Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Stormy Conversation

I brought a friend, his wife and their daughter to the first preview of “The Tempest” last Thursday. The audience was made up mostly of senior citizens, whose unfiltered comments throughout the play sometimes amounted to a performance in themselves. My favorite was the guy who grew tired of the “Not too late” chorus of Andrew’s opening song and began intoning it sarcastically halfway through each verse. The most annoying was the guy who loudly explained Prospero’s final speech to his wife as it was going on (“He’s saying that he won’t leave until we clap…”)

Though you will see that my review was positive, I heard a fair amount of negative feedback about that first preview. An old friend I met at “Into the Woods” the next night said she left at intermission because she couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. And below is a back-and-forth between me and my friend about the merits of the production. So, in case you are thinking that the criticisms that get published are the toughest, you can see that there are audience-members who are much tougher than I’ll ever be.

PS: I'll update the "Now Showing" section to the left someday soon....

From my friend:

· I wasn't as impressed with Ariel as you were. He had his moments, but I thought him not quite otherwordly enough
· I thought the production was somewhat marred by the sound considerations. The band drowned out the actors not infrequently but this may have been a hazard of our seating only. I should have beeen surprised if anyone heard the content of either the first scene or Ariel's storm.
· The camp wears a little thin in this production at times. The "wedding" scene is a good example of this.

My response:

While the volume was often a bit intense, I did appreciate the quality of the band -- many productions of "The Tempest" try to get by with a few fairies playing triangles and tambourines. My appreciation of Ariel was largely because he was so earthbound -- big-ticket productions usually have him (or generally her) flying and harboring a secret love for Prospero. I thought the way they played him made him more of a counterpart to Caliban.

I agree about the camp -- a sentiment I tried to capture in the word "manic" in my description -- a lot to encapsulate in one word but that is my frustration with having to write so short. I'm often in this mid-ground of wanting to express something but then realizing to really express it would take up half the review.


Andrew Hamm said...

The "It's Not Too Late" guy is hilarious. I'll pass his complaints on to Grammy- and Oscar-winning songwriter T-Bone Burnett, whose song it is.

Agecroft is a very hard space to amplify; one wall stage right, no walls in back or left. No ceiling. Where you sit does affect it. But that's a reason, not an excuse. The fact is, due to a week of thunderstorms, Thursday was our first full tech of the show. Sound levels were still not set. The levels are a bit lower during the show now.

I find sitting in a vocal audience to be often hilarious and depressing. For example, at opening night of the Scottish Play last summer, I sat behind a couple who had clearly never seen a Richmond Shakespeare show. Actually, they had apparently never seen Shakespeare in America. One asked, "I wonder if they're going to speak in British accents and everything." The other replied, "Of course they are. This is a professional production." I groaned inwardly, predicting that we would lose this pair about six minutes into the show and never see them again.

But there's nothing like sitting with an audience full of inner-city high school students. I had the pleasure of accompanying a massive group from Henrico High School to the Blackfriars to see As You Like It. Can an experience be exhilerating and unspeakable at the same time?

Frank Creasy said...

Well - to each his own, and as a cast member it's hard to be impartial. But in fairness, the Thursday preview was not our best effort; but it WAS a preview, not an opening, and so it should be expected to have some rough edges. We definitely had them, no doubt. Projection is an issue, and we've gotten better, but the storm scene at open is intentionally chaotic. I think everyone got the idea that we were on a sinking ship, and that should be good enough for that first two minutes or so. Believe me, I aim to be heard, and so do my fellows, but the whole Tempest of the title happens right at top...then gets contrasted with Prospero's calm power and presence. I kind of think the first few minutes really kick ass. Kudos to director Anthony Lucianno for his vision.

As for "camp" during the "masque" scene, well, some might hate it, some might love it. I gotta say, the Thursday preview audience wasn't exactly the most fun-loving bunch I've encountered. Enthusiastic applause followed the curtain the next three nights. Maybe we were better; maybe audience chemistry was just different; maybe some of both. But the over-the-top masque scene, with bearded guys in drag and all is, I think, just the thing to change up the tempo and get some big laughs. Look, stuff's either funny or it ain't. This is funny. Who WOULDN'T laugh at Andy Nagrag in drag? (Though, honestly, he could stand to do a few calf raises and build up the meat on those lower legs!)

But hey - I've been in good, bad and middling productions. I think this is a pretty good one, and since I'm not one of the leads I think I can fairly objectively state that.

However, if you think that I PERSONALLY sucked, well, I completely understand. Luckily I'm only in a handful of scenes! ;>)

Andrew Hamm said...

Re: the masque

Curtain shmurtain; we've gotten applause after the MASQUE every night except Thursday.

By the way, another big group has bought out the house for this Saturday.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Very glad that you're back and saw Austin's Bridge this past week. Hope you get to see Spring Awakening yet. It remains brilliant. Welcome back!