July 21, 2006

The Joy of Four Plays

(This title the product of a snicker-filled brainstorming session with Randy.)

Rachel and I, along with the Scholls, Randy, and Barbour . . . and our good friend Wilson (who drove up from Austin especially for the occasion) did the Texas Shakespeare Festival last weekend. A play Friday evening, two plays on Saturday, and a play on Sunday afternoon . . . a veritable stage marathon of epic proportions. The breakdown:

Friday evening: Coriolanus

This is one of two little-read, little-performed Shakespeare plays put on by the TSF this year. He took his plot from Plutarch's Lives. The "hero" of the story (one of the least sympathetic I've encountered in Shakespeare) is a Roman general of unmatched skill on the battlefield, and unmatched disgust for the common man.

The first wins him great renown and a chance to be made consul. The second not only loses him his shot at being consul, but gets him banished from Rome, whereupon he goes straight to his worst enemy, Aufidius, the leader of the barbaric Volscians, and offers to lead his armies against Rome.

This he also fails to do when his mother comes to beg that he turn back, and for his failure, he is slain by the Volscians. The end. Coriolanus is such a moron that I found him difficult to sympathize with, but the performances were largely quite good, and the play certainly had its moments.

Saturday afternoon: The School for Husbands

One of two non-Shakespeare plays performed at the TSF, this one was written by Moliere. It was probably the most enjoyable of the four, and the best in terms of both material and execution. It was translated from the original French (obviously) and the translator largely preserved the characters' speech in rhyming couplets . . . amusing or painful, take your pick. I enjoyed it despite bad Alexander Pope flashbacks.

It is a farcical piece about two brothers who are the guardians of two sisters. Each brother raises one of the sisters as he sees fit with the intention of one day marrying them. The elder indulges his ward, allowing her to stay out late, attend balls, and shop for fashionable clothing, hoping to win her love through trust and respect. The younger keeps his ward under lock and key, never allowing her out of his sight, hoping to preserve her (loving or otherwise) by ensuring that she has no opportunity to cuckold him.

Of course, the younger brother's ward cleverly schemes and connives to trick him into letting her marry the young man across the street. There was much prancing, posing, witty banter, and slapstick for the enjoyment of all before the final curtain.

Perhaps the funniest moment of the weekend, though, was entirely unplanned. Near the end, the younger brother's mustache began to peel off, and when (in a moment of great distress) he reached up to stroke it while speaking, it came away in his hand. Staying in character, he stared at it for a moment, wide-eyed, then agitatedly plucked off his goatee as well, stared at it, then shoved it at a silent character whose only purpose was to hold a lantern saying, "Oh, take this!" and went right on. When he came out to take a bow (still sans facial hair) he smiled slightly and stroked his bare upper lip, much to our amusement.

Saturday night: Pericles, Prince of Tyre

The second Shakespeare play . . . and what a sprawling, fractured, out-of-control Arabian Nights piece it is. It begins promisingly, with Pericles arriving in a foreign land to answer a riddle posed by the king. If he gets the answer right, he gets the king's daughter (who is in an incestuous relationship with his daughter), but if he gets it wrong, he must be put to death.

The answer to the riddle happens to be the fact that the father and daughter are committing incest, and when Pericles figures it out, he naturally wants nothing to do with her. The king, enraged that his secret has been discovered, wants Pericles dead (turns out it was a lose-lose situation) and he must flee across the Mediterranean, hopping from port to port, pursued by assassins.

All sorts of wild things start happening at this point . . . there are multiple shipwrecks, the wicked king and his daughter are struck by lightning, Pericles gets married and fathers a daughter, but loses both wife and child. The wife is presumed dead, but is "resurrected" by a wise doctor (only mostly dead) and becomes a priestess in the temple of Diana. The daughter, left in the care of the king and queen of Tarsus, is nearly killed, but is suddenly rescued by pirates . . . who sell her to a brothel. But she isn't violated because every man who comes to see her is completely charmed by her virtue and goes away to follow the straight and narrow.

Time passes in great and illogical leaps, and the hapless Pericles is eventually reunited with his daughter. Then, just when it seems like the play might go on forever without resolution, Diana appears to Pericles in a dream and directs him to his wife.

Not the best of plays, for sure, but it also had its moments. Most of these moments came when the actors stopped playing the material straight and began to ham it up a bit . . . but such moments were far too few and far between, and the performance suffered for it.

Sunday afternoon: Harvey

I've always been partial to this play . . . well, particularly to the movie version starring Jimmy Stewart, and so I think my expectations caused my experience with this performance to suffer. Nevertheless, it is a charming play, and I still enjoyed myself thoroughly. The way they played some of the parts revealed a few things within the text that I'd never noticed before in the more strait-laced black and white movie . . . that was fun. Harvey was just generally a nice way to end our TSF experience and enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I greatly enjoyed the theater-going experience of last weekend, and I shall certainly look forward to the productions next summer . . . Hopefully they'll choose some better Shakespeare while keeping up the quality of the non-Shakespeare selections. In any case, that's all for now. I'm off.

Posted by Jared at July 21, 2006 12:14 PM | TrackBack