18 June 2007

First Times.

Over the weekend I saw The Tempest at the Folger. It was the first time I've ever been to the Folger Theatre, although I have wandered through the tourist area of the Folger before, and while I knew the theatre was a re-creation of an Elizabethan theatre, I was amazed at how small it was: 250 seats in all. You'd think that would mean there wasn't a bad seat in the house, but apparently a few people on the sides felt their views were obstructed by the thick supporting columns that separated the main orchestra seating from the side orchestra areas. However, our view was fine.

Of course, one difference between the Folger's stage and a real Elizabethan theater, aside from climate control, is that the Folger incorporates a sophisticated sound and light show into their productions, which in my opinion often overwhelmed the small space. I'm not a big fan of music in the theater, because I feel it's a shortcut to conjuring drama, so maybe I'm making too much of it, but seriously I felt it was intrusive.

While I'm talking about things I didn't like, I might as well talk about the way the director chose to present Ariel. He stuck the actress behind a circular translucent screen elevated above and behind the center of the stage. This severely limited my attachment to the character and my interest in her plight as an imprisoned spirit. Yes, you saw more clearly that she was imprisoned, but most people are clever enough to figure out from the dialogue and the interaction between Prospero and Ariel that the spirit is in servitude and not happy about it. No need to hit us over the head with it, especially if the tactic ends up recreating the imprisonment of the character by limiting the actor to facial expressions and singing.

The rest of the production was very very good. Prospero came across as both kind and manipulative, and his ability to turn from happiness to rage hinted at controlling and slightly unhinged possibilities; the character is so interesting because he tells us early on that he lost his worldy status as a result of a too intense love of his studies, which I like to interpret as the dangers all scholars face when they abdicate social responsibility for the realm of "pure" research. One of the more interesting changes was turning Caliban his plotters into one character: rather than encountering Trinculo and Stehano, Caliban finds a bottle that Gonzalo has left behind and gets himself drunk and creates his co-consipirators out of the bottle and his hand. It's an exhaustive role for the actor, who must now play three parts, even if all are filtered through the main role of Caliban. I have to say the cast was very solid: the King of Naples was aloof, Gonzalo was both a blowhard and a noble soul, Antonio was dapper and conniving (really the actor displayed his cold grasping and final shame extremely well in what really was a small role), Miranda was innocent without being cloying, etc.

If you want to see it, well too late. The run ended yesterday.

As for other firsts, the first night of Fort Reno is tonight at, well, Fort Reno.


Reya Mellicker said...

Why do people futz with the classics? It's so rare that adaptations work (at least for me). One great example is West Side Story. The music is the reason the film is so great ... definitely the acting is not its strong point.

You were in my 'hood! Nice to know you were walking around my familiar haunts.

cuff said...

Reya: I used to spend many hours over there at the LoC, and I hope to do so in the future as well. I don't mind adaptations if they're done well, but this Tempest wasn't really adapted in the sense of modernized or anything: it kept the same time period and situation.

Neil Diamond. said...

Interesting. I passed up an opportunity to see that play. Things have gotten way too modern for me sometimes.


Costumienne said...

I'm not a big fan of music in the theater

That's unfortunate, considering that music has been an integral part of theatre ever since the earliest Greek productions 2,500 years ago.

As for "futz[ing] with the classics," well, you might do best to limit yourself to companies that only perform reproductions of Elizabethan performances.

While some think of Shakespeare as being exclusively performed in Elizabethan garb, the performances in Shakespeare's own time were all performed in "contemporary" clothes -- what everyone wore in their daily lives. We in this modern world see that as pure Elizabethan but to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, it was all that they knew (bear in mind that even the Romans in Shakespeare's plays wore Elizabethan ruffs).

Therefore, by extension, a Shakesperean play done in contemporary modern dress is more accurate to the attitude Shakespeare had toward the production of his plays than it would be to perform them in Elizabethan dress.

Or you could just open your mind to a new theatrical experience. The choice is really yours.

jakester said...

Ariel should be played by a man. If it's played by a woman it makes nonsense of the play's discussion of power and principalities. The part is never played by a woman in Britain. Also, Miranda must be the only woman on the island so when the goddesses arrive it's startling. Nothing against women but that's how the man wrote the play and it's always best to do it his way.

sexy said...