Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sorry for the lag

Sorry that I haven't posted here for a while. I've had two theatrical experiences recently, actually three. First was Henry IV, Part One at the Shakespeare Theatre with Stacy Keach as Sir John and Edward Gero (seen most recently as Rothko in Red) as Henry IV. Then last Saturday I caught Henry IV, Part Two. They are two wonderful plays but require players at the top of their form.

Alas, most of the cast was disappointing. I hadn't seen Keach in years and though he's old enough to be a good Falstaff, he lacked both fervor and diction. They all were difficult to understand and I usually don't have trouble catching Shakespearean dialog.  Gero was fine, but King Henry is not the greatest part. Ted Van Griethuysen got some kudos for Mr Justice Shallow and he is one of my favorites in the company. But longtime company stalwart David Sabin played Falstaff a few years ago (maybe not a few years ago) and was far better than Stacy Keach. 

The Lord Chief Justice was strong in Part Two and Hotspur was magnificent in Part One. Otherwise, it was something of a wipeout.  These are Shakespeare's prime efforts to combine history and comedy -- while the famous lines are wonderful--Henry IV's "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" was done well, but Falstaff's fabulous moment of reflection "We have heard the chimes at midnight..." came off unconvincingly. It's a giveaway when the Falstaff gang (Peto, Pistol, Poins, Bardolph, Mistrees Quickly, Doll) come off as stronger than the fat knight.

But then last Friday we took in Camp David at the Arena Stage.  This was a marvelous evening. The Egyptian actor who played Sadat was superb, and Ron Rifkin was a terrifically annoying Menachem Begin, while Richard Thomas captured both the hopefulness and innocence of Jimmy Carter. Some of my friends thought he was weak but I disagreed--he captured him nicely. Hallie Foote, whom I last saw in NY in her father's Dividing the Estate, is wonderful at playing tough Southern women--she did a great job with Rosalynn.

It really did a fine job setting out the issues, the personalities, the conflicts, and the varied pressures. Yes, the ending is a bit pat, but then, this was the only real success at Middle East peacemaking we've had.

Next I hope to see a production of The Threepenny Opera at Signature Theatre here. The production which opened quite recently in New York used the Mark Blitzstein libretto.  Blitzstein was a fabulous musical mind but I think he came up short here, likely because he was pressured to massage down Brecht's rough edges.  Brecht certainly had many of those, but they make him what he was. There are newer versions which I hope Signature has opted to draw on.

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