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2016 September 18

Streetcar Named Desire and Richard II

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What do this Tennessee Williams play and this Shakespeare play have in common? Nothing much, really other than my having seen performances of both in the past 10 days.

I saw Streetcar Named Desire opening night at the Colligan Theater produced by the Jewel Theatre Company, for which my wife and I have season tickets. We had three tickets (one for my son as well), but my wife got a bit ill (the hazards of working at an elementary school) and decided not to go. My son and I went and found it to be quite a good production.

I’m always a little worried when the artistic director (Julie James) gets cast in a major role—the perks of owning and running a theater company, I suppose. She is a decent actress, but the parts she gets cast in are sometimes ludicrously inappropriate and should be given to much younger actresses.  (Jewel Theatre does hire across a wide range of ages, but skews a bit older in their actors than, say, Santa Cruz Shakespeare—though not nearly as old as their audiences.)

For Streetcar, casting Julie as Blanche works well, given the change in culture since the play was written and the generally older age for marriage these days. What really made the production work, though, was the superb acting by Brent and Erika Schindele, who played Stanley and Stella Kowalski, and generally good acting by all the performers.  The set, costumes, and musicians were also very well done, making for a very satisfying show.  I find Tennessee Williams’  characters all rather irritating people, but I believe that is the author’s intent.

Streetcar runs until Sun 2016 Oct 2 and is worth the $43 single-ticket price ($37 for students and seniors) at the box office.

Richard II was not being performed locally—what my wife and I saw was the recording from the Globe Theatre in London, recorded last year as part of the Globe on Screen series. The performance was worth seeing, if only because Richard II is rarely performed in the US. I was only familiar with two of the monologues: Richard’s “sad stories of the death of kings” and John of Gaunt’s “On this blessed plot, this realm, this England.” I mainly know the “sad stories” monologue, because my son memorized it.

The acting in Richard was generally quite good, but I found Simon Godwin’s directing rather annoying, spoiling several scenes by playing them as farces for the groundlings. I felt particularly sorry for the actor playing the Duke of York, a very dignified and noble character torn by his loyalty to the idea of kingship while serving a very imperfect king, being forced to act the buffoon to satisfy the director’s need for low comedy. Part of the “sad stories” monologue was also played for laughs, reaching out to hold an audience member’s hand, destroying one of the strongest scenes of the play (though other bad directorial decisions had already weakened that scene).

I would say that I’ll make a point of avoiding productions directed by Simon Godwin, but truth to tell, I’ll have forgotten his name by tomorrow.

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