Tag Archive for ‘Williamstown Theatre Festival’
For several years now, one of the joys of the Williamstown Theatre Festival has been the revivals of obscure, but cherishable British plays of the 1960′s and 70′s, David Storey’s Home, for example or Simon Gray’s Quartermaine’s Terms, to name two examples. Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man is a late (1979) product of the period, even if it is by no means obscure today, thanks mostly to David Lynch’s remarkable film (1980), and even if it was written by an American.
Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Opening Set: Lucy Boyle’s The Blue Deep and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest
The set of Lucy Boyle’s The Blue Deep, invites us to join Grace Miller at her Sag Harbor poolside, a pleasant enough scene, perhaps in some ways the reduced modern equivalent of the garden terrace of Algernon’s country house in The Importance of Being Earnest. Both of these plays which open the Williamstown Theatre Festival are about leisured families and are set, except for the first act of Earnest, in their comfortable country settings. At least two of Shakespeare and Company’s season openers are about families as well, Parasite Drag, and King Lear. It’s a wonder the Berkshire Visitors Bureau hasn’t started a family-oriented promotion over them. Certainly none of the families on view at WTF are in anywhere near the parlous danger of the unwholesome midwesterners of Parasite Drag. In the one instance where bullets fly, we know they’re only blanks, like everything else in that particular production. In The Blue Deep, on the other hand, there is breakage, first a beer bottle, then a cookie jar. A yet greater peril comes from the Super Glue used to repair the jar.
Something about Williamstown Theatre Festival’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” just didn’t click for me. It was not for lack of ideas — several clever, a couple brilliant. It was the flow. I noticed it right away when the stage couldn’t seem to set up a rhythm with the laughter in the house. When a comedy is really cooking, a rhythm sets up. It’s a kind of play, this back and forth. When it is really good, it has a naturalness, even an inevitability. That did not happen in the performance I heard (July 4). Lines were often lost in the laughter; the house was often slow to respond, and once in a while the response seemed forced.
Try this for starters. Read a scene in rhymed couplets to someone you know, and ask them if it sounded natural. Not easy, is it? Great rhyme masters, from Alexander Pope to Richard Wilbur, require their readers to use these couplets on stage or page, and this is no small task. It asks from the performer something like singing. The regularity of the rhyme scheme, its dominance, can be treacherous. Peter Hall maintained that a script of Shakespeare’s can be read like music, but iambic pentameter is too strong and unbalanced to accept this kind of strictness all the time. Rhymed (sometimes called heroic) couplets need, indeed require, a balancing act. The listener knows instinctively when the rhymes are over-sung. I am saying there has to be a large and flexible middle to the actor’s method. This middle might be defined as the place that is returned to.
Disagreement is a healthy sign in theater, I’ve always thought—the livelier the better—and for that reason I’m inclined to think that Jenny Gersten has had a big success in her first season as Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I don’t believe that critics have agreed about a single one of this summer’s productions. I haven’t done a systematic survey of the reviews, but I have the impression that out-of-town critics, especially the New Yorkers, have leaned towards the positive—often enthusiastically so—while the local reviewers have been less content—in some cases attacking certain productions with anger and derision.
Ten Cents a Dance—An Abstract Musical, conceived and directed by John Doyle, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Main Stage, August 11-28
The stage is stark and cold—dark but visible. Chairs and dozens of musical instruments sit against a circular back wall. At the right, a piano. At the left, a steep, winding staircase with a black, leafy, wrought-iron banister. It twists its way up at least two stories above the stage finally disappearing into the ceiling and a shaft of simulated daylight. We are intrigued, and Ten Cents a Dance, the third and final production on the Main Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, has yet to begin. We know what the instruments are for. Ten Cents a Dance is a John Doyle-conceived and directed musical. As in his revivals of Company and Sweeney Todd, both of which won him a Tony, his singer-musicians accompany themselves.
Touch(ed) is a terrifically effective and well-constructed play by a young actress and playwright who has managed to gather an impressive amount of experience in some very good places: after Harvard College and the Yale School of Drama, she has spent four previous seasons at the Williamstown Theatre Company. Director Trip Cullman [third WTF season] is a Yale School of Drama graduate, as is Emily Rebholz, costume designer. Andromache Chalfant hails from Tisch, and actor Michael Chernus [second WTF season] from Juilliard. There was a tightness and consistency about the various elements of this show that made me wonder about the connections among the principal creative forces. There is something seriously encouraging about such a successful creation coming from top Northeastern schools. It doesn’t always happen.
She Stoops To Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, directed by Nicholas Martin, Williamstown Theatre Festival
As the run of Oliver Goldsmith’s comic masterpiece, She Stoops to Conquer, draws to a close, by all means rush to catch it while you can. You will see an endlessly amusing and enlightening classic, a handsome set, and a cast of highly talented actors, including WTF favorites like Richard Easton, Paxton Whitehead, and Brooks Ashmanskas. The production is fast-moving—at the cost of some excessive trimming—and funny, as a good part of the audience found it. That said, it is a far-from-perfect production, in fact it is seriously flawed, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing the show and enjoying it. There is a lot to enjoy, and much of the audience enjoyed Kristin Neilsen’s wildly exaggerated portrayal of Mrs. Hardcastle. You may even find that you are among them.