Ah, the farce, the much-maligned farce, you just can't seem to be taken seriously.
Jonathan Berry, director of Remy Bumppo's The Marriage of Figaro, starts out his director's notes by explaining his hesitance to take on the show because of it's overwhelming silliness, which didn't feel proper in the world stage today. He goes on to illustrate how came to appreciate the show's pertinence, but it's an initial reaction worth noting as one that many, many people have. Farce is viewed as a fluff piece, without gravitas or even connection to the modern world. And yeah, that's the case with bad or unimaginative farce, but a farce like Beaumarchais' Marriage of Figaro is able to encompass all of the silly and whimsy as well as the greater depth. It's a light-handed approach, farce, a kill 'em with kindness of sorts, but while you may not exit the theatre overturning cars and lighting Molotovs, Beaumarchais leaves you with an anti-authoritarian feeling subtle enough to pass by unflagged. Sure, it's social unrest that attacks with all the speed of a clogging artery, but let it not be said that there's no place for slow and steady.
On the whole, the Remy Bumppo production performs its task quite well, with an unrelenting wheelspin of pre-bedroom foibles and multi-pronged plotting anchored by Joe Dempsey as the egotistical and chauvenistic but still two steps ahead Count. As long as the action stays fast and furious, the show manages to sweep us in along with it, but it's not entirely trusting of itself and stops jarringly at more than one point to give us a quick summation of what exactly The. Show. Is. About. Much of the problem seems to stem from Ranjit Bolt's translation/adaptation, which inserts screeds such as Figaro's rant on politics and the Count's summation of the lower classes in a show which is served best by slight pauses for breath, not long-windedness. Yet, I also have to question Berry's acceptance of these scenes at face value. The Marriage Of Figaro is a show that should be driven by an undercurrent of disrest, and for the most part it is just that. But when it tries to steer, both entertainment and effectivity fall by the wayside.
The program for Writer's Theatre's The Maids opens with a letter from Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kate Lipuma in which they set out the reasoning behind the decision to put up the show: primarily the passion director Jimmy McDermott has for the play. It's a heartening letter for those who share a passion for things a little less mainstream, but it also reads as a thinly veiled apology/fair warning for Writers' subscribers. A caveat emptor of sorts warning the North Shore that the show plays by its own rules. Not that I blame Halberstam and Lipuma -- this is one of the least compromising productions I've seen all year, and based on some of the initial reaction, the Writer's crowd at least in part aren't willing to play along. Which is too bad, because they're missing out on a helluva great show.
McDermott has allowed Genet to do the work here, which isn't a slight to him as a director at all. It takes a wise person to know when not to assert, when to just shut up and let a thing flow. Genet's dialogue along with Martin Crimp's translation work almost outside of time and place. The playwright explodes the fractions of seconds it takes for the human mind to act upon impluse and gives us a full force tour of the process. There are no 'what ifs' in Genet's world -- every option is given full weight. By the same token, no fully weighted option is ever quite graced with the privilege of actually happening. Genet's is a world of games and ceremony, performance and playacting. Everything is happening, but nothing actually happens. It's a maddening thing to try to put logic to, yet, because Genet's is also a world of power struggle and division, envy and sabotage, it's unsettling to allow it to call the shots. You risk a headache trying to shoehorn it, but almost guarantee a knotted stomach by immersing yourself in the soup.
And that's exactly why this show needs to be seen and by people looking for that immersion. The passion that McDermott so obviously has and that Halberstam and Lipuma forewarn is the type so in service of the show that it gains the ability to manifest itself physically in the audience. And that's a group effort: that comes from Genet's words and the labyrinthine beauty of his plotting, but also McDermott's soft hand and dreamlike details (the incessantly ticking alarm clock, leaving Claire in one black stocking), as well as all three performances (and especially Elizabeth Laidlaw's Solange, another labyrinth at work within Genet's) and Brian Sidney Bembridge's oppresively decadent boudoir set. You can't ask or expect this show to kowtow to your wants and needs, because it simply isn't concerned. And I couldn't applaud that more. Make your way up to Glencoe and let the art call the shots for once. It's a supreme experience.
So welcome to 2009, everybody! In honor of the new year, I'm taking quick stock of the upcoming year to check in on what's got me rarin' to go. Here's the briefest of brief rundowns on things I'm really looking forward to in '09:
- Of course, the O'Neill Festival at the Goodman -- I'm counting the days at this point.
- Steppenwolf's The Tempest -- Excuse me? Steppenwolf's first Shakespeare a 'reimagining' of The Tempest? You know something big's going down here.
- Lookingglass' Our Town -- Yes, it needs to be more or less flawless to even be mentioned in the same breath as the Cromer edition, but I maintain that there's real potential for awesome here.
War With The Newts-- Nevermind, then...
- Northlight's The Lieutenant Of Inishmore -- I'm going purely off word of mouth, but some very trustworthy friends went head over heels for this show in New York, so here's to hoping for the same.
- Circle's A Perfect Wedding and Tommy -- My experience at Circle so far hasn't really lived up to their accolades, so it's a bit odd for them to have two on here, but who am I to argue with Chuck Mee and The Who?
- ATC and Congo Square's collaboration on True West and topdog/underdog -- Seeing as how I live less than a block from ATC, I have little reason to not explore this revolving rep.
- 500 Clown and The Elephant Deal -- A new 500 Clown show? Say no more! I've also put a production of 500 Clown Christmas in Chicago proper on my wish list for next December, in case any of the Clowns are looking for some early gift ideas. I couldn't make it to the suburbs this year and it's the one 500 Clown show I have yet to see.
- The Table at Chicago Shakespeare -- Chicago Shakes' World's Stage series is turning into some extremely promising programming, and this looks like the highlight this year.
- And the rest of my MCA calendar -- I'm hitting chelfitsch's Five Days In March, Compagnie Marie Chouinard's Orpheus and Eurydice, and International Contemporary Ensemble's Xenakis and am brimming with anticipation. I can't make it to Dean & Britta's 13 Most Beautiful... Songs from Andy Warhol's 'Screen Tests', and that fact alone has a firm grip on 2009's biggest regret so far.
I'm also going to be working with Signal again for the first time since they asked me on board as an Artistic Associate, so that'll be a very happy return home. I'm going to be assistant directing our production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which opens at the Chopin in March, and I will also be involved in some way, shape, or form as yet to be determined on our first production of the 09-10 season: Edward Albee's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, going up late summer. (Was that a leak? Did he just leak that? Yes, I did. Tell your friends.)
All in all, a pretty god damn exciting year, no? I'm looking forward to it.