Brooklyn Academy of Music
The play is a study in contrasts with the blindingly white stage vs. ripping, visceral emotions, a Medea for our time in which Jason is Lucas, who makes designer pharmaceuticals, and Medea is Anna, once a physician and successful head of the lab where both worked. Anna has been driven mad by rage, sparked by her husband’s infidelity. Rage and instability take over until she ends up destroying herself and everyone around her.
I only managed to get to The Beauty Queen of Leenane on its very last day at BAM, a Sunday matinee—in fact Super Bowl Sunday. This momentous annual event seemed to have little effect on McDonagh fans, and BAM's Harvey Theater was nearly full. The audience was of more than the usual interest, because, as the play took its course, many members of the audience seemed to know what was going to happen in advance. Only the special decorum of legitimate theater seemed to prevent some of them from calling out the lines ahead of the actors, as was the practice of denizens of the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square at the Study Period screenings of Casablanca. These people had seen the show at the BAM run at least once before, and in many cases, I'm sure, back in the late 1990s, when it catapulted its author Martin McDonagh to fame and fortune. On the other hand, the audience was alive to the affecting events in the story, gasping or ahhing at unpleasant turns of events, as they unfolded.
This is probably the best occasion for me to come out of the closet and confess my secret vice—a mild fondness for the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. A viewing of NYGASP's The Yeomen of the Guard with an entirely unvictorian companion set me to thinking about certain genres of theatre and opera in which performance practices are prescribed by tradition or even some legal entity. NYGASP is well-known for throwing in a few uncanonical details, but basically they cleave to D'Oyly Carte's no longer legally binding restrictions, because their audience of devotees expect that—in fact they derive great pleasure from stage routines which have no meaning whatsover in contemporary theater outside of a G & S. Perhaps the tastes of loving audiences have proven more binding than the D'Oyly Carte copyrights.
While I sought tickets for this production with alacrity, I approached my seat at BAM's Harvey Theater with some misgiving, and it had nothing to do with Santo Loquasto's elegant, perceptive, and functional set, which was in plain view on stage. It was rather the recurrent suspicion that a prominent Hollywood actor's visitations of the stage so often turn out to be indulgences more nourishing for the actor's ego than for the audience. Perhaps Kevin Spacey's Richard III haunted the stage like the king's murdered relatives. But, if you consider Turturro's career, his experience on stage is extensive, and he is hardly a mainstream Hollywood actor. As the play began and especially once Mr. Turturro appeared, I couldn't help watching closely for some weakness or affectation that might undermine the role. What a terrible attitude to see a play, I admit!
This production of Shakespeare’s Richard III has reached BAM after a sold-out run at the Old Vic and a tour which included Epidavros, Istanbul, Naples, Sydney, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and San Francisco, among others. This reminded me of the sort of thing the British Council does, but of course this Shakespearian globe-trotting was a private enterprise, funded largely by Bank of America and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. And course the whole point of the production’s parent organization, The Bridge Project, was to combine British and American casts. Perhaps there should be an organization beyond the British Council to cultivate, study, and promote the global English language, as it used on the streets and in literature around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, Guyana, and others. And the way English is behaving in the physical and cyber-world today, it may need some international body to encourage it in good manners, kicking it under the table, when it starts to monopolize the conversation.
It occasionally strikes me, to my own bemusement, that walking along a street on an average day, I might have in my pockets as many as three devices capable of recording pictures, even moving pictures, and perhaps two for recording sound. Modern technology has given ordinary people—anyone—an unprecedented ability to make precise literal records of what can be heard and seen at any given time and place. Using a device smaller than my hand I can create a seamless journal of sound, text, still images, and movies, if I choose, but I refrain. I rarely put these capabilities to use—only if there is something extraordinary...like the bizarre Australian accent of a tour guide on the Palatine last year, as he spun absurdities to his rapt crowd. (I wasn't fast enough...) I am wary of these literal records. Are they the death of memory? Even during my undergraduate years, when the goings-on had every appearance of memorable times, I eschewed keeping a diary, taking notes, or even taking pictures. If I ever wrote about those times, I wanted to write from memory, with all its confusions and conflations, believing that someone else would be keeping an accurate chronicle of events to rescue me, if I needed it.
The Brooklyn Academy of Music, chose to open their 150th anniversary celebrations with a more recent, but no less historically significant commemoration, and typical of the innovative, constantly exciting work BAM has been doing since the 1960s. This was nothing less than a “recreation,” as the program calls it, of Jean-Marie Villégier’s watershed production of Lully’s Atys, with music by Les Arts Florissants, conducted by William Christie. This production, organized by the Paris Opera to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Lully’s death, went through 70 performances between its premiere in December 1986 in Prato, and its second revival in 1992, closing finally at BAM after its second run there.
“The Diary of a Madman”
by Nikolai Gogol
Adapted by David Holman with Neil Armfield & Geoffrey Rush
Directed by Neil Armfield
Set design by Catherine Martin
Costume design by Tess Schofield
Lighting design by Mark Shelton
Sound design …