KPBS AIRDATE: July 19, 1995
It’s Festival ‘95, and the Old Globe steps up to the plate. In their first time at bat for the summer, they’ve got one hit, one error and one pop fly.
The palpable hit is “Henry IV,” a conflated version of Shakespeare’s Parts I and II, adapted by Dakin Matthews and directed by Jack O’Brien. It’s a long evening (more than three hours, with two intermissions), but highly engaging. The outdoor production inventively moves backward in time, starting with modern-day, rehearsal dress, and ending in full 16th century costume, just in time for the dramatic coronation of Prince Hal as King Henry V.
The centerpiece, and the cause for the production’s sellout crowds, is Falstaff, Shakespeare’s most famous comic character. The monumentally self-indulgent, lecherous, unscrupulous braggart, over-inflated with girth and mirth, is played by John Goodman, he of “Roseanne” fame, but better still in “Barton Fink.” Although O’Brien lets Goodman expand, becoming fatter and funnier, he also tightens his belt, so the performance is broad but finely nuanced, and very satisfying.
As young Henry, Prince Hal, David Lansbury shines most in his imitation of his father and fooling of Falstaff. But he doesn’t seem to have an early love of the Big Boy, so when Hal miraculously matures, and repudiates Falstaff at the end, it’s a less than shocking moment.
But Goodman is bringing the TV crowd to Shakespeare, and O’Brien delivers the goods.
Next out of the dugout is “Pilgrims,” a new piece by Stephen Metcalfe, which has a homerun swing, but strikes out instead. It’s a teenage play, a Vietnam play, a retro play. And a very unsatisfying one. The first act, which takes place in a high school detention hall, features all the usual suspects: the snobbish, wealthy jock; the bright-but-belligerent tough guy, and the self-effacing wallflower.
The cast is first-rate, though the first scene, with William Anton as teacher, feels like the Globe’s “Oleanna” all over again. Tracey Middendorf is terrific as Jilly, the bud waiting to blossom. Gregory Vignolle is appropriately attractive and menacing as Frank D’Angelo, who meets a predictable end. Dann Florek has the hardest role to inhabit, the philosophical pizza man who understands everyone and everything.
The first act has nothing to do with the second; except for Jilly, the characters don’t even repeat. Some of the dialogue is totally believable, but some of the situations are incredible. His second play on the subject, Metcalfe obviously still needs to work out his Vietnam nightmares — but please, not on us.
Now, we’re going into extra innings, or in this case, “Overtime.” A.R. Gurney’s new play by the same name is a prototypical pop fly: it soars high, but goes nowhere. Scintillating in conception, at times brilliant in execution, this play is as urbane, intelligent and witty as most of Gurney’s other efforts, of which this is the eighth at the Globe. Once again, he draws on the classics for inspiration.
“Overtime” picks up where “The Merchant of Venice” leaves off. In Shakespeare’s version, all’s well that ends well, so to speak, but Gurney’s take is more like much ado about… too much, and too little.
Since the original comedy has been vilified for its rapacious anti-Semitism, Gurney brings cultural stereotyping center-stage, moving the setting from 16th to 20th century Venice, and adding to the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, a much-maligned and multicolored cast including a Latina, a black, male and female homosexuals, a Bosnian Serb, a Marine, and of course, his beloved WASPs. He plays fast and loose with Shakespeare lines and characters, and lots of it is very funny.
Director Nick Martin has a delightfully light touch, and his cast of nine is wonderful. But much of this multi-culti disquisition and intermixing is pretty well-trod turf, and the ending, ultimately, is no more satisfying than Shakespeare’s.
As usual at the Globe, the playing field is impeccably groomed; the coaches are skillful and the players are in top form. But not every game is a winner.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.