Thursday, November 24, 2011

Virtue is choked with foul ambition

I haven't written lately because I haven't seen many Shakespeare productions lately.  I didn't even go to the Utah Shakespearean Festival last summer, although I had thought about it.  I still have a goal to see all Shakespeare's plays performed on stage, but I missed the opportunity to see Richard III.  It's hard for me to spend a lot of money to see a play whose main characters everyone but me seems to be fascinated by.  For some reason, I am not fascinated by evil people.  Like Richard III, for instance.  If I'd been Lady Anne, I would've hidden the sharp-pointed sword in his bosom without a second thought, or even a first.  (I much prefer the non-heinous Richard III of Daughter of Time, though I'm not so sure Josephine Tey had it right.  Still, it's an interesting notion.)  So I was really irritated to read a review of the USF production in the Salt Lake Tribune where the reviewer said, "because [Richard] announces his ambitions to the audience at the outset, we become complicit in his malevolent actions."

Codswallop. We, the audience, are not complicit.  Really.  All we are is an audience.  If someone got out of their seat and went up on stage and said, "Richard, thou art a mean man and should'st not do these evil things.  Stop it now or I'll give thee such a pinch!", then security would come and detain you for interrupting a public performance.  And if they didn't, then the audience would haul you out of there and beat you for ruining something they (over)paid to see.

There is such a thing as the fourth wall (the imaginary wall of a box set, separating the audience from the actors).  It can become sort of fluid, especially if you've got a thrust stage or theatre in the round or theatre in the park, etc, and it's okay for actors to break the wall (depending on the kind of production it is) by directly addressing their soliloquies to the audience.  This does not mean that the audience gets to talk back.  Even if the actor grabs your foot (as has happened to me) or spews saliva your way (as has fortunately not happened to me, but I've seen it happen to others) or accidentally sprays stage blood on you because of a particularly vicious slaying in Titus Andronicus, you are not allowed to respond in kind without fear of reprisal.

I was fortunate enough to attend a Shakespearean performance at the Globe Theatre in London last year.

My daughters and I went to see A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Set in a sort of early 1930s-ish milieu, with a Puck who looked like Sally Bowles, it was a hilarious and enjoyable production put on by a small cast playing multiple roles.  I didn't mind (much) standing there as a groundling for the two and a half hours it lasted because I was thoroughly entertained.


I remember, when the Globe first opened, reading comments by actors and directors saying they wanted to get back to the kind of audience "participation" that used to exist in Shakespeare's day.  I don't believe them.  At the production I went to, there was a bit of hooting by the audience, and a few phrases bandied about.  At one point, the actor playing Bottom came down off the stage as if to confront one of the hecklers.  But this was not a two-bit Las Vegas lounge act and Bottom had lines to get on with, so he ended up ignoring the member of the audience (who, thank goodness, knew when to stop interrupting, so that the episode kept just this side of annoying).

There was a moment when even I wanted to shout out something.  Bottom was going on about how he had dreamt thus and such, and that he was going to get Peter Quince to write a ballad about it, and it should be called . . . and then there was a long pause as he appeared to be thinking of a good title.  It went on so long, I wanted to shout out "Bottom's Dream!  Call it Bottom's Dream!" but I didn't, because 1) it would've ruined the actor's delivery (such as it was), and that's not a nice thing to do, and b) it may have annoyed audience members who feel, as I do, that you paid to see the actors perform, not the audience, and c) it may have embarrassed my daughters.

 I'm not saying there should be no audience/actor interaction.  Not at all.  This production of A Midsummer Night's Dream had lots of breaking of the fourth wall by the actors in some very hilarious ways.  (One of my favorites was when Helena, after finding Hermia in the forest and clutching her to her bosom, began pouring forth all her woes, and Hermia, over Helena's shoulder, turned to the audience and very distinctly mouthed the words "Help me!")  And the audience responded by laughing, applauding, cheering, and so forth, thus encouraging the actors and letting them know the audience appreciated their efforts.  But we were no more complicit in Oberon's efforts to get the four lovers paired off appropriately than we were likely to go up and tell Helena to leave Hermia alone.  Unless it's truly experimental theatre, the play is going to go the way it's written, and the audience isn't going to stop it.

So, please, all you critics out there who think you've got some new psychological angle with which to impress your readers, stop telling me I'm complicit with Richard, or Macbeth, or Iago, or blah blah blah.  I'm not.  And neither are you.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fortune made such havoc of my means

Every time I drive up to Utah (or back to California) in the summer or fall, I think maybe I'll stop in Cedar City and take in a Shakespeare play. But that's all I usually do: just think about it. The closer I get to Cedar City, the more I start thinking about how far I have yet to drive and how late it will be when I reach my destination, and the more I remember how USF prices have gone up and up in the last few years, so I usually just drive right through, with few regrets. But once, back in October 2006, I had one of those fortuitous intimations that happen all too seldom for my liking, so I decided to stop. The Merchant of Venice was playing, which sounded good to me since I hadn't seen a decent stage production of that play for some time, and as I approached the box office I passed some publicity photos. "Wait a sec," I thought. "Unless my eyes deceive me, that looks like Sara Kathryn Baker as Portia!" I bought my ticket (I was able to get a perfect location: third row center) and checked out the program: it was, indeed, SKB. I was excited about that, as she’s been one of my favorite Shakespearean actors (or actresses; I haven't decided yet what the proper usage is) ever since I saw her as Rosalind in As You Like It at USF in 2002. The best Rosalind I’ve ever seen. So I settled into my seat, thinking what a good thing it was I had listened to that inner voice that told me to stop and see a play.

The play began and ended with a sort of framing device where the actors came on stage in street clothes and a couple of them (the guys playing Shylock and Antonio, as I recall) pulled items – jackets, robes, hats, beards, etc – out of a couple of trunks that were there. At the end, after the dénouement at Portia’s house, the actor playing Shylock came back on stage, slowly, with a sad and mopy expression on his face, carrying the huge and ornate crucifix Antonio had given him earlier when he was told to convert to Christianity. He was soon followed by the other actors, and the actress (actor) who played Jessica helped him take off his Shylock costume and put it back in the trunk while the others watched (or didn’t – Bassanio and Portia were up on a higher level, a sort of arched walkway on the second floor, where they stood whispering to one another and pointing at something in the far distance – perhaps at some patron leaving before the play had officially ended). I thought to myself, “Well, so they’re not going to let the comic ending stand.”

