s music-criticism was presented under the nom de plume of Cornetto di Basetto, Conolly noted.
The second set of Perspctives—Critics and the Bard—featured London’s Ian Herbert and Canada’s Robert Cushman. Herbert is President of the International Federation of Theatre Critics, as well as Founder-Editor of the London Theatre Record. Cushman is a serious, demanding Canadian theatre-critic, but a former Briton.
Next summer, ATCA’s merry critics will journey to Las Vegas for the annual conference. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new 90-minute Phantom of the Opera—in a new purpose-built theatre—will be among the attractions, as well as several of the long-running Cirque du Soleil shows on the Strip!
THE SHAW FESTIVAL:
Like many Shakespeare Festivals—which have a large Canon of dramas on which to draw for each season—so also does Canada’s Shaw Festival have a generous catalogue of plays by George Bernard Shaw. Still, a change from the Main Menu seems always welcome, so Shaw shares the three Niagara-on-the-Falls stages with Sean O’Casey and Arthur Miller, on occasion.
The problem is that, while GBS was certainly witty and prolific, not all of his dramas are on a par with Saint Joan or Major Barbara. Nor are the white-haired summer audiences always on the alert for the complete Man and Superman, including the Don Juan in Hell interlude.
In Good King Charles’ Golden Days or John Bull’s Other Island might prove even more of a challenge to theatre-goers out for a Good Time. Nonetheless, Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell put them to the test this season with an interesting production of Too True To Be Good in the Court House Theatre.
One of the ATCA reviewers wondered what had become of the complaining Microbe—infecting the sick-room of an over-mothered, always-ill young woman—who vanished from the proceedings after the first scene. Actually, this puffy germ [William Vickers] drew the bed-covers over his head and suggested that, to all intents & purposes, the play was over.
But no, Nicole Underhay, as the spoiled girl, connived with burglars in a faked abduction that took them all far away from Upper Middle-Class London to a distant Colonial Outpost where a Lawrence of Arabia-type enlisted-man [think of Lawrence as T. E. Shaw, but here named Napoleon Alexander Trotsky Meek and played by Andrew Bunker] provokes some Shavian Discourse on Social Classes & Social Evils.
Not everyone’s idea of a merry romp, but certainly engaging in Jim Mezon’s staging, designed by Kelly Wolf. Truth to tell, some of the social-critiques would have worked better in a Shavian Preface. Kelli Fox and Blair Williams did their best to keep the repartee lively.
Arms and the Man, I Sing…
Arms and the Man was the major Shavian comedy on view during ATCA’s stay in Niagara. It was amusingly and attractively designed by Sue LePage [sets] and William Schmuck [costumes], adeptly creating a Musical-Comedy vision of pretentious Bulgarian Aristocracy with feet still firmly rooted in their peasant soil.
All this needed was Oscar Strauss’ score of The Chocolate Soldier—an adaptation of the play that annoyed Shaw—to make the production a merry romp indeed. Jackie Maxwell staged the comedy very broadly, almost as a farce, and this annoyed a number of the American critics.
Including your scribe, who felt the wit in Shaw’s confrontations between the Mercenary Soldier & Swiss Hotel-keeper Bluntschli [Patrick Galligan] and his Bulgarian hosts was somewhat dulled by the occasional buffoonery. Too broad by half, and not really necessary…
When Maxwell met with the critics to discuss the Shaw Festival, her stewardship, and her imaginative development of it, however, it became clear that she is a very dynamic, intelligent, and resourceful director-producer. [I later wished I’d taped her remarks to share with readers of this column, they were so insightful—and amusing!]
So my guess is that Maxwell knows very well what her [largely] graying audiences expect, as well as what Gems they are capable of appreciating among Shaw’s Verbal & Philosophical Treasures.
Usually, when broad physical-comedy and stereotypical character-antics are on view, it’s a sign that the director doesn’t really understand the Powers of the Play. Or he/she does not trust the audience to Get The Point. The latter probably applies here, for Maxwell surely knows the Satirical Potential of Arms and the Man.
Also admirable were the lovely, if naïve, Raina of Diana Donnelly, the pert, socially-ambitious Louka of Catherine McGregor, and the handsome Mike Shara as the boastful, but thick, Bulgarian Major Sergius Saranoff.
[For the Record: Shaw’s title is borrowed from the opening of Virgil’s Aenead: "Arms and the man I sing…" Not to be confused with Homer’s Iliad, which opens with "I sing the wrath of Achilles…"]
Especially impressive in the current Shaw Festival repertory are the productions of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Lillian Groag’s The Magic Fire. Your scribe did not get to see The Heiress, but colleagues were also very impressed with both the physical production and the players.
The Crucible: a Greek/Puritan Tragedy…
Miller’s drama of the 1692 Salem Witch-hunts & Trials was initially greeted by New York critics as a not-so-veiled attack on the then-current "Commie & Fellow-Traveller" hunts of the despicable Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. But, even then—and beyond those Terrifying Times—this is in fact a shattering play, with the powers of Greek Tragedy.
John Proctor may not match the Heroic Stature of an Oedipus or a Pentheus, but his final decision—to die at the hands of the Witch-hunters, because he cannot sign his name to a false confession, just save his life—has tremendous power and significance.
Proctor’s Moral Choice of Death with Honor over Life with Shame is every bit as impressive as the choices of the Great Greek Heroes, tragically flawed though they—like Proctor—were.
The 1950s Moral Resonances of The Crucible may very well resound for some during the on-going War on Terror, but no John Proctor has yet stepped up to the George Bush Bar of Justice. Cindy
Sheehan and Valerie Plame don’t make the Cut…
Benedict Campbell and Kelli Fox were an admirably affecting John and Elizabeth Proctor in the Shaw Festival staging, mounted by Tadeusz Bradecki. Peter Hartwell designed a rotating abstraction of Salem architecture, with simple period costumes by Teresa Przybylski.
Others of note in the strong cast: Ric Reid as the Rev. Parris, Lisa Berry as Tituba, Bernard Behrens as Giles Corey—who was pressed to death with stones, rather than make a false confession and disinherit his heirs!
