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Cakes and ale, round three


And now for Twelfth Night! But first I met Tragedy on Central Park East.

The day being March-like, jacket weather, I thought I’d walk down Fifth to the theatre and met the Theatre coming up Fifth.

Lurching toward me in a tragic topple, like the all-but-extinct Sarah Bernhardt as Electra (positively her Last Appearance On This Or Any Other Stage) was a grande dame in furs. Besides the opulent ankle-length coat she wore, sailing open (as if she’d brought her own wind machine), she was festooned and garlanded with flat fauna—

Like a slaughterhouse, so to speak,
Garnished with furry deaths
And many shipwrecks of stoats.

I didn’t even really see her own face: I was riveted by all those glass-eyed masks.

And she was begging. Not aloud, but with all her body: pleading with an absence, staggering against an unfelt wind, as if she’d hurl herself at kingly knees. As if the Parcae of Park Avenue were hunting her.

I suppose (in afterthought) that she might have been drunk. Or mad. Or had Parkinsons, or even a broken high heel...But coming from the art galleries, I thought of her as an Edward Gorey illustration, as Medea of the Minks.

Beyond her, things got springlike.

There was even a Strand-in-a-box at the Plaza corner, very Parisian.

Ah, but you may note that it had been a very long time since breakfast, which was meagre even for the Lowood School. There are no sandwiches on Fifth, it seems. Elegant bars, yes. Pushcarts in plenty, yes. But a hot dog? I did not wish to be seized with cramps in mid-performance. As I got to midtown, I kept looking about for something on ground level with coffee and sandwiches:  a deli, a Starbucks, even.

The Belasco is on 44th. Hey, so that’s where the Algonquin is!  Cool.  And the Yacht Club (with glorious galleon windows).  And the Harvard Club.  If she walked in, would they serve a poor theatre-goer a sandwich? Would they rum, sodomy, and the lash!



I did find at last a coffeeshop opposite the theatre that would do me a mocha.  No savories.  Thus fortified, I rang my companions.

B. and B., of course, had found my imagined deli. After a blessed egg salad sandwich and some chocolate, I was loaded for white bear.  Could have torn an arm’d rhinoceros, or th’ Hyrcan tiger.

Nice tickets: first balcony, center. I’d had the forethought to bring my mother’s second-best pair of mother-of-pearl opera glasses (not the ones in the original shaped-leather case, red-velvet lined:  Carlo Tailor, ottico di Baviera, Napoli).  What I really wanted was a light pair of birder’s glasses, but those I don’t own.

And we were well in time to watch the actors tiring and to hear the loud bassoon.  Or rather, the rauschpfeifes, hurdy-gurdy, sackbuts, bagpipes, shawm, and curtal; the recorders, lute, theorbo, cittern; the assorted drums.  Afterward, B. marvelled that the lutenist was always in tune.  In a theatre full of humans breathing!  On a planet with air!  I theorized that he had six of them stacked up behind him, in case the second or the fourth was flat, the third and fifth sharp.

And meanwhile, players were laced, smocked, trussed, and buttoned, prinked, powdered, combed and curled.  My dears!   Such costuming!  Laurel to the skin.  Stephen Fry, in an interview, said his buttons were cast from a 1600 button-mold, as the play is 1602.  He asked the designer, if the buttons were from 1603, would you have used them?  No.

This had better be a special feature on the DVD.

Too soon, they were dressed and gone.  The playhouse servants came to light the candles and to raise them.

"If music be the food of love, play on!

Rapture.

By the time Feste sang his wind and rain, and all the company came forward in a galliard and a hey (with Sebastian and Viola fleetingly and slightly cross-entangled), I was dizzy with joy

Fabulous fabulous fabulous production.

And what of the performances? The celebrated drag?  I confess that Mark Rylance’s Olivia is not my cup of tea. Or rather, not my espresso machine:  it was a brilliant automaton, a brass-levered, steam-powered, exquisitely managed performance, with a virtuoso twiddle of foam on each cup.  A heart.

Mind you, I don’t for a second think his performance was heartless:  it was truly alien. The past is another planet.  Time and again, the comparisons that come to mind are fantastical or SF.  His wonderful glide is a Dalek by Hilliard; the histrionics, Gormenghastly.  But there:  I cannot see Irma Prunesquallor saying “item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth.”  That’s it:  the Rylance Olivia had melancholy, music, passion, and spectacular artistry; but no self-awareness, no irony.

No inside.  All folded, black on white.

I’d guess that the histrionic approach might work brilliantly for Richard III, who is always conscious of his own theatrics.

Now I see this Olivia as the exact counterpart, the other mask, to my Fifth Avenue Furball, Allerleirauh of the Avenues. Tragedy and Comedy.

Nonetheless, Rylance was utterly essential.  I could feel his/her manic energy powering the whole ensemble.  Odd and wonderful to think of a skirt part being “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” but there it is.  Genius as spirit.  As muse.

It was exhilarating.