I don’t think The Merchant of Venice can be done as a straight comedy anymore, not since the Holocaust, although I’ve heard some people say it should be. But I think they’re wrong. It’s not only obligatory to elicit sympathy for the character of Shylock, it’s necessary, and it’s not hard to do, since it’s there in the text. It’s important to perform this play because performing it gives the audience a chance to see how they feel about the issues brought out by the play. But I don’t like it when the sympathy gets heavy-handed or overbalanced, which usually happens by making the Christians out to be a pack of uniformly intolerant, hateful bigots. I saw it done that way once, and it becomes less the comedy of the Merchant of Venice, and more the Tragedy of Shylock, besides being a sort of a spontaneous abortion of what Shakespeare wrote. It just doesn’t work that way. It loses all its balance and becomes a piece of propaganda, just as it would if Shylock were to be portrayed as a stock comic villain instead of a multi-dimensional human being. I personally think Antonio (and some of his friends) is intolerant, bigoted, and hateful, an attitude especially manifest in his insistence that Shylock be made a Christian, but he does show some mercy by allowing Shylock to keep his fortune, even if he has to leave it to his Christian son-in-law at his death. (And it has been argued by some that Antonio thinks he’s doing a service to Shylock by making him convert. But let that go.)

But Portia is not like Antonio, or even like Shylock, who some people think is justified in his attempts to kill Antonio in a cruel and unusual manner. I have heard her criticized for being just as intolerant, bigoted, and hateful as the rest of the Christians because of her lack of mercy toward Shylock in the trial scene. That is madness. She gives Shylock three (3) opportunities to show mercy by taking the money instead of the pound of flesh, and one other chance to show charity by taking measures to preserve Antonio’s life. Shylock says “I crave the law, the penalty and forfeit of my bond”, and so, after his final demand for justice and the letter of the law, that’s what she gives him. Three (3) times she says he shall have justice and his bond, just as he demanded. Afterwards, she tells Shylock to ask mercy from the duke. Not only that, but she gives Antonio an opportunity to show mercy as well. So I don’t understand why people are so viciously critical of Portia. If regarded as a human being, she would have her faults and frailties, like all of us, but she would be one who tries to do what is best. (I sometimes wonder if the same people who condemn Portia for being unmerciful are the same ones who say they cannot understand why Hermione forgives Leontes.) If regarded as a character or a symbol, Portia is the one who most carefully juxtaposes the themes of justice and mercy: in the trial scene she mentions, by my rough count, “justice” eight times (and “law” in connection with justice five times), while she mentions “mercy” eight times (and “merciful” twice, and “charity” once, not counting her whole speech about mercy, and the pronoun “it” that refers to mercy, which overall far outweigh the occurrences of the word justice). And she is the one who asks if there is a balance present to weigh the flesh. I see Portia as symbolic of the balance who is there to weigh the humanity (flesh) of both Shylock and Antonio.

Sara Kathryn Bakker as Portia in the USF Merchant of Venice.
Photo from the USF website.

Anyway, all that aside, I saw the framing device as a rather heavy-handed way for the director to say “this is just a story, and the anti-Semitic expressions contained herein do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the actors or director”. It was interesting to see that the actors thought of the framing device as a method not of distancing themselves and the audience from the play (which is kind of how I saw it) but as a way of bringing the audience closer to the story; such was the comment of the moderator of the talk-back session. (After the play, there was a talk-back session for the benefit of the many junior high and high school students who had come to the performance that afternoon, and eight or ten of the actors, SKB among them, participated in it.) SKB reiterated the moderator’s comment about the framing device (a term that she did not use, by the way), saying it was meant to put the audience into the story. She used the example of the reaction of many of the students who laughed when Antonio said that Shylock should “presently become a Christian”. I was a little shocked that they would laugh at that, but they are young and callow. Anyway, SKB said that they had to somehow deal with the knowledge that they had laughed at that point, not saying whether it was a right or wrong reaction, but something that they had to examine within themselves, because the issues in the play are contemporary, not just applicable to the culture of late Elizabethan England.

But overall, I found the play to be mostly well-performed (I thought Lorenzo and Jessica were a little weakly conceived), and I thoroughly enjoyed SKB’s Portia. I’ve said before that SKB has a fantastic sense of timing and vocal nuance. While on stage she is always, but always, the character. (Jean Arthur was like that, too, and Greer Garson. And Rosalind Russell. And . . .) I found myself compelled to watch her, even when other characters were speaking, during the casket scenes as she watched the proceedings with evident anxiety and then relief. (And I must say here that the Prince of Aragon’s scene was especially hilarious.) She was particularly outstanding in 3.2. Her “You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand” speech was brilliant; one knew exactly what she was talking about and what her feelings were towards Bassanio and herself.

It was fascinating to watch her change, as she listened to Bassanio read Antonio’s letter, from her carefree, almost flippant, “What, no more?” comments about money, to her thoughtful (and, I think, a little worried at the thought that Antonio could be a serious rival for Bassanio’s affections – although there weren’t any homosexual tones at all to Bassanio’s performance, and just the merest hint of such from Antonio) and heartfelt “O, love!”, said – or rather, almost choked out – with tears in her eyes.

SKB’s portrayal of a learned doctor of law ranged from comical (trying to appear both confidently masculine and knowledgeable while being obviously unfamiliar with court procedure: not even knowing where to stand, and having to ask which one was the merchant and which the Jew, all while Antonio sat there chained in manacles and Shylock stood over him whetting a knife); to disappointed with Bassanio (“Your wife would give you little thanks for that”), and with Shylock after his many refusals of her offers to take the money or at least provide a surgeon to keep Antonio from bleeding to death; to a poignant combination of both humor and sadness (“I pray you know me when we meet again”). And then to the wounded disappointment of “It cannot be” when she received the ring she had given her husband. The ring joke at the end has always seemed a little mean to me, but they made it funny and inoffensive, and both Bassanio’s and Portia’s reactions were fitting. Overall, it was an enjoyable and rather good production of the play. I left thinking I might want to stop there in my travels again sometime.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

You speak a language that I understand not

I've mentioned before how important a few student productions at BYU were in helping me become a Shakespeare lover. Because of those fond memories, I decided a few years ago that it would be a pretty keen idea to go see a production of The Winter's Tale that the theatre department at BYU was producing. BYU + Shakespeare = What Could Go Wrong?

I was never that great at math.

I've seen some pretty horrid Shakespeare, and BYU's The Winter's Tale was it. It was a perfect example of what happens when a director dreams up a concept and then mutates and mutilates the play to fit it.

