December 15, 2009

Shakespeare Alive!

You know what the danger is about liking something a lot? of being totally enthusiastic? You get gushy and mushy. The prospect of me writing something nice is scarier than eating my last chocolate cookie. The hate-figure thing is, as always, inherently more satisfying. And easy to find. A limitless abundance of chowder heads march with a reverberation that shakes the very core of intellectual foundations. Ominous. And sadly, true.

I will stop here because I am going to let my well of kind pour forth. Downpour singin in the rain style exuberance.

Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale*. This tale goes in the category of his romances, written quite late in his life, around 1611. The tale itself involves friendship, jealousy, wild improbabilities, tragedy, mythology and, ultimately a happy end.

I was invited by my brilliant photographer friend, Jana Madzigon, who took the publicity shots for this production. One tends to equate play with theater, so I expected a theater. When we showed up at the correct almost empty bar. A little bit like Edward Hoppers painting Nighthawks. With some Parisian/Viennese nouvelle vague thrown in.

We walked in and I felt like one of characters out of Ronin. Strangers coming together in a smoke-filled bar. At the far end of room, stairs lead to somewhere. Jana takes the lead and descends. A large black and crimson painted hall, with a naked stage at the far end. Tables and chairs unevenly strewn across the wood floor, like tossed dice. An ornate chair on the stage. A flickering spotlight on this throne. A black velvet draped window behind it, projected snowflakes falling. The only clues to "3D Avatar $400Million overkill cgi era" is the sound and light area in the back, manned by one guy with headphones.

In the foyer, people are drinking glasses of red wine and smoking. Suicidal poets, depressed painters, prolific photographers, poor writers in black turtle necks make up most of the crowd. About 40 people. (the room is large, but not that large)

The souffleuse/usher/production manager made an announcement that the performance is about to begin, singling me out, urging me to hurry and smoke fast.

Fade out spotlight. The silence of darkness. The sound of approaching footsteps. Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, wanders through the audience, toward the stage, from the back of the room.

"Nine changes of the watery star have been the sheperd's note since we have left our throne without a burden: time as long again would be fill'd up, my brother, with our thanks; And yet we should for perpetuity go hence in debt......."

And so it begins. Four actors, each with multiple roles. Homage to Shakespeare and his time: one male actor portrayed Paulina, wife of Antigonus, a lord of Sicilia (known for her sharp tongue). Hermione, Queen of Sicilia, is played by the sole female of this troupe, Bettina Reifschneider. The simple production design and costumes were traditional Shakespeare. The arias and musical excerpts sprinkled throughout the fairly short performance were sufficient to appreciate each actors singing talents. Cool use of secondary texts.

Dramatis Personae:

Wolfgang Sailer as Leontes, King of Sicilia and Florizel, Prince of Bohemia. An imposing figure, regal and hot-blooded, as the King of Sicilia.
Ms. Reifschneider as Hermione, a young shepardess and as Perdita enthralled with a lovely singing voice and convincing, passionate acting.
Gottfried Neuner as Polixenes, Antigonus, the judge, Autolycus and a soldier demonstrated a remarkable diversity, both comical and dramatic.
Best of all was Wolfgang Oliver as the loyal lord and companion Camillo, Paulina and an old Shepard. His portrayal of Paulina was great. Very funny.

Paulina: "I'll use that tongue I have: if wit flow from 't as boldness from my bosom, let't not be doubted I shall do good" [Oliver's gusto does justice to Shakespearean comic relief almost all his plays provide.]

This six person production of a Winter's Tale is funny, sweet, heartfelt and inspiring. Just neat and plain. With minimal scenery, we traveled from the court of Sicily to the forests of Bohemia, to the court of Polixenes and back again. Shakespeare's words are so lush, so full of flourish, really, you don't need much else other than decent acting and rich voices. And you get that here.

The spirit of what I perceive and know about Shakespeare and his time permeated all. In that unobtrusive hidden basement.

It was a revelation for me. I have always been more inclined to pay $12 to see movies like "2012" than to seek out small nurturing live productions such as this one was. Sure, I'll still go to the movies. But I will definitely make a point of attending more backroom performances like this.

You want to find your soul and make sense of it? Its really pretty easy to find in places like this.

I realized today that time travel is possible. And its awesome. Bravo to the cast and crew of this lovely production. Sounds quite grand to state it changed my life. But hey, its the small things that make the biggest difference.

* A Winter's Tale is being performed in German, on the 20th and 21st of December, 2009 at Aera, Gonzagagasse 11, 1010 Vienna. Go here for more information.

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