Centerstage has posted my new review of The Love of the Nightingale, performed by Red Tape Theatre at St. Peter's Church. There's a lot to recommend it, even if the script's quality is variable. Still, James Palmer directs his cast to some really exceptional moments, and the design is working at an extremely high level for storefront theatre. Comparing this to Mouse in a Jar, the previous show of theirs I saw in that space, is quite impressive--the spaces are completely different. (This is yet another of William Anderson's fantastic sets. I don't know how long he'll be working in storefronts.) Now if only they were working with a script that didn't descend into obviousness with such frequency (or if they cut the bits that did), this would be an even more impressive experience. Here's the text:
Young authors are always instructed to show, rather than tell. Timberlake Wertenbaker's "The Love of the Nightingale," as directed by James Palmer, is a perfect example of why: when it is showing, through theatrical metaphor, stage pictures, music, movement and action, it's often breathtaking. But when the invention pauses for characters to tell us exactly what the story means and underline every point, the audience interest flags severely. It's not enough to wipe out the play's many impressive points, but it keeps the show from living up to its own potential.
The story is adapted from Greek myth: Thracian king Tereus (Vic May), after saving Athens in battle, chooses as his bride Procne (Kathleen Romond), the elder daughter of King Pandion (John Rushing). Years later, bringing Procne's sister Philomele (Meghan Reardon) to Thrace for a visit, he is overcome by desire and rapes her. In an effort to keep her quiet, he cuts out her tongue, which leads to an even more disturbing ending.
Wertenbaker's adaptation never sits still, moving from realism to dreamlike scenes, lyrical monologues to dance. The refusal to stick to one style is exhilarating, but is undercut by the sections of obvious speechifying. When the script works, Palmer's production is stunning, with images and scenes of immense power and thrilling theatricality. (The unfortunate exception to this is an ecstatic celebration of Bacchus that plays like a theme night at a rave club.) Full credit should go to the cast, an eye-popping 23, who commit fully to a challenging script and complex staging. But despite the strong acting and superb designs, especially William Anderson's immersive set and Miles Polaski's discomfiting sound, Palmer's production can't do anything when the play insists on explaining exactly what it means. And it's a shame, because when the show is good, it's wonderful.
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