Rory Kinnear’s incisive Iago made a trip to The Clark a joy last week. The National Theatre’s production of Othello had a mild-mannered Othello, a hipster Desdemona, and a working-class Iago whose asides had enough energy to pass through walls and ring in the halls, though the other actors seemed not to hear them. His was a display of words — words which could go any which way and say any which thing. It was a chaos put forth with such energy it seemed logical. This kind of performance fit what I can get watching a performance in London on a screen in Williamstown — direct, sharp, knife-like straightness works. I was again amused to see that we Americans did not laugh at the same things that the English audience lost it over. But then we had a few laughs of our own, often prompted by Mr. Kinnear. Jonathan Bailey was the most believable Cassio I have seen, like a deer in the headlights, a yelping pawn who has no fundamental part. Twice Iago says “I hate the Moor.” These were the only lines Mr. Kinnear made slow-sounding. I cannot tell you now if they were actually slow, but he made them slow. Words in his mouth became the enemy of love, an unlimited destructive power, almost admirable, always gleaming.
It was an admirable performance of Les Miserables which I saw on Sunday at the Theatre Institute at Sage. Young performers, some very young, were singing the show with two admirable veterans, Craig Schulman as Jean Valjean and Gary Lynch as Javert. These were wonderful working actors whose commitment and style gave the lie to the despair Nina calls down upon the profession in Chekhov’s Seagull.
Kudos must go to Russell Sage’s Theatre Institute for treating the students as equals. Leslie Tucker as Fantine, Joshua Palagyi as Marius, Kate Corsaro as Eponine, and Alexander Jones — particularly in his verses as the Bishop — these all sang and did not shout or holler. Most excellent for me was the performance Sarah Bitley gave as Madame Thenardier, the mistress of the inn. This young performer integrated song, speech, and movement flawlessly. She made a small role count. There was ensemble singing that was precise and resonant.
I must say that the amplification worried me. When everything is loud, singing — subtlest of all the verbal arts — loses its heart. It becomes a general thing, constantly in your face. Much of its expressive power goes for naught. I have heard one or two unamplified shows this summer (including one sung by the young apprentices of the Berkshire Theatre Group in the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield). I got every word from these young performers, and I noticed no one having trouble hearing. I feel that I must stand against this epidemic which is turning our theaters into blaring juke boxes.
The performance The Knights gave in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Sunday evening goes right to the top of my 2013 list. These young performers, excellent individually, play with an energy and a happiness, that raises you right out of your seat. They performed a J.S. Bach Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060, that had the whole house roaring as an opener, a “Dumbarton Oaks” which had the perfect balance between its wit and sweetness, and Haydn’s Symphony no.8, “La Nuit,” where the fast scales really were fast and the humor was wonderfully broad. They topped all of this off with a kind of improvised music which they themselves had concocted, including a good wailing song at the end. This was just a splendid display of class without stuffiness. I loved every minute of it. I would gladly have heard the concert over again.