Impressive also was Charlotte Gowdy as Abigail, the sexually-charged-agent of all the Terror, in her mad desire to have Elizabeth Proctor dead and John for herself. [No detailed comparisons with Monica Lewinsky are in order, but Impeachment Prosecutor Kenneth Starr and his Republican Cohorts certainly acted as Modern Witch-hunters!]
There be Demons about—now as then—but they are Malicious and/or Credulous Humans, not Unseen Spirits. The current War on Terror —with its determined & calculated trappings of Fear & Paranoia—may be an updating of the Salem Terrors and earlier Faith-Inspired Wars & Crusades against Heretics, Infidels, & The Anti-Christ.
Harvard College was founded primarily to train Pastors for New England Protestants. The much-admired Early American Religious Freedom included the license to persecute Quakers and others who had embraced the Wrong Religions. Harvard was, in fact, in its early days a School for Witch-hunters. Cotton Mather’s The Wonders of the Invisible World was a Second Bible! All the more wonderful as the Demons & Malign Spirits could not be seen…
Unfortunately, Peter Krantz seemed too young and too light-weight to be credible as the Rev. John Hale, a Learned Harvard-trained Witch-hunter. [George Bush went to Harvard, but he studied Business, not Divinity. But where did Attorney-General Alberto Morales learn Terrorist Witch-hunting?]
Magic Fire: Emigrées, Wagner, Peronistas, Colonels, Argentina…
The title of Lillian Groag’s The Magic Fire is an allusion to Wagner’s Ring, fondly played on the phonograph by members of an émigré family of Viennese Jews and Italian refugees in Buenos Aires, far off from memories of Hitler and Mussolini, but newly confronted with Argentina’s descent into Fascist Terror in the dying days of Evita Peron and the ascendancy of The Colonels.
The action focuses on reactions of various family-members to rapidly unfolding events at the time of the seventh birthday of the now-adult-narrator, Lise Berg [Tara Rosling]. She recalls these strange times for the audience, but also interacts with her much younger self [Lila Bata-Walsh] and the rest of the family
The odd mixture of German-Jewish & Italian Sensibilities provides much lively comedy and some rather more serious encounters. What is really odd is that the grown Lise recalls these events somewhat differently than they are unfolding before the audience’s eyes. But she is powerless to alter them, as she moves in and out among her beloved parents and dear relatives.
A lively family Birthday Dinner for Lise is a marvel of table-setting, virtuoso-eating, conversational-overkill, and rampant character-values. Kudos to director Jackie Maxwell for orchestrating her talented cast so brilliantly. And to Sue LePage for costumes and setting. Louise Guinand’s lighting is also an important component in setting apart Now from Then and Here from There…
Others in the generally admirable cast included: Ric Reid, Sharry Flett, Michael Ball, Goldie Semple, Donna Belleville, Dan Chameroy, Patricia Hamilton, Jay Turvey, and Jennifer Phipps—as a formidable, plain-speaking grandmother.
It is admirable that the Shaw Festival also mounts musicals. Keeping the Shavian Theme, it could very well present The Chocolate Soldier in tandem with Arms and the Man, as well as My Fair Lady, paired with Pygmalion.
High Society: Barry, Porter, & Kopit Combined…
This season, however, the choice of High Society seemed not well advised—despite the very high quality of the talents involved and of the production-values. The problem is the same as that when the show was opened on Broadway: Arthur Kopit’s book-version of Philip Barry’s The Philadelphia Story is not very effective. If anything, it diminishes the high style of the original Satiric Social Comedy.
Then there is the problem of Cole Porter’s memorable songs seeming written for some other occasion than this less-than-memorable musical. Of course it’s always a delight to hear—and see, elegantly staged—great Porter hits such as Just One of Those Things, I Love Paris, and Let’s Misbehave, but this concept did not do them—or Barry—justice.
Among admirable performers were Camilla Scott, as Tracy Lord; Dan Chameroy, as Dexter Haven; and Jay Turvey, as Mike Connor. But pert, smart pre-teen girls can be an annoyance—on-stage and off—and so it also was in Kelly Robinson’s busy staging. John MacInnes devised the choreography, but the stage-space was a bit confined for the dancing-couples at times.
Nonetheless, High Style was deftly evoked in the handsome costumes and ambling settings of William Schmuck, aided by Kevin LaMotte’s ingenious lighting. Their able efforts should have been expended on a more promising musical than this. Still, it is a good idea to provide at least one musical each season. Most of the audience seemed to enjoy High Society immensely.
Other productions on view this season in Niagara include a Centenary Salute to Henrik Ibsen with his Rosmersholm, two one-acts of Anton Chekhov packaged as Love Among the Russians, Noël Coward’s Design for Living, and an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.
The Shaw Festival opens in March and ends in November, quite an extension from its earlier years! In the 2005 season, there were almost 300,000 tickets sold, with 60 percent of the audience from Canada, 30 percent from South of the Border, and one percent from Overseas.
For 2006, the Total Operating Budget was $23.8 million. This sum covers the operation of three theatres—the modern Festival Theatre, the landmark Court House, and the vintage Royal George—as well as some 600 employees at the height of the season, including 68 actors.
[For information and ticket-booking: 1-800-657-1106 or www.shawfest.com]
The Town of Niagara is itself well worth a visit—even if you cannot get on-the-day or last-minute tickets to often sold-out productions. The charming old wooden houses, all smartly painted, look like a Disney World Enclave. Niagara also has the Oldest Golf Course in North America. Or at least that’s what the plaque says outside the Golf Club.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has some good restaurants; a lot of shops for souvenirs, artworks, and smart fashions; and a splendidly restored Victorian hotel, the Prince of Wales, complete with a plethora of British Royal Portraits and the Three White Feathers of the various Princes, whose motto has always been Ich Dien, or I Serve…
In Toronto at the Princess of Wales—
THE LORD OF THE RINGS:
When the all-talking, all-singing, all-prancing, all-dancing Lord of the Rings opened in Toronto on 23 March 2006, word was that it would not be brought into New York. So it was suggested that a trip to Ontario might be a good idea, in order not to miss out on this spectacular $27,000,000 musical tribute to the genius of JRR Tolkien.
