February 17, 2005

Reigen

It's too bad we don't have in English a well-known word for a specific dance that happens to go round and round. "Round Dance" seems so... clinical... compared to the original title of the play by Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler.

The play itself has a fairly sordid history; due to its lasciviousness and frank discussion of the ever-taboo topic of sex, it wasn't even performed until twenty years after it was written. It is ten scenes ("ten sex scenes!", one of our drama profs pointed out), each set as a dialogue between one man and one woman, and yes, all but one include a sex scene. (Fade to black, and the string quartet plays.) The concept was interesting, and I was overall happy to see it, but the execution was a bit hit-or-miss.

Part of the problem, I guess, is that unlike most shows (with a few leads and a bunch of supporting roles), all ten actors have essentially equal roles. And they all have exactly two dialogues, so there's not as much time to see the arc of character development: wham, bam, and that's it for that character. So most of my observations on this show are isolated ups and downs.

As big as Harbach is, I was impressed with how well Bri Benson's voice carried, when she was speaking in a clear but basically "inside" voice. This worked well for an opening scene, as it drew the audience in.

As big as Harbach is, it was sort of amazing how thoroughly one single cigar could permeate the entire space. I'm glad I'm not allergic; as it was, the air felt thick to breathe.

Confidential to MC: When the script says "tan-ta-tum", referencing the music at a dance, a little musicality is called for in delivering the line...

A lovely touch was that the stage crew, rather than their usual functional black, wore period working-class costume. The effect was almost as if an efficient house servant staff swept in to tidy up during every scene change (especially as their main function was not moving large set pieces, but changing the decorations on a few stationary ones, and clearing props).

The scene between Ann Hernandez "The Parlor Maid" and Alex Enyart "The Young Gentleman" was made by one thing: well-executed silence. Good job!

The string quartet seated on a platform upstage for the whole show (and playing during romantic interludes and scene changes) was a great touch. But, ah... they need a little more practice.

The Sweet Young Thing got saddled with the singularly most unflattering costume I remember seeing in a long time. There are perfectly good, period outfits that would have looked fine; but her skirt cut her waist funny, and the shirtwaist was this gauzy affair that bloused out and made her upper body appear to be some sort of amorphous blob. Which is really too bad; her corset fit well and looked fine, and I think she just needed different outerwear. This character also got to deliver one of the few clear continuity lines in the show---claiming to have been to a chambre séparée before, but only with a girlfriend and her husband, such an obvious lie the second time she says it that it seems clear it had been the first time as well.

I'm not sure if any of the earlier scenes had anything like this, but in two of the later ones, a stage light was rigged up to point at the floor and be patterned like moonlight through a paned window; once I noticed it, the room snapped into a higher level of reality for me. I had thought, and have said before, that the very best tech work is the kind you don't even notice, but here I'm not sure that's true---until I noticed the window-shadow as distinct from the rest of the stage lighting, it might as well have just been regular stage lighting. Great effect, though.

And what would a Knox play be without Evan Sawdey running around in his underwear? That's twice this term. (Also twice ever, that I've seen, but the last time was just two weeks ago!)

Morgan Cohen has a great presence on the stage. Her "The Actress" was suitably flamboyant and would have been a great scene-stealer if there were any scenes to steal, though the chemistry was better in her first scene than her second. She also lucks out with the best costume award: her initial coatdress and the nightgown for her second scene were great costumes, but her black and red corset was simply fantastic.

Enunciation issues were a problem all evening, usually that people were over-enunciating. Devin Hogan ran particularly afoul of this problem, probably because as The Count he was supposed to be speaking in an upper-crust accent; but he hadn't had enough vocal coaching to really pull it off. There were certain isolated snippets where he really clicked as a middle-aged war veteran nobleman (with greying hair and a goatee in my mental image, oddly enough, though Devin has neither); most of the time, though, the enunciation just sat at odds with the rest of the basically standard American dialect coming out of his mouth. Without the other features of a blue-blood or British accent, unreduced vowels and aspirated stops instead of taps just sound funny. He did a great job with the character, though, acting formally awkward in the one scene and abstractedly curious in the other, in just the way we imagine nobility would do.

And the final note: it was freezing in there. And I was wearing my usual three layers of clothing; I felt seriously sorry for the actors, who by and large were wandering around with a lot less clothing than I was. Maybe the lights kept the stage warm.

Overall, the production was fine, but a little disappointing; I was sort of expecting the mainstage to be better. (Of course, I'm coming off last week's studio show, which spoiled me.) However, while the scenes varied in quality, it was by no means a bad show. And this was just opening night... I'm sure by Saturday it'll be quite a bit better.

"Life is so short."
"Well, that's no reason to---"
"Oh, but it is!" --Reigen, Arthur Schnitzler

Posted by blahedo at 1:16am on 17 Feb 2005
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