Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House may hold the record for the most-produced play ever written, but last night was the first time this reviewer had ever seen it. I had no point of reference for either the play itself (I see plays first, then read the script after) or for how any of the roles had been performed. I can tell you that after seeing this production, it’s hard for me to imagine that any actress can have played the role of Nora to better perfection. From the opening moments of the play, when she emerges as a child-woman in a touching but unbalanced relationship with her paternalistic husband-banker Thorvald, through her clueless thoughtlessness in chatting with her widowed friend Kristine, on into her two-faced dealing with all her intimates as she attempts to reconcile the details of her deteriorating private life, Stephanie Ann Foster deftly shows the complexity of the role of Nora, as a reflection of the complexity and messiness of our own lives.
At the outset Gabriel A. Ross as Thorvald seems patient and kind and more than a little condescending to his “little squirrel,” but the two of them seem to have a happy, if not entirely mature, relationship. He maintains emotionally remote throughout the first act, opens up some in the second, but not until the third act do we see some real depth, some passion in this character. But when the storm breaks in him, it really breaks.
In the final moments of the play Nora gives voice to what would echo in 1970 as a prototypical feminist manifesto. If it seems a little dated now, imagine how radical Nora’s resolve to become her own woman and make her own way in the world must have seemed in 1879. The costuming very nicely demonstrates the era and the social class of the supporting characters, each of whom (Bill McClave as Dr. Rank, Jim McFadden as Krogstad, Kelsey Sloan as Kristine, and Lynn Sotos as Anne-Marie) is well played to reflect their inner turmoil, and their conflicted relationships with the principals.
Casual seating in this small venue; folding (upholstered) chairs, some of them around circular tables near the stage for good view of the action, and conversation during the intermissions.
Through November 17 at Little Theatre at St. Vincent’s, 1 St. Vincent’s Dr., San Rafael
Website: Marin Onstage
Box Office: 415-448-6152
[I have taken the liberty of transposing the name of his character “Yank” from his play “The Hairy Ape” (1924) with that of Captain Mackenzie from my own “Articles of War: The Somers Affair” (2013)]
“Mackenzie is really yourself, and myself. He is every human being. But, apparently very few people seem to get this. They have written, picking out one thing or another in the play, ‘how true’ it is. But no one has said ‘I am Mackenzie. Mackenzie is my own self.’
“Yet that is what I meant him to be. His struggle to ‘belong,’ to find the thread that will make him a part of the fabric of life—we are all struggling to do just that. One idea I had in writing the play was to show that the missing thread, literally ‘the tie that binds,’ is understanding one another.
–from “Some Platitudes Concerning Drama”–
“There is a third course [in the craft of playwriting]: To set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favor, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford. This third method requires a certain detachment; it requires sympathy with, a love of, and a curiosity as to, things for their own sake; it requires a far view, together with patient industry, for no immediately practical result.”
Aha! says I. I’m in good company, here with Galsworthy. “. . .no immediately practical result.” And yet I go on, looking for and through dialog possibly finding, the truth of the matter behind Captain Mackenzie’s actions in “Articles of War: The Somers Affair.”
Picture this: The dark and bloody secrets of Shakespeare’s MacBeth, played out on SF Shakes’ black and bloody mobile stage (as mobile as the trees of Birnam Wood), on a brilliant sunny day on the green lawn of the Presidio’s Parade Ground. It takes some impassioned–dare I say demented–acting to make this nightmarish tragedy come to life. Emily Jordan (Lady MacBeth) and Michael Ray Wisely (MacBeth) pull it off.
The play is built upon the descent these two main characters into the deep well of guilt from which there is no escape. The other characters, well played , provide the scaffolding on which the plot is built: the wars of the Scottish thanes, the eerie prophecies of the three witches MacBeth’s murder of the old king Duncan, his betrayal and murder of Banquo. One horror builds on another, at Lady MacBeth’s instigation as she browbeats her weaker husband into fulfilling her own lust for power.
Jordan’s performance is really quite remarkable. She paces the stage, enticing the audience (seated on the sunny lawn) into her own peculiar world-view, how the murder of the old king is just and necessary. Once we are convinced, she wheedles and cajoles her spineless husband until he breaks and does the dreadful deed. From the moment he emerges with bloodstained hands, the three witches watching silently from above, the stage is ever more awash. Ghosts walk among them, and among us.
She is very well matched by Michael Ray Wisely’s powerful performance as the warlord MacBeth, who gradually comes to realize that it is his wife who has betrayed him into this meaningless act of violence, and the ever-deepening pit into which it has led him. Most of the blood is shed offstage, but the (simulated) murder of an infant on the stage in front of us made me shudder and jump.
These two powerful characters rely on the yeoman performances of the rest of the cast, to flesh out the rest of the story, and to give meaning to it all. The stage is simple and spare, black and red, with sliding doors that open and close like the gates to a prison. A fleet of plain black chairs make banquet halls and bedrooms. To the right, a forest of blood-red columns hint at forests and dungeons.
The tragedy, and the nightmare, bloom in the tortured minds of the Lord and Lady, but they will stay with you a long time. Free outdoor performances, through September 22, last performances at McLaren Park (see SF Shakespeare website for details)
Website: SF Shakes MacBeth
Telephone: (415) 558-0888
San Francisco Maritime’s annual Sea Music Festival is coming up. Traditional music on three stages, all day September 14. Some headliners: Gordon Bok, Holdstock and McLeod, Riggy Rackin, Shay Black, and a host of others.
And, oh yes, David Hirzel with Sarah Brody at the Forepier Stage, 11:00-11:30.
I quote here from Robert Hurwitt’s review of Adam Peck’s “Bonnie & Clyde” (published in SF Chronicle 9/3/13), currently in performance by the Shotgun Players in Berkeley CA. These words deserve the attention of anyone who considers himself a playwright, especially me, in the context of my play-in-draft “Articles of War”:
“The play is no more true to the facts than the movie, but many of the “facts” remain in dispute anyway. . . . But the play is less an attempt to retell history or legend than a meditation on the underlying humanity of these figures, in words and movement.”