Between exposures to the genius of Bernard Shaw and that of William Shakespeare, some representative American Theatre Critics scrambled aboard buses to Toronto’s 2,000-seat Princess of Wales Theatre. Some reviewers traveled with dire forebodings, as initial US critical-responses had been lukewarm or dismissive. Some critics—especially Tolkien fans—couldn’t believe it would be possible to condense all three Rings novels into what the Bard had once called "the two-hours’ traffic of our stage."
It had certainly taken more than one feature-film to accomplish this, but Shaun McKenna & Matthew Warchus have managed to cram the essentials of The Fable & The Quest into three-plus musical hours of stage-time. This, in itself, is an achievement, as Richard Wagner’s Ring takes four evenings and some 16 hours to deal with a rather more complex Music-Drama of a Mythic Golden Band.
Not being a Tolkien Expert, your scribe had no hardened pre-conceptions of what should be mimed and sung on stage. Having seen the filmic-trilogy, I thought the territory and the terrain were adequately evoked and traversed.
For lovers of the films, however, the stage-personages seemed to be a problem for some. It would have been a coup to have Sir Ian McKellan appear as an operatic Gandolf, but Brent Carver’s wizardry was majestic, if not mischievous.
But this show is not an opera, nor a musical in the conventional sense. In fact, it seems to be more on the order of a Grand Spectacle—with many strange & sumptuous scenes—using music more as an accompaniment to the narrative, with some major songs along the way, to emphasize the emotions or aims of the principal characters, amid the astonishing sets & often arresting costumes & props. Some of the elaborate Processionals are, in fact, Haunting Visions.
The effect was rather like those magnificent stagings one used to see at Radio City Music Hall. And Lord of the Rings has an even more ingenious turn-table than that at Rockefeller Center: As it revolves, it also divides into varied segments which can rise or sink independently. In action, it impressively heightens the effects of some scenes of confrontation & conflict.
Rob Howell designed both the often amazing settings and costumes, but Paul Pyant’s ingenious lighting makes them—and the stage-action that occurs in them—even more magical.
Matthew Warchus directed this complicated show, but Peter Darling’s choreography certainly helped in moving the many Hobbits and other performers about the stage. Talk about Traffic-Management! Not to mention the numerous costume-changes of the general ensemble… It must be organized chaos backstage.
The score for the show was crafted by India’s AR Rahman & Vårtinnå, with Christopher Nightingale.
James Loye is Frodo, with Peter Howe as the faithful Sam. The whining, treacherous Gollum is sinuously played by Michael Therriault, a Stratford Festival stalwart. Other major roles are assumed by Carly Street [Arwen], Dion Johnstone [Boromir], Richard McMillan [Saruman], & Victor Young [Elrond], with Evan Buliung as Aragorn. There are some 70 actors, singers, and musicians at work every performance, with 73 working backstage!
Just in case the show’s Artistic Achievments don’t seem sufficient for some to merit its consideration for Broadway, there are technical-statistics to astonish:
There are seventeen elevators in the stage-floor!
The computer-controlled stage-floor weighs 40 tons!
There are 504 costumes, with 387 costume-changes!
Hobbits, elves, orcs, and ents wear 404 pairs of shoes, plus 280 pairs of gloves!
There are some 500 pieces of armor in the show, plus over 150 weapons!
Gimli’s doublet has more than 240 Dwarf-Runes sewn into it!
The show is set to go to London, after which Broadway is still a possibility. The major problem is not [only] how heavy and technically-complicated the physical production is, but how expensive it would be to run the show per week. Unless all the seats are filled…
At Ontario’s Stratford—
THE STRATFORD FESTIVAL OF CANADA:
When Tom Patterson first had the idea of making a Canadian Stratford a New World evocation of the original Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Festival, he was thinking of it as the Stratford Shakespere Festival—of Canada. But in the seasons following the first—in a large tent, launched by Sir Tyrone Guthrie—productions ranged far beyond Shakespeare and in newer venues, so the name was changed to The Stratford Festival of Canada
In the brief time the visiting American Theatre Critics were able to see its stunning productions, tour the backstage of the influentially Modernist Festival Theatre, and talk with actors such as Martha Henry and Colm Feore—star of both Coriolanis and Oliver!—as well as with the new General Director Antoni Cimolino, they were able to enjoy no less than five stagings of Broadway quality.
Your scribe’s favorites—listed in order of relative admiration—were: The Duchess of Malfi, London Assurance, Coriolanus, Oliver!, and the unfortunately lack-luster Much Ado about Nothing.
Also on the season’s program, however, were: Twelfth Night, Henry IV, Part 1, Don Juan, Ibsen’s Ghosts—for his Centennial, The Glass Menagerie, South Pacific, and such experimental fare as Harlem Duet, Fanny Kemble, The Liar, and The Blonde, The Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead.
Duchess of Malfi: Jacobean Gothic Melodrama on Coast of Amalfi…
John Webster’s potentially horrifying—but wonderfully poetic—Jacobean Melodrama, The Duchess of Malfi, is seldom produced, not so much because of its Sex & Violence, but because its dazzing verbal metaphors are beyond the range of many actors, Method and otherwise.
Some of its more ghoulish scenes, of course, are also very difficult to stage. When the unfortunate Duchess is confronted with the severed hand of her Forbidden Lover, as well as the corpses of her murdered children, this is a moment to challenge designers and directors, as well as performers.
Then there’s that matter of the pack of gibbering, drooling Madmen unleashed upon her to unsettle her wits.
Not only has she the misfortune of being widowed, while still young and beautiful, but she has formed an alliance with a handsome man of whom her mad, manipulative brothers disapprove—one a Cardinal and the other a Duke—but her lover has already made her pregnant, something she needs to hide.
