Friday, December 6, 2013

Review - A Christmas Carol and Twelfth Night

I bought tickets for a couple of shows a long time ago and I have been counting the minutes until I could see them.  Sometimes, that's a bad thing - the anticipation builds and then the show doesn't live up to the expectations.  And then, sometimes, your expectations are exceeded and joy just bubbles up and out of you.  And that's how I feel today, after seeing A Christmas Carol and Twelfth Night on successive evenings.

I believe I've mentioned before that I adore Dickens and I love nearly every version of A Christmas Carol I can get my hands on.  I believe I have also mentioned before that I've seen my friend Kevin Jones' one-man version of A Christmas Carol several times and adore it more each time I see it.  Yes, you can call me a broken record, because I saw the newest incarnation of Kevin's production and it was the best yet.

Instead of presenting the show in a small black box theater, this year Kevin is doing the show at The Merchant's House Museum.  I had never heard of the Merchant's House Museum before, but rest assured I will be returning.  The Merchant's House was built in 1832 and is NYC's only 19th century home preserved virtually intact, with the original furnishings and artifacts from the original owners.  The house is beautifully preserved, with parlors and fireplaces and mirrors and holiday decorations throughout.  You go upstairs, past a lovely large room with period music playing, then you come upon the small parlor, complete with tiny Christmas tree, where the play will take place.

Photo credit: Joey Stocks
I know I reviewed the production last year, but I do want to say a few more things.  Carefully edited to around an hour, Kevin's A Christmas Carol is wonderfully compact, yet still has the scope and size of Dickens' original story.  Kevin plays all of the characters and he differentiates between all of them in amazing ways.  I swear I know how tall each character is and how each person speaks and relates to other people around them.  Body language, vocal characteristics - they're all completely distinct and clear.  Really wonderful wonderful work.  If I'm partial to the terrifying Jacob Marley and the homespun Mrs. Cratchit, well, that's me.  Each character was a unique creation.  And the skill with which Kevin (and his collaborator, Dr Rhonda Dodd) used descriptive text and used dialogue was wonderful.  As always, the section around Ignorance and Want broke my heart, and the redemption and humanity of Scrooge was a wonderful catharsis.

Doing the show in that gorgeous parlor just added another layer of holiday spirit, authenticity and theatricality to the evening.  It was really warm and wonderful and I loved every minute of it.  I give A Christmas Carol, being performed for another two weeks at the Merchant's House Museum, an enormous thumbs up.  Get your holiday season started off with a bang and go check it out.  Seriously.  Go now.  I'll wait...

Last night, I witnessed one of the best theatrical productions I've ever been lucky enough to enjoy.  Twelfth Night, featuring actor uber-genius Mark Rylance, and a whole company of dedicated, game and fantastic actors, was simply the most fun I've had for a long time.  Beautifully acted and designed, Rylance and his company are performing the show as it might have been done during Shakepeare's time.  There is no amplification, all of the costumes are constructed from materials that may have existed back then, the music is being performed on period instruments.  Even the lighting is dominated by candles (there is still some 'modern' lighting, but it's pretty unobtrusive).  Also constructed onstage are boxes of seats, for a real 'Old Globe' feel.  A handsome pal and I were in the top row of one of the onstage boxes.  It was thrilling to be so close, but I will admit that I couldn't see everything that happened on stage, and the seats were relatively uncomfortable.  I was having so much fun though, I barely noticed. 

The fun starts right at the beginning, when they let the onstage audience gather at their seats early to be able to watch the actors get into makeup and costume.  This was just such a treat and added to the whole experience.  Especially watching the men being made up to be the female characters.  Their whole process was fascinating and seriously - they left the stage as men dressed as women, and then made their entrances as women.  It was spectacular.  And they did it without trickery or false voices - just with the text and intent. 

Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Everyone in the cast was fantastic, truly.  They all told me the story and even made me feel part of it.  I laughed more than I have in a long time.  And Mark Rylance, my theatrical acting hero, did not disappoint in the least.  His Olivia begins as a quiet, mournful woman, and to watch her blossom into a flighty, overcome-by-love creature, is just a delight.  It's just amazing to me - he's a great technical actor and I can marvel at the technique, but there's also so much heart and reality.  The combination never fails to thrill me.  I was also enormously impressed with Samuel Barnett's Viola and Liam Brennan's Orsino - their scene together, on a bench, while Feste sings a mournful song, was so poignant, funny and tinged with sexual tension.  It was gloriously romantic.  Stephen Fry was a terrific Malvolio, less of an exaggerated buffoon and more like a guy in the office nobody likes.  You really felt for him and his "I will be revenged" was quite chilling in its plainness.  But really, I could single out every cast member.  From stem to stern, this whole company is sharing the same theatrical wonder with the audience.  It's quite a treat.

They've just extended Twelfth Night, so I definitely think everyone should go go go.  It's not often that Shakespeare is presented so simply, so beautifully, so understandably.  The director, Tim Carroll, didn't feel the need to impose any extra concepts on the play.  It stands on its own, as it should, and I delighted in its sheer joy of the theatricality inherent in the piece.  The romance and the tragedy.  The silliness and the wonderment.  I loved every minute of it.  Thank you, thank you to everyone involved.   I hope I get to see Richard III as well (budget will dictate whether or not I get there).  I'm just ever so glad I've been able to repeatedly experience the wonder Mark Rylance brings out in me. 


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