Saturday, August 16, 2008

M 4 M in Staunton. Like a Yin Yang and shit.

Something strange happened in the last production I saw in Staunton.
Why and how did actors I like playing characters I like suck so bad in the beginning of "Measure for Measure"? The whole first act just sounded like "blah, blah, blah." like no one in the play cared about what they were saying or even knew. I think it was because it was a matinée. I hate matinées for the most part. You know who goes to matinées?

The whole first half dragged along like a starved, tranquilized polar bear. The production was no better than a grieving caterpillar too tired to eat and too ugly to love itself; too lazy, too lethargic, the phlegmatic monster was too bored to do anything but hibernate in its hideous cocoon.

What was once the glorious Blackfriars Playhouse, the jewel of the Shenandoah Valley, was now disgusting to me. I looked around and wished that they would turn the lights off. Usually their slogan, "we do it with the lights on," is praised by this theater-going writer, but now it was filled with pink people. It looked like a factory farm. I just wanted to leave.

The bell rang, and the songs started. The American Shakespeare Center has a number of very good musicians in their company, but I was in no mood to listen to their acoustic renditions; I was contemplating the reactions a scathing review of this production would bring from people who have been so gracious to me as a guest in their world. My feeling of trespass would now bear fruit and I would finally be outed as a fraud and a meanie. I resolved to stay honest. No compromises on that. I was going to tear this one apart.

Then Gregory Jon Phelps came out and sheepishly said he would sing us one more song. He started in his mock-nervous way that endears him to audiences as Romeo and Antonio, a wonderful Poor Tom and a brilliant Claudio. I rolled my eyes and settled in, the only person in my row, for more of the same old-same old.

The song was "The Good Die Young," and I kind of chuckled a little because I like how closely it relates to "Measure for Measure." And the song says something about Virginia. Some back-up vocals sneaked out of the backstage area, and soon thereafter a couple actors came onto the stage to join Phelps. If you paid attention, you could start to see the butterfly wings poke out. With every repetition of the chorus, more actors came out. Eventually, they had the audience singing with them and clapping, like it was some kind of country anthem. It was really awesome, and I smiled through the whole thing so that my face hurt.

Then, as if the actors had all enjoyed the musical interlude as much as I did, they came out in character and the play had an energy and enthusiasm I have never seen before in a production of "Measure for Measure." It was like they had all realized what they loved most in life and came out to do it. I have always had faith that a production, like a football game, can be saved in the second half by the home team. And this showed me that my faith was not misplaced. I often think of leaving places during intermission. Poetry readings bum me out sometimes, and plays feel too long sometimes. But I will remember "Measure for Measure" from now on when I think about leaving in the middle.

I would have missed the best clown/executioner scene ever put on the stage.