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More contrasts awaited us for Sunday's shows.  The matinee was a fairly new adaptation of Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, written by David Edgar (also responsible for the epic-length theatrical version of Dickens' Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby).

This was a striking production in a number of respects.  The sets at OSF, especially those in the Bowmer theater, are often gorgeous, but this particular design was extraordinary.  Not only did various set-components revolve in and out at need, shifting the scene from homey drawing-room to sinister London street to Jekyll's laboratory; the design was clever enough so that at one point, different set-segments revolved fully around to allow a character to step through a central door out of Jekyll's parlor and into his private lab in one continuous sequence.  Very, very ingenious.

The adaptation was intriguing; in some respects, it stuck very closely to the original Stevenson text, while in others, it departed very sharply -- notably in the introduction of several new characters, notably Jekyll's married sister (and her two children) and a parlor-maid drawn into Jekyll's household only to be victimized by Hyde.  Ultimately, the stage-version's approach to Hyde was more psychological than science-fictional; while it's a valid treatment, I'd have preferred a bit more in the way of alchemical zing.  And although the actor playing the dual Jekyll/Hyde role was technically excellent, I didn't think his initial portrayal of Hyde (as an almost childlike figure, lacking in inhibition but not in wonder) sufficiently foreshadowed the later, more malevolent turns of Hyde's mind.  I admire this staging, but I'm not wholly thrilled by it.

The evening's outdoor show, Two Gentlemen of Verona, began with an adventure in weather.  About fifteen minutes into the pre-performance "green show", what had been an overcast sky woke up and committed thunderstorm, with plenty of thunder, lightning, and rain, the latter graduating from "pitter-patter" to "brisk shower" in short order.  The green show was quite properly halted in mid-dance step -- one doesn't want dancers sliding out of control on a wet stage -- the gift shop swung smoothly into action and sold lots and lots of $2 rain ponchos, and stage crews proceeded to sweep excess water off those parts of the main Elizabethan stage not covered with Astroturf while folk waited for curtain time to arrive.  By 8:30, the rain was still falling briskly but the lightning had tapered off; the show began on time, and within an hour the storm had blown past; all was pretty much dried out by intermission.

The play itself was . . . strange.   You didn't misread up there; a broad semicircular Astroturf carpet had been stretched across most of the stage.  The costumes were mostly Southern California fashionista -- except for those of the "outlaw band" seen in later scenes, who were played as modern Goths, complete with leather, chains, piercings(!), and wildly shaped Technicolor┬« hair.  And the act-divisions, more or less, were marked by country-club set pieces pantomiming tennis and croquet matches, a round of golf, and so forth; we also got the Rich & Powerful Old Guys wheeling and dealing while getting their Swedish massages.  More significantly, the role of Speed was drastically cut and morphed into a little old spinster lady.  Meanwhile, a lot of modern allusions were slipped into the text, particularly in Launce's comic monologues.

Now all this was, for the most part, extremely funny -- and the incredibly well-trained terrier cast as Crab the dog stole all of his own scenes plus the intermission (during which he did a number of tricks and chased a thrown ball all over the set).  But as our tour-group's resident English professor pointed out, the result wasn't really Shakespeare's play; one might better have called it Two Dudes from Santa Barbara (with apologies to Veronica Mars and The OC), and counted it an adaptation not unlike that seen in West Side Story.  It isn't unusual for the Festival to drastically re-imagine Shakespeare's plays -- last year's dead brilliant 1950s-in-Vegas Comedy of Errors comes to mind -- but this was by far the weirdest and most severely altered production I've ever seen on the Elizabethan stage.  For what it is, it's quite well executed and highly entertaining.  But it's not properly Two Gentlemen of Verona, and that was frustrating.

Have You Heard This?

"Changing from bad to good's as easy as...taking your first step!"

-- Kris Kringle (to the Winter Warlock)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town

April 2017

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