Ah, but the poetry?  Now that resided in Samuel Barnett’s lovely coltish Viola, with her plaintive reedy voice.  (I love an actor with an instrument.)  Clearly she’s copying her brother’s manners, not as in a mirror but a mirror reversed, so lefts and rights get muddled.  She's Sebastian through the looking-glass.  You could see her flipping places in her head, remembering to remember how to bow.  (Your other left!)  That sword-hanger was a sheer perplexity.



Poor Scots Orsino (Liam Brennan) had no idea he’d crossed the gender bourne—swept past it somehow in his sleep and waked elsewhere.  ("What country, friends, is this?") Cesario was touching strings in octaves undreamed of.  He kept trying to convert caresses into manly thumps.

Of course, one gorgeous thing about boy players is that the twins look just like twins, so that never mind the other characters, the audience was dizzy disentangling them.  If his hopelessly devoted Antonio (John Paul Connolly) was dogging him, he was probably a he, and Sebastian (Joseph Timms).  Who had waked in Elysium:  "Madam, I will."

And the gravitas?  That comes in Stephen Fry’s swag-eyed Malvolio, own cousin to his Jeeves:  but here an ass who views his glass complacently.   (I never thought of this before, but is Malvolio akin to Bottom?  Darker, of course, but alike vainglorious.  And spanked.)  You can see him building noble kitchenless Renaissance architectures on the air.  Upheld with satyrs.




He himself is not a grotesque (though an unpracticed smiler):  he is, I think, the least fantastical of all the players on the stage.  Fry's a humanist and plays him sympathetically.  For all his priggishness, his joyless, jack-in-office despotism, it hurts when he’s mocked.  As well it should.

Not that I hated his quintet of torturers.  (They kept a Fabian.)  For sheer inventive raucous joyousness, it would be hard to beat the three conspirators.  I loved Paul Chahidi’s classic pantomime dame of a Maria, mistress of the tickle; Colin Hurley’s pickled gherkin of a Toby Belch; and (speaking of drunken noodles), Angus Wright’s skew-whiff Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whose stripes don’t ever quite line up.

And saving not the least for last, I adored their Feste, Peter Hamilton Dyer in motley.  An admirable fool:  he sings well, dances well, plays the pipe and tabor.  Is quite the quirkiest and sanest creature on the stage.  I wish he could play my Armin!  “A gill to Ben’s quartpot:  his slight quick tumbler’s body in a mole-gray scholar’s gown, mischief as justice.  He’d an ill-matched face--a fortune in a fool--two faces in one coin, like moon and dark of moon.  Himself his guising.  He’d a trick of turning, overturning what you saw in him.  Now mirth, now melancholy:  child; confessor; lunatic.”

Bliss.  Utterly.

B. and B. and I came out on a frothing great wave of elation, into Wonderland.  Who would have thought (in our dim distant youth) that Times Square would be one day full of children in family groups?   We passed Hello Kitty and Elmo selling nothing but photo-ops (I hope).

We laughed all the way to South Station.  And I'm smiling still.

Nine

Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
sovay
Jan. 16th, 2014 04:54 am (UTC)
the histrionics, Gormenghastly.

I would watch the hell out of the cast of Gormenghast doing Twelfth Night. Fuchsia would be a great Viola. Dr. Prunesquallor is natural casting for Feste, so it might be fun to throw him Malvolio. Flay would end up moving sets; he would look very blankly at anyone who tried to hand him a script.

Fry's a humanist and plays him sympathetically. For all his priggishness, his joyless, jack-in-office despotism, it hurts when he's mocked. As well it should.

Good, even if it skews the play for him to be the realest person in it. I've decided I like this play best when everyone in it is real, languishing lovers included—I want to shake Orsino every time he starts with the Romanticism, but if there's nothing in him worth Viola's loving, it diminishes her. Sebastian is the most difficult, I think: so much of him is Viola's doppelgänger and the ghost in her memory. Antonio really is the distinguishing factor.

I adored their Feste, Peter Hamilton Dyer in motley.

If this is an accurate headshot, that's a very good face for Feste. And several people you write. He doesn't look unlike your tinker muse.
nineweaving
Jan. 16th, 2014 05:03 am (UTC)
I would watch the hell out of the cast of Gormenghast doing Twelfth Night.

Gods yes. Prunesquallor would be terrifying as Malvolio: he'd win.

I like the idea of Antonio unghosting Sebastian.

That face? Is straight from Cloud.

Nine
sovay
Jan. 17th, 2014 03:01 am (UTC)
I like the idea of Antonio unghosting Sebastian.

Hmm.

That face? Is straight from Cloud.

Put him into your next story! (And no fair the next Ben story; that's cheating.)
nineweaving
Jan. 17th, 2014 03:31 am (UTC)
Hmm.

Write it!

Put him into your next story!

You want a new Cloudish tale? That's heartening.

Nine

sovay
Jan. 17th, 2014 03:35 am (UTC)
You want a new Cloudish tale? That's heartening.

