The voice is all, especially in the rolling sounds of epic. The Iliad, now supposed to have been written by several authors, is fundamentally a bardic oration. One reads ancient descriptions of these bards, rolling or roaring their voices—a physical excess akin to singing. Jeannine Haas in “An Iliad” at Hubbard Hall was the mistress of this music, always with the careful assistance of John Sheldon on guitar. The location of an epic is much larger than any theatre space. It must be formed by sound. The parts of this “Iliad” I enjoyed the most were the great descriptions, where I heard roaring sound coming from the actress, sentence on sentence enjambed, sometimes nearly incomprehensibly. Singing was waiting to take over. The Iliad is a story to tell, not a story to see. Ms. Haas understood this, and she made the minutes fly.
Tartuffe has lately trod the stage as a demon whose main weapon is subtlety. Doug Ryan, at Hubbard Hall, would have none of this; he was dastardly from line one. Excellently, he came close to desperation more than once, fighting for his life. Mr. Ryan does two important things at once. His face and voice are often in line, but just as often they are not. He is the master of mixed messages.
Hubbard Hall’s production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was solidly cast and effectively staged by Jeannine Haas. Not surprisingly there were standout performances from James Udom as George and Doug Ryan in the role of Candy. Simply put, we have been given a gift in Mr. Udom. Everything about this young man’s acting tells me he is the real thing. He listens as well as he speaks. He has a natural physicality on stage which never draws attention to itself but is always enough. He can use the silence. He seems always to have the larger picture in mind; his scenes have shape. His voice is beautiful. This is a serious young artist. His George held the play in its arms.
Time yaps at the heels of comedy. Tragedy marches inexorably on. In comedy the present turns immediately to the past, this is why the pace must be fast. Private Lives tries to talk about serious things rapidly. It does not stop and consider. The past is a repetition of the future, not the other way around. This is why the characters circle endlessly. You might call it the rhythm of life, or in a darker comedy, the dance of death. There is plenty of life left in Private Lives. Its relentless wit continues to charm. The couple who fight best seem to love best. Only fine actors can repeat themselves. Shakespeare and Company’s production of Noel Coward’s play had the requisite energy. David Joseph, in particular, seemed inexhaustible, time yapping at his heels. Dana Harrison also commanded the speed and flavor of imperious time, sometimes by trying to slow it ever so slightly.
We were informed upon entering Hubbard Hall on Saturday evening, that a “chestnut” was on the menu. I like chestnuts. Chestnuts are successes, and they are successes because they work. Moss Hart and George Kaufmann’s particular chestnut You Can’t Take it With You is the theme song and battle cry of the 47%. One of the characters, Donald, a kind of serving man, reminds us a couple of times, that he is “on relief,” and the government gets really upset when he works. The government, in fact, is a constant presence in the play, belittled and shrunken and left virtually powerless by the formulations of Grandpa. Everything Grandpa says makes so much gosh-darn sense. Even Trotsky trots in on a borrowed horse as it were, his words printed indiscriminately by slow witted Ed as a kind of hobby.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Schaffer’s Amadeus are fundamentally monologues. Even as arresting a character as Lady Macbeth is given a relatively short part. As the play nears its end, she is effectively eliminated with only a short sleep-walking scene allowed her. Salieri, in Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, basically tells the story he is the main actor in. Mozart is given considerable stage time, but even his most tragic appearances are always book-ended with dry ice comments, increasingly cold, from Salieri. Why? These two masterpieces have mostly to do with the power of narrative, how the story is told. How it is told becomes continually becomes the main character. Central to any kind of narrative predominance is the ever-present passing of time. Macbeth’s time moves rapidly, at a headlong pace. Salieri’s time drags along on a path of morbidity, and at the end he cannot really die. Interruptions to the flow of time in both of these dramas are quickly dispatched or folded into the larger narrative structure so that they seem excrescences. I looked forward to Shakespeare and Company’s touring performance of Macbeth because Sean Kazarian was a terrific Mercutio a couple of years ago on a similar tour.