Matters are not made easier by the fact that both brothers harbor a kind of incestuous, jealous fondness for their noble sister. One of them suffers from Lycanthropy as well, so he needs to avoid the rays of the Full Moon!
If they cannot possess & control her, they must destroy her. This is the stuff of which Gothic Nightmares are made!
Lucy Peacock was both imperious and passionate as Amalfi’s doomed Duchess. Scott Wentworth played a devious, devilish Bosola, her sadistic tormentor and ironic comforter. Paul Essiembre & Peter Donaldson were the Evil Brothers. Cariola, the Duchess’ equally damned servant/companion was forebodingly fearful in Laura Condlln’s interpretation.
The most striking aspect of director Peter Hinton’s black-on-black production was the fantastically detailed Jacobean costumes of the principals. Each major outfit was so theatrically baroque that it could take its place immediately in a Costume Museum!
Designer Carolyn M. Smith made them even more Iconic by providing a long shining black mylar runway for the actors. At times, it looked as though they were gliding on a shimmering stream of Black Water.
The set was an end-stage architectural-ambiguity, with the long black thrust extending in front of it out into the U-shaped tiered-seating in the Tom Patterson Theatre. Haunting black furniture, black props, and guttering candles were silently slid onto the shining black stream. Bonnnie Beecher’s ingenious lighting made Smith’s effects even more mysterious and terrifying.
This production was so visually powerful, so emotionally charged, that it ought to be shown elsewhere. At the very least, some regional theatres might rent the costumes and hire Hinton to replicate the concept for them. The Duchess deserves that her story to be more widely told after all these centuries!
London Assurance: Foolish Regency Fop in the Country…
Dion Boucicault’s London Assurance is yet another of those Semi-Classics of the Past that is all-too-seldom-seen. Its most memorable revival was many seasons ago, seen both in London and on Broadway, featuring Sir Donald Sinden in the comedic role of the aging foppish fool, Sir Harcourt Courtly.
He seeks to marry a young heiress, Grace Harkaway, daughter of an old friend. But his son—under an assumed name—arrives at the Yorkshire Country House before his amorous father and falls immediately in love.
Set in a kind of Pollock’s Toy-Theatre evocation of Regency Décor—designed by the fabled Desmond Heeley, a longtime Stratford favorite—the period-costumes, makeup, and hair-styles also do much to add to the immense charm of this production.
It is rather like seeing a stylishly broadened period-production of Regency Melodrama. With all the design & technical aspects of that theatre-era. The wonder is that Stratford’s own Brian Bedford has been so skillful in staging the show, while he is at the same time its star.
Sean Arbuckle is properly roguish as the live-by-his-wits Richard Dazzle. Adam O’Byrne is Sir Harcourt’s love-smitten son Charles, with the demure but clever Sara Topham as Grace.
This is also a production that ought to tour, but the economics of touring are forbidding. And none of these fine actors can be spared from the repertory ensemble. Unless the show had a brief winter-showing in Manhattan when Stratford is closed?
Coriolanus & Oliver!: Colm Feore Does Double-Duty…
Colm Feore is an impressive Coriolanus. He is also a creepy Fagin in Stratford’s new mounting of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Both these dynamic productions are played on the quasi-Elizabethan stage-façade—and on the thrust-stage in front of this architecture—that Tanya Moiseiwitsch designed for the Festival Theatre.
Unlike Ashland’s quasi-Globe Theatre façade—with its simulated timber & stucco construction—Stratford’s is more elemental, lending itself well to a variety of production-styles. For Oliver!, designer Santo Loquasto created a multi-level vision of sordid Victorian London Slums that would have done credit—not only to Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist—but also the the late Sean Kenny, who designed the original London & Broadway production.
For Coriolanus, Loquasto evoked a symbolic vision of Rome and Volscian Enemy-Territory. He also designed the period-costumes—Millennia apart!—for both Oliver! and Coriolanus. Gil Wechsler ingeniously lit Coriolanus, lighting being of supreme visual importance in highlighting characters and emphasizing different locations and changes of emotional tension on stage.
John Munro lit Oliver!, but his technical problems—given the complicated Unit-setting, suggesting a variety of locales—were rather different from Wechsler’s.
Donnna Feore busily staged & choreographed Oliver!, a bustling, vibrant tumult, while Antoni Cimolino—Stratford’s new General Director—strategically staged Coriolanus.
Outstanding in the Coriolanus—as well as Colm Feore—were Stratford Veteran Martha Henry, as his noble mother, Volumnia; Graham Abbey, as his foe, Tulius Afidius; Paul Soles & Stephen Russell as Menenius & Cominius, and the two Aediles: Shaun McComb & Brian Hamman. The various unnamed Romans & Volscians were impersonated with varying degrees of Energy & Conviction.
The downfall & death of the great Roman General & Patrician, Coriolanus—whose Pride & Arrogance drive him to join the enemy Volscians and make war on Rome, for Vengeance on the People who have spurned and exiled him—should be A Lesson To Us All!
Still, this is not a Popular Play—and the reasons are not difficult to decipher. Bertolt Brecht was rehearsing Coriolanus at the Berliner Ensemble when Soviet Tanks invaded East Berlin to put down a Popular Uprising of Oppressed Workers. Günther Grass adapted this event and the drama for his own political-play, The Plebians Rehearse the Revoluution.
Lord Olivier was a brilliant Coriolanus. But in London, not in East Berlin. The late Robert Ryan also essayed this demanding role…
Notable on the same Stratford stage—with Dickensian Victorian-Differencing—were Tyler Pearse as Oliver, Bruce Dow as Mr. Bumble, Scot Beaudin as the Artful Dodger, Brad Rudy as a brutal Bill Sikes, and Blythe Wilson as the doomed Nancy.
It would be gratifying to be able to say that the Festival Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing was as impressive as the other two admirable main-stage mountings.
Unfortunately, that was not the case, as this was largely a lack-luster staging, made even more awkward by the casting of a Benedick who looked old enough to be Beatrice’s father, not her wittily-sparring adversary, tricked into loving the charming spinster, played wittily enough by Lucy Peacock.