So when the BYU theatre department announced that its Shakespeare production for this season was As You Like It, I thought "BYU + Shakespeare - The Winter's Tale = What Could Go Wrong?"

I was pretty excited about seeing one of my favorite plays, so I talked various family members into buying tickets for the show as well, and I planned a special trip to Utah. A few days before the performance, Ian showed me an article from the BYU student newspaper. "This makes me kind of nervous," he said, handing me the article. I began to read:

"A new play is opening in the HFAC tonight; but to label it merely as a 'play' simply does not do it justice."

Okay, I can deal with that. That's good. Read on.

"It is a play, a musical, a comedy, an action movie, a concert, a political commentary and a love story."

Okay, okay, that's true. Shakespeare put all that stuff in there. Sort of. Read on.

"[The director] wants audiences to connect to the characters and situations on stage."

Okay, but that's sort of a given, isn't it? Like, what director wouldn't want an audience to connect? Is this director worried such a connection won't happen? I begin to feel a little niggling discomfort. Read on.

"'This is about what would happen in Provo if the government was overthrown and we had to live in the canyons', said . . . the show's music director. . . . 'BYU is a romantically charged school, so this is exactly what would happen if you threw BYU into the canyons'."

Really? Girls would disguise themselves as boys? Everyone would sing Leonard Cohen songs? Grown men would feel bad about killing deer? In Utah?! Read on.

"The cast and crew have gone to great lengths to create a show especially for college-age students. 'The season ticket holders, it's not for them,' [the music director] said."

Okay, now I'm nervous, too. And what does that even mean? A well-acted, thoughtful production of Shakespeare is not for college-age students? Season ticket holders cannot appreciate Shakespearean adaptations? Read on.

"There are no British accents, no Elizabethan clothes or customs. [The director and music director] said they have clothes in their closets just like their costumes. And no one is playing the lute."

Wow. Now that's just snobbery. Read on.

"The cast is hoping the music will help Shakespeare's language become more accessible, and that the story will become more apparent."

And here we have the crux of the matter. There is no need to read on. If a director doesn't think that good acting can make Shakespeare's language accessible and the story apparent, then he or she should not be directing that play. There, I've said it.

Just to be clear, I did not mind the modern setting. I did not mind that the production was aimed at college students. I did not mind the clothes-out-of-your-closet costumes. I did not mind the addition of modern songs, as they were well performed and the cast harmonized beautifully. I did not mind the addition of a violent coup at the beginning (which looked like it was nicked right out of Kenneth Branagh's film version of the play). I did not mind the silly effect of having soft chimes sound to indicate when a character has suddenly fallen in love. I did not mind Touchstone, a character who, more often than not, I find annoying. I did not mind the few truly inspired touches that showed fleetingly like shooting stars; those I appreciated greatly.

What I did mind was the huge - but huge - cuts in the text. (Way to make the language accessible, guys: just delete most of it.) There was no discussion of fortune vs nature, no mustard and pancakes, no "much virtue in 'if'"; only teensy bits of the court life vs country life discussion, and even less of teasing Rosalind about Orlando's poems and "no clock in the forest"; no Pythagoras' rat, no "die by attorney", no "the wiser, the waywarder", no Bay of Portugal, and on and on. I'm not opposed to some cutting here and there, but the thing is, Shakespeare's characters are revealed pretty much exclusively through what they say. There are basically no stage directions, no author's notes. So if you cut out great chunks of dialogue and then fling the rest around sitcom style, or chew at it like it's a cud, or drool it out like an old hippie trying to tell you where he left the phone book, then no one is going to understand you, no matter how many songs you add for clarification.

I also minded the extreme violence added to the play: slapping, kicking, slugging - and that's just between the characters who are supposed to be friends. There was also plenty of senseless shootings, water torture, electric shock, and beatings. Not that I think violence has no part in a Shakespeare production. On the contrary. Take a look at Titus Andronicus, for instance. But this is a comedy, folks. Yes, there should be some sense of danger and peril. Rosalind is threatened with death, after all. But do you have to hold a knife to her throat to make the threat more "accessible"? And when one moment the audience is presented with the comical antics of Touchstone, and the next they're looking at someone being tortured (and not very convincingly) with something like jumper cables, they're probably going to be laughing at both.

Phebe murders Silvius with her eyes
(from the Daily Universe website)

I also minded some of the substandard acting. Halfway through act 1, I found myself ignoring the duke's mumblings and Jacques' (inexplicably pronounced "zhock-wheeze" by one and all) tearful rants - which I ignored because, even though I know this play like the back of my hand (although rather better, because I never have got to know the back of my hand) and knew what they were supposed to be saying, I actually could not understand them. So I instead amused myself till their speeches were over by thinking up alternate titles for this production, titles such as "Like It! The Musical" and "As You Like It . . . Not" and "What the Heck Are They Saying, or Who Even Cares?" I really think if the acting had been better, I could have overlooked a lot of the other stuff I minded.

I minded the addition of a scene of Jacques meeting a fool in the forest because it's repeated a moment later when Jacques tells the Duke he met a fool in the forest in the exact same words. For crying out loud, how dull does the director think the audience is?

I minded having to be told by the little chimy music instead of by the acting that certain characters were falling in love. I minded the sledgehammer delivery of lines like "Sir, you have wrestled well and overthrown more than your enemies" and every time Orlando said Rosalind's name in act 4, scene 1, and there were other instances but I can't or won't remember them. I just know I minded them.

I kind of minded the early reveal of Rosalind's identity. It was an interesting notion, humorously executed, and it helped Orlando to look not so much like a dupe, but it made nonsense of act 5, scene 2, where Rosalind promises Orlando to reveal her own fate and whereabouts.

Oh, and I also minded having to watch Orlando wash his armpits.

Was the play an awful experience? No. Was it as bad as The Winter's Tale? No. Were there audience members who were delighted by this production? Yes. Did I have fun? Ultimately, yes, although I was initially rather concerned about what my family would say about having spent money on the tickets. But . . . . Call me a traditionalist, call me closed-minded, call me a season ticket holder, but if you're going to make a musical adaptation of Shakespeare, like The Boys from Syracuse, or Kiss Me, Kate!, you should come right out and say so, instead of spouting all that blather about trying to make Shakespeare's language more accessible.

