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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: September ::
Re: Lincoln Center TN
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0802  Sunday, 6 September 1998.

[1]     From:   Fran Teague <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Sep 1998 11:04:22 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0795  Re: Lincoln Center TN

[2]     From:   Cindy Carter <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Sep 1998 12:46:40 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0792  Qs: Lincoln Center TN

[3]     From:   Kristen L. Olson <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Sep 1998 12:54:14 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Lincoln Ctr TN

[4]     From:   Bonnie Melchior <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Sep 1998 11:44:55 CST6CDT
        Subj:   Lincoln Center 12th Night

[5]     From:   Jung Jimmy <
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        Date:   Friday, 04 Sep 1998 13:48:01 -0400
        Subj:   Regarding Helen and Viola

[6]     From:   Barrett Fisher <
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        Date:   Friday, 4 Sep 1998 13:52:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Lincoln Center TN


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Fran Teague <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Sep 1998 11:04:22 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 9.0795  Re: Lincoln Center TN
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0795  Re: Lincoln Center TN

My students quite liked the Live from Lincoln Center Twelfth Night, and
several commented that they preferred it to the recent film. After
talking with them I decided that the difference in our assessments, for
I was underwhelmed, is at least partly a generational shift in taste.
What I found flat or banal they found authentic and understated. By the
way I'm not sure that watching a theatrical performance on a television
is the best way to assess its quality: there are important issues here
about how a dramatic work operates in different media. Finally the
recent New Yorker piece by John Lahr about John Barton's work in
training actors makes it clear that Helen Hunt had prepared with Barton
before undertaking the role.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cindy Carter <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Sep 1998 12:46:40 EDT
Subject: 9.0792  Qs: Lincoln Center TN
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0792  Qs: Lincoln Center TN

> I was appalled. As a fan of Jamie Buchman, I was prepared to cut Hunt
> some slack, but what I saw and heard was worse than any professional or
> amateur performance in my experience. The labored line readings left me
> not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Shouldn't theater directors be
> required to save television actresses that kind of embarrassment.

> Or am I the only one who found her totally unequipped for the role?

I wouldn't say it was the worst performance - rather, an uneven one.
Line readings from most of the members of the cast was slow and labored
in longer speeches, although it seemed just fine in quicker exchanges -
in Ms. Hunt's case it seemed to me at several points that she was
actually forcing herself to slow down her delivery and exaggerate
enunciation.  This struck me as the fault of the direction, and not the
cast - somebody evidently decided that the American television audience
has to have things explained to them slowly.  This put a real strain on
the cast, and I felt several of them completely lost the sense of what
they were saying in the labor to enunciate each line properly.  Orsino
and Olivia in particular seemed to just toss off some of their lines
without any apparent understanding.

On the other hand, there were some very good moments in Hunt's
performance - I particularly enjoyed the duel scene, where Ms. Hunt's
interactions with Aguecheek and Sir Toby seemed much more natural and
spontaneous.  She does have a gift for comedic timing, and for the most
part her verse delivery was good, albeit slow.  I got the impression
that if she had been permitted to speak at a more natural pace that she
would have done much better.  The scene with Malvolio where he confronts
her with the ring was also pretty good, I thought.

The comedians stole the show, in my view - Aguecheek, Maria, Belch,
Malvolio and Fabian were all wonderful, although the pace could have
been picked up a lot.  Again, it seemed that somebody had told all of
these actors that they had to speak their lines v-e-ry s-l-o-w-l-y or
the audience would not understand what they were saying.

The costumes and music were especially bad - the mourning clothes worn
by Olivia and her attendants looked like something one of the aliens in
a Dr. Who episode would wear.

For the most part, I would rank it as a good effort, and hope that the
PBS folks can be persuaded to repeat the experiment with live theater
broadcasts again.  While as a theatrical performance it may not have
been top-rank, it still beat the pants off any Shakespeare I've ever
seen on film - there is nothing like the excitement of a live
performance.

