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One of the pleasures (or, if you are a purist, one of the annoyances) of modern Shakespearean productions is the license directors feel to move the setting, time period and circumstances of the characters to a more recognizable – or more symbolic – space. Sometimes such a shift becomes legendary (one thinks of the Orson Welles’ “Julius Caesar” of the 1930s, set in Mussolini’s Italy). Sometimes it can enhance a sense of connection with the material. Sometimes it isn’t quite as successful.
Take as example the intense “Romeo and Juliet” at A Noise Within. There, director D’amaso Rodriguez has amassed an impressive cast, and brought the story out of the halls of wealthy Verona into the sleazy back streets of a Mob-dominated world. To some extent, this works well, right down to Romeo’s initial resemblance to Banksy, but between an overly busy set and the break-neck speed of line delivery, some of the poetics get lost in the translation.
No denying the show’s intensity. That’s a good thing. And the words are there: with rare exceptions, Rodriguez avoids the slashed script which so often is used to woo modern audiences to the antique language. The use of doubling or even tripling among the lesser characters also works well, creating a focus on the protagonists while keeping the crowd onstage at a reasonable size. Indeed, Shakespeare did the same.
But, particularly in the early stages of the play, those words are spoken at such speed that if you don’t already have the show nearly memorized (which I admit I do) you miss much of that lovely language because you just can’t process the words fast enough, even with the actors’ universally lovely diction. And the set, though in practical terms it works well, has been graced with so much completely random graffiti art (that is, nothing actually related to the script) that it becomes a noise distracting from the proceedings. Yet, all these issues do not mean the show isn’t worth watching or the interpretation given isn’t immediate and valid.
Will Bradley plays a somewhat stringy, intense Romeo with an impulsive, occasionally dark passion that works well in this setting. Donnla Hughes manages to carry off both the gangly awkwardness of Juliet’s barely-teen self while still finding the depths of that acid test of all Juliets, the potion scene. Indeed, her wrestling seems more organic to Juliet than is often true.
Robertson Dean, inexplicably barefoot throughout, makes a humble, annoyed, and finally desperate Friar Laurence. Rafael Goldstein, as Mercutio and Christian Barillas as Tybalt find the sweet spot in their dueling scene between enmity and boredom. This makes their deaths particularly tragic. Indeed, Goldstein’s performance romances the wit of his character, making him more central and more sympathetic than is often true.
In the dual role of the Prince and Juliet’s nurse, June Carryl creates two separately defined persons of distinctive character – severe and controlled as the Prince, fulsome and heartfelt as the nurse. Charlotte Gulezian makes a fine friend and occasional confidante as Romeo’s buddy Benvolio, Amir Abdullah gives Paris more presence and more pathos than usual, and Alan Blumenfeld as the Don-like Capulet exudes beneficent but potentially ferocious command. Jill Hill handles Lady Capulet with a style which makes her stand out more than sometimes, though the interpretation’s comparative crassness takes a bit of getting used to.
Designer Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes fit the setting impressively, and add to the unified vision of the production. Her back alley set design also works well, as Romeo ascends dumpster lids to Juliet’s window and Capulets and Montagues fight amidst the strewn trash. Only the overdone graffiti sometimes distracts.
So, in total, this “Romeo and Juliet” is largely a success. The acting is strong, the empathy clear and the tragedy palpable. Rodriguez has a sense of the humanity of the characters in anything he directs, which keeps the potential for stagey-ness at bay. For something like Shakespeare to appeal to a new age, this is absolutely key.
Young people in the audience – and there were many when I saw it – “get” this version more thoroughly than they would a doublet-and-hose production. Keeping the Bard vital to each age, and real, is elementally important, no matter how many people want to put his work in an antique box. In this, A Noise Within’s “Romeo and Juliet” proves one of their most successful recent Shakespearean ventures.
