note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
“…though I asked most distinctly for bread and butter, you have given me cake.” --- Oscar Wilde.
Some directors need to be reminded now and then that the Theatre has gotten along without directors for most of its life; their position once belonged to the playwright/actor or manager/actor of a company. The Director came in with the dawn of Realism --- an impartial eye was needed to shape and conceive, to drum out the Theatrical and give the lie that the audience was indeed watching a slice of Life inside a three-walled room. In time, the Cult of the Director as co-Creator and Interpreter, began. Swollen egos may not want to hear this, but no matter how brilliant or innovative or controversial they may be as artists, a director’s function is, was and shall always be to serve the playwright. The play, especially a good one, will remain long after its production has passed away.
Shakespeare is the acid test; many a director will lard the verse with gimmicks rather than make it comprehensible to our tinny ears (hopefully, these wunderkinds can acquire actors who can speak the speech amidst the trappings). Two of Shakespeare’s Romances, PERICLES and THE WINTER’S TALE have been trotted out at the A.R.T.; the former, a full-scale professional production, the other, a student offering. One leaves much to be desired; one has already departed.
Gower, the poet, reborn from ashes … Yolande Bavan
Pericles, Prince of Tyre … Robert Sella*
King Antiochus … Thomas Derrah
Daughter of Antiochus … Georgia Hatzis
Thalliard, an assassin … Curtis August
Messenger … Jason Beaubier
Helicanus, councilor to Pericles … Jeremy Geidt*
Cleon, the governor … Will LeBow
Dionyza, his wife … Karen MacDonald
Leonine, a henchman … Gilbert Owuor
Pirates … Curtis August; Thomas Piper
Young Philoten … Zoë King
Young Marina … Jasmine Jackson
Fishermen … Remo Airaldi; Jeremy Geidt*; Thomas Piper
King Simonides … Thomas Derrah
Thaisa, his daughter … Mia Yoo
Lords … Dan Cozzens; Oliver Henzler
Marshal … Jason Beaubier
Knights in the Tournament … Curtis August; Jason Kaufman; Doug Lockwood
Sailors … Jason Beaubier; Jason Kaufman
Lychorida, a nurse … Emily Knapp
Cerimon, a magician … Yolande Bavan
Philemon, his assistant … Curtis August
Diana, the goddess … Georgia Hatzis
Temple Dancers … Alison Clear; Emily Knapp; Katarina Morhacova
Marina, Pericle’s daughter … Pascale Armand
Panda, a pimp … Will LeBow
Boult, a gigolo … Thomas Derrah
Bawd, a madame … Remo Airaldi
Brothel Clients … Dan Cozzens; Doug Lockwood
Whores … Emily Knapp; Katarina Morhacova
Lysimachus, the governor … Oliver Henzler*
Messenger … Andrei Serban
* At the performance I attended, these roles were played as follows:
Pericles, Prince of Tyre … Oliver Henzler
Helicanus, councilor to Pericles / Fisherman… Nick Basta
Lysimachus, the governor … Curtis August
In my mind’s eye, the A.R.T. is a smooth, towering block of stone, lacking windows and doors and therefore lacking light and air; approach it and you’ll hear the buzzing within of its sealed-off inhabitants spinning their fantasies --- each artist, his or her own Muse as well as Creator; to quote its Artistic Director, Robert Woodruff, “The engine of this theatre will always be the dreams of these artists.” Doors solemnly open where none had been before and the public is allowed inside (at great expense) to witness the latest spinnings. Some stagger out, blinded by what they consider to be Brilliant; others creep away, whispering, “I don’t understand what I’ve seen; therefore, it must be Brilliant”; my inner child points and cries, “These clothes have no Emperor!” And the clothes are several decades out of style --- the 1960s and 70s, to be exact, but gussied up with the latest stage technology. These scribbles won’t dent A.R.T. in the least; it will continue to spin and dream as long as there are Harvard intelligentsia, the curious, and those “in the know” to support it (the late Market Theater, for all its excellence, catered to the same crowd).
I’ve attended few shows at the A.R.T. (frankly, I can’t afford them), but from what I’ve seen I gather it is a haven for directors and designers who run rampant through scripts, especially those by playwrights conveniently dead; they may also be hampered by A.R.T.’s reputation as a (now dated) avant-garde organization with a heavy European/Asian slant. Looking over the lobby stills of past A.R.T. productions, I’ll agree that some of the designs are stunning, but try to guess each photograph’s production without looking at their legends. (You won’t get far --- everything looks like Brecht or Bayreuth.) Nor do these dreamers seem to care about actors --- they may actually resent those who cannot enlarge, shrink or morph in sync with their designs; the actor’s all too mortal flesh is thus swathed in the dreamers’ visions, concepts and pretensions. The current spinning, Shakespeare’s PERICLES, reflects this all too well.
