Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Two 2011 Shows Get Noticed (in *Shakespeare Bulletin*)!



Excerpts from Darlene Farabee's review in Shakespeare Bulletin (Summer 2012):

Othello and A Midsummer Night's Dream are two ends of the spectrum for both tone and dramatic outcome, and Flatwater Shakespeare's 2011 productions of these plays in two very different playing spaces emphasized their differences.

The Flatwater production of MND emphasized many of the symmetries in the play . . . In the now nearly-standard doubling, Catherine Coffey played Hippolyta and Titania and Darin Hemmer played Theseus and Oberon. In the opening scene, Hippolyta snarled her lines at Theseus, who seemed unlikely to continue his physical domination of her; the scene did however set up the later dispute between the fairy king and queen . . .

The addition of Oberon's henchmen made more equal the numbers of fairy attendants for Oberon and Titania . . . [They] carried staffs of many strands of twisted wood. Puck [Mike Lee] himself carried a staff that was similar but topped with a deep purple crowning piece that itself resembled a flower bloom; he took from this the potion with which he charmed Titania's eyes to fall in love with Bottom . . .

The most important function of the henchmen was in the rather tricky 3.2 when Puck needs to lead Lysander and Demetrius astray, tiring them into sleeping apart from one another rather than allowing the continuation their fight. In a creative bit of stage business, the henchmen held opposite ends of long swaths of material and effected the exits of Lysander and Demetrius by swooping the fabric over them, covering them from the audience, and baffling the characters in both senses of the word—that is, holding them back from their intended actions and confusing their senses. This action took place down the very center of the alley space.

Bottom's transformation consisted of an animal nose and a pair of mule ears on a straw hat; his stocky solidity and bluff attitude toward his friends made this [Eric Ojeda's] Bottom a good-natured, foolish man, unaltered by the events, and not terribly concerned when he awoke from his "dream." The whole production had a lightness of tone that kept the moments of possible danger from being too dangerous and emphasized the dance-like pairings and symmetries in the play. The on-stage spectators for Pyramus and Thisbe were jesting rather than hostile in their derision. The off-stage audience was a nice mixture of ages and the relaxed seating arrangements (as well as a nearby ice cream shop) added to the festive atmosphere; it had all the light pleasantness of a lovely dream.

In contrast, the Flatwater Shakespeare production of Othello was dark and ominous. From the opening scenes where the darkness is specifically written into the script to the final putting out of the light, the production emphasized the heaviness of the relentless move toward Othello's downfall and Desdemona's death. The stage of the Family Theatre at the Lincoln Community Playhouse, with dark stage-curtains and black stage-floor, was nearly the opposite of the garden setting for the production of A Midsummer Night's Dream . . .

William Bryant was a deliberate, hand-wringing Othello whose age and size contrasted with [Amy Jirsa's] Desdemona's tiny frame and younger appearance. The pace of his speech was slow and considered, and his movements were careful and at times quite restrained. One result of this demeanor was that his epileptic fit, while frightening and worrisome, seemed less a matter of an inner brain storm and more a matter of his body finally giving way to an outside force.

Cassio and Iago contrasted in interesting ways in this production. From their physical appearance, Brad Boesen as Iago physically matched Othello better than Corey Misek's lithe, younger Cassio. Iago was closer in age to Othello and also seemed more like Othello in demeanor: more solid, more deliberate, and more serious. Cassio's indiscretion when drinking was tinged with the errors of youthful behavior. And the possibility of an affair between Cassio and Desdemona seemed rather more believable than usual simply because their age and body types matched—they looked a more likely couple than I've often seen cast. I wondered during this production how much of the tension in Othello depends on the standard early modern plot where an older husband is cuckolded by a young wife. [John Marinovich's] Roderigo seemed an unlikely suitor for Desdemona; his delusions about the likelihood of Desdemona choosing him over Othello were (even more than in some other productions I've seen) completely due to Iago's machinations. He was slightly buffoonish, but not played as a total fop. He didn't seem dangerous but instead a deluded man tricked by a much smarter one.

[Mary Douglas's] Emilia was a caring attendant who seemed genuinely affectionate toward Desdemona . . . Emilia ended with only her upper body on the bed, an effective blocking that avoided the difficulty of squeezing too many people onto one bed and also left her in a posture that mimicked praying. Desdemona's final posture, on her back with her head downstage, presented a view of Othello looking over the two dead bodies toward the audience, the effects of his downfall spread out before him.

Many thanks to Professor Farabee for permission to share these excerpts -- and for the lively and thoughtful report on these shows!

Photo Credit: John Nollendorfs




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