We review the world premiere of Shepsu Aakhu’s newest play Feral, about police shootings and the media circus which follows them, and then K. recommends The Lion in Winter by Promethean Theatre Ensemble at the Athenaeum.
. . . and then Kelly raves over Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s Tiger at the Gates.
Tiger at the Gates, Promethean Theater Ensemble at the Athenaeum: Jean Giraudoux’s 1935 play is a re-telling of the start of the Trojan War from Troy’s perspective. The weight of the situation, and of the play, falls on Hector as he tries heroically to keep the war from starting. Clearly the playwright was responding to the lives wasted during World War I, which makes us somewhat more forgiving of the extent to which the play uncomfortably anticipates France’s anything-but-fighting posture as World War II loomed.
As directed by John Arthur Lewis, Tiger at the Gates (entitled in the original French The Trojan War Will Not Take Place) is so clear that after years of watching classical theater I understood for the first time the role of each player in the moves and counter-moves leading up to the Trojan War, and if that sounds trivial you’ve never tried to keep straight the relationships among Hector, Priam, Cassandra, Helen, Paris, Hecuba, Ulysses, Ajax, and on and on. But the production’s virtues extend beyond clarity: as embodied by Jared Dennis, Hector is all the warriors who have ever needed to remind the home front that war is something to be avoided if at all possible. Dick Cheney and other chicken-hawks, take note. This is a beautiful production without a wasted word or gesture; see it before it closes April 25.
Not So Much
Graveyard of Empires at 16th Street Theater: Elaine Romero’s play can’t quite decide who it’s about: the engineer whose erroneous source code caused a drone to misfire and kill his son; his estranged wife seeking peace in yoga while ignoring the violence all around her; the son who joins the army to prove himself to his father; the fellow soldier who accidentally kills him; or the soldier’s wife. By the end it seems like the father’s play, suggesting that Romero should go back and modify everything else accordingly. Dad’s is certainly the most interesting/ironic/tragic fate, because he has some agency; the others are mere pawns. His reconciliation with his wife is touching but unearned, and the play—even at 75 minutes—is a bit too long. Kevin Christopher Fox ably directs a cast of mixed abilities—veteran Joe Dempsey, as the father, is perfect but some of his castmates seem unclear on whether Graveyard is a magic-realist nightmare or a kitchen-sink melodrama. The production design, however—particularly Matt Kooi’s lighting—is excellent. This is the first of a Romero trilogy about the war in Afghanistan; perhaps she’ll get better with practice.
The Bird Feeder Doesn’t Know at Raven Theatre: I have a friend who often remarks after an evening of theatrical upset, “Anguish, rage, tragedy—I get enough of that at home!” Raven’s awkwardly-titled world premiere makes that plaint literally true, as it explores the difficulty an adult son has in dealing with his aging and increasingly debilitated parents, something many audience members get enough of at home. If we learned more about the couple or the son, though, the familiarity of the material wouldn’t be a problem; but instead we get little snippets of self-disclosure, such as the mother’s saying, “This house is the only place I’ve ever felt safe.” Okay, tell me more—but playwright Todd Bauer doesn’t. Again, it’s not precisely clear whose play this is: the son, who’s fought his whole life for his parents’ approval despite a disability which interferes with his gait; the husband, who’s still living in his army days though the Korean War was some time ago; or the control-freak mother, who lives in such terror of her loved ones’ being injured that she injures them herself. We can see the ending coming a mile away and yet it takes forever to arrive. When you do new work, you risk clunkers like this.
Preview before review: Dance Theatre of Harlem is coming to the Auditorium Theatre on Friday for three days only. The program includes two dances to music associated with Harlem, and then—for something completely different—a piece by the great choreographer Ulysses Dove, set to music written by a contemporary Estonian composer as a tribute to an English classicist. I’m seeing the program Friday night but don’t wait to hear what I think: just go.
Promethean Theatre Ensemble is presenting Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview through December 13. This is a deeply puzzling work—as director Brian Pastor says in his program note, the play is a Greek tragedy with a happy ending. The production’s first act is impeccable: the actors speak the iambic pentameter with an unusual sensitivity to the meter’s similarity to natural speech. John Arthur Lewis as the insanely jealous King Leontes and Cameron Feagin as the queen whom he destroys bring heartfelt emotion to their wrenching encounters, with fine support from the company, especially Nick Lake as the loyal servitor Camillo.
And then comes the second act. Suddenly the play turns from drama to pastoral comedy before reverting to a dramatic reconciliation infused with magic. The tone shift simply does not work for me, not in this production nor in any previous one I’ve seen. The audience is expected to go from horrified observer to a sort of co-conspirator in a plot which alternates between utter predictability and complete unbelievability.
Jonathan chides me that Shakespeare isn’t intended to be naturalistic, but I’m not asking that he be. In The Tempest, his mix of drama and comedy with magic makes for a perfect evening in the theater. In The Winter’s Tale, the same recipe produces an inedible stew.