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October 22nd, 2010

Catching up + Orlando

Argh!  I'm behind.  Again.  Still.  I'm resigned to the fact that I'll probably never get around to writing about Laurie Anderson or La Bete, which we saw BC (Before Colorado).  It will have to suffice to say that my love for Laurie Anderson is deep and strong, even when I can't follow what she's doing.  I love it that she takes chances and plays with technologies and tells stories in strange and wonderful ways.  She's been interstitial since the beginning, and is certainly one of the reasons I'm drawn to weird-ass, unclassifiable art and artists like Rinde Eckert.  That said, Delusions is not my favorite of her pieces, being a little full of odd images projected on too many screens at the same time and screechy/scratchy music for my taste.  But she was fascinating, as always, to watch, and she talked about love, death, the seasons, families, and showed lots of pictures of leaves, which are among my favorite topics.  So that was all right.

La Bete was a bit more problematical.  On the one hand, what's not to like (for someone like me) about a modern play in rhymed couplets, set in 17th C. France, that includes a playwright and a princess and a theatre troupe, a set paved with books, references to Moliere and Voltaire, and Mark Roylance, with whom I've been deeply in love ever since I saw him as Olivia in the Globe Twelfth Night?  On the other, there were poo-poo jokes and flatulence jokes and quite a lot of comedy of humiliation, which (as you know Bob) is far from being my cup of tea.  Yes, I know the 17th Century was big on toilet humor--I've read Gargantua and Pantagruel, and I didn't like them, either.  Call me a prude.  It's a fair cop.

Mark Rylance was brilliant as a crude, egotistical street clown thrust into a company of tragedians by their noble patroness.  David Hyde Pierce, as the company's high-minded playwright, does a beautiful slow burn and delivers an impassioned defense of serious theatre.  And I loved Joanna Lumley, who played the Princess like Patsy on downers.  The play itself is flawed, I think, by a lack of dramatic tension, a lot of repetition, and a certain smug didacticism, which even got to me, who sings in the choir of this particular high-cultural church.  The critics loved it.  I liked it fine.

Which brings me to Orlando, which we saw as a Sunday matinee, at its final performance.

I wanted to love it, I really did.  And I did like it.  The acting was good, the set interesting (a huge mirror suspended over an astroturfy plot), the adaptation faithful.  They'd decided to stick entirely to Woolf's words, so there was as much narrative as dialogue, reporting and description as actual scenes.  Orlando and Sasha were portrayed by women.  Everybody else, male and female alike, was taken up by one of the three men who served as a kind of chorus.  Orlando looked kind of like Tilda Swanton, without, sadly, the intensity.  Sasha was a dish with an uncertain Russian accent and a habit of skating in slow motion at the back of the stage at psychological moments.  The ubiquitous David Greenspan camped Queen Elizabeth into incomprehensibility, and what he did with the Romanian archduchess who is actually a duke was, well, extreme.

I sound like I hated it, don't I?  But I didn't.  Woolf's prose remains Woolf's prose, and her meditations on gender and time and human relationships and poetry and love and death are as beautiful on the tongue as they are on the page.  The scene of Orlando's transformation from man to woman was wonderful, her scenes with the man she ends up marrying touching.  My main problem with it, I think, was the sheer number of layers of artifice the production put between me and the action.  The artifice of the acting, the almost Kabuki-like staging, the great hunks of narration tossed among the actors, the choreographed sequences of dreamy movement that accompanied passages of description or philosophy--all conspired to come between me and emotional engagement with what was going on.  To be fair, I'm tired, and that might have had something to do with my slightly jaundiced view of the play.  Maybe I should just go re-read Orlando and be done with it.

We're seeing Romeo and Juliet tonight, at Pace University.  I'll try to write about it tomorrow, while it's still fresh in my mind.

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