Michael Gianfrancesco designed the attractively elemental production for director Stephen Ouimette.
Richard Monette has been the longtime Artistic Director of the Festival, but now he is to be succeeded by Tony-winner Des McAnuff, currently AD of the La Jollla Playhouse and director of Broadway’s Jersey Boys.
Both directors’ good fortune has been to have Antoni Cimolino on hand. He has been Executive Director of the fest since 1998, but now has been appointed General Director.
Cimolino has staged many Stratford productions, currently Coriolanus, starring Colm Feore. He is also known for his Outreach Initiatives for new audiences and relationships with other theatres—important in Bi-lingual Canada.
For the visiting American Theatre Critics, he made a dynamic and witty presentation of the future potential of the Stratford Festival of Canada. Several Board members in attendance suggested Cimolino might himself be a potential Prime Minister of Canada. He has the energy, the intelligence, the politesse, the suavity, the wit, and the looks—for impressionable voters. He was also born in Ontario!
[For information and ticket-booking: Phone: I-800-567-1600/www.stratfordfestival.ca]
THE OREGON SHAKESPEAREAN FESTIVAL:
Obviously, the Bard must be the Main Course of any Shakespeare Festival, if not the entire menu. But, over the years in Ashland, other Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights gradually also had their moments on "America’s First Elizabethan Stage." In time, other eras of drama were added to the festival’s complex mixture of theatrical periods and styles.
Actually—although it pleased the festival’s protean founder, Angus Bowmer, to annoint his 1935 outdoor Shakespeare arena in Southern Oregon as the "First" Elizabethan Stage—Thomas Wood Stevens’ Old Globe Theatre was really the first, created for Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition.
This stage was re-assembled in Texas for the 1936 Texas Centennial—recalling the victories of the War with Mexico—with a young Sam Wanamaker in the acting-ensemble. This fueled his ambition to recreate Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank of the Thames in London.
Soon after, Stevens’ Old Globe was moved to San Diego for its own Shakespeare Festival, where it has since been re-cast in more durable materials. Nonetheless, both Ashland and San Diego can lay claim to being the Oldest American Shakespeare Festival, both dating from 1935—with time-out for World War II.
In order to accommodate ever-increasing crowds of Shakespeare-hungry theatre-lovers, the Ashland season has been extended over the years so that it now begins 17 February and closes on 29 October. This means that you still have ample opportunity to see the shows discussed below for yourself, but do book ahead, as most performances are sold-out long in advance. [www.osfashland.org]
This season features four plays by the Bard: Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Merry Wives of Windsor in the outdoor Allen Pavilion, with King John in the New Theatre, and The Winter’s Tale in the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre. Other plays on the bill-of-fare are Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, David Edgar’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, William Inge’s Bus Stop, Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett’s The Diary of Anne Frank—linguistically up-dated by Wendy Kesselman, Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, and UP, by Bridget Carpenter.
Of the six Ashland productions your scribe was able to see, Cyrano, on the outdoor Elizabethan stage, and Earnest, in the Bowmer, were the best: they would be outstanding on any stage. Those who have never been to Ashland can have no idea of the high professional standard of all aspects of production.
The Oregon Shakespeare shops could be the envy of any state-subsidized European theatre. Period & fantasy costumes, for example, are so strikingly designed—and so ingeniously executed—that they are virtual museum-pieces after the season is over!
Cyrano de Bergerac: He Wins by a Nose…
Because the permanent façade of the Elizabethan Theatre—with clever adaptations for each production—offers so many different specific areas for staging intimate scenes, as well as the broader forestage for furious battles and elaborate courtly rituals, it served Rostand’s robustly romantic tale quite as effectively as it does Shakespeare.
Veteran Ashland director Laird Williamson not only employed these areas brilliantly, but he also worked wonders with a very strong cast, led by the remarkable Marco Barricelli as the fearless Gascon Poet-Musketeer, Cyrano. He could hold his own with the best of recent Cyranos, including Derek Jacobi!
As the sensitive, lovely Roxanne—Cyrano’s beloved cousin, loved more than she knows—Robin Goodrin Nordli was both beautiful and finally deeply moving. Her love-at-first-sight Christian was ably embodied by Rex Young, who played him as a good-looking, quarrelsome, obtuse, tongue-tied, aristocratic dunce. How could it have taken Roxanne so long to realize that it was impossible for Christian to have written those marvelously poetic letters?
Thanks to the designing-genius of Deborah M. Dryden, the villainous Count de Guiche—a powerfully vindictive Derrick Lee Weeden—was splendidly attired in the height of French Court Fashion. The layers of fabric and ornament on his complicated costumes made it even more astounding that he could even draw his sword from its scabbard to menace the implacable Cyrano.
As Cyrano’s friend Rageneau, the poet-pastry-cook, Robert Vincent Frank was both comic and charming. But the bakery-marvels the prop-shop had confected for him almost upstaged the actors.
Designer William Bloodgood’s adaptations of the basic Elizabethan façade were both impressive and effective. Initially, it was transformed into the 1640 Théâtre Bourgogne—with a number of stacked flats, which carried through the show, to suggest the theatricality of the entire dramatic-event.
The transformation of the façade for the battle-scene at Arras created quite another world. And, at last, when the still-proud Cyrano—dying of a cowardly street-assault—came to Roxanne in a cloistered convent, to take his final leave of the one woman he has loved since childhood, the façade became very like an ancient cloister.
With silently praying sisters in the background, their white habits contrasting sharply with Roxannne’s widow’s-weeds and Cyrano’s dark garb, the scene was heart-breaking. As it should be…
For those who have never read nor seen Rostand’s Romantic Masterpiece, it should be noted that the soldier-poet’s greatest physical distinction—quite apart from his unseen Great Heart and Genius Intellect—is his immensely long nose.
It is the Landmark that ignorant enemies unwisely use to disparage and to verbally attack him. His sword is quick to correct their manners and avenge the insults. Interestingly—although Cyrano believes Roxanne could never really love him because of his nose—the make-up nose crafted for this production—and worn with such distinction by Barricelli—actually makes him look strangely handsome.
