The first production I went to was the Omaha Community Playhouse performance of The Man of La Mancha. As I commented in post #41, this is a show I know pretty well, although it’s been many years since I was involved in the production at Western. I may have read through the script once, or twice, and I MAY have seen the movie, but I have no recollection of having done so and I think I would have remembered it. I suspect that a movie version of this script would be a bit too “real” to suit me, as the whole point is that the performance is a theatrical piece conjured up in the prison as part of Cervantes’ “defense” of his possessions from confiscation by the other prisoners. VERY few movies I have ever seen can capture the same sense of “make believe” that it’s easy to establish on the stage, so I would not have been (I’m still not) enthusiastic about a cinematic version, but that’s beside the point.
First, I have to confess (yet again) that I love this show! It has the kind of romantic appeal that I have always fallen for and if it’s done at all competently, I’m a sucker for the “schmaltz” of the show. It’s a bit like The Fantasticks, another show that is virtually guaranteed to get me going, if it’s done with even marginal competence. That being said, obviously I enjoyed the performance a great deal, cried at the appropriate moments, laughed a fair amount and had a thoroughly good time.
The acting was pretty nicely done in almost all cases. I was quite pleased with the “horses” (quite well done as puppet horse heads). The set was rather unexciting (how easy is it to make a 16th Century Spanish prison exciting?), but worked quite well for the purposes of the show (in spite of the sound effect for the drawbridge stairs being consistently badly timed). The lighting didn’t seem to bring as much excitement and change of location to the stage picture as I would have expected (it seemed a bit drab and underdone, lacking the contrasts which would have been helpful, I thought. The costumes (for the most part) seemed a bit more understated that I thought was necessary. The show just seemed to lack some visual excitement. Even the “Knight of the Mirrors” sequence didn’t seem quite “over the top” enough visually to suit me.
Vocally, a number of the performers weren’t as effective as they might have been. They were never what I would call bad, but (to my ear) some of them had some problems hitting all of the notes consistently, while others suffered (in my opinion) from sounding overly trained. Musical theatre is rarely operatic (it CAN be, but it usually isn’t), so focusing too much on showing off a highly trained voice doesn’t necessarily work with all of this music. To my ear, Aldonza/Dulcinea seemed to have this problem a bit, while Cervantes/Quixote had trouble with some pitches. That weakened an otherwise pretty good production a bit, but I still enjoyed it a lot. I said in post #41 that I was curious how they were going to handle the Aldonza “rape” scene. In the script, this scene is described: “… with methodical, ritualistic brutality, in choreographic staging the MULETEERS bind, gag, beat and ravage ALDONZA.” It just didn’t really work for me. Now Maggi & Bonnie said that they thought the general idea came across pretty well, so perhaps I’m being too critical, but I never really felt the sense of violence and violation which I seem to remember from the Western production, and which I think is important in a piece which contrasts romantic, ideal dreams with ugly, violent “real” life. I just felt that the contrasts could be stronger and clearer and that this is was one place which could have been a good deal stronger.
Still, I had a good time and I’m glad we went. Of course, it would be rare for me NOT to have a good time in the theatre, but I really did have a good time with this, in spite of my criticisms.
In the program for The Man of La Mancha was an ad for the theatre season at Midland University, which is located in Fremont, about 40 minutes from our house in Omaha. As they were running Simon’s The Good Doctor the second weekend in October and since neither Bonnie nor I have ever seen the show, we figured we’d go. After all, Fremont is closer than Ashville used to be and we used to go up there with some frequency. I did a little research and discovered that Midland is a private, Lutheran college of about 1300 students which seems to put considerable emphasis on the arts, although, other than a Music Ed. degree, it only offers an Arts Management degree with emphasis on theatre, dance, music performance and “technical” arts (what I’d call stagecraft). I confess that I became quite curious as to what a school of this size, and without a major could do. I also don’t remember ever actually seeing The Good Doctor before, although I think it was done at Western at some point. Perhaps it was while I was doing my doctoral coursework in the mid 1970’s? I know I’ve see the piece called “The Audition” somewhere (perhaps in observing an acting class, or as part of somebody’s BFA thesis recital?). In any event, I have no recollection of seeing even this piece in an actual performance. I do remember that I enjoyed it, however. My only sense of the show was that of having some, very general background about these being stories by Chekhov, assembled and “framed” by Neil Simon in 1974, which would mean that Western having done in while I was doing my course work is entirely plausible.
So, having seen The Man of La Mancha at the OCP on Sunday, Bonnie and I went to the Midland production of The Good Doctor on Friday evening. I think it’s fair to say that we both enjoyed it a lot. (Again, this COULD be partially true to the sheer novelty of actually going to the theatre together as civilians; something which was not true for much of our life together.) Midland has what appears to be a really very nice theatre space. They also have some sort of “Auditorium” space, although we couldn’t get into it, so I don’t know if it’s bigger, or smaller than the theatre. I would guess that the theatre seats about 250-300 (?). It definitely felt bigger than the Niggli, but not as big as Hoey. It was a VERY nice space, however, well finished, well maintained, with an intimate feel, but big enough to do a great variety of productions and production styles.
