Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: JULY 10, 2009
One of Shakespeare’s most charming comedies meets his most political drama… on the Old Globe’s Festival Stage. Summer has officially begun; the Shakespeare Festival is in full swing. For the first time in the six years of the revitalized summer repertory, there’s a non-Shakespeare play in the mix. That would be the magnificent, must-see production of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” now joined by the Bard’s final tragedy and his most bittersweet romantic comedy. Neither rises to “ Cyrano’s ” stunning heights of perfection. It’s all a matter of nuance.
“Twelfth Night” exists on two planes. On the one hand, it’s a frothy comedy of cross-dressing, mistaken identity and ultimate marital bliss. But it definitely has a dark undertone; the action begins with a shipwreck, follows two women grieving for lost brothers, features a melancholy Fool, and concludes with an ominous threat of revenge. The shadows are absent from Paul Mullins’ giddy production, which is set on the sunny Italian Riviera in the 1950s, and for the first time in memory, presents a Shakespeare song in doo wop.
The proceedings are light, colorful, attractive and very funny at times. But that tinge of sobriety is missing. Even the marvelous Patrick Page, who gives a tour de force performance as Cyrano on alternate nights, plays the pompous steward, Malvolio , strictly for laughs. His comic sense is superb. But after Malvolio is cruelly ridiculed by the drunken Toby Belch and his scheming accomplices, the haughty twit should offer a touch of pathos. Not here. We’re just meant to have one heckuva good time. And we do. Still, one could ask for a tad more depth and weight.
“Coriolanus” is nothing if not weighty and serious, with barely any comic relief, uncharacteristic for Shakespeare. And the title character is unlike most of the Bard’s tragic heroes. He isn’t introspective; he doesn’t spout soliloquies. We don’t know his motives. His arrogance brings him down; his bloodthirsty mother props him up.
The central character is based on the legendary Roman warrior, Gaius Martius Coriolanus . The play was originally set in the fifth century BC, but director Darko Tresnjak has chosen to place it between the two World Wars. He takes no overt political stance, but he’s acknowledging the mid-century co-opting of the piece, by the fascists and the Nazis. It’s easy to see how Coriolanus, an anti-democratic proponent of autocracy, could be variously portrayed as someone to be revered or reviled. Tresnjak leaves it up to us. His visual imagery is dazzling. But his lead characters aren’t as layered or larger-than-life as they should be.
Both Old Globe productions have a great deal to recommend them. “Twelfth Night” is always fun. “Coriolanus” is highly charged and rarely seen. And yet, there’s the vague, nagging sense that we haven’t been given all that we’re due.
“Coriolanus” and “Twelfth Night” run in repertory through September 27, at the Old Globe.
©2009 PAT LAUNER