PS There are several points from Things I Will Not Do When I Direct a Shakespeare Production that could apply to this show, but especially pertinent are #13, #15, #20, and #160.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I know I love in vain, strive against hope

Bertram's a pill. All's Well That Ends Well is, they say, a "problem play". I don't think it's so much a problem play. I think it has a problem character: Bertram. I suppose a director could create more problems in the play, like portraying Diana as truly in love with Bertram, or making her mother a prostitute, or making Helena a gold-digger, or the countess a drunk, or the king a despot. Wait, the king is a despot. But really, the only problem with the play as is is that Bertram has been written as a selfish and immature lad, and even that isn't an insurmountable problem until the end when, as Bertram is faced with the truth, Shakespeare still has him try to weasel and squirm his way out of being an honorable man. As Harold Goddard wrote, "It is conceivable that a rare actor, by suggesting the struggle within the man and his suppressed abhorrence of the very lies he is telling, might make the miracle at the end convincing. But the text is against him."

All the photos are from the USF website

It is conceivable that a director, too, might try to make Bertram more sympathetic. In a 1996 production in Washington, DC, Laird Williamson attempted it and, according to some critics, was successful. He started the play showing Bertram and Helena as childhood friends who cared for each other, and the grown Bertram was portrayed as someone who was really good inside but had been misled by Parolles. So when I opened my program at the theatre in Cedar City, back in October 2005 during the Utah Shakespearean Festival's fall season, and saw in the cast of characters the names "Young Bertram" and "Young Helena", I figured here was another director who was attempting to give us a buffered version of Bertram.

I appreciated the effort. I like the character of Helena. I'm one of those who believe that fate, not deliberate pursuit, brought her together with Bertram in Florence. I can appreciate the medieval sources of the story just enough not to be very disturbed by the bed trick. And since I do like Helena, I want Bertram's repentance at the end to be sincere. I don't mind some element of insecurity as far as their relationship goes, but I want them to have at least a hint of hope that they'll be able to make a life together.

The director of the USF production, J R Sullivan, went for just such an interpretation. At several points, he took the opportunity to show a kinder side of Bertram. Yes, Bertram was eager to be off into the world and no longer tied down at his mother's house; yes, he was chagrined at being told he was too young to go to the wars.

And yes, he was appalled at the manner of his marriage. Who wouldn't be? Even Helena was appalled by that time and could hardly obey the king's command to join hands with her husband-to-be. But later, when Helena knelt before Bertram and said she could nothing say but that she was his servant, he was again appalled and tried to make her stand - this in spite of his earlier protests that she was too far beneath him to merit matrimony (his comment about such a marriage bringing him down almost got boos from the audience). And when Helena was finally able to tell him that she hoped for a kiss, he hesitated then relented, seeming to think there could be no harm in it. He took her by the arms. Then, just as he was about to kiss her, he saw Parolles watching from a doorway behind Helena. Embarrassed at being caught in a tender moment, Bertram curtly dismissed Helena.

At the moment when Bertram told Dumaine that Helena has (so he thinks) died, he seemed genuinely sorry, but only at that moment, and he quickly recovered. Then came the final scene with the lies and the twisting this way and that to get himself out of a fix, but, like a man in a morass, he found himself sinking farther in. Then Helena appeared. It's a good thing she was so gentle with him because everyone, it seemed, took their cue from her. And so he was a changed man. His line "If she can make me know this clearly" was said more as a profession of hope and contrition than as a challenge. The king once again joined their hands. Helena moved as if to leave Bertram - she was not going to force the relationship - but he tightened his grasp and took her by the other hand as well, looked at her repentantly, and kissed her. Not exactly a happy ending, but one with hope.

And yet, as we were leaving the theatre, I heard someone say, "Why would she want to marry him?"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Look, what is done cannot be now amended

You know how when you experience something that is so very good and enjoyable, you want to experience it again? There's this scene in C S Lewis's Perelandra, where Prof Ransom (or maybe he isn't a professor; it's been years since I read it) goes to the planet Venus and finds and eats this delicious fruit and it's so yummy he wants to have another, but this green lady says "Hey, you had one and it was good. Let that suffice and don't be a pig." And Ransom sees her point, I think. But if you're not full, why shouldn't you have another one? What's the point of putting See's Candy in a box if you can't eat the whole box?

I'm not sure if that's an apt analogy, but my point is that, having seen two brilliant adaptations of The Winter's Tale (and two disappointing ones), I was pretty excited to have an opportunity to see another during the 2005 Shakespeare festival at the Old Globe Theatres, especially since the director was a Famous Director with Many Critically Acclaimed Productions to his credit.

You know how when you're eating a bunch of See's Candy, and you think "I'll just have one more to finish off this session" and you pick one that looks like maybe it's got coconut cream in it and instead it's a cherry cordial and you almost gag and wish you had left well enough alone?

The Winter's Tale is a play about jealousy, loss, love, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. These are profound themes, and the play requires a profound treatment if it is to be worth attending. I'm sorry to say that the only sense of loss I felt at the Old Globe production was that of an opportunity to see something done right, and the only incident of jealousy I noticed was my own as I sat there wishing I had been the director instead.

I think it says something about a production of The Winter's Tale when Perdita is the most affecting character. And the funniest. And the one who shows the most depth of feeling. Oh, I take it back. Paulina was good. Very good. Hers was actually the best performance of the evening, but Perdita was cuter and she got to do a cool dance. Oh yeah, and Hermione had a moment in 2.1, as she knelt with her hands on the floor after Leontes had thrown her aside with his "Away with her, to prison!" She knelt there, and she knelt there, and there was a long silence, a very long silence, as she apparently tried to make sense of what was happening to her marriage, her husband, her very very life. It stretched on, until finally she uttered with a mixture of confusion and resignation, "There's some ill planet reigns." I admired the bravery of the long silence, and appreciated the acting therein. It was the best moment for Hermione. It should have been one in a series of excellent Hermione moments: the fond teasing of her husband, her affectionate interchange with Mamillius, the heart-wrenching dignity and misery at her trial for treason, and - it should go without saying but I'll say it anyway - her return to 'life'. The statue scene in 5.3 is usually the most moving event in the play, and when it comes off bland and mechanical, as it did in this production, it is a dramatic failure.

I believe the problem - not just in the statue scene, but throughout most of the Sicilia scenes - was a combination of inadequate acting and uninspired blocking. It was like the director, perhaps because he was busy with the other play he directed during this repertory season, didn't care enough about this play to give it what it needed. Instead he played it safe. That's what this production was: a safe, automatic offering of Shakespeare. The audience need not worry about having any demands made on them. Give them a few laughs (and one of those 'laffs' was so nonsensically cheap that if booing had been socially permissible, I would have thought about booing. Wait, I did think about booing) and a few 'wow' effects and they'll be entertained. Hmph.