[Even in Antiquity, and certainly in Shakespeare’s time, the size of a man’s nose was an indicator of the size of his Endowment!]
Credits to John Sipes for the fight-scenes and random sword-rattling, as well as to Robert Peterson for ingenious use of stage-lighting for atmosphere and powerful highlighting. In all, a tremendously moving and satisfying production!
Importance of Being Earnest: Ashland Bracknell Exceeds Redgrave at BAM…
In the Bowmer, for Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest, once again designer William Bloodgood demonstrated his versatility by creating a charming false-proscenium stage on the theatre’s essential end-stage-thrust conformation. With the ingenious use of a revolve, the three scenic-locales were easily evoked, and they were all much more Edwardian Period-stylish than those recently seen at BAM, with its disappointing British Import.
In fact, Judith-Marie Bergan, as a very brittle and imperious Lady Bracknell, easily eclipsed Lynne Redgrave’s flaccid BAM impersonation in that iconic role. Her indomitable portrait almost approached the majesty of Dame Edith Evans as Bracknell.
Costumier Mara Blumenfeld devised lovely outfits for both Heather Robinson, as The Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax, and Julia Oda, as Cecily Cardew. Lady Bracknell’s were even more impressive. Quite correct, if a bit ostentatious, were the suitings of Algy and Jack, played by Kevin Kenerly and Jeff Cummings.
It may have been a bit of a surprise for West-Coasters—not familiar with Victorian/Edwardian Funeral Decorum—to see Jack in full Mourning-Black, with a black top-hat, wreathed in a flowing black veil. But that was the custom, surviving well into the 20th Century among the British Upper-Classes.
Also able in the ensemble were Dee Maaske as Miss Prism, Jonathan Haugen as Canon Chasuble, Geoffrey Blaisdell as Jack’s manservant, Lane, and the elegantly elongated Richard Farrell, as Merriman, Algy’s super-correct butler.
It has become economically impossible for such outstanding American regional-theatre or festival productions to tour—not to mention the need for the acting-ensembles to stay in place for the next season: Otherwise, this excellent, handsome, and highly-amusing staging should be seen all over the country!
Diary of Anne Frank: Holocaust Memorial near Medford…
Also in the Bowmer, Richard L. Hay designed a Diary of Anne Frank that powerfully evoked the cramped Amsterdam attic in which the Frank and Van Daan families vainly hid out from Gestapo round-ups of Dutch & German Jews, destined for extermination in the Death Camps of Eastern Europe. Actually, the enormous stage-space looked larger than your scribe’s Manhattan apartment, but the effect was of very close-crowding.
The play and the film have, by now, achieved the status of Holocaust Memorials. They are, in effect, Beyond Criticism. Nonetheless, Wendy Kesselman’s new "adaptations" have drawn upon clichéd phrases certainly unknown in that time to either Europeans or Americans.
This may have been intended to make the tragedy of these innocent, decent, and vulnerable people more "contemporary" for audiences weaned on TV Reality Shows. [How about a new TV Reality
Show in which each week’s loser is sent off to a Death Camp? Or Abu Ghraib…]
James Edmondson staged the drama sensitively, strongly aided by a good cast, featuring Laura Morache as Anne. At times, she was so relentlessly perky and optimistic that I sided with the dour dentist, Dr. Dussell [Michael Elich], who had to share a tiny room with her.
Others in the cast included: Tony DeBruno as Otto Frank, the veteran Linda Alper as Mrs. Frank, and Sarah Rutan as Anne’s shyer sister Margot; Michael J. Hume, Catherine E. Coulson, and John Tufts as the Van Daans, and Linda K. Morris as Miep Gies, who hides them all at great personal risk.
As the Gestapo forces them to pack a few things for the Journey to the East, Anne’s precious Diary is tossed aside. Only her father survives the Death Camps, returning to Amsterdam to find her Diary, which has made her Posthumously World-Famous.
This play—and the film—need to be shown periodically, Lest We Forget. Not only because there are still people old enough to remember our soldiers opening the Death Camps at the end of World War II—but also those who nonetheless insist that the Holocaust never happened.
And there are thousands and thousands of children and teens who have no knowledge of this at all. Nor of Anne Frank’s bravery and belief in Humanity’s Ultimate Goodness…
Brush Up Your Shakespeare…
That the two outdoor Shakespeare productions were less impressive and effective than the two stagings just extolled is only partly the fault of the plays themselves. But neither Merry Wives of Windsor nor Two Gentlemen of Verona are of the comic caliber of, say, Twelfth Night or As You Like It.
It is, however, a Mandate of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that Shakespeare’s entire canon of dramas must be worked through, with more popular plays produced more frequently along the way. Currently, the festival is into the Third Cycle of the Canon!
With the demise of Joseph Papp, the New York Shakespeare Festival soon became a shadow of What Joe Had Wrought. Shakespeare in the Park became, on occasion, an unwitting travesty. And John Houseman and Jack Landau’s American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT, died an untimely death—for a number of avoidable reasons.
This has left the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as the most professional and imaginative American Workshop for the production of the Bard’s dramas. The Chicago Shakespeare Company—with its wonderful Court Theatre on the Pier—is also admirable, but its operation is on a much smaller scale.
Nonetheless, the OSF leads all the American Shakespeare Festivals.
And, having traversed the Canon more than once, Ashland needs to take New Looks at Old Plays. That means that "Historic" Times & Places are not always rigorously invoked. This season, one of the Bardic productions was an unexpected delight; the other, a well-intentioned embarrassment.
