The Torch-Bearers
 by George Kelly, Williamstown Theatre Festival, July 29 – August 9

Often, whether you’re a theatre-lover, an aspiring playwright, or a social historian, you’ll learn more from second-rate literature than you will from the masters. When we were students, we founded a Paul de Kock Reading Society, and to our amazement, we found that we were not reading soft-core trash, but an interesting and detailed commentary on nineteenth century Parisian society. Paul de Kock’s more literal mind absorbed observations which were ignored by Balzac and Flaubert, and even by a naturalist like Zola later on. I’m not implying that either George Kelly was second-rate. He was known as a perfectionist, and his work shows good taste and serious craft, but he was obviously no O’Neill. In The Torch-Bearers we learn far more about the Little Theatre Movement than Chekhov teaches us about Symbolist drama in The Seagull, for example.

Henry Purcell, The Fairy Queen, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

Glyndebourne is only a quarter of a gas tank away from London, but a good seat at this swanky summer opera costs as much as four barrels of crude oil. It was a privilege, therefore, that Glyndebourne’s current production of Purcell’s masterpiece from 1692, The Fairy Queen, travelled to the Proms for one night. They couldn’t bring the scenery and the stage mechanisms, which are strange and lavish to judge from photos online, but we got everything else. London reviewers were agape at the marvels of Jonathan Kent’s production, so I was eager to see how an epic chamber opera, for that’s what this is, would translate in the wide open acreage of Albert Hall.

Aeschylus’ Oresteia at Bard, translated by Ted Hughes, directed by Gregory Thompson

If I was at all distracted during the three intensely focussed performances at Bard’s Fisher Center, it was to pinch myself to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. Gregory Thompson’s production of Aeschylus’ Oresteia seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience—a satisfactory production of ancient Greek drama in English. In fact it was more than satisfactory—far ahead of anything else I have seen. In fact if I have to qualify my estimate of its success in any way, it is for purely technical reasons: Mr. Thompson concentrated on the surviving element of of Aeschylus’ work, the text, and ignored dance and music almost entirely. On the other hand he was perfectly right in deciding on this solution. Whatever dance and music one might bring in would be either an insufficiently documented reconstruction or a modern recreation in a modern idiom, and Aeschylus’ verse is sufficiently rich and complex to make it advisable to concentrate on that alone. Every actor delivered Ted Hughes’ lucid, noble, and colorful English with supreme clarity and ease, so that the audience could make close contact with the meaning and beauty of the language, as well as the elegance and expression of the actors’ delivery. The power of this brilliant production lay in its honesty and directness.

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