The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.069 Sunday, 19 February 2012
Date: Sunday, February 19, 2012
Subject: Shakespearean Productions
A few days ago, I wrote,
>I have alluded to my preferences regarding production values and matters
>of class and to theater spaces, but I would like to mention here involves
>what I see as issues related to language and acting styles.
>As one might imagine, I see Shakespeare’s language as being foremost in
>productions. I like it clear, fast-paced generally, and understandable to me
>and to the actors delivering it. Language is my foremost production value
>and influences the choice of space in which it is delivered.
>Today, I would like to mention the relationship between language and acting.
>I prefer presentational acting to representational acting for Shakespeare. For
>this reason, I feel that actors should eschew the method for performing
This morning I read the following commentary on Spacey’s Richard III at BAM in the New York Times.
February 16, 2012
Theater Talkback: Kevin Spacey, Ham
. . . let’s all admit that there are times when we crave something comfortingly, even flagrantly unhealthy, like a big ham sandwich.
The same holds true, in my view, for theatergoing, and in particular the aesthetics of acting. When it comes to performing onstage, subtlety and delicacy are to be prized far higher than showy displays of obvious emotion. To cite an exemplar of this most respectable kind of acting, I’d guide you right now to “The Road to Mecca.” Rosemary Harris is irradiating the American Airlines Theater with a performance that draws you into the troubled heart of her character with such natural grace that it is easy to forget that she is giving a performance at all.
But there are also occasions when I succumb to the pleasures of a performer serving up more ham than you’d ever find between slices of bread at the Carnegie Deli. A current case in point would have to be Kevin Spacey’s audience-devouring turn as the title character in “Richard III,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater as part of the Bridge Project. In contrast to previous productions from the company, a venture led by Sam Mendes that combines American and British casts in classical (mostly Shakespearean) productions, this is indubitably a star-driven vehicle, and for not one moment during the production’s daunting three-and-a-half-hour running time are you likely to forget it. (I concur with my colleague Ben Brantley in his observation that with a couple of exceptions, “basically the ensemble is only scenery for Mr. Spacey to gnaw upon.”)
Mr. Spacey delights in particular in turning his character’s monologues into intimate colloquies with the audience, in which Richard invites us to partake willingly of the unseemly pleasure Richard takes in executing his own evil designs. And, boy are we eager to sign up. Despite the humpback and the draggy leg, Mr. Spacey all but capers through the role with a kind of glee that’s infectious.
Flashing out comic asides and even indulging in that greatest of actorial no-no’s, upstaging another actor with a look or a gesture, he had the audience I watched the show with feasting on the performance as if it were a big bowl of macaroni and cheese sprinkled with truffle oil. Standing ovations at the Brooklyn Academy of Music all too often strike me as self-congratulatory displays of the audience’s discerning taste at supporting the latest in fancy-pants European theater. But in this case the leap up was clearly inspired by a lusty appreciation for Mr. Spacey’s daredevil performance, which includes a stagy bit of business at the end that was like the last scoop of that gooey macaroni and cheese.
Does Mr. Spacey’s take on the character illuminate the character’s twisted psychology in any new ways? Not really. His Richard comes across as a snarling dog foaming at the mouth in some scenes, a silken seducer in others, a bratty child deprived of his Halloween candy in others, but there is never a point at which the character’s dark deeds are felt to be grounded in truly plausible human feeling. When the late-coming confessions of haunted remorse arrive, Mr. Spacey delivers them with due deference, but it’s the prancing evildoer we really find convincing, and irresistible.
So while there is nary an understated note struck in the performance, those three-plus hours flew by mighty quickly. I can’t say I entirely respected Mr. Spacey’s endlessly ingratiating performance, but I definitely enjoyed it, as you enjoy indulging in something that you know is bad for you but cannot resist. For once Lady Anne’s quick turnabout from bilious hate to pondering a wedding dress seemed if not rational, then at least faintly believable. Mr. Spacey’s Richard really does resemble the kind of guy a woman knows she shouldn’t go near — but somehow she ends up hopping on the back of the motorcycle anyway.
Mr. Spacey’s Richard has leapt to the top of my list of shameless performances I have no shame in admitting I enjoyed, but I’d be curious to hear about yours. Surely there’s a guilty-pleasure star turn in the past that you’ve secretly (or not) delighted in, even as you’ve sorrowfully concurred with the critics that it’s outlandishly over-the-top?
I am wondering if others would care to comment upon Shakespearean acting, the Spacey Richard III, or the number 42?
Also, we have had many conversations about production recently, is there anyone who would like to take the conversations into a different realm?
PS: Yesterday, I renewed my subscription for the next season at the Shakespeare Theater.