Friday, July 31, 2009

pericles ... and the best bathrooms in town

First off, I would just like to say that the Opera House has, hands down, the best bathrooms in Sydney. They are big, bright, airy, clean and covered in full-length mirrors that I suspect concave in slightly to make you appear just a wee bit thinner (or is it convex out? I certainly never claimed to be a scientist). Or else I really did look amazing, but my money's on the mirror trick.

Second, I went to see Pericles at the Opera House. (Clearly, my priorities are in the right order here.) It was a really great production, though I'm still trying to figure out what the incestuous king-princess relationship at the beginning had to do with anything that followed. And why they couldn't have bought a few more props. (How expensive can a few dinner goblets be? And even if they are a smidge pricey, surely the Opera House has enough spare cash to spring for these sorts of things? Or perhaps it's spent all its stash on its concave mirrors?)

The casting for the show was excellent, and I was particularly pleased with Pericles himself. Being a title character, I think it is important that he is cast well. (The same goes for Macbeth, who, I regret to say, I have seen miscast more often than well cast; Giles Davies, though, having set the stage high, so to speak, for all future Macbeths ... and Iagos ... and Tranios. And Jeremy Dubin for the Shylocks. And Graham Abbey for the Petruchios. But I digress.)

As I was saying, Pericles himself was quite well cast, looking the part, aging as necessary and not appearing overtly homosexual (being that he falls madly in love with a princess this would not have helped the plot along; or rather, it would not have helped the plot along in the traditional Shakespearean sense of Pericles).

The other brilliant casting move (not being an expert on Pericles, I'm not sure if this is how it is normally staged or if this director had a stroke of sheer genius) was double casting the evil queen of the formerly starving kingdom (you can see I've forgotten her name) with the saucy slut (I seem to have forgotten her name as well). Genius! And the actress did a fabulous job, pulling off both parts with such completely different characterization (and costuming, go figure) that it was actually a genuine surprise the first time the slut melded back into her queenly garb and role.

One minor flaw in the double casting was that one actor (he did a fine job; he really can't help what follows) was so incredibly tall that it was slightly unnerving to see him in different roles because it was so clearly the same man who now seemed to be working for a completely different operation as he had been before and you were pretty sure he was supposed to be a different character entirely, but not entirely sure as he was obviously the same person. But, well, it all sorted itself out by the end.

The other actors were quite good as well; in particular, the old man who played various sage, semi-sage and simply elderly roles was adept at bringing humor even into iambic pentameter (no mean feat, as those of you who have attempted will know ... except of course for the fabulous cast of the Southern Othello, you know who you are!). There was a sizable company playing many of the extra roles, and they worked together quite well, didn't draw attention to themselves more than their due, and generally enhanced the performance.

One slight flaw in drama in general is that so many of the female characters called for happen to be the most beautiful woman in the world. And, as the genuine article is not generally able to appear in all plays that call for her, sacrifices must be made. This now is not to say that the women in the cast were not beautiful. They were; however, when a character is described as, say, having a face that launches a thousand ships, it is nearly impossible for any human actress to step out and live up to her description. The same was true in this production, though, really, I think we can blame Shakespeare for regaling us with too high a description, the hypocrite! Did he not write Sonnet 130!? (It's that one you, know, where he says all those things about his mistress that would make any female cringe, but he calls it satire to get himself out of a heap of relational trouble and then ends up getting lauded for honesty, the brute. Hope he bought roses the next day, even if there weren't any in her cheeks.)

One other problem for women longing to be Shakespearean actresses is the issue of voice. I have never understood why so many of these actresses develop such deep, gravelly, strained sort of tones that really sound more like they're intentionally giving themselves throat cancer than just, say, projecting. Whatever the tone, though, it's certainly been in Shakespearean vogue since I've been going to the theatre, so clearly it is cool. I just have bad taste.

The staging was very good; the actors made full use of the space for various fights, dances, near-rapes, etc. The set was impressive as well -- not terribly complex, but with enough fascination (look! they've got the boat hung up from a rope!) to keep attentive interest. The ship scenes really were quite cool, and the ship itself was used as a great set piece for significant part of act two. It's nice to see a good set piece getting good stage time; it's sad when say, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang only gets a glorious final sweep over the audience.

There was a lot of music incorporated in the show as well -- drumming and fluting, mainly. Everything was played on stage by the company and the music really added to the production immensely.

Overall, this production was incredibly well done. It was every bit as polished as you'd expected a Sydney Opera House production to be (for the amazingly cheap price of $35, even with the in-house fee!), and it had class. It wasn't trite at all, but colorful, full of exotic costuming, dancing and music. The actors manned their parts well, and the technical crew did a fabulous job of pulling everything off without a hitch. I didn't actually give a standing ovation, but in hindsight I wished I had. They deserved it.

Oh, and did I mention the Opera House has really great bathrooms?

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