Cindy Carter

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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kristen L. Olson <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Sep 1998 12:54:14 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Lincoln Ctr TN

I was actually surprised at how bad Helen Hunt was-she seemed to have no
idea what Viola might've been thinking, a disconnection not typical of
other characters I've seen Hunt perform.  This disjunction drained every
ounce of energy from the scenes in which she appeared, much of which I
felt was replaced by Kyra Sedgewick's Olivia.  Though she made some
unusual choices about Olivia's disposition, her readings were consistent
with the characterization that was chosen, and made sense as something
that this character might say, and I think she deserves alot of the
credit for salvaging this production.  I didn't mind Paul Rudd's
Orsino-I think he was appropriately vapid, and I quite liked the
restrained Malvolio-he didn't seem melodramatic, and thus the sense of
disrespect and loss of dignity he suffers as a result of the
vulnerability he opens himself to hyperbolically, came across in a
convincing way.  The set was fun, and I quite enjoyed the moistened
Sebastian, but I have yet to see this play performed well on film or
stage (I confess to not seeing the Nunn TN yet, perhaps I've got the
impetus to overcome this inertia now...)

-Kristen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bonnie Melchior <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Sep 1998 11:44:55 CST6CDT
Subject:        Lincoln Center 12th Night

I was not enamored with Helen Hunt's Viola, but I liked her far better
than Orsino, whose lines were not only arhythmical but wooden.  It was
painful to listen to him and painful to look at him (he seemed a
dissolute leftover from "Hair").  I did like Aguecheek, however.  (He
managed to convey the vulnerability and pathos of the character as well
as the silliness.)

Bonnie Melchior

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jung Jimmy <
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Date:           Friday, 04 Sep 1998 13:48:01 -0400
Subject:        Regarding Helen and Viola

Yeah, I'm piling on, but I also love Jamie Buchman and still wandered
away from the TV during Helen Hunt's Viola.  I've often been confused
about what skill or characteristic it is that allows some actors to
speak Shakespearean lines without sounding like they just learned the
language.  I recognize that it is, to some degree, a different language,
but I remain curious.  Do you "train" to speak Shakespeare, or is it
just plain experience/familiarity that makes the difference?

jimmy

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Barrett Fisher <
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Date:           Friday, 4 Sep 1998 13:52:40 -0500
Subject:        Re: Lincoln Center TN

I was so distracted by Kyra Sedgwick's awful Olivia that I actually
found Helen Hunt more bearable than others on the list.  I at least
thought her interpretation of the character made sense, but this Olivia
was better suited to the comic spirit of an early play (e.g,, "Comedy of
Errors") than one of Shakespeare's mature and subtle comedies.  I did
think that the success of Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, and Malvolio compensated
me for my three hour investment.

Louis Swilley says:

>For years, I have been hoping for a production of this difficult play
>that will explain its  - what? - point?  I haven't seen that yet.
>Directors seem to think that they have no such obligation; they find
>this and that titillating scene or characterization, then let the larger
>issues - whatever they may be, for the director does not seem to know -
>fend for themselves.  In this production, I very much enjoyed the
>air-headed Olivia and the wobbly-minded Aguecheek,  but, as I ween, the
>director had not the slightest conception of the use of such
>characterizations in a larger view of the play's structure.

While I am not entirely sure what he means by a "point"-does one create
such a point?  Is Shakespeare making only one point?  Is one reason why
Branagh's film of "Hamlet" strikes some as less satisfactory than
Olivier's or Zeffirelli's abridged versions because it is not edited to
make a "point" [leaving aside the textual questions of his performing
script?]--I would commend Trevor Nunn's film as an example of one (full
text) production which does have a point.  Although the result is a much
more melancholy version of the play than the Lincoln Center production,
I find Nunn's effort to portray the action as driven by the conflict
between Feste and Malvolio (with the various spiritual and emotional
conditions they represent).  The argument I have with Nunn is that Feste
is more melancholy than merry, so I am not sure he is the best
"opposite" for Malvolio.  (Is that why Shakespeare introduces Fabian for
the letter and duel actions?) On the other hand, Feste's eagerness to
account for his part in the plot against Malvolio at the end of the play
was a moment of perfectly logical closure in Nunn's interpretation.

I would also add that I like productions such at the Lincoln Center one
for classroom exercises.  I always find it interesting that when we
start studying "Hamlet" most students immediately prefer Gibson's, but
by the time we finish the unit a good number have come to see how much
richer and layered is Derek Jacobi's performance.  The same point can
obviously be made in contrasting Imogen Stubbs/Helen Hunt or Helena
Bonham Carter/Kyra Sedgwick.

Barrett Fisher
Bethel College (MN)
 

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