Theater

Landscape and A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter at the National Theatre

The observer effect. After the play Betrayal, from 1981, I lost track of Harold Pinter. London productions of his plays have the zing of authentic English irony, etched menace, and pithy delivery that doesn’t come across with American accents. One could see Pinter as an actor as late as 1995 when he appeared in the West End in a revival of an earlier work, The Hothouse. Pinter is as strange and threatening on stage as on paper, although a witty anecdote circulated around that production. Supposedly his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, phoned up the management and said, “The whole run has been so successful, Harold and I were thinking that you should have the Comedy Theatre renamed the Pinter Theater,” to which the manager replied, “Or he could just rename himself Harold Comedy.”

Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, directed by Erica Schmidt, at Bard Summerscape, 2008

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov Bard Summerscape Fisher Center for the Arts, Theatre 2 July 16, continues through July 20 translated by Paul Schmidt Directed by Erica Schmidt Mark Wendland, set designer Michelle R. Phillips, costume designer David Weiner, lighting…
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TR Warszawa: Grzegorz Jarzyna’s Macbeth 2008 by the Brooklyn Bridge

Danuta Stenka and Cezary Kosinski as Hecate and Macbeth.

In preparing this review—more in that than in actually witnessing the performance—I had to remind myself that this is not the play which has come down to us as Shakespeare’s Scottish Play with some conspicuous additions by Thomas Middleton, as well as some other cuts and adjustments. It is rather <i>Macbeth 2008,</i> Gzregorz Jarzyna’s adaptation of the play. What made this hard was that it resembled Shakespeare’s play in so many ways that I couldn’t help thinking about it and making comparisons. Jarzyna’s spectacle even includes several excerpts from the best-known speeches in the play, inserted into the crude, obscenity-ridden dialogue that Jarzyna has created in the style of contemporary Hollywood film, especially the work of his hero, Ridley Scott. If I had been able to attend the lecture Jarzyna gave at the Polish Cultural Center about a month before the much-publicized opening of his show, I’d have been better prepared, and perhaps more resistant to comparisons with the Jacobean play, so admirably presented by a company from the Chichester Festival barely a mile distant from its venue in the armpit of the Brooklyn Bridge. All Mr. Jarzyna’a lights, noise, and bodily fluids amounted to pretty feeble stuff in comparison with the all-too-familiar words of the old play. His purpose is to present the story of Macbeth as a nightmare, as if the play were not nightmarish enough in itself.On the other hand, it was great fun to be there in the Tobacco Warehouse, a brilliant arrangement, brilliantly executed by St. Ann’s Warehouse, which itself stands across the street.

That Face at the Duke of York’s Theatre by Polly Stenham

Tube riders litter the train with newspapers, which other riders pick up to alleviate their boredom. Coming home last night I saw a grisly headline on one of these throwaways, “Sixth Stab Murder in Week of Death.” In London? The first sentence of the story was horrifying. “A schoolboy has been stabbed to death with a foot-long knife by a gang of thugs in south London.” It was within memory that a single shooting death made national news. Compared to America, the UK is still a kingdom where the lion lies down with the lamb. Verbal and psychological violence are another matter.

Anthony Neilson, Relocated, at the Royal Court Theatre

Clouds over Sloane Square, and the posh and spicy girls known as Sloane Rangers weren’t tramping around with a slew of shopping bags over their arms. Or not that I could see two days ago.A wag has renamed them the trustafarians, which seems to be sticking. I had a drink with a new friend named Warwick and told him that he and I were the only two people in the bar named after castles. “Presumably,” he said.We had met while waiting to troop into the tiny, dark, primitively ventilated Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre to be assaulted by Relocated, a stage provocation that has divided the critics while scaring off the public.

Henrik Ibsen, Rosmersholm, Almeida Theatre, Islington

Far from celebrating our independence day, the British are probably trying to forget America and the whole era when Tony Blair was Bush’s poodle. After a miserably cold, damp spring, there was a national scare over strawberries – specifically, that the crop would go moldy and rot in the fields. Strawberries and cream are de rigeurfor finals at Wimbledon. Now it’s finals weekend and the berries came through. But there’s a smell of black mold seeping out under the doors of the tiny Almeida Theatre in Islington. Ibsen is afoot, and the fate of souls is being tossed around on stage like a medicine ball. A very heavy medicine ball.

George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara, National Theatre, London

The long nights are already on the wane, but one leaves the theatre with a glow on the horizon, and a newspaper can be read outdoors well after nine o’clock.Fresh off the plane (i.e., as grungy as five-day-old socks) I tried not to go groggy at the National Theatre’s production of Shaw’s Major Barbara. Putting on a play by Shaw is like sticking your head out of a foxhole to see who shoots. Nobody could be more fusty and out of favour (perhaps the two Barries, James and Philip), but the London critics were mostly happy and none were snarky.

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts

A Scene from August Osage County

As I mulled over the play I had just seen, the much-acclaimed August: Osage County, over some bad, overpriced feijoada, I found myself probing around for just what had been lacking in the evening. I left the Music Box Theater thinking that it was perhaps not that strong a play. I liked its length (or perhaps out on the Plains people would conceive it as breadth) and its rambling quality. Most of its dozen characters were unattractive in one way or another, but I’d grown fond of them over the past three hours. On the other hand, I perhaps felt mildly frustrated that I didn’t know more about the characters, that too much was left open. (I won’t retell the story here. If you can’t quite follow the following streamof dysfunctional relatives, you should see the play or read it. You won’t regret it.) I found myself wondering what brought Bev together with Violet in the the first place. There must have been something, before the pills and the alcohol took over.

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