KPBS AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 29, 2000
Hamlet was wrong. Sometimes, the play is not the thing — even when it’s written by Shakespeare. In two productions currently at the Old Globe, the play is a mere trifle. The serious enjoyment comes from other sources. In “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” the young Shakespeare was obviously punch-drunk on language. There are more puns per square inch than you can shake a lingui-stick at. But if you don’t like listening so hard for the nuances of Elizabethan wordplay, focus your attention on the jaw-dropping scenery, the eye-popping lighting, and some marvelous performances. In “Orson’s Shadow,” written by noted actor Austin Pendleton, the delight is in the setup and the characters. Pendleton is riffing on reality, embellishing and exaggerating as all good storytellers do.
There was, in 1960, a revival of Ionesco’s absurdist/symbolic play, “Rhinoceros,” directed by Orson Welles and starring Laurence Olivier and his new young thing, Joan Plowright. Pendleton has run with that startling collaboration, mixing in Olivier’s estranged and fragile wife, Vivien Leigh, and imagining (though it never happened) that the whole endeavor was the self-promoting brainchild of acclaimed theater critic Kenneth Tynan. No matter that the play doesn’t really go anywhere. This is a delicious evening of behind-the-scenes star-gazing and ego-gaping. And isn’t that MUCH more enjoyable than watching real-life, everyday slobs duke it out on TV in a contrived survival circumstance?
It is, in fact, an evening spent in thrilling company, in an intimate setting, with an astonishing clash of personalities. Director Kyle Donnelly has cast impeccably, her actors not so much imitating as suggesting the various Great Ones, but looking more or less like them, and creating the aura of diva-dom with remarkable precision: Jonathan Fried’s brilliantly blustery, self-destructive Orson; Nicholas Hormann’s manic, verbally acrobatic Larry; Judith Chapman’s beautiful, crazed Vivien; Alexandra Boyd’s no-nonsense Joan and Adam Stein’s aptly effete and caustic Tynan. It’s a virtually plotless, message-less comedy, served up as an intelligent, titillating and scrumptious treat.
For entertainment of an Elizabethan variety, check out Roger Rees’ production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” next door. Ponderous at three hours, it’s still exuberant without being silly, which was my complaint about his “Merry Wives” last year, and it’s not overreaching, like Kenneth Branagh’s recent musicalized movie version The look here is gorgeous: standing O’s to James Joy and Chris Parry for the gloriously Deco/Impressionist set and lighting. Some of the character and costume choices may be questionable, but many of the performances are delectable, most notably Matt Letscher as Berowne and Sam Wright as Costard. And, fast becoming a familiar and favored face at the Globe, Peter Van Norden as Holofernes, though he’s dressed like Pinky Lee.
Backstage blather and the Bard… when it comes to theatrical amusement, who could ask for anything more?
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.