a_t_rain (a_t_rain) wrote,

renaissance drama stuff

So, I'm still not dead! And I went away to New York for the weekend mid-semester, which is something I apparently haven't done since 2011, but should really do more often. I saw the Red Bull production of Webster's The White Devil on Saturday afternoon, which was clever and interesting and in a nice, intimate little theater in Greenwich Village, and I was kind of tempted afterward to skip King Lear and see it again in the evening, on the grounds that I'd seen lots of Lears and who knows when I'm going to get to see The White Devil again.

That would have been a bad, bad mistake.

OK, so I'm sitting in the cheap seats in the upper balcony, front row of the balcony, middle section. and as usual in Broadway theaters, it's super-cramped, not particularly easy to get in or out. (This will be relevant, I promise.) Just before the beginning of the performance, there's a burst of applause from below, and I see that people are turned around and giving someone in the back a standing ovation. Huh, I think, someone famous must have just walked in. And then the play starts, and I forget all about this, because there is SO much going on

This is an all-around fabulous production, and you should see it if you're anywhere near New York, or planning to visit in the next few months (it closes in July). And not just because of Glenda Jackson as the king, although she's awesome and legendary and the reason why I booked tickets in the first place. It probably isn't avant-garde enough to satisfy people who are snobbish about that sort of thing, but it's just damn GOOD, darkly funny and heartbreaking and apocalyptic in all the right places.

So, there were a couple of choices that particularly struck me, both of which had their big payoff just before intermission: First, this wasn't the first time I'd seen the Cordelia / Fool doubling, but it was the first time I'd seen it played as Cordelia actually being in disguise, rather than the two characters being played by the same actor. And while there isn't really any textual warrant for this, it did work well, with a very young, cynical Fool who eventually (just like Edgar) finds she can't daub it further, and yet she must. She does, finally, give it over at the end of the scene where Lear gets hustled off to Dover (the last moment the Fool appears in the text): just wordlessly shakes her head and stays in the hut-on-the-heath, blowing out the candles in a candelabra one by one. And we are left darkling.

Second, the Duke of Cornwall is played in this production by an actor who is deaf, with a sign language interpreter on stage. We get introduced to this in the opening scene, and I took it at first as straight-up disability accommodations for the actor, until I noticed that the interpreter wasn't translating Cordelia's asides. OK, I think, so the character is also deaf; got it. Cornwall doesn't speak at all in this first scene, he and Albany are just kind of in the background. When he does start to come into his own as a character, I found that it was pretty easy to accept the interpreter as Cornwall's voice; also part of the background. (It probably helps if you're sitting in the nosebleed seats and can't really tell where on the stage voices are coming from anyway.)

Somewhere around the end of Act 2, I had the thought (and I'm not really sure where it came from): oh, I bet the interpreter is going to be the servant who kills him. And then I started second-guessing myself, because of course the interpreter would have to be speaking Cornwall's lines and his own if they did it that way, and it would be confusing. Around the middle of the blinding scene, you could see the interpreter visibly hesitate, and it became clear that they WERE going to do it that way. "Hold your hand, my lord!" was very clearly in the interpreter's own voice, and everything after that was played out between the two of them in sign language. It turns out that it really doesn't MATTER whether the audience understands everything they are saying, and the cut to absolute silence (broken when Regan shoots the interpreter) was incredibly effective.

So I'm sitting there at intermission, a little dazed, thinking about how intimate master-servant relationships are in general in Jacobean England, and how this is the first time I've really felt that intimacy in a performance, had a sense of what it means to have served someone ever since you were a child. And it's crowded and cramped, and I have a lot to think about, so I don't bother getting up.

The guy next to me gets up. And returns slightly before the end of intermission, and says, "So, this happened." And he starts showing off the photos on his phone to anyone who will look: brand-new photos of himself with HILLARY CLINTON.

Heh. I would say I can't believe I missed a chance to meet Hillary Clinton because I was too busy thinking about the First Servant in King Lear, but actually that's the most totally on-brand thing for me ever, so I do believe it :) (Also, I'm sure I wouldn't have actually had the nerve to walk up to her and ask her for a photo, in fact I'm sure the poor woman would like to see a play without everybody pestering her, so it's all good. But I do wish we could have had a president who goes to see King Lear instead of, you know, acting like him, ugh.)
Tags: shakespeare, shakespeare in performance, theater
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