July 11th, 2008


July 4th, we went with some friends to see "WALL-E", the last of the independent Pixar animated films. One can only hope that Disney will in some way preserve the quirky and subversive artistic bent of the Pixar oveur, but I'm not optimistic: the current trend in studio politics is to deal with the current market by retrenchment and by bringing independent production lines under major studio control. Given the wonderful judgment and artistic daring we have seen from big studio management in the past, we should treasure "WALL-E" as perhaps the last of its line.

Potential mild spoilers behind the cut: Read moreCollapse )

American Players Theater, "Henry IV" and "Midsummer Night's Dream"

Saturday, July 5th, turned out to be a near-ideal day for outdoor theater. We had, as we often do, selected a double-header of plays, APT's "Henry IV: The Making of a King," which condenses Shakespeare's Henry IV parts 1 and 2 into one play, and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

The original APT group would not have cut the "Henry" play, committed as they were to integrity of the text, but I do have to agree with the director who was quoted as saying that there is about 1.5 good plays in the two installments. What we got was mostly Henry IV, Part 1, with its story of intrigue against the unpopular Henry IV, the coming of age of ne'er-do-well Prince Hal, and its culminating battle against rebel "Hotspur" Percy and his allies. What we got of part 2 were the essentials: the death of King Henry IV with the famous misunderstanding about Hal's trying on the crown; Hal coming into his kingship, and the new king's banishment of Falstaff and the old cronies of his misspent youth.

Up-and-coming Matt Schwader did a very fine job as Prince Hal, growing from a bored frivolity to seriousness as needed, and making a credible action hero in his duel with the dangerous Hotspur. Brian Mani was a very workmanlike Falstaff, handling his scenes of bluster very well, but was not up to the memorable performances given by Randall Duk Kim years ago in "Merry Wives," or more recently, Richard Ziman in the Milwaukee Shakepeare company's production of "Henry IV, Part 1."
(reviewed by me here: http://milwaukeesfs.livejournal.com/2007/05/14/)

James Ridge played the King of the title, and gave an excellent characterization of a man who seems to be continually unlikeable, even when he is trying to make peace. Standouts among the supporting cast were David Daniel, believably handsome and charismatic as Hotspur, Carrie A. Coon as his spirited wife, and Henry Woronicz, who managed a creditable Welsh accent in the role of Owen Glendower.

"Midsummer Night's Dream" was one of the first plays I ever saw at APT and which hooked me. The outdoor setting, with moonlight on the trees behind the stage, and the real-life bats, moths, fireflies, and whippoorwills seemed the perfect setting. That production was one of APT's early purist approach shows, and was beautiful for it. This year's production takes quite another tack, and, although preserving the text took great liberties with setting and business, resulting in one of the all-around funniest versions of the play we have ever seen.

As the play opens, the stage is covered with dropcloths, and upstage was a port-a-potty which close inspection revealed to be labled in Greek. This is the hall for the celebration of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta being redecorated for the big event, and the workmen are the "rude mechanicals" who eventually "honor" the happy couple with their performance of "Pyramus and Thisbe." One of the best features of this production was giving distinct personalities and styles to Hermia (Tiffany Scott), Lysander (Matt Schwader), Demetrius (Steve Haggard) and Helena (Carrie A. Coon), playing against the more common joke that they are more or less interchangable. Hermia is a fashion-forward Alpha Girl, and it's easy to see why her father Egeus (James Ridge) thinks that preppie nerd Demetrius would be a better match for her than "Joisey" disco boy Lysander (Schwader channeling John Travolta). Counter-culture girl Helena makes up the foursome with her hippie attire and guitar-case decorated with "Che" stickers.

Of course, once into the woods, they fall foul of the fairies, Puck (Marcus Truschinski), Oberon (Micheal Huftile), and Titania (Carey Cannon). Huftile and Cannon double the roles of Theseus and Hippolyta, a fact I would not have known without looking at the program, so much are they transformed from one role to the other. The fairies also play havoc with the townsmen, working the famous "transfiguration" on Bottom, played with relish by Johnathan Smoots.

Once all the romances are sorted out, the climax of the play is the "Pyramus and Thisbe," given here the most over-the-top, all out played for laughs presentation ever. Suffice to say "The eye
of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not
seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue
to conceive, nor his heart to report."

The play ended with what Georgie called "My Big Fat Greek Wedding Dance," to a spontaneous and general standing ovation.

Acting was fine throughout, given the broad slapstick tenor, and the spiral ramped stage worked well, illuminated by some attractive effects. If the play had a flaw, it was in the fairies' costumes, which had no unifying vision. Titania's attendants resembled "classical" fairies with short floaty dresses, white tights and ballet slippers, floral chaplets and ribbons. By jarring contrast, the named fairies, Peaseblossom, Moth, Mustardseed, and Cobweb, had grotesque full-body costumes that literally represented their names. Titania herself wore a water-colored Edwardian "mermaid" gown that displayed an impressive corsage, whereas Oberon was more of a "woodgod" figure, in gladiator buskins, earth-toned harem pants, and cape with a collar of roots or twigs over bare chest. Puck was more of a 70's punk-rock figure, with tight pants and fur-collared vest with no shirt. It is frustrating that the company's costume designers do so well when dealing with the period pieces but don't seem to be able to come up with an integrated vision when outside the historical.

Who's to blame for Global Warming?

--and our recent bad weather? The fairies, of course! I'm surprised Bushco, Exxon Mobile, etc. haven't hit on that excuse yet, given this damning testimony from Queen Titania:

"These are the forgeries of jealousy:
And never, since the middle summer's spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook,
Or in the beached margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea
Contagious fogs; which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents:
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard;
The fold stands empty in the drowned field,
And crows are fatted with the murrion flock;
The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable:
The human mortals want their winter here;
No night is now with hymn or carol blest:
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream," by William Shakespeare, Act II, Scene 1.