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Home :: Archive :: 1992 :: September ::
Two Reviews . . .
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 211. Saturday, 5 September 1992.
 
From: 		Roy Flannagan <FLANNAGA@OUACCVMB.BitNet>
Date: 		Saturday, Sept. 5, 1992, 09:09:12 EST
Subject: 	Two reviews of current productions at the Stratford (Ontario)
		  Festival
 
Two plays last Saturday (August 29) in Stratford, Ontario, at the
Shakespeare Festival: a review
 
     Prospero declaimed stiffly, sawing the air with his arms just the
way that Hamlet told the players not to.  {The Tempest} seemed
slow whenever Alan Scarfe as Prospero was on stage: his voice was
resonant and he declaimed as if he were an opera star reciting
recitative, but he was dull and pompous, and his limited acting could
not carry the rest of the cast.
 
     The special effects were effective or at least startling.  In the
tempest scene, florescent ropes waved aboard the ship in between the
flashes of lightning, suggesting St. Elmo's Fire.  Later a screaming
harpy leapt out at the audience like a jack out of the box.  The
devices worked fairly well, except the thunder was too loud (the
speakers are getting too good in theaters nowadays) and the harpy's
shriek was also deafening.  Ariel sneaked out of a tube trap door in
the midst of an astrological chart cleverly inlaid as the floor of the
thrust stage at the Festival Theatre, but while Ariel was sneaking out
into the fog, Prospero was declaiming high over the audience,
so we were expecting Ariel to fly down a wire over our heads.  David
William's direction of the whole play was like that--often misleading
and gratuitous.  For some reason Ferdinand, while doing errands for
Prospero, was made to go around the stage in a skimpy loincloth,
looking like an extra in {Life of Brian}.  He was very dirty at first,
covered with mud, and he had leg and wrist irons, as if he were in
bondage.  Later, when Prospero was about to free him, he lay
upstage, looking now like St. Sebastian supine, and for some reason he
had been cleaned up.  Prospero then went to his side with a little
washbasin and a dishrag and tenderly washed his feet, like Mary
Magdalen, though the feet did not need washing.  Since Miranda was
looking on from a distance, there was something vaguely scopophilic
or erotic about the scene.
 
     The reviewer from the Toronto {Globe and Mail}, Liam Lacey,
called the production a "turgid teapot" and called Alan Scarfe "a
bombastic and mannered performer."  The problem may have been in
the fact that David William has been a good Artistic Director for the
Festival (his programming by all accounts has been excellent) but he
has not, this summer, been a very good director of plays, partly
because he allowed David Scarfe to star in two of his productions.
The homoerotic tone of this {Tempest}, with Alonso sealing his pact
to kill the King of Naples by planting a kiss on Sebastian, did not
work as well as it did in William's previous {Troilus and Cressida} at
Stratford, because in the marriage-oriented world of {The Tempest}it
seems decidedly out of place.
 
     The set designs of the production were conventional but pretty
(where did Miranda get that lovely dress, unless Gonzalo planned his
packing to include her young adulthood?), the use of the stage was
fair, the use of extra-dramatic figures (fatalistic ladies in Greekish
silver masks standing often outside the action in pairs) superfluous.
Prospero broke his Aesculapian staff over his back, which was
supposed to upset the audience but didn't, and he became very angry
at the last minute with Caliban, for no apparent reason.  Much of
Williams's direction was like that--intrusive and useless, slowing the
play or distracting the audience.
 
     As usual in productions of {The Tempest}, the low characters
stole the show.  A crablike and muscular Caliban, Wayne Best,
smelled the piece of driftwood on which Miranda had been laying
when he entered, and he kept the action amusing and speedy while he
was on stage.  Ariel, Ted Dykstra, was played in the manner of Tom
Hulce's Mozart in {Amadeus}, a role that Mr. Dykstra also had
created on stage, but Ariel's speech pattern was not giggly and it
seemed suitably mechanical and unearthly for the character. Trinculo,
Caliban, and Stephano were always funny when they were together
on stage, and their drunkenness was more comic than sinister.  In his
last scene, Caliban became homo erectus just at the second when he
realized that the men he has been serving are dolts.
 
