Friday, October 03, 2003
I must apologize to the Stratford Festival. Yesterday, I wrote a scathing review of their production of Aristophanes' The Birds. I should retract my criticism. Relative to the production of Henry IV part i that I saw last night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Stratford production of The Birds was the best show I've ever seen.
I am genuinely, deeply shocked - still - by what I saw at BAM. The director, Richard Maxwell, instructed his actors not to move, not to use inflection, and only occasionally to look at each other. At the start of a scene, the actors would file on stage and begin to recite their lines in a dead monotone. When the scene is over, they file out. Occasionally the actors could no longer bear their straightjackets with equanimity, and struggled to do a little acting, but these moments didn't actually make the production bearable; rather, they threw into relief the sheer horror of what was being perpetrated on Shakespeare (and on the audience) in the bulk of the production. The "set" consisted of a cheap scrim painted in a faux-10th-grade school production manner, naught else.
This is probably Shakespeare's funniest play. But so far as I can tell, the only joke the director could think to make was, "Shakespeare; heh-heh, heh-heh." Actually, that's unfair to Beavis and Butthead; they would have enjoyed the play's many jokes on fat and flatulence, whereas Maxwell seems to be interested only in directing his afflatus at the audience. This is an abomination. My wife and I lasted 20 minutes; eleven people had walked out of the theater by the time we left.
BAM's Harvey Theater is "decorated" as a ruin: the plaster is deliberately chipped and broken, the brick walls exposed in as crude and unpleasant a manner as possible. I could imagine staging Happy Days in such a set, but the intention of the institution does not seem to be to say: this is the ruin of the world; but rather: this is the ruin we have made of the theater. Aren't we clever and above it all?
The roof should fall in and bury them alive.