This week, instead of engaging in post-semester flop, I’ve actually had a fairly busy schedule. Two adventures in particular stand out as being blogworthy…
On Wednesday as a sort of post-mortem field trip, my eighteenth century professor organized an outing to the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale to see their current exhibit “The God of Our Idolatry”: Garrick and Shakespeare. The Lewis Walpole Library is a collection of materials pertaining to British Eighteenth Century Studies. It began as the private collection of Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (a loyal and noble son of Yale), whose fascination was drawn by eighteenth-century eccentric genius Horace Walpole (sidebar: Walpole wrote what many deem to be the first Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto in 1764 and also built himself a gothic castle just south of London which he called “Strawberry Hill”. He decked it out with turrets, towers, false walls, staircases leading nowhere, and a dwarf butler. Strawberry Hill is open to the public today, though probably sans dwarf butler). The Library boasts over 32,000 manuscripts, some of which are theatre-related (playtexts, broadsides, drawings/pictures of actors in character and out, etc.).
The library is on beautiful, lush grounds. Two buildings (the archive itself and the resident scholars’ house (the “root house”)) actually date from the eighteenth century. A croquet set was arrayed on the lawn upon our arrival.
We were welcomed into the root house to have lunch (it’s furnished in old-school New England style and simply charming) before being ushered into the New Library.
That’s approximately when I decided that I would like to drop everything and live there.
The New Library is an oaken room furnished with bookcases in every corner, leather
wingback chairs, and a baby grand piano. It’s lit by a chandelier hanging from the cavernous ceiling, and a large arched window at the far corner. I felt like I had walked into the library from Beauty and the Beast. I would have been content to just sit in this room all day (perhaps with a book of my own and a snifter of brandy) and pontificate on life’s finer qualities.
But the fun didn’t stop there. The exhibit was exciting and interesting, of course. I had just finished writing a paper on Garrick, Shakespeare, and Hamlet, how could I not have fun in a roomful of Garrick paraphernalia? And let me tell you, the more I learn about Garrick, the more I love that man. He was simply so delightfully impressed with himself (and, by the way, because of this, the rest of London was as well).
But that wasn’t all! Then they took us into the reading room where (as usually happens when a group of visiting scholars is being shown an archive) they had pulled materials related to our research interests.
And there, sitting on the table, just waiting for me, were two volumes of the Johnson/Steevens edition (London: 1773).
It doesn’t matter how frequently I handle archival materials, getting to touch documents and books which are hundreds of years old always always gets a rise out of me. I sat down and lovingly paged through the volumes (they had pulled the index and volume two). I used the book snake copiously (because book snakes are STILL awesome!). I reveled in the book cushions. I tried not to drool on it.
Oh yea, there were other really interesting things on the table (photograph files, original editions of The Constant Lovers and other plays, eighteenth century satire pictures, etc.), but JOHNSON/STEEVENS EDITION!
So, yes, it was absolutely worth the two-hour-each-way drive to get there. The exhibit, by the by, is free and open to the public during their normal gallery hours (Wednesday 2-4:30), or may be viewed by appointment if you’re really interested. Really nifty stuff, but likely not worth the hassle to get there unless you’re a super dork like me.
Adventure two: took the best friend to see Little Shop of Horrors for his first time last night (can you imagine, he hadn’t heard the music, seen the movie, or seen the play! There are still people in this world like that!). We caught a production by New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.
On the whole, the production was fairly solid and traditional. Unfortunately, I have an extremely soft spot for this show and did manage to catch the 2003 Broadway production which was spectacular so it’s really hard for Little Shop to impress me. This was a pretty good training-wheels show, and if I hadn’t seen the Broadway production I probably would have been more impressed.
The Charles Mosesian Theater is a big awkward space. It’s a raked-house proscenium style stage with an audience pit that fans out to the side, creating really awkward sight lines at the extreme angles (which, unfortunately, we were seated in). In addition, the space is large enough to be good for most musicals, but I truly feel that Little Shop requires a fairly small space. In order to instill the real terror that the show demands, you want an intimate house that feels like the action can truly leap off the stage and attack you. To pull off the show’s ending, you need to be able to engulf the theatre in energy and that is extremely difficult to do in a house that’s over one hundred seats.
This production, unfortunately, did not deliver that. It felt like I was watching a film and didn’t really reach out and grab me.
The performances were solid, but didn’t go above and beyond. Particularly disappointing was Blake Pfeil’s Seymour who, while he was able to conjure sufficiently weasley and lovable, copped out of every major song-capping note he was given. Rather than belting that last, glorious, musical-theatre note, he instead chose to speak the last line of his songs. This may be partially due to the show’s direction which also erred on the safe side of traditional.
On the whole, if this production had just been pushed to the next level, it would have been fantastic. Even barring the awkward sight lines.
Theatre isn’t safe. Acting is perhaps the most horrible profession someone can go into. An actor is paid to tear open the inner recesses of himself and explore his deepest, darkest parts publicly, before an audience, eight times a week. Little Shop is a campy, comedic romp in the macabre and a study about greed, desire, and the extremities of humanity. If you play it safe, it becomes a hackneyed walk in Poe’s garden with some songs that everyone already knows.
Little Shop of Horrors plays through May 20th at Arsenal Center for the Arts. For more info and tickets, check it out here.