Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toil, Trouble & Hurlyburly for Macbeth at Rockwood

Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare's great tragedies. There's murder, battles, psychosis and supernatural portents. Characters are malicious, avaricious and (in the case of the title character envisioning a dead Banquo), fictitious.
Founder of DE Shakespeare Festival and this production's director, Molly Cahill McGovern chose the straightforward path, trusting both the text and her actors to engage the audience in the allure of these wondrous words, the images they create in your mind and the drama of the conflict. This approach is successful.
Aisle Say had forgotten much of the luxuriant phrases from “Macbeth” which are part of our language today: “double, double, toil and trouble”, “nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it”,“screw your courage to the sticking place”,”what's done cannot be undone”, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace, etc”.
It's an honor for an actor to be cast in a Shakespearean play. He learns far more from the experience than does the audience. It's not merely in the speaking of the words. That is not enough. Great Shakespearean actors are enraptured by the rhyme, the meter, the poetry and the basic human condition applying to all us that the words convey.
This was the issue Aisle Say had with the title character played by David Blatt. He never dropped a line. Yet rather than caressing the words he declaimed them. His portrayal of the character's devolution into madness was too abrupt; a progression into insanity would have been more believable.
Lady Macbeth (Allyson Sands Good) used the different octaves of her speaking voice to portray her wicked machinations. She projected a queenly, patrician demeanor. She was particularly effective in the scene where she attempts to wash Duncan's blood from her hands, “out damn spot”.
Banquo (Adam Altman) and Macduff (Erik Mathew) are fine actors. One could see in both the 'thinking' going on before they spoke. This aspect made the prose more believable. Mathew's reaction and soliloquy on the murder of his wife and children at the hands of the now psychopathic Macbeth was both sincere and dynamic.
It is picturesque to sit on a blanket or lawn chair at Rockwood. The backdrop of the Mansion is powerful. Some guests bring picnic baskets. At sunset, the lighting (the castle was lit in blood red) provides drama and focus and makes the audience feel part of the action.
This production is short by Shakespearean standards. Length sometimes creates problems with those not completely enamored of the words of The Bard. However, Aisle Say suggests the entire audience was engaged through the proceedings.
Delaware Shakespeare Festival has come a very long way in their span. They use actor apprentices who will remember their lines for the rest of their lives. They've been averaging 300 people on weekends; a very good sign that Will is alive and will continue to prosper in Delaware.
Tickets are quite reasonable and this is a wonderful way to introduce your children or grandchildren to Shakespeare.
Till July 31. Online only.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Candlelight enchants with OZ

When Dorothy Gale entered Oz, Judy Garland entered immortality. The movie has been seen by almost every child who has seen a movie. Judy will live forever in our hearts. ‘Rainbow’ is the most popular song ever; a mystical, lyrical and melodic story of a child’s spiritual passage from adolescence to adulthood.
“The Wizard of Oz” speaks to our feelings, not our intellect. It comforts and inspires. Children identify with Dorothy with their fears; adults identify with their dreams. She teaches all of us that we can confront our threats – real or imagined - and determine our own future.
And there were several moments during New Candlelight's staging of “Wizard” that rouse the very emotions that spring forth when we watch the iconic movie.
The first came with Dorothy's (Erica Scanlon Harr) “Rainbow”. She wisely did not attempt to mimic “Judy” (who can?) but sang with the sweet and delicate innocence of her character.
The second moment came with the entrance of the Munchkins. There was a collective and involuntary “Ahhhhh” pulsing through the audience owing not only to their overwhelming cuteness but also to the masterful costume design of Timothy Lamont Cannon. Some of the Munchkins were adult (petite ones at that) and some were kids. The wigs on the latter were hysterical.
A third moment was the appearance of Toto. Sadly, this very small actor was not credited in the program (How could they do that in his first stage show?) Aisle Say believes him to be a real dog and a Yorkie at that.
The server at the table I shared with my dear sister Liz and new found friends from Elkton was dance Captain Alexis DeDonato; an extremely versatile actor who has appeared in the last several shows. Another facet of her talent was revealed as The Mayor of Munchkinland. She obviously worked hard on the characterization and her voice sounded as if it was generated through a synthesizer.
One of the challenges that director Sonny Leo and Three Bakers music director veteran Jim Weber faced was the strong association we all have with the Lion, Woodsman and Scarecrow. They are tough acts to follow down the Yellow Brick Road. Was there a more limber dancer than Ray Bolger? We laughed til we cried at his pratfalls. Well, Sonny may have found him in Scarecrow (David McConney). The actor has a very strong voice and was ever consistent in that gangly manner of walking and dancing.
The spinster we love to hate Miss Gulch/WW of West (Marie Howey) spate out her diatribes to the foursome along their golden path as if she were burning at the stake (which is kind of how she ended up). Her body movements accentuated the crankiness of her personality. Being mean is a blast. I can imagine five year old Munchkin Thomas Stinson steers a wide path around her backstage.
A fourth moment was the image of the wizard himself. I credit the leadership of NCT with the tough financial decision to commission Hob Hollow Studios to create this fanciful and wondrous puppet head with a mouth that moved. Huzzahs!
Sonny also choreographed. The main number was the “Jitterbug”. While the costumes were bee-utiful, Aisle Say has also questioned the relevance of the number to the progress of the plot.
Great theatrical value – dinner and theatre for $55.00 per!
Til August 29. Groups welcomed 302.475.2313
The company also offers periodic Comedy Nights. See the web site.
Aisle Say has not seen the critic for the other statewide newspaper at various events lately and his byline is not appearing. The performing arts need exposure to survive.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Brandywiners stage GUYS & DOLLS

