March 8th, 2008


Old-Fashioned Girl

I had this post I was going to write, about how much I liked old-fashioned, well-made plays and musicals, with stories that actually made sense in the real world outside of Entertainment Land (where things happen just because someone in power Has An Idea). This was because I'd just seen Is He Dead? and South Pacific (this is a big theatre-going week because a bunch of things we wanted to see are closing, and Ellen got busy on TDF)--both well-made, sensible, old-fashioned plays with characters who act like themselves all the way through and plots that make emotional and logical sense, and I'd enjoyed them a lot--especially Sout Pacific, which has really worn remarkably well.

And then we went to see King Arthur at the City Opera last night.

King Arthur is a semi-opera, a peculiarly English invention that was essentially what happens when the Masque is forced to share a stage with Drama. There is a play, with speaking characters and a plot of sorts (in this case, written by Dryden, about Arthur's battle with the sorcerer Oswald (wtf?) and romance with the fair (wait for it) Emmeline). And there are songs about love and war and spring and love and Brittania and Cupid and winter. And love. By Purcell, who was a dab hand at setting words to gorgeous (and danceable) music. According to the program notes, an uncut King Arthur runs for 4 hours.

Mark Morris's King Arthur runs just under 2. He got rid of the play, and then he played silly buggers with the songs. The first song is supposed to be about the Saxon sacrifice of horses before battle. It would take paragraphs to describe what's going on on stage, but the only horses in sight are saw-horses on wheels. There are no Saxons. There's a guy in a plumed helmet, mail gloves, jeans, and a t-shirt, though. And a guy in a skirt. Later on, during a storm number, a dancer waddles on in a mallard-blue tutu and over-sized yellow ballet shoes, looking more remarkably duck-like than you could even believe. There's also a bear (wearing a brown t-shirt with "BEAR" on the front) and a giraffe and a flamingo. And (in a later scene) Old Man Winter emerges from a freezer wearing a white suit and a white fedora. Cupid wears a pink sailor-suit top and a Dutch-boy bob. And you don't even want to know about the Pastoral.

OK, you do. Parallel duets--mostly boy/girl, but also boy/boy and girl/girl--swooningly romantic and fluid, increasingly agitated, ending up in choreographed arguments, and then a reconciliation that was sufficiently heated to inspire nervous giggles and applause from the audience. The male couple downstage left was particularly inspired. And yet, it was all dance--even the simulated sex. The Methodists were right after all. Who knew?

It wasn't well-made. It didn't "make sense." It was all about a director's notions and a bunch of cool ideas. It was interstitital and witty and playful and a whole lot more forward-looking than the space program. And I loved it.

Go figure.