Archive for July, 2008
Love goes ka-boom. I read an interview with a young playwright, David Eldridge, who was asked about current conditions in the British theater. At 27 he had a precocious smash hit at the Royal Court in 2000 with Under the Blue Sky, a study in three scenes of romance and sexual frustration among secondary school teachers. The subject sounds deadly, and one can understand why five London theatres originally turned it down. The commercial West End trembles like melting marmalade when faced with serious dramatic writing, and the pay for playwrights is criminally low, to the point that talented ones scrounge for a living, even after having a hit. (I’m reminded of the improbable moment when Sam Goldwyn brought the poet-playwright Maurice Maeterlinck from Paris to Hollywood. Goldwyn’s familiarity with Maeterlinck’s masterpiece, Pelleas et Melisande, was dubious. The work to be adapted for the big screen was a strange naturalist treatise, The Life of the Bee. After reading the first draft of the script, Goldwyn rushed out of his office screaming, “My God, it’s about a bee!”)
The observer effect. After the play Betrayal, from 1981, I lost track of Harold Pinter. London productions of his plays have the zing of authentic English irony, etched menace, and pithy delivery that doesn’t come across with American accents. One could see Pinter as an actor as late as 1995 when he appeared in the West End in a revival of an earlier work, The Hothouse. Pinter is as strange and threatening on stage as on paper, although a witty anecdote circulated around that production. Supposedly his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, phoned up the management and said, “The whole run has been so successful, Harold and I were thinking that you should have the Comedy Theatre renamed the Pinter Theater,” to which the manager replied, “Or he could just rename himself Harold Comedy.”
David Lindsay-Abaire has something of a line in notably troubled females. At the heart of his breakthrough play Fuddy Meers is an amnesiac who awakens every day with her mind a complete blank; Wonder of the World features a runaway wife on a belated search for a self; and Kimberly Akimbo focuses on a waifish sixteen-year old girl with a rare disease that speeds the aging process (she is played by an actress in her sixties). Lindsay-Abaire has a deft hand with wacky comedies of unmoored identity, at times reminiscent of Craig Lucas and Christopher Durang. In Rabbit Hole, however, the playwright is on a different track (and a critically successful one: Rabbit Hole won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007). The emphasis on the hearts and minds of female characters remains, but the trouble that moves them – and the action of the play – is more prosaic, and less conducive to jokes. It’s the accidental death of a small child. The new production by Northampton’s New Century Theatre makes the most of the play’s strengths but can’t quite overcome its weaknesses.
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For nearly twenty years, the Hampshire Shakespeare Company has provided theater-goers in the Pioneer Valley with their requisite summer fix of outdoor Shakespeare. Their latest offering, a fast-paced production of As You Like It, staged on the lawn (and patio, and fire escape) of the Massachusetts Center for Renaissance Studies at U. Mass., shows what can be done, lean and mean, with a well-directed company and a good setting. (On other nights the show is staged at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley.)
It is worth remembering that Bernard Haitink became the chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, one of the most prestigious positions in the musical world, in 1961 at the incredibly young age of thirty-two. Since even before then, up to the present day, he has continued to grow as a musician in his own discreet way, always maintaining a traceable thread back to the values of his early work—clarity, balance, and restraint—qualities, which in the end often proved much more affecting than the excesses of more histrionic conductors. He also showed a particular knack for long, complex symphonic works, working wonders in clarifying their texture and form. His performances of Bruckner’s symphonies on tour and on record made them accessible to a much broader audience outside Austria and Germany. Leonard Bernstein may have popularized Mahler with his intense but sometimes unbearably showy performances, but it was Haitink who made their best qualities more accessible by focussing on coherence in structure and in orchestral sound—a very handsome sound, which has often been described as the “burnished” Concertgebouw sound. It is really Haitink’s sound. None of his successors or predecessors have cultivated it to quite the same extent, and this burnished sound is what he brings to the BSO, especially in their present, improved condition. I still have a vivid recollection of his magnificent Eroica which closed the 2006-07 season in Symphony Hall. The BSO was able to produce that rich, homogeneous sound to perfection. With a full complement of strings there was both mass and fine detail: nothing was lost. The loudest tutti were as clear as the extraordinary pianissimi Haitink can extract from the orchestra.
[Ed’s note. J. R. R. Tolkien detested movies, and he didn’t know what pop culture was, beyond perhaps Ivor Novello and the music hall. He would have been perfectly aghast to learn that he and his Lord of the Rings trilogy would become the most extreme sort of Hollywood epic and that he himself was […]
During the Reign of Terror, refined Parisian ladies attended balls wearing a thin red ribbon around their necks in place of jewels, to signify the guillotine in a graphic way. (I forget if they were pro or con.) Mass executions and blood in the street are too high a price to pay for getting rid […]