Tony Simotes’ location for Shakespeare and Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a voodoo-haunted New Orleans. The best part about his production was he gave it to us straight. The supernatural characters, Oberon and Titania, were clarified and humanized into something that almost approached matter-of-factness. This made me hear the play very differently. The set was bright and golden; the action direct. The rustics, for once, did not overplay, and Bottom the Weaver, in a beautifully-heard dream speech took us on a journey into mystery and something beyond the bright, clear world the production favored. It was clarifying to see a straight-out production which was at ease with its eroticism, more interested in direct energy.
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.
After my all-too-common last minute arrival, I had no opportunity to read Tony Simotes’ wise note in the program until the intermission. When I did, I struck a chord with thoughts that had been coming to me about Noël Coward since feeling his very large presence in Sir Donald and Marc Sinden’s wonderful series of documentaries about the theaters of London’s West End: his plays, as ephemeral as they claim to be, keep coming back, and have turned into classics under our noses, so to speak. Beneath the electric language and constantly amusing repartee, which in themselves have proven surprisingly durable, the basic themes that concern us all—attraction, love, loyalty, fidelity, convention and life, youth and maturity, and (although not in Private Lives) aging. Truth is, Coward, with his insistence that his gifts consisted of no more than “a talent to amuse,” was his own worst detractor.
As You Like It is a play for virtuosos. Rosalind, Touchstone, Jacques, and Celia must be magnificent talkers. They have to command the idiom. It must seem their natural speech. The players in Shakespeare and Company’s well-directed As You Like It went a good way toward doing this. Excess IS meaning in this kind of writing. (Even the poor shepherd Silvius has a long allusive speech near the end of the play). Merritt Janson’s Rosalind was in most things led by Kelley Curran’s Celia. She was the most listening Rosalind I have heard. Capable of flashing brilliance when necessary, she often chose to measure out her speeches abruptly, even with some uncertainty. This endeared her to me. The bright Ms. Curran had an excellent vitality in her words. She seemed a natural leader and companion. These two actresses made performances which were almost a composite role. Often one could not tell where one left off and the other began. I’m sure this harmony will become even more subtle and dulcet as the run continues.
Othello stands out in an almost indefinable way among the tragedies of Shakespeare. It seems to take its entire color and fabric from the extravagant imagination, behavior, and language of its exotic hero. This conforms perfectly well to Shakespeare’s methods in Hamlet, Coriolanus, and Lear, for example, but Othello’s outlandishness (to use the original sense of the word as well as its more current metaphorical connotations) imparts his character and his language with an open-ended quality which effect us as pure color and emotivity—the famous musical quality of the play.