Thursday, August 9, 2018

"The Play's The Thing"

French cuisine.

Italian footwear.

Canadian… I don’t know, I just wanted to throw “Canadian” in there.  


Canadian niceness.  

That’s what we’re known for. (If you don’t count the mistreatment of native inhabitants, the immigration policy during World War II and the Japanese internment camps.  But come on, eh, nobody’s perfect.) 

A worthy companion to those identifiable “Calling Cards” of cultural distinction unquestionably is,

English theater.  

(Make that theater.  It’s their word; they ought to spell it the way they want to.  It’s probably originally a Greek or Roman word, but they were the first ones using it in English.)

We saw four productions on our trip, all of them better for seeing them in England.  I know that’s not fair, but that’s English theatre for you, glowingly enhanced simply due to the venue.

We saw an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well in Regent’s Park.  No, it was Much Ado About Nothing.  No, it was As You Like It.  But it was definitely in Regent’s Park.

Subsequent review reading described the alfrescoproduction as lively and imaginative.  (No quotes there because I am paraphrasing, though you can take the critical “gist” to the bank.) 

The most affecting element of the show, which was occasionally marred by being difficult to hear especially when planes and helicopters flew overhead (which almost never happens indoors) was the magical experience of watching an exterior production of Shakespeare in its germinating country of origin.

In a magnificent setting. 

I spent a lot of time between trying to decode the Shakespearean poetry wondering if the stage was strategically situated at the center of that towering grove of trees or if they first built the stage and trucked the towering trees in to surround it.  For a play set in a forest, the accompanying ambiance was resonating.

(Another enhancing element. Dr. M and I read the play’s first act out loud to each other before we showed up.  It is no coincidence, I think, that the first act was the only one we totally understood.  It is interesting how that works.)

Twoof the productions we attended bore the striking common denominator of being the estimable works by 84 year-old participants. Eighty-four’s oldfor show business.  With the rarest exceptions, try finding an 84 year-old here doing anything.

Except reminiscing.  

(Along with some 73 year-olds.)
Beyond the Fringe (look it up)“alum” Alan Bennett (History Boys”) is an interesting codger.  Like the majority of octogenarians, Bennett feels nostalgic for the past.  The thing is, the past Bennett achingly hungers for is the hyper-rebellious 1960’s.  
Interesting contradiction, don’t you think?  A man conservatively looking backwards, misty-eyed for a time famous for decimating the past.
A still-sharp satirist’s stiletto is on gleeful display in Bennett’s most recent production, “Allelujah!” concerning a neighborhood hospital catering to Seniors, which for practical reasons is scheduled to fall prey to a sterile, privatized colossus.  
“Allelujah!” is an imperfect but, for me, satisfying confection.  Its signature moments involve the troupe of geriatric residents jettisoning their wheelchairs and inertia to deliver choreographed production numbers of recognized “Oldies”, the most infectious of them being a rousing rendition of “Good Golly, Miss Molly.”
Eight-four year-old Australian trouper Barry Humphries – who recently retired his beloved onstage alter-ego “Dame Edna Everage” – offers a saucy revue of Weimar Republic– between the two Great Wars – music, executed with such studied deliciousnesss that, despite the majority of the songs are performed in the original German, leaves us surrendering to Humphries’s buoyant enthusiasm for the genre.  This is the real“Cabaret”, its dark tone and decadent delivery drum-rolling the hellish terribleness to come.    
Lastly – and most dazzlingly rewardingly – comes The Lehman Trilogy (written by Stefano Massini, adapted by Ben Power), a three-and-a-half hour mounted docudrama about the hundred-and-fifty year journey of an immigrant family who began selling fabric to farmers in Alabama in 1840, evolving eventually into a world-wide banking colossus, until the lights went out in the flattening disaster of 2008.
I will not chronicle the glittering specifics of the production, highlighting only the daring element of three actors portraying all the parts in this Homeric epic, including various women and Lehman-family young children.  
English actors.
Those guys can do anything.
With us, blessedly lucky to be sitting in the audience. 

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