Two Gents of Verona: Who Knew the Amish Were North Italian…
I have never been a Big Fan of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, but this is partly a function of my own distaste for the double-dealing character of Proteus, who betrays the love and trust of his best friend, Valentine, and his beloved Julia, for advancement at the Court of the Duke of Milan and into the bed of the beautiful but disdainful Silvia, as in Sylvia, Who Is She? Not to be confused with Edward Albee’s Sylvia, the Goat…
At the close, a repentant Proteus is forgiven all, although he is even more unworthy than the callow Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well. Love Conquers All, and clichés of that ilk…
Nonetheless, the comedy has proved durable enough for it to be turned into a very successful Broadway musical, thanks to John Guare and Mel Shapiro, commissioned by Joe Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Although this was many seasons ago, a recent Central Park revival validated the show’s appeal.
As Shakespeare’s plays are in the Public Domain—as the all-singing, all-dancing Two Gents is not—Ashland has had the best of both spoken-dramas and stage-musicals by delightfully prefacing important scenes with choreographed musical-interludes. This is a show—or at least a Concept—that should be more widely seen!
Aside from the Vintage Broadway Musical, Plain & Fancy, Pennsylvania’s severely Protestant Amish and Mennonites are not often comic fodder for the stage. Ashland’s Two Gentlemen opens, however, in the midst of an Amish Community—with a kind of jolly hoe-down—in which Valentine [a charming, ingenuous Juan Rivera LeBron] is sent off to the Court of Milan to try his fortunes, accompanied by a very concerned Amish lady of a certain age [Eileen DeSandre] as his servant, Speed. This was only the first of a number of visual astonishments.
The Duke of Milan [an amusing mid-life, midriff-crisis William Langan] and his Courtiers—fond of playing golf and having spa rubdowns—wouldn’t look out of place in Palm Springs or Miami Beach. Valentine is dazzled.
Proteus [a devious but sexy Gregory Linington] immediately insinuates himself into His Grace, the Duke’s Graces, but is fortunately less successful in wooing the wary and sensible Sylvia [the handsome Sarah Rutan].
What especially impressed me about this production—ingeniously & intelligently staged by Bill Rauch—was the way in which the qualities of the characters and the romantic and moral issues involved were visually clarified, often aided by the lighting of Robert Peterson.
At one point—although neither Julia nor Valentine really appear in the scene—they were separately spotlighted, as Proteus frankly considered the betrayals he had already made of friends and lovers. And what he would do in the future.
Christopher Acebo’s minimal differencings of the basic stage-façade were appropriate, highlighted by stylish interior "discovery" scenes and by the inventive costumes of Joyce Kim Lee. When Valentine was banished from Milan by the furious Duke, the colorful Outlaws who captured him—only to make him their Captain/King—were unforgettable in Lee’s Biker-type Oufits. These were an outlandish Mohawk Rainbow-Colored Rooster-Comb hairdo-delight.
What to do with roles for famed Elizabethan Clowns who had almost as famous Comic-Trick Dogs? There’s Launcelot Gobbo in Merchant of Venice and Launce, Proteus’ man, in Two Gentlemen. Usually, their individual scenes—or comic-turns—now seem rather labored and unnecessary.
Fortunately, thanks to the dead-pan talents of David Kelly—as a lanky, almost loutish Amishman—these moments worked well. Terwilliger, as Crab, his dog, was amusing, but Kelly had to keep a firm leash on Crab’s antics.
Julia—disguised as what seemed to be a modern waiter in the Duke’s Court—finally won the undeserving Proteus’ love, as did Valentine, Sylvia’s. And all the Amish turned up in Milan for a rousing curtain-call!
Merry Wives of Windsor: Preferably the Verdi Version…
The same sort of riotous fun for Ashland’s Merry Wives of Windsor must have been in the minds of director Andrew Tsao and designers Richard L. Hay [settings] and Susan E. Mickey [costumes].
I have long known and admired Dick Hay, having been a grad drama-student alongside him at Stanford University, way back in 1952-3. As Ashland’s chief-designer—and designer of all three Oregon Shakespeare Festival theatres—his credits are amazing. And he certainly created a colorful, actor-friendly environment on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage.
What subsequently happened on that stage in Merry Wives was clearly none of his doing. I blame Tsao, whose name does not conjure up for me memories of fabulous previous productions. He obviously conceived the play as a species of Keystone Cops Comedies, replete with Repeated Pratfalls and other clichés of Knockabout Farce.
The music/dance interludes—choreography by Suzee Grilley—were rambunctious enough, but little suited to the autumnally-sad qualities that underlie this revisitation of Shakespeare’s fat old knight, Sir John Falstaff [G. Valmont Thomas].
Considering the fact that both Giuseppi Verdi and Otto Nicolai admired this comedy enough to turn it into two beloved operas, it ill-behooved Tsao to essay his own Reader’s Digest version.
When directors resort to Crazy Gang or Three Stooges antics when staging classic comedies, it is a sure sign that they either (1) Do Not Trust the Play, or (2) Do Not Trust the Audience. Or Both…
Of course, it’s also possible that they do not really understand the depth of the material with which they have been entrusted…
Most of Mickey’s costumes for the women are Fantastic Delights—especially the almost sculptural hair-dos. The men are more quasi-Period-conventional, with the Frenchiness of Dr. Caius one notable fussy exception.
But some of the costume-ensembles for the choreographed company interludes have little or nothing to do with the ensuing scene. At midnight at Hearne’s Oak—here pronounced as "Horn" for some obscure Elizabethan Reason—the cast was outfitted rather like Pearlie Kings & Queens, in brown suits, richly decorated with big white buttons. The text suggests no such attire for the various elves, fairies, and Sour Husbands & Merry Wives of Windsor…
After a soaking-wet Falstaff had climbed out of the river, he shook himself off and produced, first, a prop-fish and later a plastic lobster. This Coarse-Acting Sight-Gag might have been a thigh-slapper years ago at Medford High School, but it was unworthy of both Ashland and Shakespeare.
In general, the costumes suggest a directorial interpretation intended to reduce the characters to bizarre comic stereotypes—which is certainly in keeping with the way most of the performers have been directed.
This was a constant irritation—especially to an observer who has seen a number of deliberately bizarre Merry Wives productions, some of them oddly successful on their own terms—as it was clear that most of the actors are actually very good.