PERICLES is Shakespeare’s first attempt at the new genre, Romance (scholars argue either he had collaborators or the existing script is another’s transcription from memory); Elizabeth was dead, James was in, and plays began to be performed indoors with the emphasis on entertainment and spectacle. PERCILES shares common themes with the Bard’s other Romances, CYMBELINE, THE WINTER’S TALE and THE TEMPEST: shipwrecks, long-lost children, death and resurrection, families torn asunder and families reunited, pagan deities and Christian sensibilities, the plotting of Fate and the healing hand of Time. It suffers from an all too passive hero --- Pericles drifts wherever the gods will lead him --- and its fairytale plot is paper thin. It needs a spectacle, but not to be made one.
I was hoping for another BLUE DEMON, the Huntington’s enchanting picture book, which owed its success to its director and designers, and rightly so; instead, director Andrei Serban serves up a cold, sparse entertainment with half of the production shown upon an overhanging screen (filmed footage combined with live off-stage video). I’ve no objection to multi-media productions (though I deem it now to be a concession to the MTV generation), provided the one-dimensional media blends with the three-dimensional actors. Those who witnessed the Market Theater’s brilliantly conceived SWIMMING IN MARCH will agree that multi-media in the theatre, when properly used, can become a highly effective extension of the sets and lights; in Mr. Serban’s production, what is shown onscreen competes with what is played below (which would you choose to watch: a filmed actor in intimate close-up with all his/her lines’ emotions flickering across his/her face, or that same actor onstage in full but reduced proportion?). The actors are even forced to compete with themselves: after making a memorable onscreen appearance, they immediately enter, shrunken and no longer in resonant, Dolby-like voice. The one- and three-dimensions ne’er come together; to return to Mr. Wilde’s quote, PERICLES calls for a good, honest, bread-and-butter spectacle; instead, Mr. Serban serves grudgingly thin slices of stale, imported cake. Try a mouthful: the evil King Antiochus and his harlot daughter grapple half-naked onstage (and fully naked, onscreen) while a shapely dancer with an ape’s head slinks about suggestively and Thalliard, that would-be assassin, rolls around in a wheelchair, carrying a severed bull’s head in his lap --- and this is the Riddle Scene where Pericles must guess that King and Daughter are sleeping together! King Cleon’s wife Dionyza, in extreme close-up, bites into a dove’s unplucked breast while her city starves from famine. The sweet Thaisa failed to make any kind of impression in her first scene not only because of her silly, bell-shaped costume, but because I couldn’t figure out what part of her body was jingling (answer: her ankles.) The whores of Mytilene are New Wave sluts; their johns, gray-flannelled businessmen. And so on. Only once does this PERICLES warm to a heartbeat: the reunion of Pericles and his daughter Marina, where the screen blessedly goes black and the three-dimensional actors rule for a change, though father and daughter must contend with two fisherman who push them back and forth in a rowboat. (A good Shakespearean director will know when to keep his actors still.)
However, that upstaging screen does hold some treasures that no stage performance can fully capture: the comical close-ups of Thomas Derrah’s King Simonides (so reminiscent of Max Waldman’s stills of Charles Ludlam’s BLUEBEARD); Thaisa’s moving sea-sleep that ends Act One, rocked by David Remedios’ equally moving soundtrack (pity that Mia Yoo’s onstage performance couldn’t match it); and, especially, Georgia Hatzis as the chaste goddess Diana (she also doubles as the incestuous princess). Ms. Hatzis’ noble face (sans makeup) is that of Klimt’s Pallas Athena but with tumbling hair, not a helmet, framing her; she is silently compelling even though she does little more than eye exercises, but if you ever sat through any of Garbo’s films just to gaze upon her monumental beauty, you will understand what my words cannot convey. (Ms. Hatzis was a charming Katherine in last summer’s production of HENRY V on the Commons but I never knew how stunning she is until seeing her now, in close-up. Screen: 1; Stage: 0.)
In addition to Ms. Hatzis and Mr. Derrah (a truly gifted creature), Karen MacDonald camps it up as the wicked Dionyza but declaims in middle register where her voice lies rich and purring (she caterwauls in the higher octaves); Remo Airaldi is amusing for awhile as the piggy Bawd, and bit player Gilbert Owuor is evolving into a competent young actor; two years ago, I saw Mr. Owuor at Northeastern as a stiff but dignified Prospero and am amazed at how far he has come in such a short time. Where Ms. Hatzis shines on the screen as Diana; Pascale Armand, the Marina, glows upon the stage. This young actress has the most beautiful of voices: pure, bell-like and flowing in her declamation; she easily converts her lustful suitors to holier thoughts.
Oliver Henzler, cast as Lysimachus, took on Pericles for an indisposed Robert Sella; he was more believable in youth than in old age. Mr. Sella still appears in several of the filmed sequences, though, which points up a multi-media drawback: the “round” actors may come and go, but the “flat” ones remain.