July 04, 2005

No Work and All Plays

Yeah, the title is a sly and totally non-bitter reference to the fact that I hate looking for a job . . . but I hate not finding one even more. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about the fantastic time we all had attending the annual Texas Shakespeare Festival in Kilgore. (Be sure to also refer to the words of Wilson and of Gallagher on the subject . . . and Anna has a few relevant pictures up, as well.)

Saturday night was A Midsummer Night's Dream, easily my favorite Shakespeare comedy ever, and an excellent play in its own right. I've read it at least six times, a few of those with different groups of people, and seen the newer movie version (own it, in fact) . . . but this interpretation was creative enough to bring in ideas I had never seen or considered. Also, the casting emphasized some interesting parallels. Theseus and Oberon were played by the same actor, Hippolyta and Titania by the same actress, Philostrate and Puck by the same actor . . . additionally, Theseus and Hippolyta begin the play in a conflict no less violent than the one between the Fairy King and Queen. I thought it worked very nicely, establishing tension across the board and making the happy ending all the more joyous by contrast.

The sets were great, particularly the Grecian interiors. They had a number of very convincing columns made of some sort of creased cloth with carved wooden tops and bottoms which folded and unfolded from the ceiling quickly, silently, and smoothly between scenes. One of our favorite effects in the play involved Bottom and company traversing the stage en route somewhere (into the woods or to the palace) between scenes. The only light came from behind the painted night sky at the very back of the stage, showing the rustics silhouetted very clearly against it. As Wilson pointed out afterwards, their costumes were made so as to give each a distinct shape and personality which fit their trade, and both times it happened it was an excellent scene transition.

Speaking of the costumes, I thought they were all . . . Okay, I won't lie. When you're on the 2nd row and there are guys in very short skirts falling hither and thither with their legs sprawling wide . . . that's not cool. But aside from that, the costumes were quite good. The fairies all wore headgear that was full of small lights and when they skipped through the darkened theater the effect was quite ethereal. The rich green colors worn at the wedding banquet were particularly pleasing to the eye.

The acting was top-notch were it counted (and here I refer to my personal favorite character, Bottom the Weaver). He was great. In fact, all of the rustic craftsmen were extremely good and every one of their scenes had the audience absolutely rolling in the aisles. Puck got to do fun things with leaping through trapdoors . . . and of course he always has his moments. The various songs and dances were quite passable . . . in fact, I thought the music as a whole was very nice.

One slapstick device deserves special mention. It occurred at the point where mud wrestling was inserted into the movie (if you've seen it). It occurs at the absolute height of the mix-up, where both Demetrius and Lysander attempt to shove each other and Hermia out of the way in order to get at Helena while Hermia and Helena engage in a catfight. At one point, all four characters were stretched out across the front of the stage, each clinging desperately onto the leg of the person in front of them, attempting to haul them backwards, while hopping on a single leg of their own . . . and continuing to say their lines. Absolutely classic.

And no description of the acting could be complete without a brief mention of the guy who played Mustardseed. He was quite gay. Nope. He was happy, too, but I meant the other one. He was also wearing very short boxer briefs. *shudders* Typecasting fairies . . .

At any rate, as expected, it was quite a memorable experience, and one which I would be tempted to repeat again next week were it not for the prohibitively large cost combined with a lack of ready and steady income. Ah, well . . . memory alone will have to serve.

Sunday night was a good deal more somber, with a performance of Macbeth. It was the fourth play I have attended there, but the first tragedy, and I was interested to see how they would handle it. The set was quite sparse, being almost entirely black with one large, red sun (made me think of Charn from The Magician's Nephew) painted on the right side of the backdrop. More difficult to notice at the beginning was that the center of the stage was covered with an enormous black circle (difficult to spot because the rest of the stage was black as well).

However, with each successive murder during the play's first half (those being only two, Duncan and Banquo) the black circle fractured further, revealing a large reddish orange circle of a similair shade to the sun underneath. Very cool, and very effective. Because the sets were so sparse, a good deal was accomplished with the lighting and smoke. They had some very striking effects up their sleeves, particularly when Lady Macbeth was onstage alone.

The costumes were quite good here, as well. I'm not sure how . . . well, Scottish they were, exactly, but they were easy on the eyes. And I don't remember seeing any guys in short skirts (ironically, since we were further back for this play). Also, the copious amounts of fake blood splashed here and there on various people was realistic and gruesome enough to pass measure.

I thought the acting was quite good, really. Macbeth and Macduff were both excellent. The Weird Sisters were creepy (dressed like Celtic druids, basically). Lady Macbeth had some excellent scenes, but I thought she overdid it a bit here and there (this actress has had the leading female role in every play I have seen there, but her tendency to overact slightly is less noticeable in a comedy). The final fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff was fairly well coreographed . . . by which I mean it was pretty to look at, with lots of spinning and very little actual contact. I'm not hard to please.

As I observed at least twice at various points last night, tragedies are very long. But this one did manage to avoid tedium almost entirely, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself the second night as well. I shouldn't fail to mention, though, Gallagher and I were a bit concerned at the beginning. The guy who always announces the beginning of the play did the most retarded thing . . . he said "Macbeth" right there out loud. Everyone heard it. Glancing about nervously, we couldn't help but notice we were seated directly under the sound booth . . . and barring that I kept expecting there to be an actor taking an unexpected tumble through a trapdoor or a rogue Shakespeare hater within the audience opening fire with the small arsenal under their long, black trenchcoat. Thankfully, the performance came off without any consequences from the announcer's foolish tempting of the Fates, and I hope that every subsequent performance of "The Scottish Play" proceeds as smoothly.

And that was my weekend with Bill Shakespeare.

Posted by Jared at July 4, 2005 11:32 PM | TrackBack