What I liked:

- As I said, Perdita was funny. It's the first time I've ever seen a funny Perdita, not just someone "making pretty". When she was passing out the flowers to everyone, it was a hoot as she made her comments on the flowers applicable to the recipients. To Mopsa (or was it Dorcas?), "Daffodils, that come before the swallow dares" (okay, that's not funny, but it's leading up to it); to her brother, the Clown, "Violets - dim (pause), but sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes", etc. To Dorcas (or was it Mopsa?), "Pale primroses, that die unmarried . . ." and the look on Dorpsa's face.

- Paulina was very good, as I said. The actress playing her, Kandis Chappell, sounded like she knew what she was doing and wasn't just generalizing emotions. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Leontes, Hermione, and Polixenes, in varying degrees. Leontes is, I think, a very difficult character to play, and this guy wasn't up to it, at least not on the night I saw it. The actor playing Polixenes did a little better.

- Those brave silences I mentioned. Actually, I mentioned only one. There were two of them, and I wish I could remember when the other one was. I'm pretty sure it was during the trial scene.

- The lightning and thunder when Leontes denies the oracle, and later when Antigonus prepares to leave the baby on Bohemia's shore. (And I couldn't believe the number of people I overheard during the interval who laughingly commented on "Bohemia's shore". Okay, I only overheard two people comment on it, but that's two more than I've ever heard comment on it before, and I've seen the play five times now. These guys sounded like it was a new idea to them, realizing Shakespeare didn't know his Bohemian geography; or were they just trying to appear erudite?) Anyway, the lightning and thunder were cool special effects. Very nicely done.

-The Old Shepherd. I've liked Jonathan McMurtry in just about every role I've seen him in at the Old Globe (Verges in 1995's Much Ado about Nothing and the Porter in this year's Macbeth come immediately to mind).

- It was nice to see an Antigonus and Paulina who really looked like they were married. Some nice touches there, and Antigonus had just the right touch of gently sardonic wit.

- The dance in 4.4. It was a fun, rollicking country dance, with nobody confusing vulgarity with humor.

- Camillo's and Polixenes' disguises in 4.4: Polixenes was a bearded, one-eyed (with an eye patch) military leader in full regalia (including a plumed hat with bright red plumes at least 18 inches tall and a chestful of medals) confined to a wheelchair, and Camillo was a nun (with a winged cap like the Flying Nun) in sunglasses who pushed the wheelchair.

Polixenes and the Old Shepherd talk about the sheep-shearing festivities

- I liked how Leontes got the idea to kill Polixenes. When Leontes confronts Camillo in 1.2 with Hermione's supposed adultery, Camillo enters with a champagne glass, which he sets down on the edge of the stage during the ensuing dialogue. Later, Leontes brings Camillo to the floor in his rage and, seeing the glass nearby, suddenly gets the idea of getting rid of Polixenes with a poisoned drink, that was nicely done.

- When Antigonus was describing his dream of Hermione, Hermione herself came on at an upper level and delivered the dream lines herself. I've always thought it should be done like that, and this was the first time I'd seen it that way.

What I didn't like:

- The cutting of so many lines. Okay, I don't mind when they cut Polixenes and Camillo's lines in 1.2, as long as it's not too much. I can understand why they cut Cleomenes and Dion in 3.1, although I don't agree with it. And I can even take a little - a very little - cutting of Hermione's lines, although it bothers me, because she's not in the play that much as it is. (For instance, they cut most of her "cram's with praise" lines, which made me sad, but I'm happy to report that they left her speeches in the trial scene intact. If only she had delivered them like she meant what she was saying. Sigh.) But . . . they cut the whole beginning of 2.1 where the ladies tease Mamillius about blue eyebrows and noses. I've been thinking about that, and maybe it's because the kid playing Mamillius just wasn't that good. But if they were cutting lines based on how good the acting was, the play would've lasted about 45 minutes total. No, I'm kidding. An hour, maybe. And I'm not a true fan of the character of Autolycus, like most people seem to be, but even I was shocked at some of the cutting done to his part. His trio with Dorcas and Mopsa, gone. And I like the bit where he pretends to be a nobleman and talks of fardels and threatens the Old Shepherd and the Clown. Gone. And in 5.2 when the Shepherd and the Clown tell Autolycus to mend his life, gone. All gone. There were some other cuts here and there that I noticed at t the time, but can't think of now. They didn't bother me as much, I guess, or I would have remembered them.

- Autolycus threw away his line about "toads carbonadoed".

- Leontes was standing right there, listening and smiling, when Hermione got Polixenes to agree to stay a few more days, yet a moment later he comes up to them and says "Is he won yet?" Was he only pretending to listen earlier? Bad blocking, I call it.

- Hermione is supposed to be 8 or 9 months pregnant, right? Yet there she was tripping all about the stage (tripping like walking quickly and lightly and gracefully, not tripping like being a clumsy fool), sitting down and getting up without a burden in the world (once she even sat on the stairs, with her knees higher than her bottom - just lowered herself as easily as you please with no helping hand and got up under her own power, too), bending over frontwards (you just don't do that so casually when you're that heavy, because you might just fall over), and at one point she actually half-twirled to face someone. I think in the real word the weight of one's abdomen would act with some sort of centrifugal force, initiating a movement that would require considerable effort to bring to a stop and possible giving the unborn baby what my son calls 'g-face'.

- The bear. This was a large (oh, say, 7 feet tall by 10 or 12 feet wide) flat cut-out of a polar (?) bear's head, with a gaping mouth like the entrance to a cave. The actress presenting Time pulled it out from its hiding place behind one of the walls, and Antigonus back up the stairs and through the mouth. Then he sat there, framed by sharp teeth, and said, "I am gone forever." It was such a jarring change from the relative realism of the play up to that point to an expressionistic representation of being eaten by a bear that it was funny. I know that most of the time some audience members will laugh at the bear part, no matter how it's presented, maybe because it's so unexpected or shocking, and especially when the bear is played by an actor in a bear costume. As I sat there trying not to guffaw at this large board bear head, I asked myself if the director had thought, "Well, they're going to laugh anyway, so I might as well give 'em a darn good reason to laugh."

- Most of the acting. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good enough. It was perfunctory, functional with no emotional depth, and once in a while it was so 'off' that it was embarrassing. Examples of this last from the statue scene: Leontes' "Oh, she's warm" was operatic in quality instead of awed. Same with Hermione's "You gods, look down, and from your sacred vials pour your blah blah blah" and so on. Yeah, right, I really believe you.

