Sunday, January 13, 2008

Comments almost as long as the play

Great article in STYLE about "Acts of Faith"!, Dave. I am sure that if Pat Robertson buys the Virginia Pilot papers he will like articles about stuff like that. Noticed that the article was listed under "Music" on the Contents page and that you are also credited with writing a story about Doug Richards which apparently you did not. The place really falls apart when Brandon is on vacation, eh?

Well this culture vulture is having a fab weekend so far. Henley Street's "Spanish Tragedy" Friday night, the Latin Ballet's, "Legend of the Pointsetta" yesterday and this evening will find me and my family at Barksdale for BJ Kocen's "Stretchin' at the Barksdale" concert series. How will the laundry ever get done?

I enjoyed my evening with Henley Street from start to finish and since I am not reviewing the play, I am free to express my opinions on the blog. I want to congratulate Henley's Artistic Director, Alex Prevetera, on understanding the principle of "A little bit up with each production". Stoner Winslett, of the Richmond Ballet told me that this was the success of her "Nutcracker" production; twenty six years ago, when she took over the show, she contacted a mentor from New York who said that the secret to show biz success is to take the production "a little bit up" every year. In the case of Henley Street I saw a wonderful growth between their first production to their second.
From theup-grade of food at the opening reception to the quality of the performances, set, and tech I think they have "gone a little bit up". I was most impressed with the much improved line delivery and stage presence of Michael Slater who is clearly working very hard and getting some excellent training.
The general level of performances was at Richmond Shakespeare level- good solid performances but in my book could still work on character depth and taking the song out of the text - and sometimes there is that playing the mood of the scene thing that makes me nuts. That is not a slam (I see the avalanche of outraged responses in my mind). Everyone can always improve. That is part of what keeps us going to theater- watching companies and performers grow and get better. This is acompliment to HS. It is their second production and they are doing great! "The Spanish Tragedy" is no cakewalk either. It has a lot of elements that are problematic onstage regardless of who is producing it ie: lots of murders, blood, death scenes and what can be difficult text. Choices have to be made about how to show blood or not show blood, if yes, how to show the blood- metaphorically by means of silk scarves or ribbons etc or with reality in mind using sticky slimy glycerin and food color which is messy and can be dangerous on a stage with lots of scene changes. But a clear choice must be made and I feel it was not. The audience is taught to suspend it's disbelief for all the bloody parts until Hieronimo bites out his tongue at the end. Great effect- blood pouring out of his mouth- but a little confusing after no other blood in the show. And it is always trouble for actors to die onstage. All that being still and breathing can get in the way of a convincing death.
Costumes are an issue with this show as well. Someone please tell me what era was being portrayed here or was the idea not to have a specific era? I saw a variety of last century decades of clothing parading across the stage and what looked like aluminium foil crowns on actor's heads. At one point an actress came out with half her hem fallen out and Pedringono's skirt was work sideways so she could have use of what should be the zippered back as a pocket. Attention to detail is one of those things that separates the good from the great. A cohesive design thread can be really helpful if you are mixing eras otherwise it just looks like someone ran around to thrift stores in order to have something on the actor's bodies.
I would like to see a little more scene work on the love scene between Horatio and Bel-Imperia- I just was not getting that they are really hot for each other at all. I mean he has got to be "something" enough to make her forget her beloved late husband so quickly. And she has to be "something" enough to be tempted. The audience needs to feel that.
Ok- enough whining. Back to the good stuff...I already said how great it is to see Michael Slater grow as an actor...what a joy to have Stephan Ryan in this show. I am pleased to see top shelf actors like him supporting this company. Stephan is great. So understated and with that wonderful gift for bringing reality into this difficult verse.
David Bromley has also taken his performance "a little bit up".
Dean Knight seems to be the only person who truly understands the benefits of comic relief in a tragedy. He is charmingly sadistic in his bit about the non-existence of a pardon for Pedringano.
It was nice to finally meet Frank Creasy, a frequent blog respondent, after the show. He plays the lead, Hieronimo. A complex and wordy part. This part is intense. Frank, get Alex to pay for a full body massage before next weekend- you deserve it. A tad more relaxation and depth of character would serve this performance- I bet much of this tenseness was due to opening. I personally would have been a basket case.
Kerry McGee and Leslie Cline both put in good performances as Bel-Imperia and The Viceroy of Portugal despite completely strange and seasonally conflicting costumes.
So now I have commented on this show almost as long as the show itself. I am sure I could go on but it is time to make breakfast.

Keep up the good work Henley Street. You are on your way to being a real contender and I for one am proud of you. You are brave, smart, and moving forward. Just the kind of new blood we need around here to keep everyone working and on their toes.

Looking forward to Dave's review coming out soon.


Dave T said...

Hey Mary,
When my review comes out, you'll see that I had some of the same reactions as you did to "Spanish Tragedy." Additional 'off the cuff' comments to come soon!

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate the kind words, thank you very much; I hope I don't come across as ungrateful when I do correct the name though. It's Michael Sater.