What: “Romeo and Juliet” When: In repertory through May 8, 7 p.m. April 17 and May 8, 7:30 p.m. April 7 and 28, 8 p.m. March 18 and 19, April 8, 23 and 29, with 2 p.m. matinees on March 19, April 17 and 23, and May 8. Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $44 general, $20 student rush one hour before performance Info: (626) 356-3100 ext. 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org
Ever wondered where the expression “French Farce” got its start? Surely one would be the works of Beaumarchais, celebrating the fictional barber from Seville and French nobleman’s retainer, Figaro. Known to modern audience s more as the subject of comic operas by Mozart and by Rossini, the original plays were classic farce. Now, at A Noise Within, Charles Morey’s admittedly loose adaptation of Beaumarchais’ “Figaro” seems destined to be a solid hit. It’s just that funny.
The tale is familiar, but the rendition proves delightfully surprising anyway. Figaro, the valet to the Count, is about to marry Suzanne, the maid to the Countess and his true love. Suzanne clues him to the fact the Count’s gift of a bed and a room of their own, situated between that of the Count and the Countess, is a matter of convenience but not for Figaro and his bride. The Count is determined to have Figaro’s bride as well – and Figaro is furious.
Suzanne points out that the Countess is still in love, even if her husband is not, and a plot begins to form. Meanwhile the older housekeeper, Marceline, lusts after Figaro, family physician Dr. Bartholo loathes him, and gardener Antonio’s daughter, Fanchette, falls for the silly romantic boy Cherubin. If this sounds like a collection of circular stories, you’re right. But just wait.
In the hands of director Michael Michetti, the enterprise becomes a delightful romp. Though Jeanine A. Ringer’s multi-doored set has some functional issues, there is still the appropriately silly manner of comings and goings, hidden listeners and mistaken agendas. Switched identities lead to laughter, and the net result is suitable and usually happy endings. Still, it is the romp one remembers.
Much of the pacing and an equal percentage of the hilarity comes thanks to Jeremy Guskin’s Figaro. His arch approach to the character, his sly asides to the audience, and his sheer comedic physicality all work together to set the tone and the pace for the rest of the production. Indeed, this wry Figaro proves almost contemporary in his humor, perhaps because adaptor Morey readily admits “freely adapting” the older tale to meet tastes of a modern sensibility, and possibly because Guskin is just that funny.
Angela Sauer’s Suzanne provides a most suitable foil for this Figaro – strong, sardonic, and wise. Andrew Ross Wynn makes the Count a pompous grotesque, which aides the comedy, and Elyse Mirto’s sexually frustrated Countess makes a manipulatable foil for Suzanne. Jeanne Sakata vibrates with frustrated passion as Marceline, while Alan Blumenfeld makes a stuffy and distanced Dr. Bartholo. Will Bradley has a ball as the overly romantic Cherubin, while Natalie De Luna makes a seriously innocent Fanchette. Still, it seems the one performer having the most fun has to be Joshua Wolf Coleman, who becomes the simple Antonio, the pompous music master Bazile, and a toadying, speech-impaired judge, by turns.
The pacing, thanks to Michetti, stays lively, the jokes fresh, and the humor impressively current. Let’s face it – some things are just universally funny, and this production, given this sense of physical comedy combined with a classic, farcical set of situations, fits the bill to perfection. “Figaro” is only one of three shows which will play in repertory through this spring at ANW. It follows the spare “Threepenny Opera,” opened recently, and will be joined at the end of the month by a new version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Meaning this is the one to come and laugh at, and with. So do it. You’ll feel better by the end.
What: “Figaro” When: 8 p.m. March 14, April 4, 10, and May 1; 7:30 p.m. April 9 and 30; 7 p.m. April 19 and May 10; 2 p.m. March 14, April 4 and 19, and May 10; 4 p.m. April 5 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40 general, $20 student rush Info: (626) 356-3100 ext 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org
This show has now been extended through August 10
Playing with classics has become part of the theatrical landscape. One can either go for staging, say, Shakespeare or Moliere or Sophocles in an alternate time period or social reference, or one can take the conceptual theme of the original, and the main characters, and turn the play on its ear. For example, several years ago The Theatre at Boston Court produced Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” reset (with distinct cultural adaptation) in a China on the verge of revolution – a shift which worked startlingly well.
