I’ve decided to go through my many Facebook posts about theatre from last year and collect all my instant reactions to shows as I saw them — fragmentary, brusque, overly enthusiastic or unsympathetic as they may be. Sometimes these posts spawned spirited discussions, and I’ll try to include whatever else I said as the threads developed (but I’m not including other people’s comments). Enjoy. Or whatever.
Waiting for Godot (Beckett, dir. Sean Mathias) Cort Theater, New York. 4 Jan 2014
I thought this was charming. The chemistry between McKellen and Stewart is great, and there’s a kind of spontaneity about their performances that’s really delightful. But it’s a very unusual Waiting for Godot, in that Didi and Gogo become people, with accents and specific, quite realistic physical tics. I’ve never seen them played that way. The show gains something by this approach (a kind of warmth, a charm), but it also loses something (Godot normally feels to me like a very well-oiled little machine — it ticks like clockwork; that’s gone in this production. None of the repeated four-liners [V: X; E: Y; V: A; E: Y — e.g., Like feathers; like leaves; like ashes; like leaves] quite hit as they normally do, when the reduction to a kind of verbal game has an impact that a reading grounded in character doesn’t have).
Pozzo was pretty awful, I thought. (Played by Shuler Hensley, whom I don’t know — looks like he’s a musical theatre guy. All bluster and noise, no nuance at all. Kind of a waste.) And Billy Crudup just seemed out of his depth technically in Lucky’s amazing speech.
The set is something to behold.
The program is a joke. Literally NOTHING in there beyond cast bios. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in a professional production anywhere. What the hell, New York?
Macbeth (Shakespeare, dir. Jack O’Brien) Lincoln Center, New York. 5 Jan 2014
That Lincoln Center Macbeth: total, utter, relentless shitshow. Just awful from start to finish. Not an idea in sight, but gorgeously lit. Awful, brainless, vapid performances on a very impressive stage. This is about as bad as modern theatre gets.
And of course loud cheers and standing ovations at the end.
The porter bit may have been the most painfully unfunny version of that scene I’ve ever seen.
Cry, Trojans! (Shakespeare et al., dir. Elizabeth LeCompte) Wooster Group at the Performing Garage, New York. 8 Jan 2014
I really can’t wrap my head around what the Wooster Group were trying to do with this. The basic conceit of recasting Troilus and Cressida as a tribal narrative is fine, I suppose, though I’m not sure why they’d go to Shakespeare for that — if they’re interested in foundational myths, surely the Greeks would be more suitable.
Then there’s the ethnic cross dressing aspect: a bunch of non-native actors impersonating native figures visible on screen at the same time. Unremarkable in Germany, totally unacceptable, under normal circumstances, in North America — except in an avant-garde context. But what’s the point?
The Woosters have talked in interviews about trying to find a thoroughly American idiom for this performance; but if this is the outcome of that search, I don’t think they’ve pulled it off. (Plus, how “American” are the Inuit, exactly? Many of the clips were from Atanarjuat! I was also troubled by the peculiar mix of images — Smoke Signals was another film they used. Do the Woosters think all first nations are the same?)
Accents: a really odd assortment of voices, mostly English (I think the Greeks spoke with more English accents than the Trojans, which may, I suppose be a carry-over from when this show was a co-production with the RSC, and the Greeks were all played by British actors). Scott Shepherd was doing some sort of Irish-y accent most of the time. No idea what that was about. Influenced by Ben Crystal et al.???
No credit for any of the film clips in the program — that I think is pretty outrageous.
Ultimately, this seemed really, really half-baked to me. Which, you know, may be just fine in previews. But it’s not like this is brand new work. And I’m not sure I can see how the finished dish will improve so significantly as to make this a successful show, because the conceptual flaws seem pretty basic.
(Sidenote: my first visit to the Performing Garage. Was really surprised how teeny a space it is!)
In response to a colleague’s reference to Thomas Cartelli’s essay about the show (in Shakespeare Quarterly):
I read the Cartelli essay last night! A very good piece, I thought, and admirably detailed — I hope he saw the show more than once, otherwise I am in awe of his memory.
That said, and while I think his take on the show is entirely plausible, I am troubled by a theatrical exercise that depends so much on audiences being able to make intertextual connections as rich and detailed as that. I guess it’s a good thing if it makes people explore the references and watch Atanarjuat (etc.), but that doesn’t make the in-the-moment experience of watching the show any easier. And I still find the combination of clichéd representation (a la Smoke Signals) with difficult and fraught self-representation (à la Atanarjuat) deeply troubling, even more troubling than the conflation of Inuit imagery with that if other First Nations. AND I don’t understand how they can get away with applying a similarly parodic style to the recreation or citation of both those sources.
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- The Changeling (Middleton & Rowley; dir. Jackie Maxwell) Stratford, July 2017
- How to Kill a Great Theatre: The Tragedy of the Volksbühne
- Three Sisters (Chekhov/Stone; dir. Simon Stone) Theater Basel/Theatertreffen, May 2017
- British Theatre under the Influence (of much more than The Roman Tragedies)
- Hamlet (Shakespeare; dir. Robert Icke) Almeida, London; Mar. 2017
- July 2017
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- November 2014
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Holger Syme's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
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