Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Angel Moore in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Photo Kevin Sprague.

A Singer’s Notes 96: Vanya and Sonia and Sasha and Spike at Shakespeare and Company; The Mousetrap at Dorset Theatre Festival

I heard Matthew Penn’s direction of Christopher Durang’s Chekhov play as a collision of energies—almost a rant against reticent Chekhov and his gazing, yearning characters. The play depends pretty much on the performance of Masha, an aging movie actress. Elizabeth Aspenlieder had all that was needed to make this character work.

Susie Sokol, Becca Blackwell, Julia irna-Frest in Seagull (Thinking of you). Photo Michael De Angelis.

A Singer’s Notes 63: Shakespeare Loud and Chekhov Soft

As one might expect from disciples of Kristin Linklater, the Conservatory actors at Shakespeare and Company gave us a vigorous and clear performance of this problematic work. Awash in Marlovian heroics, it comes close to farce with its constant switchbacks. I got a sense from these young actors that they had connected with the kind of voice it must have taken to get through a play like this at The Globe. It was a strong kind of speech, sometimes close to shouting, out of fashion these days, the influence of film being heavy in our theaters. It fit well with the ranting nature of the text and had enough energy to hide its weaknesses as well as support its strengths.

The Cherry Orchard at The National Theatre

Old shoes re-souled. There’s a silent background to The Cherry Orchard for anyone born during the Cold War. The theme of social change, ambiguously written by Chekhov, took on a ferocious literalness after 1917. The niceties of the play are overshadowed by our knowledge of show trials, pogroms, and Soviet monsters to come. With all of that gone up in smoke, we find ourselves starting over. Now the opposite dilemma has appeared: what to do with a Russia sliding into irrelevancy? Putin is barely a mini-me compared to Stalin. The whole society, soaked in vodka and oil revenues, has been drained of significance: terror, class war, an ancien regime, elegiac memories, idealism, and even apparatchiks — all those soulful overtones gone flat-line.

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