One criticism which I had was that there did not seem to be an overly generous inventory of lighting instruments. As a result, I did not find the lighting more than minimally adequate, most of the time, and the actors did not seem well coached in staying “in their light,” which didn’t help. Costumes were fairly basic (I confess that I became rather spoiled working with Susan and Tony, so my expectations are high), but Western’s program IS a good deal larger (after all, Western is a good deal larger) so I shouldn’t be overly critical. The costumes did work, although they could have been stronger. The sets also worked, actually fairly cleverly, although I do think that even I could teach them something about scene painting. As I have never considered myself much of a painter, the low caliber of painting was something of a disappointment.
The acting was pretty much what one might expect from a small, college production. Some was actually pretty good, while much was only adequate. The Girl in “The Audition” was really quite good, I thought, but she did seem to stand out a bit. Of course, every speaking character was played by a different performer, which I believe is fairly common practice in a community or school situation. (On Broadway, the cast of three men and two women played everything, which is quite another set of challenges.) Still, I noticed no major “fluffs” and the show ran pretty smoothly and was reasonably, if not brilliantly, performed. I think one of the most exciting things about the production was the sense that, in large part, the students were doing it because they wanted to do it, not because it was a “crucial part of their professional preparation.” It took me back a bit to earlier days at Western when the Little Theatre/University Players actively encouraged truly open auditions and campus wide student participation. I found it refreshing not to sense an overwhelming sense of “professionalism,” and a considerable sense of “Let’s do a show and have some fun.” All things considered, not a GREAT theatre experience, but one which was fun, less expensive than many in the area and which we enjoyed a good deal. If the weather isn’t awful, we may very well go back for their production of Quilters at the end of January.
Then, early in the evening of the following Sunday, the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival was performing their touring production of As You Like It at Creighton University, one of Omaha’s several colleges. As most of the performances are for schools, etc., and so are not open to the public, this was about the only chance I had to seen this 75 minute version, and the first chance I had had to see anything by Neb Shakes. Yes, we COULD have gone to one of their “Shakespeare on the Green” performances last summer, but that just didn’t work out this year.
Anyway, I was generally quite surprised at how well this rather severe adaptation worked having a cast of only four men and four women (which, obviously, required a large amount of doubling, so only Rosalind and Celia didn’t play two roles, and there was a LOT of cutting, etc. Still, the production hung together pretty well. The folks seemed to know their words, to understand them, and to communicate them pretty successfully. While I don’t know as I’d say anyone was “brilliant,” no one was bad and the show was successful as a version of Shakespeare’s story. I would call it a reasonable success, and I intend to make greater efforts to seem the Nebraska Shakespeare shows next summer.
Directorially, I have some concerns about some aspects of the production, which I didn’t find necessary and had to question. In the “Director’s Note,” the director says that:
This production of As You Like It will focus on Shakespeare’s greatest female
protagonists, Rosalind and Celia, who, in an attempt to overcome great loss,
depend on true friendship in a search for love. Confined within the rigid structure
of a 1930’s private boarding school, Rosalind and Celia, raised as sisters, depend
exclusively on one another for counsel and companionship. When their
relationship is threatened, the courageous women rebel against all they have
ever know and strike out into the Forest of Arden, an unpredictable and magical
place influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Now, I didn’t find all of this particularly distracting, but I failed to find it in any way adding anything to the script. First, I believe that Celia is usually looked upon (perhaps unfortunately) as a definite second fiddle to Rosalind as a major character, so dividing the famous epilogue between the two of them bothered me a bit. Of course, the epilogue has lost a bit of its humor since we started having women play women’s role, but that’s pretty subtle for most people. The “boarding school” idea wasn’t awful (it probably simplified costumes a bit and made clear who were supposed to be “school age” and who weren’t), but I think it served more to suppress the idea of the play happening at a “court” and to lead to some possible confusion about what’s going on. Somehow, the “Forest of Arden” as “Wonderland” does make a certain amount of sense, although the intrusion of 1865 era ideas into a show with 1930’sish costumes, which was written in 1599 (see Shapiro’s 1599) seems to me to just confuse things a good deal more, especially when the only Alice references I got was that Duke Senior was wearing a Nineteenth Century hat with a tag marked “10/6” tucked in the ribbon and that one of the scenes was vaguely reminiscent of the “Mad Tea Party.”
All things considered, the concept just seemed a bit “too cute” for its own good, but not as intrusive as UNOmaha’s production of the same play last spring which set the play in Pre-Revolutionary Russia for no reason I could discern. In both cases, I kept waiting for what D.V. Caitlin used to call the “and.” I just never could figure out what this interpretational concept added to an understanding Shakespeare’s play. Both just ended up as seeming a bit overly clever for the sake of cleverness. Now, I’ve got nothing against cleverness, but I think there should be some connection to the ideas of the script. In this case, while I’m still looking forward to seeing more from Nebraska Shakes, I think they were just a bit too caught up in the idea of being “cute,” and not enough with telling Shakespeare’s story, especially since most of the tour is to schools. I’m glad to have seen this production, and the execution was pretty good, but I was not overly impressed with the approach.
Overall, I think its been a pretty good couple of weeks for Omaha area theatre. Am I “picky” enough to wish for stronger productions? Yes, but I did have a good time seeing these and I do look forward to more. When I do, I’ll probably comment on them, as well.