The Love Boat Goes to Verona

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending opening night of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona on Boston common.

After last year’s middling Coriolanus, I didn’t have high hopes for this (…that may also be the comps brain talking since I’m not sure I could work up the energy to have high hopes about anything right now).  Especially after reading that the concept was “rat pack”.  I just wasn’t sure things would work out; Two Gents is a notoriously difficult play to make read to a modern audience, Shakespeare on the Common is notoriously not the sum of its parts for whatever reason, and Boston weather patterns make outdoor evening theatre a gamble at best.

But somehow, despite all this, the cosmos aligned and it was truly a production worth seeing!

Jenna Augen’s Julia was absolutely adorable (even in the face of a tragic act-one kerfluffle in which Mimi Bilinski, her Lucetta, failed to come onstage at her cue and left poor Augen to live out the actor’s nightmare: scrambling to cover for a co-star while under the pressure of rhymed iambic pentameter).  She had some sauce and spice and a decidedly different take on the Act V reversal (which I won’t ruin for you since I want to encourage you to go see the show).

our blanket: a still-life.

our blanket: a still-life.

Rimo Airaldi’s Speed and Larry Coen’s Launce were a comic duo that actually made sense.  They played the jokes to a T and, despite any misgivings I had about an older more august Speed, I was quickly charmed into their clutches.

Rick Park’s Duke of Milan is the best I’ve ever seen.  His portrayal of an incensed father in III.i (the scene during which Valentine is outcast) was real enough that I truly believed he would kill Valentine (Andrew Burnap) if given half the chance.  And this, my friends, caused dramaturgical magic.  Because the threat of death was so real, Burnap was able to launch into the most transcendent rendition of the “what light is light” speech that I have ever heard.  I, the notorious curmudgeon, was moved to tears and could only be revivified by the liberal application of the annual CSC signature Ben and Jerry’s sundae (this year’s creation: the Crabbe Bag…. Eat one.  You won’t regret it.).

In terms of the concept, it worked a lot better than I expected it to.  The outlaws in the woods became Wild West clowns/menaces and Act V devolved into a road-runner style farcical chase complete with door-swinging and dance-hiding.  Because of this, the general tone of disingenuousness led to a ready acceptance of the notoriously hard to stage Act V reversal.  Well done, CSC.  Well done.

I have only two complaints.  The first is that there was no fight director or violence coordinator billed in the program while I certainly saw some onstage violence.  If you need to understand the importance of this, let me guide you self-promotionally to the following youtube interview with some people who know what they are talking about in this regard.

The second is that in order to serve the concept, the director chose to include a liberal amount of extra-textual music numbers.  Julia burst out with “fever”, Launce sang “ain’t that a kick in the head?”, etc.  These music numbers, though well executed, slowed the pace of the first act to a crawl.  It would have served just as well to include half the number of musical interludes and I think it would have kept the audience more engaged not to be bursting into non-Shakespeare song every ten to fifteen minutes.

As I said, on the whole this was a very good rendition of a hard-to-perform piece.  If nothing else, it’s a free evening of entertainment, the common is beautiful this time of year, and you can enjoy your own picnic libations with some good company while waiting for curtain.

Though if you, like me, get the sudden urge to fox trot when any of the rat pack tunes are played by a live jazz band, be prepared to bring some dancing shoes.

The Price is Right

The tail end of my week has featured night after night of wonderful free entertainment.  Since it’s nearing midnight and I still have a paper to proofread, I’ll make this short and sweet.

Night One: Wednesday

 Well, of course I had to see the opening night of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Coriolanus.  Every year on Boston common, CSC presents a different Shakespeare.  This is the first year I’ve made it out.

Since the moment I heard that CSC had picked Coriolanus, I was intrigued to see the production.  It’s not a show performed very frequently, and there’s a reason for that.  It’s extremely difficult to execute in a way which keeps its audience, it’s a Roman show and thereby has confusing and alien politics, and it demands a great deal of dexterity from its almost-completely male cast.

There’s a great deal of violence in the show (it is, after all, about war), which also makes it difficult to execute for small companies lacking in funds to hire a fight director.  I am sorry to say that the first thing I noticed about this production was its violence (and not in a good way).  The fights looked under-rehearsed and sloppy, though this is a problem which may solve itself over the course of the run.  Stage fights require a great deal of precision in order to communicate their stories to an audience, otherwise you just wind up with awkward hugging and two guys waving “deadly” weapons at each other.  Unfortunately, in

a great shot of the CSC stage they set up every year (not from this year, but still!)

the heat of (especially a first) performance, a great deal of the work which goes into attaining this precision can be lost in a wash of adrenaline.  I truly hope that these bits get tightened up during the run, because they would greatly improve the quality of the piece.

Karen MacDonald absolutely took the stage as Volumnia (and by that I mean the entire production was hers and hers alone… perhaps giving some concession to Jacqui Parker’s Sicinius Velutus).  My goodness, that woman had us in the palm of her hand.  Powerful, overbearing, creepy, and utterly in control.  Brava, Ms. MacDonald.  Brava.

On the whole, the experience is definitely one worth having.  Especially on a lovely summer night.  Especially with good friends.  Especially with a giant spread of yummy food on your picnic blanket.  Most especially because it’s not very frequently that you see this show performed; go add it to your Shakespeare checklist while you can.

Night Two: Thursday

So here’s a question for you: have you ever been to the Opera?

Before this year, I would have been among the masses who answered “no”.

Here’s a fun facts about Opera: Opera is the only performing art with an audience whose average age in actually dropped (Opera is hip!).

Opera also ain’t what you think it is.  Oh, sure, there are the nine-hour-singing-in-German snoozers (…uh… works of artistic genius?), but really who wants to perform them much less go to see them?  The vast majority of the Opera that I’ve seen (not that I’m a connoisseur yet… still building my Opera street cred) has been hip, upbeat, and fun.

Comic Operas are some of the most fun you can have during a night in the theatre.

A production of Orpheus circa 1860 – Jupiter transforms himself into a fly to seduce Eurydice

Tonight, I attended a performance of Orpheus in the Underworld by the Boston Opera Collaborative.  A comic Opera by Offenbach, Orpheus tells the classic Greek story we all know and love… but with a twist.  It’s a comedic farce of the story complete with satyrs, sex, and rock ‘n roll (…well… at least a violin solo).

Here’s a great thing about Orpheus: you already know some of the music.  “The Infernal Galop” (II.2) is a tune familiar to any and all who have ever engaged with an iota of pop culture (hint: you probably know it as “the Can-Can”).

Here’s the great thing about the Boston Opera Collaborative: their shows are free.  BOC was founded in 2005 in an effort to create a post-graduate outlet for students of operatic arts.  As a result, the shows you will see there won’t be the meticulously polished performances you get at the Met, but they will be lively, entertaining, and completely gratis.

I can’t be more pleased with this initiative.  What a great way to introduce audiences to an art form, and simultaneously build resumes for intermediate performers.  Orpheus performs this weekend at the Strand theatre.  It’s free.  You have no excuse not to go.  Especially if you’ve never been to the Opera before.  Ticket info can be found here.