Posts Tagged ‘Rosencrantz Guildensterm’

Steve Beall (old man Tiresias), Melissa Marie Hmelinick (Tiresias as woman and his mother) and Christ Stinson (Oedipus, the boy, the king) in Stephen Spotswood’s We Tiresias

Jung Weil as Esther Parkr, Kenny Littlejohn as Chad Rollins & Hilary Kacser as Annie Tripper in adaptation of Sartre’s Huis Clos

Dear friends and readers,

We felt very good coming home from our last play (or event) of 14. We participated in this summer season as we had for the 10 months of HD operas at the Met in our local movie house. We’d again had a good time, though one of a different kind: there’d been the people in the tent, talk with other audience members who seemed to us to be very much people of our own spirit (we even met people of our own age who belonged or could belong to the Princeton club), with the people who made up the crews (mostly young). We’d gone nightly to and fro on the Metro (I bought several Smart Cards’ worth), walking about the DC Times Square area all around Gallery Place. We’d eaten out twice (I drank nearly 12 proseccos — what I couldn’t finish Jim knocked back), and of the many entertainments, all that we had seen were done with intense idealisms, on no-cost budgets (basically empty of scenery, often in condemned buildings), a testament to the human spirit and a DC community.

These last four I mean to write briefly about cannot be said to reflect our American culture just now the way the five I treated of (including Castleton representing the 1%) in my previous blog. Three were older or adaptations of classics, 2 British in origin, 1 French; and the fourth a modern re-telling of the Tiresias story which stuck close to the outline of Sophocles’s Oedipus story and the conventional view of Tiresias as a hermaphrodite.

Mitzi’s Abortion and The Outcasts of Poker Flat remain my two best, but I admit The Infinite Jest’s (actually the WSC people) produced an absorbingly effective Rosencrantz and Guildensterne were Dead, and Stephen Spotswood’s We Tiresias was brilliantly acted, probably directed and at a couple of moments personally moving for me. This No Exit needed to be more threatening, more uncanny, more chilling, and the 1960s Alice in Wonderland, has dated badly, to the point it seemed emptily whimsical (tedious), too much aimed at children except perhaps the Humpty Dumpty scene.


The real obstacle to praising R&G as much as I’d like to is it was cut down and we lost much of the player’s longer speeches, the actors he led were turned into mimes and acrobats (funny, highly theatrical) and we lost just about all Hamlet’s speeches and I did remember the splendid film version (with Oldman, Roth & Dreyfuss). They had so few props, and the supporting cast (so to speak), meaning Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet, Polonius, Ophelia (Shakespeare’s central personages) were weak or flaccid, melodramatic at moments, wooden (the Hamlet) at others.

Nevertheless, keeping in mind these are not characters much on stage and they were further cut, within the range of the abridgement, the principals, R & G, and the player king were a marvel.

Mundy Spears as Rosencrantz & Bill Gordon as Guildenstern

Jeffrey S. Clevenger’s attractive player king (as Jennifer Georgia was perhaps more effective than the two principals). I can’t find a photo of him in costume so offer this of him as Shylock in a previous Shakespeare production:

The abridger chose to keep all the lines about death, and so the play emerged as a kind of “no exit” except through death, which is nothing, an absence, a gap, terrifying. The experience was carried by the speeches and interactions of Mundy Spears as Rosencrantz & Bill Gordon as Guildenstern. They voiced the lines with great clarity and I listened absorbed. I got a great kick out of the player king’s burlesque mockeries and reinforcements, done with panache.


The problem with No Exit, which I suggest emerged from the juxtaposition as a kind of companion piece, was the adapter and director were too concerned to persuade us we were watching dead people. The players, Hilary Kacser as Annie Tripper, Kendawg Littlejohn as Chad Rollins, and Jung Weil (also the adapter) as Esther Park were too quiet, too sombre, not theatrical enough — though I admit the photos I found remind me that there was a good deal of physical interaction (perhaps they were chosen for this.

Rehearsing with the director

In the 1990s Jim and I saw a WSC production of No Exit and I still recall Nanna Ingvarsson as Annie Tripper as smoking neurotically, never sitting still, an electrifying outpouring of virtuoso words. I think this production wase trying for the creepy, with Thomas McGrath, as the Valet as a gothic half-zombie in a suit who never blinks his eyes. The character’s memories of the evil deeds they did, the people they miss and who are missing them, the world outside the walls was seen on a movie screen through black-and-white images. We were in a world of sad and exacerbated ghosts whose torture was what they had in their minds, rather than one another.


A matching still to the one above: each of the actors dominates in turn

We Tiresias was the one that spoke personally to me. Perhaps I identified with the aging male actor, Steve Beall, who stole the show with his wry asides to the audiences, and who I’ve seen from time to time here in Washington repertoire productions (recently Marat/Sade at the Forum). He spoke of how he gets no respect, & so did I none from the female shit running the English comp department last summer (she has treated me continually with great implicit disrespect). But I also found myself entering into the case of Oedipus’s mother holding his hand as they walked about, sexually available to Oedipus as Jocasta and yes for a time Tiresias as female. I’d never seen the Tiresias story made the focus of a play; always it was on the margins, usually with John Gielgud in the role (joke alert).

It had a flaw. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern lives on because its language has content; the wit is in service of examining beliefs, norms, acting, life. We Tiresias had not enough insight through words — plays are dependent on words for their core meaning. We were supposed to enter into the emotionalism of a given character and not led to think about what was happening. The language was just not distinguished enough either — though better than the demotic supermarket interchanges of The Children of the Mist, and spoken eloquently by the players.

We can though feel for the old man left lying on the floor, the anguished stages of a woman’s life, and an Oedipus forced to admit the truth of his experiences.


The revival of the 1960s Andre Gregory’s production of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, directed and produced by Betsy Marks Delaney was disappointing and boring — I couldn’t keep my mind on it. Though I enjoy the Disney film and think it a masterpiece of a cartoon, it is meant for children, and much of what was dramatized by Delaney came from the first volume of Carroll’s book (like the Disney film). Children fear getting too big, being too small to defend themselves; the caterpillar sequence is about being bullied as a child. Though a Looking Glass is different in mood and feel; yet even there the playwright seems to me to have thrown away characters as simply eccentric. For example, the white queen. The most effective moments were Humpty Dumpty’s, his anxieties, and his sad ending.

A friend remembered that we had seen Meryl Streep play the part of Alice in this version in the 1970s. She had been so slender that she was literally carried by relays of people across the stage. Jim remembered we saw an Alice in the 1970s aimed at burlesquing this one as pretentious and silly. That’s probably not fair to this one, but honestly I couldn’t find any discernible plot-design or character development.

As the festival came to a close, I thought about how this time it seemed the plays had less money than ever for props and costumes. Many of the venues were still condemned buildings, though this time nearly all were air-conditioned — the heat there this summer is burning. The actors were eager and self-effacing. Most all had day jobs. As a society we need them, to bring us together, to show us ourselves. The people running this festival perform a large miracle each year and are insufficiently supported.


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