The Select is not everyone’s cup of tea (or, more accurately, shot of whisky). The Elevator Repair Company, the group responsible for Gatz, an afternoon and evening marathon reading of The Great Gatsby, has followed up with a production of Ernest Hemingway’s masterwork that, after touring cities in the U.S, and Europe, opened in 2011 at the New York Theater Workshop. Now playing through April 2 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, The Select focuses on American and British expatriates living in France and Spain in the aftermath of World War I.
Susie Sokol as Pedro Romero
In program notes, Director John Collins said that condensing Hemingway’s 260-page novel proved to be challenging. The play clocks in at around two and a half hours, and while there’s plenty of action – several lively dance sequences and a thrilling bull fight, ingeniously staged with a rolling table equipped with horns – the play is heavy on dialogue. But this is Hemingway, after all, and audience members who stay the course are rewarded with a theatrical event that is unique and inspiring. Those who have never read Hemingway, or have long forgotten his emphasis on simple prose, may find themselves on Amazon. His characters truly have stood the test of time and, brought to life on stage, prove to be as intriguing and complex as they are on the page.
The play’s narrator is Jake Barnes (a strong performance by Mike Iveson), who was injured in the war and is now impotent. He’s in love with Brett Ashley (Stephanie Hayes), who loves him, but, also loving sex, knows their relationship will never be consummated. Jake, however, is not the only one in love with Brett. In fact, virtually every many who comes into contact with her cannot resist her sexual appeal. And that’s a problem for this close knit group of friends, leading to arguments, breakdowns, and fist fights. All of this passion is fueled with copious amounts of alcohol. David Zinn’s set, meant to resemble a cafe in Paris or Spain, is dominated with bottles lining the shelves above the bar, and glasses filled with colorful liquids set up like marching soldiers on two long wooden tables. The actors are rarely without a glass or bottle in their hands. Sound designer Matt Tierney provides the special effects of liquor being poured and Champagne corks being popped.
Kate Scelsa as Frances, John Collins as Robert Cohn and Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes
Jake wears many hats – host, confidante, mediator, spectator, and good friend. When the play opens, he’s attempting to console Frances (Kate Scelsa), who is engaged to Jake’s Princeton classmate, Robert Cohn (played by Collins), but can’t get him to the altar. A Jew, Cohn never felt accepted at Princeton or among the group he’s with in Europe. His marriage to Frances doesn’t come off and his dalliance with Brett also proves to be a disaster. Brett is soon engaged to Mike (Paul Boocock), but then, intrigued with the spectacle of bullfighting, takes off with the 19 year-old matador, Pedro Romero (Susie Sokol). Finding herself alone and broke in San Sebastían, Brett sends a telegram to Jake, and he, of course, comes to rescue her.
Stephanie Hayes as Brett Ashley and Mike Iveson as Jake Barnes
Hayes’ performance as a femme fatale is brilliant. There’s no slinking around or bending over to flash cleavage. Her sexual appeal is more subtle, helped along by her appealing British accent. While a male magnet, the one thing she can’t attract is happiness. Jake and Brett are made for one another, but will never be happy together, a tragedy for both of them.
Hemingway meant The Sun Also Rises as a comment on the post World War I generation that many saw as being the “Lost Generation,” a term coined by Gertrude Stein. Hemingway scholars feel that the author was more optimistic, seeing these young people as possibly scarred, but still hopeful. Certainly that description might apply to many post-war generations.
Photos by Scott Suchman
The Select (The Sun Also Rises)
Elevator Repair Services
Shakespeare Theatre Comopany
450 7th Street NW
Through April 2, 2017
Jaleo located next door to the Lansburgh Theatre is offering a pre-theatre tasting menu in honor of The Select (The Sun Also Rises). The menu features three courses that bring alive the spirit and flavors of Spain at only $30 per person. Ask for “The Select” menu upon arrival or when making your reservation. Available Sunday–Thursday 5-6:30 p.m.
How to stage Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew to make it more palatable for present-day audiences? Start with inspiration from Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar who connected with one of the main themes of being an outsider. Add in songs from musician/composer Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening). Then line up an all male cast including 30 Rock’s Maulik Pancholy to play the feisty shrew Katherina. The result is a highly enjoyable take on one of the Bard’s most controversial plays.
The fun begins even before entering the theater. Actors in costume are on the sidewalk and in the lobby greeting patrons, posing for photos, and answering questions about the play. (This mingling of the audience and cast continues during the half-hour intermission called an “intermezzo,” with refreshments served on stage, and at the end of the performance.) Piazza D’Amore, an artisan market, has been set up on the first and second floors of the theater, designed to look like the open-air markets of Padua, with handmade fashion goods and food items that might appeal to the contemporary consumer.
Peter Gadiot, center, as Petruchio, with the cast
The stage setting for the play is a glittering multi-level structure bathed in golden lights with colorful eye-catching curtains at the top. (Kudos to Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood and Lighting Designer Seth Reiser.) Ostensibly, this is the palace of the wealthy Padua merchant, Baptista (Bernard White), who has two daughters, Katherina (Pancholy), and Bianca (Oliver Thornton). Bianca, the more beautiful and feminine of the two, has numerous suitors, most notably Lucentio (Telly Leung). Yet Bianca can’t be married off until her older sister, the obstreperous Kate, lands a husband. So when the rogue, Petruchio (Peter Gadiot), appears, drawn in less by Kate than by the value of her dowry, the die is cast.
Maulik Pancholy as Katherina and Peter Gadiot as Petruchio
Baptista, who cares little for Kate’s happiness and safety (no helicopter parenting here), agrees to the match, even when Petruchio humiliates his future wife by showing up late for the ceremony dressed like an animal with antlers. In modern times, Kate would have taken a page from Julia Robert’s The Runaway Bride and fled. But this is the1500s, and Kate submits to the union and is whisked away, not in a luxurious carriage but in a rickety wooden wheelbarrow. It’s a harbinger of what is to follow. Petruchio, intent on “taming” Kate, resorts to sleep deprivation and starvation to break her will.
Peter Gadiot as Petruchio and Maulik Pancholy as Katherina
Even though Iskander has removed from this production some of the harsher language (haggard, for one), there’s no blunting the misogynistic themes throughout the play. George Bernard Shaw once said about The Taming of the Shrew: “No man with any decency of feeling can sit it out in the company of a woman without being extremely ashamed.” (Shaw vigorously protected the independence of Pygmalion’s heroine, Eliza, by not having the play end with her marrying Professor Higgins.) Referring to Kate’s final speech of submission, Iskander writes in the production’s program, “It seems monstrous to ask a woman to perform it in today’s world…” Does an all male cast make that speech and other slights within the play less offensive? Perhaps on some level. What does help is placing the play in historical context, understanding the considerable obstacles women once faced.
Oliver Thornton as Bianca and Maulik Pancholy as Katherina
As Baptista’s two daughters, Kate and Bianca are polar opposites, the contrast played up visually by the characters’ wigs and costumes. Thornton’s Bianca sports long blonde tresses and wears pink gowns embellished with feathers and sparkles. Pancholy’s Kate has her dark hair in a blunt cut and wears muted, manish clothing. But it’s the way these two actors carry themselves and express their emotions with hand gestures and body language that conveys how they regard their gender and sexuality. Bianca is flirtatious, enjoying all the attention she receives from her male suitors, while Kate refuses to entertain their presence, often hurling insults. Pancholy’s performance is brilliant because it is so disturbing. It’s disconcerting to watch Kate transform from the strong-willed fighter she once was into a docile woman who helps Petruchio win a bet when she’s the only wife who comes when he calls.
Comic relief is provided by André De Shields as Gremio, an older suitor seeking Bianca’s hand. (Although why he appears as a Cardinal is a mystery.) He dances then suddenly passes away in a death scene that he plays for laughs. (De Shields was also much sought after for photos in the lobby.) As another Bianca suitor, Lucentio (Leung), along with his tutor, Tranio (Matthew Russell), also create lighter moments.
The Taming of the Shrew will always have its detractors. Yet Shakespeare Theatre’s timing in producing the play is perfect. While women continue to push for equality in the workplace, we will see a woman run for the highest office in our country. And the transgender movement is challenging how we think about what separates men and women. It’s hard not to think about those facts while being entertained by this very lively production.
Photos by Scott Schuman
The Taming of the Shrew
610 F Street NW