Now, once again at The Theatre at Boston Court, this time in concert with Circle X Theatre Company, one finds a revision of another Chekhov classic, “The Seagull.” “Sort of adapted” by Aaron Posner, the play “Stupid Fucking Bird” highlight’s Chekhov’s essential ethos – the idea that people who become so wrapped up in themselves create their own tragedies – and places it in a modern framework. It works, absolutely, and for several reasons: Chekhov’s theme was an essential human one which transcends time, the adaptation is clever, concise and passionate, and the direction and performance are done with complete conviction and absolute craft.
The script trims down and adapts the character list, but the story is still the traditional angsty knot. Conrad, the bitter son of actress Emma Arkadina, is a creator of dubious performance art his family belittles. He lives on his mother’s estate, working with and worshiping a young actress named Nina, who does not return his affections, while the woman who runs the house, Mash, holds her grand passion for Conrad close to her despairing heart. Dev, the slightly dim, good-hearted friend of Conrad’s, adores Mash but knows he has little chance there. Emma fears encroaching age, and fights it off by keeping famed author Doyle Trigorin on a short leash, at least until he notices Nina. All the while, aging uncle Dr. Sorn, watches with a combination of kindness and frustration. And so it begins.
If all of this sounds like a soap opera, you are correct, except for the essential Chekhovian concept that all of this internal wrangling, despair and high feeling is elementally ridiculous – a product of each of the characters’ emotional myopia. In the hands of director Michael Michetti, that rings through all the drama, as it plays out in a tight production with a strong and engaging cast. Add to this the extra thrill of Posner’s Thornton Wilder-style dissolving of the fourth wall, including actors stepping into and out of character, and you’re looking at something compelling and genuinely fun.
Will Bradley leads the cast in every way as Conrad, vibrating with intensity and a kind of emotional impotence. In both energy and engagingly dark approach he is matched by Charlotte Gulezian’s habitually depressed Mash. Adam Silver creates Mash’s and Conrad’s ultimate foil in the easy-going, upbeat, pleasantly dim Dev. Amy Pietz gives Emma a gentle undercurrent of desperation, and a grasping need which proves visceral.
Matthew Floyd Miller’s calm, detached, even opportunistic Doyle becomes physically and emotionally above all the petty commitments at his feet, while Zarah Mahler’s aura of fragility places Nina distinctly in both Doyle’s and Conrad’s crosshairs. Arye Gross gives the good doctor the air of a man weighed down by his own desire to be empathetic to these folk, like a huge, human sigh.
Under Michetti, this all moves quite rapidly, allowing no time for the dismalness to settle, and shifting in and out of the play’s supposed setting with the efficiency of a light switch. Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s modular set pieces prove both realistic and representational, allowing for quick shifts in scene and mood. Sean Cawelti’s projections often provide that mood, and flesh out settings artfully.
In short, “Stupid Fucking Bird” brings the essential Chekhovian message to a new era, a new language, and a new immediacy without losing those elements which give it something to say about the human condition: finely tuned characters wrestling with stunted emotions doing melodramatic things which get them nowhere, held up to a mirror that makes them look somewhat silly. Thus it proves both wrenching and humorous, visceral and cerebral. If you love to watch people play with classic themes, you’ll find this one engrossing.
One word of warning: as the name may suggest, this show is not for children, deserving at least an “R” rating on the standard scale for both language and nudity. Still, for most adults, i.e.: those willing to take that as integral to context, it is most certainly a show to see.
What: “Stupid Fucking Bird” When: Through July 27, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, with added performances 8 p.m. Wednesday July 16 and 23 Where: The Theatre at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $34, with senior and group discounts available Info: (626) 683-6883 or http://www.BostonCourt.org