28 August 2006

I'll find a day to massacre them all …. Or Daniel attends Shakespeare in San Diego

Now this story does require some background information. The first of which needs to be the explaining of the special place in my heart that Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”. At some point during high school my parents gave me a compendium of Shakespeare’s works, it seemed fitting since even then I was something of a literary elitist (reading the better part of Hemingway’s cannon will do this to a young man). So as I decided which play to read first I skinned the contents of this very large volume and came upon ‘Titus Andronicus’. Now this to me looked like a good place to start, I had never heard of this play much less knew anyone who had ever read it. Even at a young age I realized it was impossible to know everything so one must esoterically select the works one reads in a fashion that leaves most people with little to say on the matter. The play was wonderful especially in the mind of a teenage boy, murder, death, rape and all manner of villainy afoot. This is what Shakespeare had been lacking during the ‘A midsummer nights dream’ years the sort of potent tragedy that ends with the lead feeding the villains in pie form back to their parents, now this my friends is Shakespeare for the everyman if not the NASCAR fan.

My interest in the play blossomed further with Julie Taymores’ amazing film rendition ‘Titus’. The cast could not have been better assembled with Anthony Hopkins in the title role, Jessica Lange as Tamora, and Harry Lennix as Aaron. The rest of the cast was filled out with other fine actors like Colm Feore, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Angus Macfadyen and Alan Cumming. The film was beautifully executed and lovingly kept to the script. I have to say that while some of the staging was over the top it was done with great aplomb. While I do have friends who dislike the staging and costume design of the film the one thing we can all agree on is how fantastic the acting performances are in this film. This brings me to another point regarding Shakespeare; his plays require nothing but good acting to succeed. A Shakespearian play can be staged with no more than a cast of capable actors and sufficient stage space for them to move about. They do not need costumes or props, Shakespeare is written for the virtuoso performer, one who can blend stage and scene together as one. The worst thing that has ever been suffered upon modern Shakespeare performances has been the ‘clever’ director, one that feels the need to ‘embellish’ or modernize the production. Most of these end poorly because the director over reaches their grasp and falls flat on their face after missing the context of the event rather wide. Keep this point in mind; I’ll get back to it.

Now I also have fears about San Diego which is, and I speak plainly, woefully uncultured. Now it is possible that I have been spoiled by living in Toronto so long and from an early age having relatives who were more than willing to drag me around from art gallery, to museum, to film festival and eating some of the fantastic ethnic food Toronto has to offer along the way. It’s not that I’m a snob per se it’s more that I have a higher standard because I am used to much more. San Diego is not a cultured town and I suspect it has something to do with the beaches. The beach seems to suck everyone’s will and bend it to its’ own. The pace of life moves slower, it seems, the better the weather gets. San Diego has a wonderful park that masquerades as a cultural center but the truth is Balboa Park is what you walk through on your way to the zoo. There are no significant museums or art galleries in this town. This may be part of the reason for my interest in leaving the city as soon as humanly possible.

Now with all this in mind Michael, Jennifer and I went to see Titus Andronicus last Thursday at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. Now the theatre itself is open air which made me curious as the park itself is right in the flight path of the airport, but one assumes that these sorts of things are taken care of. Also the theatre is very close to the zoo and judging from the noises it is specifically close to the gorillas. The stage was set simply which gave me some hope as to the nature of the performance. I was to be greatly disappointed. Let me first begin by taking issue with the costuming. The characters were dressed to look like modern day power brokers and Saturninus was clearly dressed to look like George W Bush. Now like I have said in the past I am no great fan of his but, I feel that this sort of costuming is a neon sign stating ‘get your cultural relevance here’. It’s tacky and embarrassing and offers all of the mature direction that one would expect from the local high schools socialist players club.

My issues with the direction of the play go well beyond the costuming; in fact they extended to the entire length of the performance. The play is very bloody and violent that’s simply the nature of it. This director decided to play all of the dark scenes for laughs. Now I am open to some interpretation but playing ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ during the rape of Lavinia is beyond distasteful it is in it’s most basic nature grotesque, yet he did not stop there with his amateurish lampooning of the play he furthered it with playing ‘I Wanna Hold Your hand’ while Titus cuts off his own head in an attempt to save the lives of his two sons. There wasn’t a serious moment in the play that he didn’t not attempt to add some sort of Loony Tunes-esque comedy to, to the point were I was wondering who was going to die via an Acme anvil. I’m surprised he didn’t go further I mean once you have decided to pillage a play why not go the whole way with it. Wouldn’t it have been much funnier of Lavinia held up signs with ‘Oh No!’ or ‘Ouch!’ written on them like the Roadrunner? Surely this would appease this barbarian of a director, who can rest safely in the knowledge that were there enough of Shakespeare bones remaining to spin in the grave they surely would. Oh but wait he did do that didn’t he? He had poor Lavinia now handless and tongue less yell ‘Hello!’ in the manner of a petulant and ignored 12 year old wanting for attention. Yes your two syllable addition to Shakespeare’s great work was highly appreciated.

The less said of the act the better, I have never seen so many people miss wide of the mark of Iambic pentameter. Now I had always assumed that speaking in this way was something that one learned in High School if not sooner. Instead of doing this properly the actors seemed to think that impersonating William Shatners speech patterns was enough. Now there were two truly gifted actors who stood out as being up to the task of reverently performing Shakespeare. Owiso Odera aptly handled Aaron with a good amount of spite and malice suitable to the character even if he did have to play most of his scenes for gags. He was no Harry Lennix but I did not expect him to be and he shone over a mediocre cast. Charles Janasz also had an excellent turn as Marcus and seemed to be the only one amongst the cast who took the part seriously.

On the whole this performance was a reprehensible waste of money and time, though thankfully not talent. As a director Darko Tresnjak seemed to be of the impression that he was much more clever than his own execution seemed to be. He attempts to add comical layers which only have the effect of making him seem like he is above the bard and is mocking his own work. Clearly this man is either delusional or ill adept to handle Shakespeare.

On the whole this has given me yet another reason to want to get out of San Diego as fast as humanly possible.


At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for making a note about your experience with the play, the movie and the book. I love Titus (Shakespere's) and the film you mentioned. Although I dislike violence, the written lanquage in this story is so beautiful, I can't read without choking up a few times.


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