Friday, August 28, 2015

Stratford reviews - pt. 1

Yesterday was an extremely stressful day.  I was scheduled to go out to Waterloo for a presentation.  I tried to leave at 11:30, though ultimately it was more like 11:45.  Then I could not locate the Zipcar (it was in a parking garage).  Then at the parking garage I had to get help from the manager to find the actual car and figure out how to get out.  I don't think I'll ever rent this particular car again.  Then I missed the split between the 401 and the QEW and lost at least another 15 minutes trying to get back onto the 401.  Then I hit Mississauga and they were getting ready for construction, though not actually doing anything, and they closed down 2 of the 3 lanes.  Given how many trucks are on this thing, it made for 30 minutes of just absolutely dreadful driving.  I was 30 minutes late.  Going back wasn't much better, since I missed a different turn and took the 401 instead of the Gardiner, so I actually overshot the downtown and had to circle back and drive down Richmond to drop off the car.  The only small saving grace was that ZipCar didn't charge me extra for being a few minutes late dropping off the car.

Now at one point I had considered getting a ticket for Jonson's The Alchemist as Stratford is only another 40 minutes past Waterloo.  It was sold out for weeks, though incredibly a seat did open up in the morning of this trip.  As I was looking over maps and deciding whether to go ahead and do this, it was snatched up.  I think it is probably just as well.  I would have been extremely stressed trying to get out to Stratford, since the congestion on the 401 W seemed pretty bad as I left the meeting (and it was generally better heading back east, at least until I got back into Mississauga and then missed my turn).  Also, while traffic presumably would have finally died down, I wouldn't have gotten back to the downtown core until midnight and then I still would have had to get home after that.

Ok, with that off my chest, I will just note that it can be a major headache getting out to Stratford and the Shaw Festivals, though Shaw is much, much worse from my perspective.  That's one of the reasons that I try to go out for a weekend and see 2 or 3 plays at a time.  I did that already this summer, and am going towards the end of Sept.  I am not planning on making one more day trip to try to catch The Alchemist, since I have so many other things to try to squeeze in this fall.  I'll just cross my fingers and hope that it transfers to Toronto at some point, though it is also worth noting that I've seen this play twice (and actually passed on a chance to go in Vancouver). (I'm still holding out some hope that Barrie's When We Are Married from the Shaw last summer transfers.)  I guess that would somewhat spoil these festivals if the best productions always made the transfer, but it would make my life easier...

Since there is still plenty of time to catch them, I'll go ahead and review the plays I saw at Stratford in July.

I don't think one can really SPOIL the plot of one of Shakespeare's plays at this point, but there may be minor SPOILERS for The Physicists, which is a more obscure play.

I have already talked a fair bit about the recent production of Hamlet here.  I generally liked this production of Hamlet quite a bit.  Interestingly, there was more emphasis on comedy here than usual, and the play really does come across as a comedy for most of the 1st half (aside from the ghost). I felt in general, it was clear Hamlet was playing at being mad rather than slipping into madness.  Nonetheless, I didn't think the playfulness should have continued after Polonius's death (and thought the Driftwood production had a better take on the immediate aftermath of Polonius's death, though that had its own problems in the transition to the duel between Hamlet and Laertes).

It's somewhat interesting which plays cross the line for me.  I find myself really not very interested in The Merchant of Venice and probably won't go again.  And yet the actual message of The Taming of the Shrew is pretty retrograde, but I still find myself enjoying it (with a few reservations here and there, particularly at the end).  This was one of the more successful productions I've seen.  I would say, however, that I did feel one thing that didn't come across fully is that Catherine is enraged, largely because she she feels locked into her role as the shrewish older sister and feels that society has already devalued her and labeled her an old maid.  There is a lot of emotional hurt that expresses itself badly in her tantrums.  I've seen that done a bit better elsewhere.