This was noticeable in unguarded moments of interaction, when no knockabout-routines were devised. In other roles in other current Ashland stagings, their strong merits were clearly demonstrated.
I suppose they must, then, be commended for executing so faithfully what their director demanded of them? Were you to argue with the director that this was no way to play Mistress Quickly, might you not have been quickly dismissed from the acting-ensemble?
Bus Stop: The Milk-Train Also Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore…
The last of the six shows seen in mid-June in Ashland was William Inge’s well-weathered Bus Stop. It is a minor—if somewhat sentimental and obvious—drama of the American Underclasses. Possibly a Greyhound or Burlington Trailways version of The Lower Depths, or Lodging for a Night?
Libby Apple—the OSF’s retiring Artistic Director—subtly staged the show, with a sure sense for both its human and comic values. William Bloodgood’s spare setting, in the theatre-in-the-rectangle space of the New Theatre, well suggested a typical bus-stop café.
Tyler Layton was interesting as Cherie, the worn but still vulnerable night-club "hostess & chanteuse." Danforth Commins was brash & boyish as Bo, the sexually-innocent cowboy-rancher who has rapidly become infatuated with her and has abducted her on this temporarily stalled bus.
Most interesting, but very low-keyed, was Mark Murphey, as Virgil, the lonesome cowboy who has looked after the orphaned Bo as he was growing up. Is there something Unspoken in this relationship?
But then Inge himself grew up—and later wrote his plays—in a time that dared not speak the name of Brokeback Mountain…
Next season in Ashland, 2007—as usual—opens in Februrary and closes the end of October. The Elizabethan Stage will feature Shakespeare’s The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, and Romeo and Juliet. The Bowmer will have an additional Shakespeare: As You Like It. Plus Molière’s Taruffe, Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle, and August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean.
In the New Theatre, Lisa Loomer’s Distracted, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, and Tracy‘s Tiger—adapted frolm a William Saroyan novel—are on the bill.
For the record: Last season, 2005, over 373,300 tickets were sold to the varied productions. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s total budget—or actual expenditures—totaled $21,248,709. But with the sales of tickets, visitor lodgings, transportation, meals, souvenirs, and other cash-outlays, the total Economic Impact of the Festival in Oregon adds up to $137,155,439!
That’s a Trickle-Down Effect, and then some…
Passing Through Portland:
Oregon’s most important Port City—once called "Stumptown," once all the great evergreen trees had been cut down to build a new city—is today known as The Rose City. It has nothing to do with Portland, MN, but Portland Cement may have a resonance here, where so many modern buildings are reaching toward the sky. One of the first Post-Post-Modernist High-Rises was designed by Michael Graves, no less.
Portland’s Cultural District is impressive. Its Concert Hall is an Historically-Preserved 1920s Movie-Palace, just across the street from a vast new complex of theatres & performance-venues.
People were lining-up for tickets to Menopause, the Musical when your scribe passed through enroute from Ashland. And two actresses were playing the vixen-version of Oscar & Felix in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
Interesting indeed is the program for the Inaugural Season of the Portland Center Stage Gerding Theatre—with two venues. This is the Historically-Preserved 1891 National Guard Armory, renewed for the Performing Arts.
Here are some of the Inaugural Productions: West Side Story, I Am My Own Wife, This Wonderful Life, Shaw’s Misalliance, Jordan Harrison’s Act a Lady—seen recently at the Humana Festival, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates—also shown at the Humana by Actors Theatre Louisville, and the late August Wilson’s Fences.
Between-Planes Manhattan Overview:
In between Niagara, Stratford, Toronto, Ashland, Portland, and other Performing Arts centers, your scribe has been able to see some challenging new productions in New York. But the bags are not yet packed for the Bayreuth, Bregenz, Edinburgh, Munich, & Salzburg Festivals, so I can only list Manhattan shows that deserved attention—even if some had short runs and are now closed. This Festival Summer will my 50th Anniversary at the major Eurpean Festivals…
THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED: Jill Clayburgh in top form in Keith Bunin’s contorted mother-son-friend triangle. Far better than work in Naked Girl on the Appian Way and Barefoot in the Park.
MACBETH: Liev Schreiber’s stolidity astounds. Central Park Woods come to Dunsinane…
NO CHILD…: Nilaja Sun creates a teeming, troubled metropolitan high-school of characters, using Our Country’s Good as a self-esteem project. Amazing, Dynamic: should move to Helen Hayes, or some other small Broadway venue. Better even than Sarah Jones’ Bridge & Tunnel and Anna Deveare Smith.
PIG FARM: From Greg Kotis of Urinetown—Tocacco Road meets the EPA and le Théâtre du Grand Guignol! More Sex & Violence than Lt. of Inishmore—and more swinish, bloody fun! Urinetown’s John Rando staged.
SOME GIRL(S): Neil LaBute’s Best so far! The cad is taping all his pathetic encounters with four women he’s betrayed: Vanity Fair assignments loom in the future, as well as marriage to another naïve victim. Will & Grace guy Eric McCormack plays an Anti-Hero jerk, asshole sleaze.
Cast of TV Favorites: Fran Drescher, Judy Reyes, Brooke Smith, & Maura Tierney. Jo Bonney staged. This one has legs, will travel!
SPRING AWAKENING: Frank Wedekind’s puberty-challenged kids sing and dance! Mod Music for Late Wilhelmian-German Teen-age Angst! Plus Bill T. Jones’ choreography, with Michael Mayer’s staging. More energy & insight than Rent: Broadway Transfer?
SUSAN AND GOD : Rachel Crothers comes into her own, after all these years! An acclaimed Playwright—and Broadway Producer—long before there were Women Playwrights…
THE HOUSE IN TOWN : Jessica Hecht touching & troubling as Saratoga Wasp who marries ambitious New York Jewish department-store owner with secrets. Richard Greenberg’s new drama one of his best, evoking also some of Lost New York: Millionaire’s Row on West 23rd Street, as London Terrace rises across the way. Doug Hughes directed, with richly decorated & furnished period-sets by John Lee Beatty—who else can do these as well?
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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