02 March 2007

2 out of 5 of an 'It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time' (tm) Theatre Binge

This ain't the half of it - five shows in four days - but some thoughts to share:

King Lear. With all the season-shuffling and such that the Public sometimes does, it's nice to have reminders of why my subscription (the only one I have) is worthwhile. This production - starry, sold-out, and a fine freaking piece of theatre - did the trick.

I don't use the word "genius" very often. I'm not stingy with complements - gorgeous, brilliant, awesome - but "genius" just isn't a word I use. For what Kevin Kline can do with Shakespeare, though, "genius" is the only word. Hopefully we've all seen great actors do Shakespeare, and you think you've heard it be clear, but the way these words slip so comfortably out of his mouth is just another level. Even with fantastic actors, you sometimes lose a word here or there, sometimes miss a bit of meaning, but with Kevin Kline it's like it's like it's been translated into common English. Every word makes easy sense, and it's beautiful to behold. His acting is pretty powerful, too. I'd always thought of him as that funny actor from Dave and In & Out. Silly me.

The rest of the cast is mostly wonderful. Brian Avers as Edgar takes a remarkable journey from beginning to end. Laura Odeh's Regan has this manic unhingedness that I completely loved. A few performances didn't rock my world - Logan Marshall-Green, though funny and engaging, always felt like he was acting, which doesn't work next to the heartfelt and honest performances coming from Kline, Avers, and Michael Cerveris. (I also couldn't help thinking, every so often, "Swim, swim, swim, glass." He just looks like a shark.) And it's a gorgeous production. Styled more towards an aesthetic than a particular time period (thank god), it's modernish but still in the past - Nehru jackets and hoodies, ballgowns and knee-high boots, a lot looking like early 20th-century British hunting wear, tweed jackets and such. The set is an asymmetrical scaffolding of staircases and platforms, overlooking a grid of sand covered by metal grates. The storm is beautifully stylized. The show's about three hours long and flew by. It's just extended another week - there are tickets for that, and also a small number of rush tickets for each performance. Lear is hardly my favorite Shakespeare play, but just to hear the language handled like this, it's worth it, and a fantastic production to boot.

Moving on to less satisfying things...

The Coast of Utopia, part three: Salvage. Alas. I was saying to Kate the other night that I was a bit sad about seeing this last instalment. It's been such a big deal, the months of anticipation, the thrill each time of scoring a ticket, the drama and build-up and buzz. She pointed out, "It's like finishing 'Alias.'" And it's true. When you put in that last DVD, that's it. No more seasons coming out. No more blooper reels. (Sniff.) You're just left netflixing Catch and Release and sneaking bits of Monster-In-Law on HBO.

Sadly, The Coast of Utopia went out with an Alias-caliber whimper. I loved part one, and really liked part two, but I worry that the more it centered on Herzen (the usually brilliant BrĂ­an F. O'Byrne, his intensity diffused and scattered here), the less it worked. Salvage also just got wonky in the writing - it opens with a really weird dream sequence that feels out of tone, and there are just too many scenes that serve only as historical markers. Where Shipwreck (part 2) lacked the commanding, engaging performances that were so bountiful in the first part, it centered in on personal drama. Salvage has neither the idealism and drive of part 1, nor the personal romantic intrigue of part 2. It's just about relaying events, signposts in Herzen's life. The opportunities for personal drama are just skimmed over. Ethan Hawke, as Bakunin, makes a welcome return in the second act, but there was just nothing engaging in the characters' stories. There was a lot of philosophy talked in part 1, but it worked because what mattered weren't the actual philosophies, but the needs and dreams of the people discussing them. Josh Hamilton gave the most engaging performance in this part, for my taste, but even his corner of the story just felt marked out. I'm all for epic, I'm all for intellectual, but when the story gets lost in the scope, and the ideas aren't at all related to the action, I'm not sure what there is to hold onto.

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