Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Twelfth Night: Down Wit' O.P.P.

Gabe drop a load on em.

OPP, how can I explain it? I'll take it frame by frame it.

See O is for Original, like OG, oh say can you see? 

The first P's for Practices -- not on your mattresses -- this P is clean for your families -- P.

 The last P is simple... it's for Production.

     I saw Twelfth Night in 2003 at the old Guthrie in Minneapolis when it was next to the Walker Art Center and the Cherry in the Spoon. It was an Original Practices Production done by the touring Globe Theater. And it was the best thing I’ve ever seen on stage.

      Wit' OPP the actors wear costumes made from the fabrics that were used in the seventeenth century (no velcro or zippers to ease costume changes), oak sets, no changes in lighting, and of course all the women's roles are played by men.

     Mark Rylance, who was also artistic director of the Globe Theater at the time, played the Countess Olivia. He breathed comedy into almost every moment of the show. When he walked he would only turn in right angles. It was a perfect satire of the formality of Olivia’s station, which stands in for the formality of her grief, which is undone by the fool:

FESTE: Good madonna, Why mournest thou?

OLIVIA: Good fool, for my brother’s death.

FESTE: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.

OLIVIA: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.

FESTE: The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul, being in heaven. (1:5)

     Feste the Fool played the lute and sang his songs, which were sad and funny and beautiful, and the entire sense of the play as a revelry to accompany the feast of the epiphany on the twelfth and final night of Christmas was captured perfectly.

     OPP is long. This one was four hours. There were two intermissions and I wanted it to never end.

     I wished I were a mouse, so that I might stow away on the Globe Theater caravan among the sour costumes and prop swords. Venturing countryward to mimic and master the intricacies of their stagecraft, living off morsels peppering the warped wooden floors of taverns and actors’ pubs. 

As they performed for the human population, I might gather the critters of every hamlet and present the vicarious artistry of my patrons. Until the day when there was a call for someone to stand in. To play the dagger I see before me or Yorick’s skull, perhaps Desdemona’s handkerchief or the lark, who sings from yon pomegranate tree. Becoming a passing component of the bard's lore. The Shakespearean mouse.

Thinking about OPP has caused me to reflect on some of the plays I’ve already read without considering them in terms of staging, or as I’m going to discuss in this post: casting.

Viola in this play, is disguised as a boy named Cesario for most of the show. Olivia falls in love with Cesario, not realizing he is a girl. When all the women's roles are played by men, so much comedy comes from the confusion of the sexes on stage. A level of hilarity is achieved at seeing a man play a woman like the formal Olivia that wouldn’t precisely exist in gender-appropriate casting of the role. This is not to underestimate the humor available to a female actor who could find her own masterful comedy in the nooks and crannies of the role. But it would be different... and it wouldn't be OPP.

In The Taming of the Shrew, the youngest sister Bianca is the fair and beautiful of the pair. So assuming that within the troupe of men who play these roles there is one who is the fairest and most eunuch of the lot, he would be cast as Bianca, so that this love story might play as sincerely as possible. However, the role of Kate would be played by a man of some greater masculinity.

Add to that the fact that The Taming of the Shrew is actually a play within a play, being acted out for the drunk: Christopher Sly, who has been fooled into believing that his drunken life was a dream and that he is actually a mighty lord. One could surmise that the role of Kate might be played for pure slapstick comedy and the most brutish man in the company may have been cast in the role so as to provide maximum delight to Christopher Sly and the lowest common denominator he personifies. Imagine Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds dressed as a cheerleader.

This would allow all of Petruchio’s abuses against Kate to be seen as comic, as well as all of his musings on her beauty, which seem to be sarcastic anyway. 

And the happy end of the play, Kate’s speech on the submissive role of the wife, would be hilarious before she and Petruchio march off to consummate their marriage, the image of which would cause all those in attendance to vomit slightly in the backs of their mouths or laugh and tuck away their rotten fruits and vegetables for another play.

Shakespeare was a popular playwright, he was entertaining people. All of his works are poetic and eloquent, but they're not treatises. I was pretty harsh on The Taming of the Shrew when I read it in November, without considering comedy's liberty to be naughty by nature. 

I’d forgotten that these are plays. And plays are meant to be staged. It's an important lesson for we stowed-away mice to remember.

More on Twelfth Night in 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment