“I am terrified by this dark thing/That sleeps in me;/All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.” Sylvia Plath
“I’m walking down a street and here’s a door in the fence and there are three women I’ve seen before, so I go in,” Mrs. Jarrett (Linda Bassett) tells us. She enters a backyard garden occupied by three middle aged, suburban peers on lawn chairs – Sally (Deborah Findlay), Lena (Kika Markham) and Vi (June Watson). Designer Miriam Butler manages to make it look familiar, yet slightly faux.
The friends know each other well. They finish one another’s sentences with pitch perfect timing, yet there’s no sense of intimacy. False starts and pauses are frequent. Each speaks as if she heard only a catch phrase of the other’s comment relating to her own life.
Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson
Talk ranges amiably: relatives, cafes, shops, “the chicken nuggets was the iron mongers and then the health shop…”, birds “eagles are fascists…America has eagles…Well?…”, cooking, jobs, television characters… It all seems usual until we learn that Vi may have murdered her husband with a butcher knife “it just happened to be in my hand…”, Sally has a psychotic break when cats are mentioned, and Lena’s not only agoraphobic, but manic depressive. “I sat on the bed till lunchtime. The air was so thick…”
Every parenthesis of conversation is followed by a blackout, whereupon Mrs. Jarrett appears in a double frame of orange, neon light (Peter Mumford) matter-of-factly describing a dystopian future of such detailed horror one wonders it rose from the same pen. You’ll cringe. Back and forth we go.
Jarrett’s own roiled subconscious is expressed in the garden with a repetition of two livid words. Eventually she departs as if nothing unusual occurred.
My best guess as to intention is showing that which lies under the surface on human and inhuman scale, how little we see, how easily lines are crossed. It is, as I say, a guess. Playwright Caryl Churchill excels in the unexpected. She experiments with format, regularly addressing issues of both feminism and out-of-hand power. Imagination conjures both worlds with articulate skill.
The four actresses, direct from London’s Royal Court Theatre, couldn’t be better. Each imbues her character with subtle attributes. Timing is impeccable, naturalistic focus complete. Director James MacDonald helms a splendid example of a symbiotic company.
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Linda Bassett
The Royal Court Production of
Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill
Directed by James MacDonald
BAM Harvey Theater
In an apparent effort to take a novel approach, Cheek By Jowl has created a version of The Winter’s Tale into which, making few discernible decisions, they throw everything but the kitchen sink. The unattractive, slatted crate (Nick Ormerod), which morphs into various sets, has no visual relationship to the story. Costumes range from jeans and (ugly) disco sequins to 19th century morning coats and a 1960s hippie shepherdess dress (with sneakers). Video, employed to dramatically show a few important speeches up close, is uncomfortably out of sync.
Orlando James, Natalie Radmall-Quirke
Music includes movie-ominous, traditional madrigal (sung so low it’s inaudible), and abrasive rock and roll. Both a period frolic and a western line dance appear. An airport security man goes through a suitcase confiscating toothpaste. A talk show host interviews participants at the sheep shearing. Are you wincing?
King Leontes of Sicilia (a contemporary, mostly credible Orlando James) asks pregnant wife, Hermione (a superb, Shakespearean Natalie Radmall-Quirke, but you wouldn’t believe the ridiculous shape of her belly), to help convince BFF Polixenes, ruler of Bohemia (Edward Sayer), to extend his visit. The king’s own entreaty falls on deaf ears. She does, Polixenes agrees, and bam! the king immediately concludes a back story of faithlessness. As if to confirm his vision, Leontes literally places his wife and friend in compromising positions.
The Company with Joy Richardson and Orlando James
The deranged king is a violent, egotistical bully. His poor, clearly simple son, Mamillius, (a terrific Tom Cawte), alternately suffers extreme roughhousing that passes for affection and unprovoked brutality. Polixenes is accustomed to schoolboy manhandling. Even loyal servant Camillo (David Carr, who might enunciate better) is dealt with this way. First scenes are immensely physical and often sexually ambiguous where men are concerned. The premise is well acted and intriguing but goes on and on.
Long story short: upon being warned by Camillo that he’ll be poisoned, Polixenes and the appalled servant flee back to Bohemia. Hermione is condemned to death without evidence. Mamillius grows ill and dies. The newborn princess, assumed by Leontes to be a child of illicit union, is delivered outside the kingdom, left to expire on the seashore of, you guessed it Bohemia! (Caterwauling never varies and often obscures speech.)
The Company with Ryan Donaldson
The baby is discovered and raised by an old shepherd (Peter Moreton). Named Perdita (Eleanor McLoughlin), she’s pursued and, at 16, despite better judgment, falls in love with Polixenes’s son Florizel (an excellent, naturalistic Sam Woolf). When Polixenes and Camillo spy on the prince, everything hits the fan. Of course, it all comes out in the end with a great retribution scene in Sicilia and a bookend of effective staging.
At the best of times, Leontes is less than a sympathetic character; here he’s not just despicable, but one dimensional. Shakespeare’s vicious and mad often retain something that makes us empathetic. Not this character, not in this production. I was sure Paulina (Joy Richardson) was Leontes mother due to the court’s deference and her Queen Elizabeth over-the-arm handbag. Turns out she’s a friend of Hermione. Nor have we a clue who Grace Andrews plays (Time) when she thrice appears. And Lord knows what Autolycus (Ryan Donaldson) did in earlier productions rather than sing and play reality TV host.
Peter Moreton, Eleanor McLoughlin, Sam Woolf
The show, though it has a few fine passages, is ill conceived, irritating, and self-indulgently long. Declan Donnellan’s direction, with a few exceptions, is often a mess.
Photos by Rebecca Greenfield
Opening: Edward Sayer, Orlando James, Tom Cawte, Natalie Radmall-Quirke
William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
Cheek by Jowl
Version by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod
Directed by Declan Donnellan
Designed by Nick Ormerod
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street
Through December 11, 2016
The Anglo-Irish Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900), unabashedly carried the banner of aestheticism into fashionable circles of after-university London. Known for quick, biting wit and flamboyant dress, he authored poetry, lectured on art (in America), and was employed as a journalist before embarking on the successful career of fiction, playwrighting, painful memoir, and epic, prison verse for which he’s artistically best remembered. Wilde, who was gay, kept up pretense, marrying and siring two children whom he adored and for whom he wrote his wonderful fairy tales.
Charlie Rowe and Rupert Everett
The artist’s other historical prominence, his destruction and downfall, can arguably be said to have been brought about by young, pretty, spoiled Lord Alfred Douglas with whom Wilde was besotted. Almost everything written about the icon describes his being lead astray by the oblivious young man. Not that the author hadn’t maintained a secret life, but his had been discreet, while Douglas, fueled by permissiveness and protected by rank, frequented low clubs and rent boys (lower class prostitutes). Wilde became reckless, though never as quite reckless as Bosie, his nickname for Douglas.
Lord Douglas’s father, The Marquess of Queensberry, became increasingly suspicious of the boy’s relationship with the public figure. At first, Wilde was able to mollify him. Things reached a head when Bosie’s father left his calling card at the author’s club inscribed “For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite.”
Lord Douglas was angrier than his lover and misguidedly convinced Wilde, who knew the possible consequences, to sue for libel. The only way the Marquess could defend himself was to prove his accusation. He naturally hired private detectives who set out to make a case that this more worldly man ensnared the youthful and naïve of his own sex. Wilde’s friends advised him to flee, but Bosie would not have it.
Rupert Everett, Cal MacAninch, Charlie Rowe, Alister Cameron, Elliot Balchin, Jessie Hills
The trial, for sodomy and gross indecency, what they called “The love that dare not speak its name,” was a bloodbath. Playwright David Hare begins this piece on the day Wilde (Rupert Everett) decides either to allow himself to be imprisoned or escape to France. Even the government wants him gone and waits to make the arrest.
Wilde’s old, dear friend, ex-lover, and eventual executor, Robbie Ross (Cal MacAninch), has arranged everything, but petulant Lord Douglas (Charlie Rowe) is convinced he can get the artist off. There’s no question that the victim knows the truth of his situation.
The three take temporary refuge in a hotel room attended by Head Butler Sandy Moffatt (Alister Cameron), Bellman, Arthur Wellesley (Elliot Balchin), and Floor Maid Phoebe Cane (Jessie Hills). All three actors do an admirable job, with Cameron ready to crisply buttle tomorrow and Hills standing out.
Act II finds us in Naples after Wilde spent 2 horrific years in four different prisons at least two of which were at hard labor, and some impoverished time on the continent. He takes full responsibility for consequences suffered. Bosie has found a villa. Wilde supports them as best he can with meager earning from his writing and, up till then, a small allowance from his wife, Constance.
Bosie does what he likes with whomever he likes. The breathtakingly beautiful Italian fisherman, Galileo Masconi (the refreshing, fully present Tom Colley), is his current companion. Unexpectedly, Robbie, who continues in his regard for Wilde, appears with a message from the author’s estranged wife, Constance which will, in its way, determine the rest of Wilde’s life. Hare has stated that these two pivotal, “incomprehensible actions” are the nexus which inspired the play.
Charlie Rowe, Rupert Everett (Tom Colley behind)
Wilde’s principles of morality dictated that each man bears responsibility for himself to such a degree, other’s intentions or actions are literally blameless. Art was his religion, beauty, his God.
Oscar Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on 30 November 1900.
Charlie Rowe’s Bosie is an imperious, self indulgent child. His (and the director’s) interpretation never takes advantage of the playwright’s often brutal dialogue which can aim for the jugular with ego-inflated glee.
Cal MacAninch is superb as Robbie (Robert Ross). There isn’t a moment of emotional falseness in his performance. One can palpably feel the character’s frustration, commitment, and heartrending love as well as fear of discovery. MacAninch moves with the precise grace of a self-made man in a world above his station. Even his posture is conscious. In Act II, we empathize with his fatalism.
Rupert Everett resembles Oscar Wilde. Benevolent generosity and subservient response appear natural around him. The actor wears an over-inflated sense of aesthetic appreciation with finesse. We believe this Wilde to be both willful and bound by irrational attraction to which he voluntarily submits. Though Everett chooses to present himself as less flamboyant than that which we expect, perhaps Wilde tamped itdown among intimates.
What we don’t believe is inner turmoil and pain which is impossible to discount. There’s no indication of struggle with decisions that must spell doom. Even resolved, the icon is unlikely to have been oblivious. When Hare shows us a dramatic moment of decisiveness in Act I, he indicates, I think, that his hero is suffering. During Act II, Wilder lives with ongoing humiliation, yet there isn’t even a halting pause in flip reaction. Everett appears to have eschewed emotion in favor of intellect.
Director Neil Armfield uses the large set with great skill. His pacing is pitch perfect. Characters move and speak within class designation. Stage business is realistic. I would disagree with his take on Wilde.
David Hare’s The Judas Kiss (as in Judas’s betrayal of Jesus) is literate, insightful, and illuminating, allowing questions rather than answers to arise. His portraits feel authentic, dialogue plausible. Facts, of course, are undeniable. The surprise opening of the piece is inspired. Still, the play never takes flight.
Dale Ferguson’s Set Design manages to reflect exactly where we are with sharp detail and minimal fuss. He makes beautiful use of curtains. Costumes by Sue Blane are as if second skin. Varied accents (Charmian Hoare) are excellent. Of particular artfulness Rick Fisher’s Lighting Design is evocative and painterly.
Performance Photos by Cilla von Tiedemann
Opening: Rupert Everett
The Judas Kiss by David Hare
Directed by Neil Armfield
BAM Harvey Theater
Through June 12, 2016