Oct. 21, 2016
My memory is that Akron U's was a very good production; in fact, I still think it's one of the best I've seen. (Wish I'd saved the program--but it seems I didn't. Not like me.) In my folder I do have six programs from other productions--at the Stratford Festival (1991, 2006, 2011--with Brian Dennehy as Sir Toby Belch; I remember a scene on a golf course!), at the Great Lakes Theater Festival (2000, 2009). I also remember a production at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass., but I don't seem to have the program. My mom, who lives nearby, was there--as was my older brother and younger brother and his wife. A decade ago, maybe? (Just checked my journal: It was Friday, September 5, 2009, and we were there to celebrate my mom's 90th birthday. So ... not a decade ago--just seven years ago. Hard to believe that Mom was actually there: She has been unable to move very much in recent years.)
And ... last night ... we saw it again in downtown Cleveland at the Hanna Theater, the venue of Great Lakes Theater Festival (GLTF) productions.
It was a good--not great--production. I loved the staging. They had but one set, which (as the playbill notes) was sort of based on "Miss Havisham's world before the cake rots" (18).* All the scenes take place there--including the shipwreck near the beginning. The players just confine themselves (for the most part) to a certain segment of the stage--though not invariably so: Often they wander around having close (but silent) encounters with actors on pause, waiting for their own moments to commence. Sometimes these moments were especially fraught with significance in the play--as when, for example, near the beginning, one of the shipwreck survivors (Viola) wanders near a reclining Orsino, with whom she will soon hook up. Very cool.
There were few props and set pieces as well--touches that would have brought a smile to the Bard's face. On his own Globe and Blackfriars stages the action flowed freely--no scenery, precious few props. I did enjoy the sort of boxed enclosure they employed for various things--from an entrance to a gazebo--and the audience laughed hard when Feste-Belch-Aguecheek are hiding there and watching Malvolio discover the false love letter that leads to his dark, dark downfall. The hiding men slowly moved the box--in which they were visible--from upstage to down ... slowly, slowly--getting closer and closer to the duped Malvolio.
I was very impressed with the women--Viola (Cassandra Bissell), Olivia (Christine Weber)--and Malvolio (Lynn Robert Berg) is one of the company's real talents. Their deliveries were crisp and intelligent and invariably comprehensible.
Not so with the three foolish male characters (Feste,Aguecheek, Belch), all of whom, it seemed to me, were a bit out of control, prancing around, acting the fool (as they're supposed to do) but sacrificing the words in the process. I often couldn't figure out what they were saying--even though I knew what they were saying (and I heard other patrons say similar things at intermission). All three men are fine performers, but the business often trumped the language last night.
The dark treatment of Malvolio near the end is always hard to watch, but I did like how director Drew Barr had the tricksters soften when they realize that they've gone too far--much too far. Beyond the pale.
The music was fine--playing, singing. ("If music be the food of love, play on!")
And the whole thing got a strong ovation when it ended (nearly three hours). And much deserved. Despite my quibbles and cavils I went home happy. I'd just seen a great play done well in a place I love to go to; I got to sit, again, beside Joyce. I got to marvel (laugh and sometimes weep) at the words of the greatest writer who's ever lived.
*Miss Havisham, the jilted bride in Dickens' Great Expectations, the woman who continues to wear her wedding dress and keep the cake on the table for years after the jilting.