Damon Runyon is my favorite writer of short stories. He received neither peer nor critical acclaim due him in his own time or postmortem. My theory is that it is because of the subjects of his tales: gangsters, hustlers and women of so so repute who went by the colorful monikers of “Nathan Detroit”, “Big Jule” or “Dave The Dude”, Runyon was shunned by polite society. Gambling was a common theme. It was easier for the hoi polloi to herald accounts of patricians fictionalized in “The Great Gatsby” and similar ephemera.
Curling up with a Runyon anthology will make you laugh out loud. During his lifetime he was one of the most read authors and columnists in America. He developed his own vernacular. He always wrote in the present tense. He never used contractions. The slang he created has become part of our language: doll = woman; pineapple = hand grenade; roscoe = gun, noggin = head. Who can't like an author who writes about a doll, “the men around (the doll) are bachelors...or at least wishin' they were bachelors,” or describing a serial gold band chaser, “she was married twice by preachers, twice by justices of the peace and once by a captain of the sea.”
His short story “Little Miss Marker” was turned into a movie and was the break through for Shirley Temple. His “Idylls of Sarah Brown” became one of the greatest and most beloved musicals, “Guys & Dolls”; the lively screen version hampered only by the most egregious miscasting of talent in motion picture musical history with the non-singing Marlon Brando as the singing leading man, Sky.
For the first time in their eight decade history, The Brandywiners mount “Guys & Dolls”. Director Henry Porreca has gathered around him three experienced community theatre veterans for the leads, Jeff Santoro as Sky Masterson, Debbi Hollingsworth Arnold as Sarah.Brown and Joe Francisco as Nathan Detroit. Newcomer Nance Weber rounds out the leads playing the Detroit's long suffering girlfriend doll, the lamentable Adelaide.
Aisle Say had the opportunity to visit a rehearsal this week. Boxed in by the large cast required to fill the voluminous Longwood Gardens stage, this rehearsal coursed like most others in community theatre: music directors stopping the chorus in mid note to harangue them for not cutting off their consonants; stage directors pleading for the bit players to stay in character, and the overall unevenness of skill level particular to amateur actors.
Having been in a few Brandywiner productions, performing at Longwood is a very special experience. The dressing rooms are subterranean, beneath the high steps and expansive grass area used for impressive grand entrances. For the audience - on a serene and star studded summer night - it's a magical musical moment in time. Tickets come with free entrance to the gardens, so an entire afternoon or evening may be spent there.
Proceeds from ticket sales fund a variety of arts and cultural institutions in Delaware. Aisle Say's vote for next year's show is KISMET; a perfect environment for its lush music.
6 performances July 29-August 7 302.478.3355