     Seeing David William's {Tempest} in the afternoon and then
Michael Langham's {Measure for Measure} in the evening was like
going from hot dogs to Beluga caviar.  Brian Bedford's Duke Vicenzio
was warm and likeable, not scheming and Machiavellian.  He really
was a benevolent despot.  How could any Isabel, nun or not, resist
the offer of marriage from such a sweet-tempered and avuncular ruler?
Bedford also gave us a Duke with a perfect sense of comic timing,
producing laughs whenever there might have been melodramatic
tension.  His humor was not frivolous, but neither was it ever bitter
or sarcastic.  Perhaps this Duke was more like Charles Laughton's
Henry VIII than like the BBC's more neurotic James I clone.  Making
the Duke lovable made a marriage between the Duke and Isabel
more of a love match than a marriage of Church and State.
 
     Colm Feore's Angelo was a Nazi or rather a Prussian officer,
which fit the unobtrusive WWI setting and costuming of the
production.  He clicked his heels; his steel-rimmed glasses seemed
aggressive.  If he had been smoking, he would have held the cigarette
between his thumb and forefinger.  This Angelo was clearly a
repressed fascist who used the power of his office to try to violate
Isabel, climbing on top of her in a very ugly scene.  Isabel, who
had a punk haircut under her habit, was played by Elizabeth Marvel
as an ingenue at first, bouncy and enthusiastic.  She seemed to learn
during the play just how wicked people could be, and she gained
courage as she argued or fought for her rights.
 
     Chiaroscuro lighting, cabaret-style bawdy house music, and a set
built entirely of vertical dull gray metal tubing all suggested that the
world was a dark prison without the sunshine of the Duke's
countenance and without his rule of good and just law tempered by
sensible and humane mercy.  Pompey made a good case for
enlightened whorehouses and bawds, and Bernardine certainly
deserved to be released, just for his chutzpah in refusing to be
hanged when he didn't feel like it.  Nicholas Pennell's Lucio was
perhaps the most unusual and subtle characterization in this
production.  He was a good drinking buddy to Pompey at first, and a
good friend to Claudio and Isabel, but he was not a fop; instead he
was dressed in a comfortable, understated frock coat.  His
cheer-leading for Isabel as she confronted Angelo to save her
brother's life was sympathetic, rather than annoying.  And his
outrageous lying (is it all lies?) about the Duke, issued to the Duke in
disguise, was so preposterous it was funny at times even to the Duke.
Pennell was a compulsive but forgivable liar.  It seemed, in this
production, as if the Duke, when he says "Thy slanders I forgive, and
therewithal / Remit thy other forfeits" is pardoning Lucio as he has
him escorted off to prison, even though he has just sentenced him to
be married, then whipped, then hanged.  Before seeing this
production, I had always figured that Lucio's sentence was so
harsh to compensate the audience for the fact that Angelo gets off
with only public disgrace and private marriage (poor Mariana!).
 
     Michael Langham's {Measure for Measure} was thoughtful, its
staging, costuming and lighting perfect, its characterizations engaging
and convincing.  Because this play, like {The Tempest}, centers on
and moves around a figure who controls the action, the production
worked because the performance of Brian Bedford worked.  Because
of his quiet dominance and Langham's smooth direction, the play's
very complicated action flowed evenly and the ensemble of characters
performed as a team, playing subtly off each other.
 
     There were really no special effects.  Even the severed head was
discreetly placed in a bucket, and Abhorson's tools did not include a
large and gruesome ax.  Pompey did not howl, Mistress Overdone
was not obstreperous, and Lucio did not wave a handkerchief at the
audience.  The performance was everything it should have been.  A
young and open mind in that audience would probably have seen this
unfossilized {Measure for Measure} as a reason to love Shakespeare
forever after.
 
Roy Flannagan
Ohio University
 

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