Friday, June 28, 2013

More Comedy of Errors and This North Coast Weekend

The Comedy of Errors continues Friday-Sunday nights out back at Dell'Arte, sans super moon but with everything else.  My review is here at the North Coast Journal.  I have more to say about it at the end of this post.

One scheduled show for this weekend has been cancelled: At North Coast Rep, the Second Stage production of About Time will not be performed, due to actor's illness.  It was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.  Executive Director Michael Thomas says it might be re-scheduled in the future.

Also at Dell'Arte this weekend: the children’s noontime show, IN-Tents, on June 29 and 30, and the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony and dinner on June 29, honoring Jane Hill.  IN-Tents: A Conservation Comedy is created and performed by Dell’Arte’s Pratik Motwani, Meghan Frank and Janessa Johnsrude. It's out in "the backyard."  The Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony and dinner begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday, honoring Dell’Arte International co-founder Jane Hill. Since securing the building that still houses Dell’Arte and directing the International School, she went on to rescue the Omaha Opera and expand the activities of the Sacramento Philharmonic as executive director.

About The Comedy of Errors at Dell'Arte:  We attended opening night and brought along several (paying) friends.  We all sat in chairs in the back, and their problems understanding the story and who was who helped inform my review (though they all enjoyed it, and one made a point of telling me it was "hilarious.")

  But in reviewing my review, I wasn't very happy with the writing.  Describing performances as "outstanding" and "excellent" is pretty bland.  Thinking about it, I realized my own response was affected by experiencing the performance far in the back.  That's really where you have to be if you don't want to sit on the ground, especially with a group of not very young people.  The audibility and intelligibility problems I noted were noticeable in the back, and there were enough people back there to mention them--I don't know if they were better or worse closer up (you never do, really.)  But I do sense my emotional response was muted by being so distant.  The subtleties, the interplay of audience and performers, the connections--are much harder to experience.  So in a way I suppose those general adjectives are a result.

About The Comedy of Errors in general: It's an early comedy, and the only Shakespeare that plays in one place in something like real time. The closest other is his last play, The Tempest, seen earlier this season at North Coast Rep. The action is on the same island but different parts of it,  Still, there can be separate sets in this comedy, so the difference is arguable.

 The only film of it that seems to be available is the Royal Shakespeare Company 1983 production for their Complete Shakespeare collection (it's viewable on YouTube.)  The casting is really interesting: playing the Antipholus twins is Michael Kitchen, who is best known now for his World War II police procedural Foyle's War, and as the Dromio twins, Roger Daltrey.  Yes, that Roger Daltrey--lead singer for The Who.  And he does a fine job, too.  I recognized Michael Kitchen right away--some of his speech and behavioral mannerisms in Foyle are there, though not as pronounced, and the quality of his voice.  (I recognized him in an even earlier role, playing the tragic brother of the Bronte sisters in a biographical film.)  As Antipholus of Syracuse, he adopted a speech pattern that sounds a lot like the one Kenneth Branagh used in the later movie of Much Ado About Nothing.

When I was watching this film I fantasized about a contemporary television production, and wondered what actor did I know of who could individualize each of the Antipholus twins, while maximizing the comedy?  My first thought: David Tennant.  It turns out that he has played one of the A's in a more recent RSC production--it looks as if it might have played in repertory with his Hamlet.  So he's halfway to playing both parts on screen.

 Though basically a stage version, this 1983 version did take advantage of film (or video) to allow the twins of both sets to appear in the same scenes, and of course, to permit one actor to play both twins. (Joan Schirle play the Antiphola twins at Dell'Arte, though some scenes are cut.) Seeing this version, I also understood the importance of the opening scene, that the Dell'Arte production eliminates in favor of a song.  The comic, even farcical events of most of the play are bookended by scenes of high sentiment: the resurrections and reconciliations of the last scene, but also the pathos of the first scene, when the old father tells the story of the shipwreck and the lost children, as well as his lost wife.  He has already been condemned to death by law at this point, but the sympathy of the crowd and even of the duke, set up a tension of hope for something that will change things, as indeed the events of the ending do.  Though the ending is surprisingly emotional at Dell'Arte, it is probably not as powerful without that first scene.

This play is usually said to be derived principally from Menaechmi, a comedy by the Roman Plautus, with the twin servants perhaps borrowed from another Plautus play, Amphitryo.  But scholar A.N. Nuttall notes that the Plautus play is itself derived from an earlier Greek play by Menander.  Though this play has been lost (as has a lot of Menander's work, which is probably why he isn't so famous), the Greeks often used the "children-lost-and-found" theme.  So those bookending scenes may well come from that lost play.

Menander wrote about a century after the great period of Greek tragedy and comedy, but he seems to have been a link from them to more modern approaches.  He wrote comedies that involved the lost and found, love and coincidence.  He was much respected and admired--more survives about him than of his work.  It wasn't until the 1950s that an entire play of his was discovered, along with fragments of others.

In All The World's A Stage, a book and BBC TV series by Ronald Harwood about the history of theatre that seems to have disappeared as thoroughly as Menander, refers to his "bitter-sweet genius," and quotes the following lines, which grabbed me immediately and which I recorded for myself.  I can't say it reflects my entire feelings, but as I approach another birthday, it's worth repeating.

I count it happiness,
Ere we go quickly thither whence we came,
To gaze ungrieving on these majesties,
The world-wide sun, the stars, water and clouds,
and fire.  Live, Parmeno, a hundred years
Or a few months, these you will always see
and never, never, any greater things.

Think of this life-time as a festival
Or visit to a strange city, full of noise,
Buying and selling, thieving, dicing stalls
And joy parks.  If you leave it early, friend,
Why, think you have gone to find a better inn:
 You have paid your fare and leave no enemies.

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