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Saturday, February 12, 2011
Sunday, February 6, 2011
The experience I was about to enter when I walked into the theater to see Pericles in Saint Louis took place in one of the most unique and diverse atmospheres I have ever encountered. The stage was blank up front, and towards the back of the stage there is a rock arch. It could be walked on or through. The backdrop was a screen, which changed to display different flags and scenes with the plot. Everyone was buzzing with excitement until lights dimmed and music stopped. This performance really impressed me because The Black Rep did an unorthodox rendition of a play that by itself is already extremely challenging and still captured my attention until the very last line.
One of the things that makes Pericles a very tough play to do is its fairytale-like, cliché plot. It can be extremely boring if it is not done with some added twists to liven it up. To conquer this obstacle, Ron Himes, the director, decided the play should be set in the Caribbean. It was a brilliant idea, morphing the story but still retaining it’s morals, as Pericles bounced around coastal cities during his adventures. The different types of people he encountered seemed to have no limit. He restored health to Haiti and was wrecked on the shores of Cuba. Each city was filled with different accents. It mystified the atmosphere in a way that even the bard himself could not have imagined.
Kush and McClain
To tackle the difficulties this rendition of play presents, the actors did not use conventional technique. Because they had to play specialized and adapted parts, standard technique, such as clear projection and facing the audience, would’ve made their roles much tougher. They spit on some of their lines, and did not vary the different heights of actors to create levels. Many scenes in Pericles are filled with jumbled confusion or chaos. Therefore, an organized style of directing would not have worked as well as what, on first glance, seemed to be a jumbled mass of bodies.
McClain twirls for her suitors and father
Each of the players added to the atmosphere Mr. Himes was creating in their own way, each becoming a special piece of the puzzle. Pericles (Ka'ramuu Kush) was very strong-jawed in his take on the wronged prince. Throughout the entire play he seemed conflicted and concerned, mistrusting his surroundings, which, though an unusual take on Pericles, worked well for this performance. In the very first scene someone tried to trap him. Even when in his own court he was shifty. He looked as if he’d been stripped of his ability to trust, and had no more left to share with the world. His haggard appearance after losing his daughter and wife was grizzly, but still a little regal. He still retained a little bit of arch in his spine, as a man who once was great would do when begging for a living. When he begged mere fishermen for food and shelter, his tone vibrated softly, but distinctly. He stood with only a torn pair of pants, but yet filled the room with an air of nobility. Helicanus (Chauncey Thomas), his faithful servant, was precise to the last detail, but still natural and relaxed. He beautifully crafted each line to his purpose. His skillful exactness made his words glide. Marina (Sharisa Whatley) was chaste as could be. She always wore white and when evils were enacted in front of her, she stared in confusion. She couldn’t even comprehend that people would do such things. Her lord, the mayor of New Orleans, was hilarious. He had a different accent for each of his characters including a fisherman and a lord. Also, the wise woman, or doctor, was one of the best character actresses I have seen in any play. She played both the doctor and the goddess Diana. When she was the doctor, she held Thaisa (Patrice McClain), the stricken queen, with a nimble sweetness almost out of a movie. She brushed everyone back and gently awoke the lady. The beauty of her actions out-spoke the beauty of her words.
As a black theater, The Black Rep also has a large African-American following. They’ve cultivated loyal fans, from all races, and their audience was into it though out the entire play. Each member sat transfixed, nodding in approval. The company is centered around diversity, and their play was enhanced greatly by its own diversity. The Black Rep has been performing for a long time and I wouldn’t miss a chance to see them!
McClains coffin and her saviors
McClains coffin and her saviors
Austrian and Brody
If you stroll the famous sidewalks of Times Square, you will see billboards advertising the ultra-hyped Spiderman: Turn off the Dark. You won’t see an advertisement for Cymbeline, because It sounds like something one might see on YouTube: Six young actors fresh out of Brown University taking, attempting to effectively perform a play that holds the toughest ending in Shakespeare (17 unknown facts or problems are revealed AND resolved in 15 minutes!). There is no way they could possibly pull it off with so few actors, a blank stage, no effects, and no backstage, right? Yet this troupe did more than pull it off. They blew me away.
Brody attacking Steinfeld
No one ever left the stage, but merely sat around the small when their character was not present. The small, barren, stage Some actors had as many as four parts. The play, though cut, was incredible. To have few actors fill in for many parts is very tough.
The parts are varied in Cymbeline, so it takes mental and physical versatility. But this was no problem for these actors. Between them, they could play the cello, French horn, horn, ukulele, guitar, drums, bongo. They could also all sing a capella in styles from madrigals to bluegrass. These talents helped overcome the challenge of make an obscure play into something people will pay to see, because it needs to be exceptionally eye-catching. To make something that is unpopular successful, it must stand out so profusely, it cannot be passed by. Otherwise its existence becomes that of a shadow, seen by few, and finally the production halts.
Cymbeline is a play which starts of beautifully and slowly for four acts. It starts with two lovers, Imogen (Jesse Austrian), a princess and a commoner, Posthumus (Noah Brody), and then develops into a beautiful but twisted love plot. Pothumus is forced to flee to Italy, where he meets the villain Iachimo (Ben Steinfeld), who tears a hole in the relationship with false words and falser actions. Then when a war ensues between Italy and England, the audience meets two young boys and their father, who happen to be the kidnapped heirs to the throne of Britain. Also the king’s evil queen (Emily Young) sends her moronic son, Cloten (Andy Grotelueschen), to kill Imogen. Paul L. Coffey, playing Imogen’s faithful servant, is also entangled. So then in the fifth act they are all brought to Cymbeline’s court (except Cloten, who was killed by one of the lost sons) and Shakespeare resolves all the separate but tangled plots at once.
(Top) Steinfeld, Grotelueschen, Coffey (Bottom) Young, Brody, Austrian
The ending truly is what makes Cymbeline a monster. In the fifth act, it explodes into a rapidly unfolding bundle of twists and turns. Having started slow, every problem Shakespeare created is resolved in the space of twenty minutes. Almost every character appears at least once in the finale. 17 new ideas or facts are revealed in ten minutes. This posed a huge problem for the Fiasco Company. I wondered throughout the entire play how they would play ten parts with six people. They dealt with it in a brilliant way; simply switching! Instead of trying to hide the role changes, beating a drum to signaled the switch. They did not stay fixated on little issues, and neither did the audience. It is very reassuring to see Shakespeare performed by a small cast. The numerous roles pose problems for many companies. This style of performance will make it much easier to adapt Shakespeare the modern world. This new way to deal with a problem play will be revolutionary, and I hope to review some more on this quest.