- Speaking of the statue scene, I didn't like the 'statue': Hermione sitting with her upper body sprawled over Time's knees. Okay, I've seen real statues like that. There was this one life-sized statue of an angel sprawled in exactly the same manner over a tombstone in this cemetery in Costa Rica I used to walk through every Sunday on my way to and from church, and that's immediately what I thought of when I saw Hermione last night, but it just looked so . . . so sprawly. and that brings up another thing that bothered me: Time sat looking out over all the doings during the entire play. The entire play! What was Time doing there, anyhow. Hasn't she got better ways to spend her . . . time? I thought it was weird. Anyway, so when Hermione "woke up" it was totally unremarkable and unsurprising and uninspiring. Then she came down the stairs, by which time Leontes had collapsed to his knees in an unremarkably and unsurprisingly uninspired manner, and she went to him and bent over slightly (she bent over way farther when she was nine months pregnant) and draped her arms sort of on/around him. Of course, this makes utter nonsense of Camillo's line "She hangs about his neck!" so of course he didn't say it. But there was no heartfelt embrace. On the other hand, there was nothing tentative about the touch either. It was hard to tell if Hermione had forgiven Leontes and now accepted him again or if she still had reservations. There was just nothing there. Bland. Mechanical. A dramatic failure.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sir, they are spoken, and these things are true.

I've seen some low budget productions of Shakespeare plays that, although not exactly thrilling, were at least good for a laugh. Even some of the comedies have come across that way. And every once in a while - every great once in a while - a low budget production will have a surprise - some particularly effective staging or delightful performance - that makes the whole thing worthwhile. So even though I know that you get what you pay for, I sometimes still go see cheap Shakespeare, hoping for that little surprise.

That's why we went to see Much Ado about Nothing at "Shakespeare in the Vines" last month. "Shakespeare in the Vines" is a summer Shakespeare festival held at a winery in Temecula. They do two plays every summer, and this is their fourth year. I'll admit my expectations were kind of low, but I will also say that I did get a little surprise.

The stage is set at the edge of the vineyard that sponsors the festival, so it makes a pretty nice outdoor spot for putting on a play.

Shakespeare in the Vines

This production of Much Ado about Nothing was updated to modern times, and Don Pedro and his men were coming back from having served in Iraq.

I took notes on my cell phone during the production. I've divided my notes into Good Things, Bad Things, and Indifferent Things, and made a few additional comments after some of them.

Good Things

1. Modern pop music playing before curtain. Some of it I like.

Additional comment: There was actually no curtain.

No curtain

2. Annie Lennox's "Stand by Me" was the first song.

3. Benedick is pretty good!

Additional comment: He's the surprise of the evening. He was a delightful Benedick and he deserved a higher budget production. If everyone had been as good as he was, it would have been a really good show. He sounded like he knew what he was saying, and he made the oh-so-familiar funny lines sound funny still. I laughed.

4. The song before the gulling of Benedick was replaced by Claudio on guitar singing "Save Tonight", accompanied by some fellow on violin.

Additional comment: Not that I'm in favor of replacing the original lyrics, but in this case it worked out all right. After the interlude, Claudio also sang "Horse with No Name", accompanied by himself on guitar, the same fellow on violin, and another guy (was it Benedick? Don Pedro? I can't remember) on bongo drums. At Hero's tomb, Claudio alone with his guitar sang a very emotional rendition of David Gray's "The Other Side", after which he burst into tears. He was quite the singer, and his musical performances were some of the too-few highlights of the evening.

5. The song at the end, as the cast took their bows, was Dave Matthews' "Every Day".

Some of the cast take their bows, except they're not actually bowing here.
Sort of like a curtain call when there is no curtain.

6. There was a cat sitting on a bench onstage during part of the play. He acted like he owned the place.

The acting cat

Bad Things

1. Modern pop music playing before curtain. Some of it I don't like.

2. Hard folding chairs, very uncomfortable. (This is not the fault of the director or cast.)

3. Started 15 minutes late.

4. It smells of rotten grapes. Yes, I know we're at a winery.

5. Leonato is dressed in shorts and an Aloha shirt. Don Pedro and his men are dressed in Marine green cammies and Don John and his men are in Army desert cammies. Claudio's scalp is way too white. I can't believe he's been fighting in Iraq.

Additional comment: There was nothing wrong with the military garb as costuming, but I thought it was kind of weird that all the "good guys" were Marines and all the "bad guys" were Army. Was there a double meaning in that?

6. All the guys look like they have eye liner on.

Additional comment: Maybe they did have it on, but you're not supposed to look like you do. I can still remember my college stage makeup instructor drilling into our heads: "No sharp lines! Fade to infinity! Fade to infinity!!" They could have used her here.

7. Bea keeps fluffing her lines.

Additional comment: Maybe she was just having a bad night, but she also seemed to be lacking in emotional depth. Part of the time she sounded like she didn't understand what she was saying. They skipped the "all mirth and no matter" lines. I was initially disappointed, but considering how Beatrice was doing that night, I decided it was for the best. It hurt me to hear her trample the lines about Benedick lending her his heart a while, and the "what fire is in mine ears" speech, and "I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest". She might as well have been talking about her favorite sandwich condiments for all the feeling I heard in it.

8. Benedick keeps pronouncing "doth" to rhyme with "moth".

Additional comment: He's a drama teacher in real life. He should know better.

9. Bea took Ant's lines when Leo confronts Claudio.

Additional comment: There was no Antonio in this production, so when Leonato confronted Claudio and Don Pedro, Beatrice took Antonio's lines. It made her seem particularly belligerent, and contradicted her earlier speech to Benedick about wishing she were a man and not being able to do anything to Claudio because she was a woman. It was a mistake on the director's part.

Indifferent but Noteworthy

1. At the dance, Benedick disguised himself as Elvis. I don't know why.

2. Don John had a toothpick in his mouth the whole time. I don't know why.

3. Narcoleptic Dogberry

Additional comment: This characterization of Dogberry seems to me to have been taken from Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film of Much Ado about Nothing and then adapted a bit. This Dogberry was more manic but less cruel than Michael Keaton's, and he fell asleep a lot more (too much, if you ask me), and he didn't quite make the most of his lines, but there was some pretty funny business with him and Verges and Borachio that set the audience a-roar with laughter.

