As one might expect from disciples of Kristin Linklater, the Conservatory actors at Shakespeare and Company gave us a vigorous and clear performance of Shakespeare’s King John, a problematic work. Awash in Marlovian heroics, it comes close to farce with its constant switchbacks. I got a sense from these young actors that they had connected with the kind of voice it must have taken to get through a play like this at The Globe. It was a strong kind of speech, sometimes close to shouting, out of fashion these days, the influence of film being heavy in our theaters. It fit well with the ranting nature of the text and had enough energy to hide its weaknesses as well as support its strengths. Adam Huff as the Bastard, the juiciest part in the play, excelled in his ability to stay light-hearted in one grave situation after another. He alone was able to show a kind of distance from the events which allowed him to speak to us easily, even gently. I cannot say that this play is one that I would rush back to see, but I thank the Company sincerely for giving me a chance to hear it.
A completely different kind of speech and silence was heard in Seagull (Thinking of you) at Mass MoCA later that day. Here the voices rarely rose above a medium level, and often came close to murmuring. In addition there were long carefully heard pauses between the snippets of text which gave an almost trance-like effect in the space. Like most post-modern works, it was disjointed, sometimes banal, but also arresting in its way of moving. It was a legitimate rethinking of the way Chekhov’s Seagull blurs the limits of life and art, living and acting. This was a “work-in-progress,” but it already had a voice of its own and a way of using time that held my attention. The closest thing I have seen to it was Williamstown Theatre Festival’s recent A Month in the Country in which the actors spoke very quietly, their voices enhanced ever so slightly by a good kind of amplification, which allowed this still play to fill the Mainstage of the ’62 Center. The young actors of Half Straddle basically took this concept and just went further with it– the conversations even quieter, the spaces between the lines longer. When there was some real center and conflict to the short scenes, it worked. I got clearly the sense that these were young actors from a different culture, a louder culture, trying to find the quiet boredom in the old Russian play, and give it a new voice.