Yet another success for this Company. There was vivid acting. Elizabeth Aspenlieder, as Mary Pickford, is an arresting actress, her voice resonant, her intentions clear. Ms. Aspenlieder enlivens every role she takes. She makes the character happen. There was an exceptional performance from David Joseph in the role of Charlie Chaplin. His work on the role, particularly the physical aspect of the character had a completeness which he imagined carefully and made his own.
A good while ago now, I stepped into an ancient school bus, left a tiny hamlet in the foothills of the Adirondacks, and traveled to the glittering metropolis of Johnstown, New York. There, The Tempest was being played by a traveling troupe, and somehow our country school got us there. The play was The Tempest. When I walked into the dull brown everywhere auditorium, I saw marvelous things. There were great gauze curtains, aquamarine and pure blue, folding back and forth upon themselves, prompted by some invisible wind. This itself was enough to make the trip a rare event in my life!
The midwestern family, hardly one of the United States’ more perfect contributions to civilization, has taken its share of abuse from writers since before Mark Twain’s time. In recent years, Tracy Letts, with his August: Osage County, started something of a industry for himself in the theatrical exploitation of this somewhat over-ripe institution, but he has by no means cornered the market. The American — not only the midwestern — family remains a gift that keeps on giving.
Books aren’t what they used to be. Now we have devices. They talk and sing. They are a library. But can they really be read? Could we have a reading of a play from a Kindle? Of course we could. But could we really? What about the sound of clicking instead of a page turning? Or worse, complete silence as the page turns? In two pleasant visits to Shakespeare and Company this late summer, I started thinking about these things. How active is reading anyway? Can we read King Lear better than it can be played? What about centuries of western civilization where only a fraction of the people on earth could read, and an even smaller group owned a book? There are some among us who are fans of these eras and who claim we have lost the orality that animated their cultures. Sounds a lot to me like what people are saying about books just now. I wondered in the lines above if the act of turning a page in a staged reading is an important one. Is the actual sound of the page turning important? Does it distance us from the acting, or does it broaden the experience into something which is at once public and private? Why is there a sense of privacy, perhaps secrecy, around a person who is reading, even if they read in public?
Cosi Fan Futte is an opera I have sung often so I looked forward to going to The Dangerous Liaisons that Shakespeare and Co. has had up for some time now. The brittleness of the spoken play and the precipitous action constantly crowding scene into scene requires exquisite skill from the actors in this play. Mozart’s opera seems expansive and almost sweet next to it. Making the epistolary prose of Laclos into a working drama of reasonable length is not an easy task. The action has an awful purity which is only softened at the very end and given an almost romantic turn as the true lovers die in close succession.
Theresa Rebeck’s solo play, Bad Dates, is Shakespeare & Company’s first offering in its first winter season. There’s a lot to be grateful in this, and it goes beyond having an alternative to traveling to New York City or Boston in the winter weather for decent theatrical entertainment. Not that theater in the Berkshires disappears at the end of summer. In fact Williams’ Dialogue One Theatre Festival gave us a feast of solo theater back in November, but it is still a great thing to have activity at Shakespeare & Co. in the blasts of January, especially of this piquant and entertaining sort.