I noticed a few other things that I suspect were nicked from Branagh's film, like showing Borachio and Margaret carrying on (although I've seen that in other productions as well), and the reaction of Margaret at the wedding to finding out her part in the plot to discredit Hero, when in the script she doesn't even show up at the wedding. And then there's the switching of scenes 5.2 and 5.3, which makes little sense to me. And here's why:

In 5.1 of the original play, Claudio, Don Pedro, Leonato, et al, discover that Don John is the cause of Claudio's misunderstanding about Hero's supposed guilt, and Leonato tells Claudio that, as part of his penance for causing Hero's death, he should sing a hymn at her tomb. In 5.2, Benedick meets Beatrice to tell her he has challenged Claudio to a duel (neither of them was present at the revelation in 5.1, so neither of them yet knows that Hero has been proven innocent), then Ursula comes running in to tell them that Hero is, indeed, innocent and that the mix-up is all Don John's fault. They then run off with her to the house to hear the whole story. Act 5, scene 3 shows us Claudio and Don Pedro - who still don't know that Hero is not really dead - at Hero's tomb, carrying out the required penance.

In the film, though, 5.3 (Claudio's penance at the tomb) is moved up to before 5.2 (Beatrice and Benedick's discovery that Hero has been proven innocent). Claudio's penance takes place at night, apparently unbeknownst to Beatrice and Benedick. Then, as the sun is coming up and the birds are singing at dawn, Beatrice finds Benedick and they talk briefly about how "ill" Hero is, presumably because of Claudio's unjust accusations against her and her need to still play dead. Suddenly, in runs an excited Ursula eager to share the good news that all's (still?) a big to-do up at the house because Hero is no longer belied. In a filmic sense, I suppose it can be artistically appropriate to have Hero's reputation "resurrected" in the morning after the sorrows of the night at the tomb, but the scene switch is not logical in a temporal sense. I start asking myself, "Why, when they knew Hero was innocent the night before, did they wait until the next day to let Beatrice know?" I mean, Beatrice, who suffered more than anyone besides Hero herself, was the last to find out! And I ask myself, "Did everyone forget about Beatrice in the excitement? Had she hidden herself away because she was depressed and didn't want to talk to anyone and they looked for her but just couldn't find her before the next morning? And why didn't anyone tell Benedick about it either?" And then I start asking myself, "Where were Beatrice and Benedick all this time, that they didn't hear about Borachio's confession and Claudio's repentance?"

Well, these are all questions without answers when you go twisting things around. But back to the play. My overall reaction was that I got what I paid for. And I got that pleasant little surprise.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge

Some time ago I attended a production of The Winter's Tale put on by the Globe MFA, which was (and may still be) a joint effort between the Globe Theatres in San Diego and the students in the MFA program at the University of San Diego. I was feeling more than a little trepidation about going to see this basically nonprofessional (as opposed to unprofessional) production; this was only the second time I'd seen the play, and the first - at USF back in 1996 - was one of those magical theatrical experiences where everything comes together. Because of that experience, Hermione quickly became one of my favorite Shakespearean characters. The trial scene (3.2) is one of my favorites in all of Shakespeare, and I love him for writing such a strong, compassionate, admirable female character. Well, I didn't want to be disappointed, so I kept reminding myself of how much I had enjoyed a similar MFA-related production of Pericles at the Globe complex's Centre Stage in 1997.

So, as we sat in the car driving down to San Diego, I pretty much told myself that, if there was at least one character, or I should say one actor, in this production who could bring his or her character to "life", the play would be okay and not a disappointment. Of course, if that character was Hermione, it would be all the cooler.

I also entertained the thought that maybe, just maybe, Emmelyn Thayer would have some part in the play. I had seen her the previous September as Thaisa in the Globe Theatres' (professional) production of Pericles (not the same as the aforementioned MFA production), which I really enjoyed, and was hoping she'd show up again. Well, we went into the theatre and found our seats, and I put on my glasses and began to read the program.

So, I'm sitting there, reading my program, and the first thing I check out is who is playing Hermione . . . Hooray! I was delighted to see that, indeed, it was Emmelyn Thayer. I was sure now that the evening would be worthwhile. I looked at the names of the other actors and didn't recognize anyone. Then I noticed the director's name: Art Manke. He was one of the directors at A Noise Within, and I had gone to see their production of Cymbeline that he directed back in April 2000. That was a good experience, so I felt ever more optimistic about the evening.

It turned out I had good reason to be optimistic. There were a few very good performances, some passable ones, and the costumes were good, and the music was very good, and the shepherds' dance was cute, and the statue scene turned my heart over, and I was happy when all was done.

As I had hoped, Emmelyn Thayer's Hermione was nearly perfect. At one point, when Leontes comes into his wife's room to take their son away from her and accuse her of treason, she looks at him like "Is this a joke?" (In fact, she says, "What is this? Sport?") Then he calls her an adulteress and she flinches as if he'd struck her, and I'm thinking "Thank you!" I was so grateful to see someone act, or in this case react, like they knew what was going on around them. (Not like certain Desdemonas and Imogens from previous plays at the USF who shall remain nameless.) It was this attention to characterization that helped make Thayer's performance one of the highlights of the evening.

The guy playing Leontes was probably the weakest of the lot, but I reason that it shows more in him than in someone else because he has such a big part and because it's such a difficult one to play (instant, unexplained, consuming jealousy). Paulina was good, although she went a bit over the top when Hermione died. And Camillo's voice work was good, but his body movement, or lack thereof, was a little awkward. During one scene, he stood with his right hand poised a few inches in front of his abdomen and left it there for the whole scene. He looked like a mannequin.

Generally speaking, there were only two things about the play that really bothered me at all. Actually, one thing that puzzled me and one thing that I was outraged over.

The thing that puzzled me was that they included the dance of the saltiers, although there were only three instead of twelve. Well, really, it wasn't the dance that puzzled me, but what happened during it. The dancers are referred to in the text as "men of hair", which, for some reason, is generally interpreted as satyrs. Satyrs are symbolic of sexual . . . mayhem is the word I guess I'm looking for. In Greek mythology, satyrs were the attendants of Dionysus, the god of wine, etc, and their specialty was getting drunk, dancing and singing and reveling, and assaulting nymphs. So anyhow, in the play these satyrs are dancing around in a very suggestive manner, which I can accept because this is a country festival after all, and they are satyrs after all. But, during their dance the onlookers (the shepherds and shepherdesses, and Perdita and Florizel) are obviously affected by what they're seeing, and all of a sudden Perdita and Florizel start kissing, growing more passionate at it as the dance continues. At any moment I expected to hear by brother-in-law call out, "Get a room!" Except, what would Scott be doing at a Shakespeare play?

