Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Play’s The Thing

I’ve been to a couple of plays in the past two weeks, and they were both really good, but quite different. The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet is performed in The New American Shakespeare Tavern, on Peachtree Street, just a couple of blocks from the Fox Theatre. This is a small playhouse, modeled after the Globe, with a stage which juts out onto the floor and a rustic balcony. In Shakespeare’s day, the folks around the stage stood up, having paid only a penny, and were known as “groundlings.” We paid a bit more to have a table close to the stage, and this is a really intimate experience. There are no bad spots, since the facility seats only about 235 patrons. For this production, they used an additional section in front of the stage, which served as the tomb in Act V, and we were no more than five feet from it. The interpretation of a Shakespeare play is always important, and I’ve never seen a Juliet who giggled so much, but it did work. The actress managed to make us believe for a while that she was not yet 14 and very much in love with her Romeo. Mercutio wasn’t as dynamic as I thought he should be, and that didn’t seem quite right. One of my former colleagues believes that Shakespeare killed him off because he was stealing the show, and that didn’t seem to be the case with this production. Still, we all found something to like in this version of Romeo and Juliet.

More recently, I accompanied a church group to the Atlanta Passion Play, at the Atlanta Civic Center. We had seats in the “dress circle” which turned out to be pretty far from the stage. In fact, a few rows above us, a group were passing around binoculars, and it would have been a good idea. Despite the distance from the stage, this production is really interesting. The cast was numerous, the sound system brought out some very fine vocals, the orchestra was first rate, and the lighting made the events almost surreal. I’ve seen many versions of this story, of course, but this one is almost as sprawling as one of the old epics from the ’50’s. I was halfway expecting to see Charleton Heston stride across the stage with a staff in his hand. My favorite musical version of the Easter story is “The Day He Wore My Crown” and the passion play didn’t change that, but it is beautifully done, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see a lovingly crafted Easter musical.

I’m a fan of movies, but there is something wonderful about a live action drama, and I was blessed by each of these performances.

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