A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Theater

A Singer’s Notes 82: Ondine and King Lear

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Maizy Scarpa as Hans in "Ondine." Photo: © John Sutton
Maizy Scarpa as Hans in “Ondine.” Photo: © John Sutton

Ondine, by Jean Giraudoux at Hubbard Hall

Much credit must be given to Theatre Company of Hubbard Hall’s John Hadden for putting up an “Ondine” that was not an exercise in nostalgia. There was also an excellent kind of sharp energy in the Ondine of Autumn Hausthor. This was not a passive immortal, but a quirky, even annoying, young creature. Her performance flavored the whole production. I also was invested in the performance of Gino Costabile, who did all of his roles, especially The Old One, convincingly. Maizy Scarpa was a model of versatility as Hans, all again with a kind of sharp insouciance that kept the play from sentimentalizing. Best of all, as so often, was Doug Ryan as the King. Ryan has a true comic gift in which we see the tears behind the laughter, the pathos in the one-liners. He did a superb job of portraying the King’s sad bewilderment and also his kindness. Mr. Ryan’s performance, brief as it is, is well worth the trip to Cambridge, NY.

No one could ask for a better home for Giraudoux than Hubbard Hall. The Theatre’s managing director, Benjie White, told the audience that the beautiful wooded scene on the flats used in the first scene was painted in 1905, and it looked to the manor born. The comfortable size and old-theatre smells of the place take us to another world. Who would have thought that these beautiful flats were painted by someone who lived in Cambridge 100 years ago? They would have fit perfectly in a production of Debussy’s great opera “Pelleas et Melisande”, also a Symbolist drama which ends up in the separation of the lovers. The ambience itself was a character in this performance. I could easily seem to be in an old, off the way Parisian house.

All in all, an enjoyable, worthwhile, light-hearted nostalgia held the day, and was well-worth the trip.

– – – –

Shakespeare and Company Fall Festival

King Lear, performed by Mt. Greylock Regional High School

So here’s how it goes: You’ve got to be kidding – a 17-year old girl playing King Lear? Let me say at the outset that the 17-year old girl is my student, Evelyn Mahon, and what I write about her here is if anything an understatement. I profess to be a slave to honesty in this one. Hers was a performance remarkable in every way. Lear is the emblem of paternity in the lineage well-known to Jacobean London – God, King, Father. The problem is this: we have to somehow hold in our minds throughout the play that Lear, though daft, is dearly loved, especially by his youngest daughter Cordelia. The whole first scene is set up to bolster his over-weaning ego, and a severe punishment is meted out to the daughter who does not comply – the daughter who loves him most – and who later as an angelic figure is fundamental to his recovery from a madness both human and meteorological.

Back to Evi. First of all she has voice. She did not speak like a teenager whose directors had encouraged her to shout it out. She mastered different volume levels, each of them fully audible and commensurate with the spoken sentiment. Her voice had power, not always loudness, but power. Evi is the mistress of silence. She knows how to listen, how to hear for the first time the lines coming from the other actors. She has a clear sense of her own limits, and the limits of a role as histrionic as Lear. For her, acting is a hearing thing. I heard in this something which she learned perhaps from Olympia Dukakis’s assumption of another iconic male role, Prospero in “The Tempest” last summer – how she listened slowly in the first dialogue with her daughter Miranda.

But best of all, Evi has the most important gift which is something I can only call heart. It is that thing that reaches out to the person in the sixth row, entirely mysterious, and each actor makes it up from different ingredients. None of them has the full measure of it. But this young woman has an awful lot.

Gender is a very fluid thing in Shakespeare’s works. His own company involved men and boys of various ages, and I’m sure, various sexual orientations. So finally I ask you, is it any more unusual to see a 14-year old boy as Cleopatra than it is to see a 17-year old young woman as King Lear? Sure, with Evi you noticed it at first, but not for long. Then the large, proto-role that it is takes over, and she commanded it. Love between a parent and a child is not conscripted by gender. Evi’s performance convinced us of this.

It was a large and moving experience to go to this play, with a gaggle of kids sitting in the pit, as they call it, somehow coming up with a visceral response to every complex verbal construction the Bard gave them. I got the clear sense that the kids had a hold of it, when we parents sometimes missed. They become one ear, one brain, one heart, as they listen. And this makes the Fall Festival one of the most moving experiences you can have in our blessed county.

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