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Two Gentlemen of Verona, by WIlliam Shakespeare
Shakespeare in Georgia. Wrong stop?
Monday, July 22, 2002
There is nothing much to say about this “middle-school” drama studio production. Home-made level of acting, lack of basic acting skills. Extremely poor job of director. Absolute absence of designers input. Looks like the play was produced by the band of beginners who gets their drama skills watching noon soap operas. Even loud lovemaking scene doesn’t bring this “show” to the dirty burlesque level. Tim Ocel’s contemporary style doesn’t bring any good to the play. It makes it extremely dry, overdry. There is no need to turn a comedy into street circus to make the audience laugh. Educate your audience Mr. Ocel while entertaining.

Great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov ones said “Simplicity is the sister of talent”. I would add that there are 2 kinds of simplicity “Tasteful Simplicity”, that is made of charm and pureness of art and another one “Faceless Simplicity”. Tim Ocel’s “Gentlemen” is an example of that.

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Representing Shakespeare on a stage in a 21 century is much more complicated puzzle then one can think - too many forms were found, too many Shakespeare productions were made, the audience is too versed. Especially, when bringing to life such thing as “Two Gentlemen”. Light comedy, sometimes naďve farce, melodrama – these are not bold genres to make “bold choices”. Why not to use buffoonery style? Emphasizing comedy and irony opposite surface-drama would do the job. I’ve seen a couple of great examples of W.S. comedies back in Europe. They were done in a modern, stylized a la Shakespeare-time manner, in a significantly less budget, that you could find here in States. I also don’t want to remind that design makes 90% of play, with a crew like that one - 99%. Design (includes directing, light, costume, make up, decoration, form, music, choreography) and acting –skills of speech, body plasticity, ability to work in a mise en scene and of course team work (ability to lead a scene and to be led) are two milestones in a play production. What distinguishes good play from a bad one? It is director’s ability to put all those little things together.

In a good play design helps actors and audience. You have to be a hi-pro actor to survive one on one with Elizabethan text for 3 hours on an empty scene. You have to be a well-prepared viewer to survive for 3 hours one on one with a suffocating play.
In a good play design always represent something. Who can define the style of that design? Minimalism? Contemporary? I don’t think minimalism helps the comedy. In a drama you can bring you acting talent to the forefront and hide secondary elements on a background, but not in a comedy. In a comedy sometimes secondary element or secondary characters play much more significant roles. And again, this is Shakespeare time we are talking about, time when streets and courts were full of musicians and artists, when costumes were the works of art.
In a good play crew is a team. On a stage if it’s not “One for All, All for One”, crew fails, ship sinks. Weak actors are unacceptable links in a chain. Some leading actors of the play were suffering of severe dilettantism with symptoms of not knowing what to do with their bodies or body parts, how to play up a simple mise en scene. Some of them were so concentrated on articulation of the text that there were no gesture or mimicry, or there were too much gesture like throwing yourself on a stage ten times per play. And yelling on a stage was always a sign of a bad taste, unprofessionalism. Unfortunately, some actors don’t see the difference between clownery and comedy acting skills. We can talk about genre similarities and influences, but again theatrical comedy is not a circus or burlesque. I believe Stanislavski’s method is taught in American drama schools, I would highly recommend some of GSF actors to read his books. Knowing good, old tradition of acting always helps.
In a strong company there are no such collapses as “Gents”. I’d understand some raw moments if the company was working in a day-to-day schedule, plus season festivals, plus summer tours, like some European companies do. But with 3 plays in a list, isn’t it a theater management failure?
In a good play nothing distracts you, there are no unnecessary, illogical things, colors, melodies. How exactly is a hard-rock leitmotif relevant to S. comedy? It’s used as overture, final and a main leitmotif of the play??? What about the bandit with a face of successful dentist? What is that, nowadays irony, grotesque, lack of make up? And such holes in a bagel were dozens and dozens…

I frankly suffered through the play – dizzy mixture of director emotions, trying to find any connections between pure darkness (light is almost not used in the play), red brick walls (in this case it wasn’t passion red, but red that represents power or violence), laud animal sex scene (or do we find it funny these days?), poor gray clothes and the light Shakespeare comedy.

Unfortunately, everything sells these days. Colorful show-biz market troughs on us tons of rubbish. When drowning in a secondary-rate productions, sometimes it’s hard to define a border between good and bad, ugly and beautiful, erotica and pornography (we blur baby genitals on TV, but add vulgar scenes to Shakespeare plays). But what is that reality check? It’s ability to analyze and compare details of what you’ve seen, ability to analyze your emotions, caused by what you’ve seen. Rely on your taste. But what a magic circle… good taste/professionalism could be inculcated only by a good school, strong traditions…

My comments are simply quick notes of a stranger, I have no personal reasons to sing praises to the “best director in Atlanta” or console poor actors. It just a look from outside… J

Unfortunately, debating about poor plays is not in my everyday job description, so take care everybody, to the next bad play J

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