Friday, April 9, 2010

Comparing apples to apples

Seeing the same play done by multiple companies is simply part of the job description for a theater critic. Moreso than any other art except ballet and classical music, live theater is a medium that explores different approaches to the same script. By its very nature it is dynamic and subject to many interpretations. While movies will have the occasional remake, it won't be done a thousand different ways by ten thousand different actors.

So when attending a show, a critic must try to approach each version of each play with an open mind. After all, it's not about whether a particular production was similar to another. What's more important is whether the production is living up to its own internal interpretation. What is the vision of a particular director? What does each new actor bring to his or her role? That said, outside of the structure of a review, it is highly enjoyable to compare shows and part of the essential discussion about what makes theater vibrant and dynamic.

Seeing Double: Canterbury and April

Several weekends ago, I had my weekend of seeing double. The two Canterbury Tales performances I saw were actually quite similar--which was to be expected. They had the same director and about a third of the cast was the same for each show. There were individual variations in character interpretations between the two different casts, but it was basically the same show.

The other show I saw twice was "Enchanted April." Knowing that I was going to review the Meadowbrook show while judging the Riverwalk version for the Thespies, it seemed only fair to see the Riverwalk version first. After all, Meadowbrook had access to greater resources, better trained artists, and the ability to rehearse as a full-time job rather than an after getting out of other work rehearsal schedule.

Enchanted April

What surprised me was how genuinely close the two shows were in overall quality--both in artistic performance and in production values. Both shows had their strengths and both had their weaknesses.

The Meadowbrook actors were far superior in their vocal quality, consistency of accents, and overall development of characters. Yet, while their Lotty was easier to understand, she also changed less. Nor could the Meadowbrook Rose hold a candle to the sensitivity and passion that the Riverwalk Rose showed. Likewise the marital relationship between Rose and "Florian" in the Riverwalk production was far more layered and complex. I could believe in Florian's change at the end far more than I could in the Meadowbrook production.

The Riverwalk production was also the more daring of the two, willing to commit to more intense choices. The men, while having very little to work with in the script, were also much more convincing and real in the Riverwalk production whereas they came across as too much of just backdrop in the Meadowbrook version.

The set, which is very much a part of the show--both in the grim grayness of the first act and the floral airiness of the second act--also had different strengths, even while looking extraordinarly similar. Both used the same color schemes with similar looking set dressing. For the first act, the Meadowbrook set was far more interesting with its constantly changing backgrounds and the ability to change lighting to a far greater degree. For the second act, the Riverwalk set had a much fuller, brighter feel to it. There was more depth and character to the castle. Also, the set change at the top of Act II at Riverwalk was one of those memorable moments that got its own applause. The audience was able to witness the transformation which once more underlined the theme of the show.

Proscenium vs. Thrust

The difference in sets could primarily be attributed to the two very different spaces. Meadowbrook is a large theater with a proscenium stage. Riverwalk is much more intimate and is a thrust stage. For the first act, the flatness added to the play's story while allowing the technical team far greater flexibility in swiftly creating many different rooms and settings. For the second act, the intimacy with the audience and the ability to emphasize dimension made for a stronger second act.

Both were shows well worth seeing for the beauty of the play and the fascinating differences in choices made by each cast.

No comments: