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Category Archives: American Theatre

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

2014-08-23 USA 026asI was lucky enough to be able to sit in Central Park this afternoon and enjoy Barefoot Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than lazing about in a park while a bunch of very talented performers work very hard to entertain me!

Hard work is exactly what it looked like. The area they were performing in was a particularly busy area of the park, and contrary to the image New Yorkers like to project of their favourite open space, Central Park is not by any means an oasis of calm in the middle of the city’s bustle. To be heard, they had to compete with a loud concert barely 100 metres away, constant helicopters and sirens, and the occasional heckler. But they handled all of this with aplomb, especially Michael Pettey, in the role of Proteus, who improvised marvellously when a particularly rowdy bunch suddenly noticed that he was performing and announced it for all and sundry.

The rest of the cast also delivered an outstanding performance, and although I did struggle to hear above the hubbub of the park, I did manage to follow this play, which I was not very familiar with beforehand.

Courtney Moors also impressed with her portrayal of Silvia. The pathos in her responses resonated brilliantly above the hubbub of the park, and I was certainly taken along with her in her pursuit of Valentine (played by James Kivlen).

In all, a great way to encounter such a fun little play, and a great performance.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 23 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Burbage

burbageThere really is an over abundance of plays derived from the stories that surround Shakespeare’s life. Though I am getting a little bored of them, I am nonetheless drawn to further explorations of the context in which the Bard lived, and speculations about his times.

Burbage has been one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Essentially a one hour rant imagined from the realities of Richard Burbage’s life and the common themes of the actor’s existence, it explores these with some depth and develops a strong image of the man left behind as the great playwrights and actors of the Elizabethan era fell off the twig in the early seventeenth century.

Richard Burbage, for those who’ve either forgotten about him or never heard of him (really?), was an actor who performed lead roles in the premieres of many now-canonical works of Elizabethan drama. Playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote roles with him in mind, and he was owner of the Globe Theatre with his brother.

In this monologue, he engages an imaginary young actor, Tom, who is seeking to continue his acting career past the roles of his youth.

Neil McGarry’s greatest achievement in his performance is creating a believable ‘Tom’ in the auditorium. While I am not a fan of monologues, and the idea of an invisible and inaudible second character in a monologue usually seems extremely naff, I was impressed to find myself fully engaged in the reality of the piece. The result is an engaging performance that gives humble recognition to one of the artists who contributed so much to the golden age of English theatre.

Despite some oddities of accent (which I will happily forgive with the knowledge that the English of Burbage’s day sounded a little more like the modern American accent than modern Received Pronunciation), McGarry was entirely believable and made a strong connection with his audience.

This was the last performance at the New York Fringe, but it’s likely to pop up again with the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company, and is worth a look if you’re an artist.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 22 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Lion King

lion kingCostume designers, choreographers and technicians need to be reminded occasionally that nothing is more important than character and plot. Unfortunately, this clearly did not happen with this production, which largely fails to engage on the two substantive elements of dramatisation.

I don’t think it’s the book. The stage version adds a couple of numbers that seem rather superfluous and have no purpose other than to allow the promoters to differentiate it from the animated film, but they don’t really detract. And the costumes aren’t bad either, but when the audience erupted in tremendous applause for the mere appearance of a (magnificent) life-size elephant puppet, I started to get an idea of what this was about, or more importantly, what it was not about.

And there’s the rub. This show is just not about Simba. The Lion King is about Simba (or Hamlet (or even Joseph if you like)), but this show is about puppets and stunts. Simba and his story are a mere sideshow here, they’re not the main event at all.

I don’t know if it was a unique technical problem on the night, but the other contributing factor was the balance of the audio mixing. The singers were barely audible over the (brilliant) orchestra. Enrique Segura, playing Timon, certainly had his microphone turned on late a number of times, and occasionally cut out mid-song. But they all seemed to struggle with the crescendos of Tim Rice and Alex Menken’s music. I felt more and more deflated every time I heard a clipped attempt at emoting something of significance for the plot. It was clear the plot just didn’t matter.

But whether I liked The Lion King is another question. It is not bad as performance art, but it doesn’t quite commit. If you’re not going to bother with the characters, then how about some more acrobatics? If you don’t really care about the ebb and flow of the plot, why not bring the performers more fully into the space? If you’re going to reduce a dramatic masterpiece that is derived from one of Shakespeare’s greatest works and one of the most grandiose tales of the Judeo-Christian canon to a mere circus performance, why not do it with aplomb? It seems to me that the creators just didn’t quite decide whether this was theatre or circus. And that’s what left me feeling flat.

When’s a Canberra company doing this one? I think someone needs to show Broadway how it’s done.

My daughter posted about this show on our travel blog, Walkabout. You can see what she thought here.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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