At any rate, Petruchio becomes a kind of mirror, showing how unpleasant her unreasonableness is to others and causing her to reflect on her own behaviour.  I thought they did this well, though I was struck at how many servants Petruchio had at home.  Certainly more than one normally sees in a typical production.  Anyway, a few people have written that Katherine put enough stress on "honest" in "And not obedient to his honest will" that she is indicating she knows what he was up to and will only obey Petruchio in the future if they establish a union on a more even basis.  I think that is a stretch.  There really is no textual basis to prevent this speech from coming across as a pretty abject surrender to Petruchio's will and whims. So it remains a problematic and yet very funny play.  I did think the framing device (which I don't actually recall seeing before) could definitely have been cut back, though it was funny to hear the interloper say that because he was a blogger, he had to be treated better or else.

Let me turn to Friedrich Dürrenmatt's The Physicists.  One important note is that this is a new translation and actually an adaptation as well.  If one is a purist, that may not go down so well.  As it happens, I brought the Grove translation with me and read it the night after I saw the play, so I was able to make a pretty good comparison.  I'd say that 2/3 of the changes are generally small improvements that smooth out understanding, particularly as scientific literacy is a bit lower today and probably the audience wouldn't get from the discussions of Einstein's formulations that the matter at hand was that people could be atomized by the application of Möbius's work.  I would say, however, it is more than a little ironic that the copying technique employed in the adaptation has absolutely nothing to do with nanotechnology but would be a special kind of telemetry.  But nanotechnology is trendy and sounds cool, so that's what they went with.

The more explicit reference to millions being killed in speech to the third soon-to-be-dead nurse was good, as it somewhat raised the stakes and made it a bit more clear why Möbius was hiding out in the sanatorium.  I thought the switch in the second act to put a bit more of a spotlight on the Frau Docteur was also good (here she puts up a portrait of herself rather than another random family portrait), and I liked how they could make it sound like taking the company private was a very sinister thing.

The inspector Voss talks a bit more about retirement in this adaptation, and looks forward to the day he can let murderers murder and not have to concern himself with it, since it doesn't seem to make a bit of difference.  I will say I thought the original was a bit better right after the third murder is discovered.  At Stratford, Voss says his boss is catatonic, but places a lot of stress on that word, so that it seems to mean something even more serious than livid, but catatonic doesn't mean that at all.  In the Grove translation, the inspector says "He's past being angry now.  He's just brooding."  I think brooding can be quite sinister, since he might simply be pondering his next move.  Anyway, a small point.

I definitely thought having Möbius's children appear and sing one of Psalms was a good idea.  If they ever publish this adaptation, I would like to compare both the last major speech made by Möbius as well as his Psalm to the Cosmonauts (which he uses to chase his ex-wife and children out of the room).  There is something to like about both approaches.  The new adaptation was just a bit more slangy, so perhaps the original was slight more appropriate for a newly discovered Psalm (heard directly from the mouth of King Solomon): "Outcasts we cast out, up into the deep / Towards a few white stars / That we never reached anyhow."

One perhaps significant change was that in the original, it seems much more likely that the Newton figure was a British spy, not an American one.  It is sort of strange, and definitely sad, that this play, written during the Cold War, is suddenly more relevant again, since Putin is single-handedly restarting the Cold War to shore up his domestic problems, while Obama is more or less ignoring him (which probably enrages Putin more than anything) and has made some tangible steps to reverse terrible foreign policy decisions on Cuba and Iran.  Though I would certainly not say that Obama's approach will bear fruit, not least because another Democrat has to be elected to carry on for a while before the Republicans given up.  At the moment, this doesn't look like it will be out of reach, since the Republican clown car since hasn't offered up a particularly electable candidate.

But I've strayed quite far off topic.  At any rate, I enjoyed The Physicists quite a bit.  I think the original translation would have worked fine, but this adaptation is good as well.  If they decide at some point to transfer this to Toronto, I would probably go a second time with some friends, though I would much prefer they transfer The Alchemist.  The Physicists runs through Oct. 3 in Stratford and, barring a transfer, this is probably your best chance to see it, as it is not often revived, particularly when compared to your typical Shakespearean play.

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