A Lion in Winter at Oldcastle
Another outing for this rambling, aging play, this time a good one, expertly cast. The play itself leaves little to the imagination, the acting is all. Nigel Gore’s King Henry was a real tour-de-force. Unflagging energy, powerful and detailed at the same time, one of the best things I have seen him do. Let me say,at the outset,that I admire the whole troupe. They had done this over the top play in the afternoon, came back a few hours later, and gave it all they had. Christine Dekker made the role of Queen Eleanor her own. She gave a super detailed performance that only now and then turned sharp. Best of all, she made the relationship between Eleanor and Henry real, not easy to do in this play. The ever-young Elizabeth Aspenlieder gave passionate life to a character entirely passive, with no choices and no possibilities available to her. This was bravely done. There was a remarkable performance by young Ethan Botwick as King Phillip. His French accent entirely believable, he is given only one extended scene, and he played this scene with a veteran’s sense of how it moved through time. Remarkable work from such a young actor.
The set was at once simple and opulent. The direction by Eric Peterson was invisible, in the best sense of that word. This is an actors’ play. What gives the play its endurance? The roles are juicy.
How did we stay with it? Wonderful acting. It was clear that this skilled cast had fun doing what they were doing. What they were doing, of course, included adultery, murder, thievery, lying….
I remain impressed at the success that Oldcastle Theatre has achieved in the last couple of seasons. The town pulling together to find a new home, an excellent choice of plays, in the main, and a high level of acting have made this a theater which should be full every night.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at Dorset
Dorset’s swan song this summer was a sweet-natured conflation of the adventures of Tom Sawyer. These ranged from the fantastic to the heartbreaking. Very well acted by a cadre made up of mostly Bennington College alums, it was an easy-going, gentle narrative that pleased all from 4 to 95. As usual Doug Ryan was a commanding presence in his double roles of villain and sadistic schoolmaster. His face, his entire person, can tell any story. I was particularly impressed by Evangeline Neuhart as Becky Thatcher, a performance which did not exaggerate. Her youthfulness was genuine, the dialogue spoken with a hidden skill that made it true. Nick Delionardi as Tom himself had a rollicking good time, and we did with him. It is not easy to conflate a novel into ninety minutes on stage, and this script did not intend to do that comprehensively. It picked telling incidents and let the language speak for itself. Adding much to the performance was beautiful fiddle playing by Rainjana Haynes.
WGBH in Boston, on its affiliate music station WCRB, has put up three great Monteverdi operas from the 2015 Boston Early Music Festival: Orfeo, The Return of Ulysses, and The Coronation of Poppea. These are available for free, in excellent sound. Check it out. Each of Monteverdi’s surviving operas differs significantly from the others. It is hard to believe the same composer went in such different directions, but he did. We can only lament the fact that whatever operatic activity came between these operas has been lost. The performances are uniformly excellent, well-cast, well-paced, verbally oriented. A really wonderful freebie.