The reason this puzzled me is not because I'm opposed to seeing passionate kissing on stage (actually, it was pretty good for passionate kissing. Usually, I find that about 99% of stage kissing - and even a lot of film and tv kissing - appears forced and unnatural, like bad acting), but because I think it is a wrong interpretation of the characters of Florizel and Perdita. Well, not "wrong", but not according to how I read the characters. It could be argued that there is no "wrong" interpretation of Shakespeare, as is evidenced by the many productions with varying concepts from clever to wacko; but there is such a thing as going contrary to what is written, so you either contradict it and hope no one notices or you avoid it by cutting the lines.

In 4.4, Perdita tells Florizel that she's worried his father will somehow accidentally find out that his son loves a shepherd's daughter and be really mad. Florizel counters by saying that Jupiter, Neptune, and Apollo all disguised themselves (as a bull, a ram, and a poor country boy respectively) in order to have their way with certain ladies. So he, Florizel, has transformed himself into a shepherd, but says the gods did so not "in a way so chaste" as his own manner, "since my desires / Run not before mine honour, nor my lusts / Burn hotter than my faith." So he doesn't have any intention of acting in the lascivious manner the gods did. She answers, "O, but sir, / Your resolution cannot hold when 'tis / Opposed, as it must be, by th'power of the King." This indicates to me that Florizel's intentions are honorable, and that he will keep faith with her. That he is talking about marriage is indicated by Perdita's saying his resolution will be opposed by his father.

Then there's the whole conversation Perdita has with Polixenes about flowers and hybridization and bastardy, and she says, "I will not put / The dibble in earth to set one slip of them, /No more than, were I painted, I would wish / This youth should 'twere well, and only therefore / Desire to breed by me." So I figure she's saying she'd no more plant a "bastard" flower (meaning a hybrid) than put cosmetics on and let Florizel treat her like a harlot and get her with a bastard child. At least, that's how I interpret it. (Except, I must say at this point that these lines about flowers were cut in Manke's production.)

A few lines later, when Perdita is passing out flowers to all and sundry, she mentions several flowers she wishes she could give to Florizel and then says, "O, these I lack / To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend, / To strew him o'er and o'er." Florizel says, "What, like a corpse?" And Perdita responds, "No, like a bank for love to lie and play on, / Not like a corpse - or if, not to be buried, / But quick and in mine arms." Here she is getting into some more sensual meaning, and immediately afterwards she says, "Sure this robe of mine / Does change my disposition." By which we see it's not really in her disposition to talk with such frank passion about Florizel, and I think she's a little embarrassed by speaking of her feelings for him so openly. So, if she doesn't normally even talk about things like that in front of people, why should she start acting like that in front of people? It made no sense to me, and that kind of puzzled me. Of course, there was that music, and when music comes into play, constraint is free to fly out the window, I suppose.

The thing that outraged me was Hermione's trial scene. The Carter Centre Stage is theatre in the round, so you're not always going to see everyone's face. Well, imagine my shock (and outrage) when Hermione is led in by Paulina, who supports her because Hermione is so weak from having recently given birth, not to mention having endured the time of imprisonment in a dungeon, and then she goes to stand on the prisoner's box, or whatever that thing was supposed to be, to face Leontes, and she's got her back to our side of the theatre!!! What the . . . ?! I was appalled, yes, and frustrated. I could still hear her voice, and every once in a while she would turn her head in our direction, but that only served to make me more frustrated at not being able to see all her facial expressions.

She started out her defense with a very quiet and very tired-sounding

Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say "Not guilty".

They did cut maybe the last third of her first speech, which includes "For honour, / 'Tis a derivative from me to mine", and I was sorry to see it gone because I think it's important because it explains why she's going through the trial ordeal at all. She got to say all but the first two lines of her second speech. Then Leontes says she's going to get the death penalty. Then she began her third speech. "Sir," she says in almost a whisper, and with a tone implying deep sorrow and a great weariness of soul, "spare your threats. / The bug which you would fright me with, I seek." (A "bug" in this sense is a horrible object.) Now, I'd heard that line before, when I saw the USF production, and I've read it more than a dozen times, and I "get" the words, yet it never really hit me what Hermione meant until Thayer spoke the line. Silly, isn't it? Kind of like reading a scripture dozens of times over the years, and then one day it stands out and has a meaning you never considered before. Anyway, she goes on to say that life doesn't mean that much to her anymore because her reasons for living are lost to her: her husband's love, regard, and approval; her firstborn child (and here she began to cry, a heart-rending sound, though not an overwhelming one, which is all I can mention since I couldn't see her face!), who is being kept away from her as if she had a disease; her baby daughter taken from her and sent away to be murdered; and her rights as a new mother, who should, no matter what her social station, be allowed to have some period of recovery after childbirth; not to mention that she, a great king's daughter, has been put on trial in public, with her supposed crimes posted on telephone poles all over the city. (Well, not telephone poles, but whatever.)

Then she says she will abide by the decree of the oracle, which pronounces her chaste. Leontes rejects it, Apollo gets angry and there's thunder and lightning, and a messenger runs in to say that the prince, their son, has died, and Hermione collapses in a dead faint, and it was all very well done.

Then we go off to Bohemia to see what will become of the little baby princess. I liked how they managed the bear that eats Antigonus. Antigonus was standing there looking up at the "sky", which got dark and ominous, and there were sounds of an approaching storm (I think), and distant animal roars, and then the roars got louder, and Antigonus lay down on the ground. Suddenly, two cast members who were lying at the edge of the stage stood up, each carrying a corner of a huge swath of red cloth. They ran across the stage, covering the body of Antigonus with the cloth, and then proceeded up the stairs on either side of the seating section, causing the cloth to tear down the middle. I don't think it really tore; I think it was velcroed or something so it could come apart easily. But there was a big tearing sound. The effect was to make one think of ripping and blood and death. Quite interesting and effective in the small theatre space.

I am happy to report that the final scene, the unveiling of Hermione's statue, was done in such a way that she faced our side of the theatre. When her breast rose and fell as she took her first breath, it gave me a chill, even though I knew perfectly well what was going to happen. The expression on Hermione's face as she looked at Leontes for the first time in 16 years was one part haunting and two parts heavenly. Really, Emmelyn Thayer had some good face stuff going on.

So I was very pleased with the evening as a whole, and regret only the unfortunate staging of the trial scene. I thought seriously about going down to San Diego the next day to see it again (from the other side of the theatre), but they were sold out. Oh, well. The synopsis of my life.