|itinerary < 27 August Ashland 29 August >
Ashland 28 August 2018
Hank-Five in the Thomas theater, the 'small' theater. Three-quarters Thrust, spare set.
They had me before the lights dimmed: four of the company speaking the chorus that sets the piece:
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
Tears in my eyes, my heart thumping, the glorious words sweeping over me. We have now seen the whole Richard-the-Tooth, Hanks 4.1 and 4.2, and now Hank-five tetralogy in quick succession, both parts of Hank 4 in one day in this theater last year. Of course I have read them repeatedly, but seeing them so vividly, powerfully produced, is a profound gift for a lover of language like me.
Sure, and there were bits I didn't understand. I would benefit from seeing all of these plays again and again; probably bingeing on them, just like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars ...and these plays are more than 400 years old! Still, all about the costs and benefits of leadership, the qualities of good leadership and bad, of heart versus mind, depth versus surface ...all the issues that matter, if anything, more today than in 1599 when written. And, ultimately, much more weighty and meaningful than those other showy modern serializations we make so much of.
Then there is sadness to the OSF experience in 2018. 39 empty seats in the theater that's usually so hard to get tickets for. Maybe 7 or 8 persons in the audience under age 30. How many over 65? Practically all. And why's that? Is it, truly, a failure of modern education, that most of those in their middle years, younger than 65, cannot appreciate, and do not seek out Shakespeare? Is that because the values that go with such an appreciation are dying along with my generation? Or is it simpler: since these plays are not about smartphones, the accumulation of wealth, self-aggrandizement, submission to distraction,and the life of the mind ...then are they of no interest?
THAT's the puzzle the OSF folks need to work if their operation is to survive.
The Way the Mountain Moved: a dud. Disorganized, unintelligible. Maybe it made some sense to the playwright, and even the acceptance committee at OSF ...but not to the actors and certainly not to the audience. No standing O – haven't seen that in years. The actors came out for the standard bow, but the applause was bewildered and half-hearted, and they immediately turned around and scuttled backstage.
Fully in-the-round, but that didn't seem to have any relevance, except for more chairs in the theater. 27 empty seats and a total of 3 in the audience under 30.
Next day: we have puzzled about what went so wrong with this play. The only relatable relationship was a young girl and a mute whose communications were (poorly) projected above the stage. Most of the rest of the characters were out-of-place (and that was undoubtedly true in 1850 when the play supposedly took place, so points for verisimilitude, but not in a play, please!) and clearly wondering what they were doing there. But mostly, there were so many missed opportunities, dramatic strands that could have been taken up and woven into something enjoyable. Looking back a day, this just looks like a piece of crap hustled out by a hack for an honorarium, and we should be embarrassed to have contributed.
The preponderance of 'social awareness' plays strikes me as part of OSF's problem. If your audience is primarily old, entitled, and white, it seems particularly unwise to book half your plays (like Mountain) that scold your audience for being entitled and white. Shakespeare criticizes greed, arrogance, short-sightedness, and selfishness subtly, and with surgical precision. Mountain, Manahatta, and several other plays we have seen here recently – or have avoided – are blatant, broad, and bombastic in their blaming of the dominant, well-to-do, property-owning, racist, climate-change-denying, resource hogging population – OSF's core audience – for their behavior. They have even gone out of their way, has OSF management, in their effort to be 'representative of the American populace,' to commission and produce one or more of these scolding pieces every season for at least half a dozen years.
I wonder why the OSF audience is dwindling.
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