I've been wanting one for years! How much more loudly encouraging do I need to be?
nineweaving
Jan. 17th, 2014 04:46 am (UTC)
Sadly, the last one got blasted by circumstance. I haven't had the heart to go picking through the fused glass and ashes.

Nine
ethelmay
Jan. 29th, 2014 02:04 am (UTC)
Goodness. He looks a heck of a lot like my sister-in-common-law.
nineweaving
Jan. 30th, 2014 08:33 am (UTC)
Feste? Your sister-in-common-law must be striking.

Nine
ethelmay
Feb. 3rd, 2014 01:08 am (UTC)
I did reply to this, but it went to the backward-maps folder, probably due to a you-are-ell (not to be confused with war-is-'ell).
nineweaving
Feb. 3rd, 2014 05:18 am (UTC)
Well, phooey. Email?

Nine
ethelmay
Feb. 3rd, 2014 08:44 pm (UTC)
It was just to say that you could see my SICL at back-burner dot net slash photogallery dot aitch tee em.
desperance
Jan. 16th, 2014 06:47 am (UTC)
We knew Mark when he was a young thing at the RSC, playing Ariel to Jacobi's Prospero (hmm - d'you suppose they infected each other?). I'm not sure he's ever done R3 - but oh, the company did. In those years, Alan Howard and Anthony Sher - utterly different, but as you say, absolutely self-aware, and theatrical to the core. (Sher did the entire play on crutches - and wrote a book about it, The Year of the King - and I remember one critic describing him as a malignant spider...)

Of everything I'm missing right now, I think I would most like to see Stephen Fry's Malvolio. That feels like perfect casting, and the clips you've posted don't dispute it. (And I love that "How now, Malvoli--ohhh...")
nineweaving
Jan. 16th, 2014 08:21 am (UTC)
Ariel as Oxfordian rent boy? Not going there. (Except I have.)

I listened the other night to an interview with Stephen Fry, around the opening of Twelfth Night on Broadway. He said he hadn't worked with Rylance before because of a disagreement. Yes? Well, he thinks that Oxford ... Of course he really can't possibly think that Oxford ... Fry's way of dealing with Rylance's delusion, it seems, is to say rapidly and repeatedly that of course it's all some sort of Zen paradox or jest, of course he doesn't believe that.

TZARA (Articulately): Dada dada dada dada dada dada dada ...

Rylance is doing Richard III as we speak, in repertory with Twelfth Night.


Sher did the entire play on crutches

derspatchel ?

There's a DVD available of the same production, nearly all the same cast (Fry, Rylance, Barnett, Chahidi, Dyer) at the Globe. Region-free. I ordered it the instant I got home.

Nine


Edited at 2014-01-16 09:16 am (UTC)
poliphilo
Jan. 16th, 2014 10:10 am (UTC)
Thank you.
nineweaving
Jan. 16th, 2014 07:29 pm (UTC)
My pleasure--and I hope, yours by reading.

Nine
sartorias
Jan. 16th, 2014 03:05 pm (UTC)
That was exhilarating, just reading!
nineweaving
Jan. 16th, 2014 07:31 pm (UTC)
I wish you'd been there! You are the most wonderful enjoyer--you and B. would get on like sisters.

Nine
sartorias
Jan. 16th, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
Sounds heavenly--there is only one thing better than a marvelous theater experience in a marvelous place, and that is enjoying it with the likeminded!
nineweaving
Jan. 16th, 2014 07:46 pm (UTC)
Hear hear!

Nine
Mike Leadbetter
Jan. 16th, 2014 03:10 pm (UTC)
Sher on crutches
Saw that. Furthermore, I saw it on the exact 500th anniversary of his death at the Battle of Bosworth.

Someone mentioned it in the foyer and one of those funny, positive feedback silences shushed 500 people into silence in 5 seconds flat. The auditorium had a freezing creepiness throughout the whole production.
nineweaving
Jan. 16th, 2014 07:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Sher on crutches
Eeerie! What's the opposite of serendipity?

Sher would have been dancing on his own grave.

Nine
Mike Leadbetter
Jan. 23rd, 2014 07:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Sher on crutches
We lived next door to someone who worked at the Barbican ticket office and would occasionally toss a dozen unsold tickets through the letterbox for us to use if we wanted. Sometimes great, sometimes not, like a memorably awful Britten recital I took eight colleagues to. We had cassoulet and champagne at home afterwards to cheer them all up.
nineweaving
Jan. 24th, 2014 02:51 am (UTC)
Re: Sher on crutches
I wish I had your letterbox! And cassoulet and champagne are rather nice as well. What went wrong with the Britten recital?

Nine
lauradi7
Jan. 16th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the Dalek mental image. I also have the nice memory of Aelfgifu-that-was in a tiny Elizabethan outfit with wheels at the hem, although that was to enable toddler steps, not Rylance's quick little movements.
nineweaving
Jan. 16th, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
That's a lovely image of Aelfgifu. I so wished I could have time-travelled old Carolingia forward to that theatre. Galliards on Broadway! How Marian and Patri would have loved that.

Nine
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )