Monday, October 12, 2009

New Review Posted/Thoughts on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

So Centerstage has posted my review of Red Tape Theatre's Mouse in a Jar here. It's a flawed piece that, despite some really interesting work, never quite grabbed me, but it features a really exceptional set by William Anderson. (The set will apparently be the focus of a panel discussion on the Theatre Thursdays night on the 22nd.) After this and his nifty work on Profiles' Graceland (which is STILL running at National Pastime just down the street from Profiles), he's clearly on his way to big things. I'm excited to see his next design! The text of the review is at the end of this post.

Also: on Thursday night, I went to the press opening of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at Writers' Theatre. (For those not familiar with it, the play follows two famous nonentities in Hamlet as they try to figure out a world that makes no sense to them. It's deeply indebted to Beckett in the exploration of two lost souls trying to understand a hostile world, but the dazzling wordplay is all Stoppard. This was his first major play, and he would develop the wordplay and intellectual brilliance even further in his extraordinary work that followed.) I was not on the job, but there as a guest of my wonderful friend Meredith, who works in the box office. (Cathy Taylor, the PR person, was relieved when I told her this, as I was not on her list and extra tickets were not easy to find in a 108 seat theatre.)

It's a very strong production, with excellent work from Sean Fortunato (as Rosencrantz) and Timothy Edward Kane (as Guildenstern). They have great chemistry together. One interesting choice that director Michael Halberstam made, which I'm not sure I agree with, had to do with the character of the Player, entertainingly played by Allen Gilmore. Most productions see him as a slightly menacing figure, who knows something R and G don't--and may even have some control over their fates. In this production, he's played more as an old ham who is more experienced with, and more at peace with, the world in which he moves. It's an interesting idea, and certainly well-executed, but it may take something away from the show.

The rest of the cast does strong work, and I really liked the designs. (Collette Pollard's clever set is particularly notable, but all of the design elements work together uncommonly well.) The night I saw it, though, it was just a few degrees short of brilliant. I don't know if it was low on energy, a little tentative, or what, but many moments didn't quite have the vividness and follow-through they needed to be exceptional. Still though, I'd definitely recommend you see it--it's a great play, and a very satisfying, funny, and involving production.

One question I had after seeing it--are there several versions of the script out there? This was a three-act play, but when I appeared in the show in college, there were only two acts in the script--and a few lines I distinctly remember from the production I was in were not in this version. Does anyone know if this was the choice of the production or due to multiple editions of the play?

By the way, this is my 100th post. That's a nice round number, though when you consider I've been doing this for over a year, it works out to an anemic post average of 1.75/week. Ah well, quality over quantity?

Here's the Mouse in a Jar review:

It's rarely good news to leave a production talking about the scenery, but then again William Anderson's set for Red Tape Theatre's "Mouse In a Jar" is really extraordinary. The audience descends a staircase into a basement filled with detritus, and is seated in chairs in two corners of the space. There is no escape from the overwhelming environment, or the inches-away action. If the script and production lived up to the set, "Mouse In a Jar" would be exceptional.

Martyna Majok's script tells the grim story of Ma (Kathleen Powers), an illegal Polish immigrant, and her daughters Daga (Tamara Todres) and Zosia (Irene Kapustina), who live in a New Jersey basement. Every night at nine, Ma's husband, known only as HIM (Don Markus, in a truly creepy mask by Sarah Bendix), comes home to brutally beat and rape her. After attempting to defend her mother, Zosia disappears, and Ma is unwilling or unable to run away from HIM's brutality. Daga eventually takes matters into her own hands in a particularly extreme way, with the help of the frightened Fip (Ben Gettinger), who has a dark history of his own.

Majok uses language in fascinating way, and director Daria Davis has created some stunning images, but despite the physical proximity, the audience is always at an emotional remove. As a result, the play is only intermittently scary or involving. It's hard to pinpoint a culprit, though the fact that the realistic and stylized elements of the play don't mesh convincingly is a serious problem. Additionally, the combination of an echoing space and Polish accents make portions of the dialogue hard to understand.

Majok is a playwright worth following and there's a lot of worthy work onstage — it just hasn't yet gelled into a compelling play. I'm still interested to see what's next from Majok and Red Tape.


Kris Vire said...

My copy of the R&G script, a dogeared 1978 edition, is in three acts.

Monica said...

The copy of the script that I have sitting on my bookcase, which is a fairly recent printing, has three acts.