Monday, July 30, 2012

"Henry V" by Bakerloo Theatre Project

"Henry V" is one of Shakespeare's most performed history plays. It chronicles the war led by the formerly-infamous playboy Henry "Harry" the Fifth to regain the crown of France and follows the growth of Harry into manhood.

To call the recently-closed production of the Bakerloo Theatre Project "Henry V" is a bit of a stretch. The play is cut down to a two-hour show where the scenes seem to have been chosen fro either a) comedy or b) infamy. All the funny scenes are present, and all the famous speeches included, meaning Bakerloo has created an almost "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern" style show where Henry V himself is almost an afterthought.

Certainly the best performances from the ensemble cast come in the descriptive monologues - often cut from modern productions - where Shakespeare invokes the audience to imagine the locations and create the scenes of horses, pomp, war, etc. The cast shows a remarkable and beautiful connection to the language and, in these moments of directly connecting to the audience - in fact, whenever the gifted cast is given a large monologue to revel in - succeed where other points of the show fall flat.

The ensemble cast consists of Lauren Diesch, Parag S. Gohel, Brittany Proia, Jake Staley, Aaron Jefferson Tindall and Joseph McGranaghan as Henry V.

In chopping the play apart, or showing only the "greatest hits" of Henry V - in its original form a five-act all-night affair - director William Addis upsets the emotional journey of the play without providing a new outlook or constructing the play to make it something new.

It's not so much that the audience doesn't know where in the geography of Europe they are, but where we are supposed to be emotionally in the story. We barely saw Harry in the first act, why should we care about him in the second? What is Harry's journey if his second-act persona is equal to the first? These funny characters in the first act, where are they in the second? Why were we shown them at all?

The production also lends itself a certain un-earned pomp. The traveling memorial "Eyes Wide Open" (see picture) is channeled in the opening and closing moments of the play. But, within the performance, the horrors of war are kept remarkably...light?

We see funny soldiers -sometimes nervous- but not horrified or shell-shocked. A dialogue where a captain irefuses to speak up for a soldier about to be hanged is done in a comical lisp and pleasant demeanor. The production ends with a happy, hopeful marriage arrangement between the love-sick Harry and the charmed princess Katherine of France, and then everyone begins to remove their shoes and line them up.

There is a true disconnect between what actually happens on the stage and the storyline that was pieced together. Similarly, in a production where everyone dresses in fatigues and Iraq memorials are discussed in the program, there were no battles, no choreography and no use of sound. The entire production was less than bare-bones with no set and barely any props. The entirety could move to a field and be performed largely unchanged.

And the sin in all this is, rather than use the absence of things to make inpirational, relevatory choices that illustrate better than physical objects ever could, the production simply chooses to ignore them, leaving us with a disjointed, slow-moving, almost stream-of-conciousness "Henry V".

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic can be found using words aren's used in High Society - outside of a kennel. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Candida" from Bakerloo Theatre Project

"Candida" by George Bernard Shaw is a love triangle dramady set between a Socialist preacher, his upstanding wife Candida and a young poet who thinks he has what Candida truly needs to be happy.

Bakerloo is a new theatre company in town. Recently transplanted from NYC, the company seeks to bring young artists (of all types) from across the country to re-interpret classic works. Their inaugural season consists of "Henry V" and "Candida" and is currently being housed at Future Tenant. They offer free tickets to any middle-school or high school students.

There is a great sense of ensemble and comic timing in the cast. The genius of the performers comes acorss in the little intricacies and movements that everyone involves in whether they are the focus of the scene or not.

In particular, Parag S. Gohel as the young poet with a nervous conidition but a love-lorn heart, Eugene Marchbanks. It is wonderful to see an actor inhabit the language, emotions and physical body of a character. Gohel's Eugene is a sweating, somewhat blubbering near-adolescent who somehow manages to completely threaten and disturb Candida's husband (played by Jake Staley...who looks a dead-ringer for a reincarnated Anton Chekov). And, what's more, the audience believes this physically weak specimen when he does it.

Similarly, Lauren Diesch , provides a precise portrayal as the put-upon secretary Proserphine Garnett.  The character is professional and pointed in her language and restrained in her actions and Diesch succeeds in giving the character a whole body as well as rich inner fantasy life we know exists but the character never gives voice to.

The titular role, played by Brittany Proia, is either fully revealed to us or fully realised in the play's final scene, but for the most part Candida herself seems to walk on a cloud. Whether this is because she has two men constantly referring to her as "angel" or because Candida is trying to purposefully stay above it all is up for debate, but it might do well for her to come down and let herself be seduced a bit.

The play on the whole takes awhile to get rolling, but builds to an intimate, honest exploration of marriage, need and purpose in life. Although maybe it is that the world of the play has a little trouble finding itself. The opening moments involve characters reading Shaw's detailed stage directions from a prompt book about other characters, a convention that disappears and the play proceeds as typical plays do. And two randomly choreographed scene changes to top 40 hits are amusing but seems misplaced and a bit distracting (if not obvious).

However, the play moves. The two-hour show glides by with lots of laughs and, if the worst criticism involves the questioning of a dance sequence with overcoats, then Bakerloo is on a great start to asserting themselves in the Pittsburgh community.

"Candida" closes tonight 7/28/2012, but tickets for Bakerloo's "Henry V" can be purchased here:

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic has been on a government-induced hiatus. It seems there is a limit on how many times one can use the word "avocado" before having to pay the piper...