Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "The Blind VERSUS The Elephant"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Wednesday, 6 March, 2002:
"The Blind VERSUS The Elephant"

"Does Anyone
Still Read
The GLOBE???????"

Apologies to Stephen Sondheim

Compare these paragraphs:

"Another director might have helped these actors find the ghastly but genuine passion in Shakespeare's most fascinating dual-career couple. And another director might have known what to do with so many less experienced players, or showed them how to be on stage with a purpose, not just shouting when they raced upstage. But perhaps the Scottish play is more than can reasonably be handled by Boston Theatre Works for now"

"Although the uneven quality of the performances - and some unfortunate wrestling with costumes - detracted from this ``Macbeth,'' Slavick's consistent approach proves he is a director to watch."

They are the concluding paragraphs of reviews by first Sally Cragin, Globe Correspondent, and then Terry Byrne, Boston Herald. They graphically illustrate the approaches to theater taken by these two "newspapers of record".

The GLOBE hates theater.
No, that's not strictly true. The Boston GLOBE has detested BOSTON theater ever since Kevin Kelly announced it was beneath the dignity of that paper's critic to waste his time at The Charles Playhouse when much more important Broadway tryouts needed his attention. (Notice that the Eliot Norton Award-winning Boston Theatre Works was reviewed not by their full-time theater-voice but a dogmatically opinionated "Correspondent" who didn't even dignify the company by waiting till press-night but, for whatever reason, had to "To judge from a preview performance..."
La plus change........

Of course they can't ignore theater totally. They need money too much to do that. And we know which six big playhouses buying big, expensive ads (one of them in Cambridge) get the eyeballs of the GLOBE, don't we. The paper has for years unleashed opinionated attack-dogs like Sally Cragin on small-audience small-ad local companies, but do you think you'll ever see them send a mere "Globe Correspondent" to any one of those six cash-cows because their salaried staffer had More Important Things to see opening at a local company on the same night? Sure --- and the Red Sox will be champs next year.

It is true, of course, that Sally Cragin has the GLOBE style so far as theater is concerned down pat. The game is to shoot the poor Boston fish in their barrel so that everyone who reads the GLOBE (who would never go anyway) can feel justified in not seeing the show. And no one will ever know, then, whether those dogmatically opinionated statements have any validity whatever, since the GLOBE is all anyone ever reads --- except sports fans. Self-fulfilling opinions! They must be true because everyone believes them! And besides, the job of a reviewer is to Entertain, right? --- not to inform , and certainly not to help live theater in Boston grow in artistic and economic importance.

Let me clarify one thing about the paper. Their coverage of Fashions and the Plastic Arts are some of the most informative, even-handed, supportive articles I have ever read anywhere, and I'm told that their coverage of Classical Music is equally balanced. It's only where live theater is concerned that the opinionated attack-dogs rule. And, although other things are covered there, I have yet to see a single sentence about live theater in all the pounds of newsprint in any GLOBE Sunday edition. The GLOBE hates theater, Q.E.D.

And understand: you can find right here in The Theater Mirror essays (they are Not reviews) by Carl A. Rossi and Will Stackman that are just as pig-headed, addle-headed and wrong as Sally Cragin's. As a matter of fact, the only review that agrees with Terry Byrne and with me is one by some irrelevant upstart named Larry Stark. [ Insert the wry emoticon of your choice here! ]

The subtext in every one of these three nay-saying essays is "You just can't DO 'Macbeth' this way!" because each of the three came Knowing "The Right Way" and were offended when Jason Slavick gave them something new instead. They insist on reviewing some 'Macbeth' of the mind, instead of trying to see what's there.

They balk at the "three witches in white" ... "they're costumed as if Macbeth were the Oresteia" ... "Three maidens – kohl-eyed and bare-legged ... Are they priestesses? Bacchantes?"
Well, they're right that these are not your usual Hallowe'en Hags. Shakespeare says "The earth hath bubbles as the water has, and these are them. Whither are they vanished? Into the air, and what has SEEMED corporal melted As breath into the wind." "They made themselves into air, into which they vanished." "Infected be the air on which they ride!"
They are, in fact Witches of The Mind, and in this production (and on this budget) they've been dressed in clouds of gauze, remaining --- invisible --- on stage to become whatever they seem to be in others' eyes.

These essayists insist with Carl A. Rossi "Doing MACBETH as One Dark and Stormy Night does not mean a lack of imagination on a director's/designer's part; far from it – it is called being Faithful to Shakespeare's Vision." --- meaning, of course, the Essayists' vision --- usually a vision imposed by productions remembered from the past.

That is the deadly danger where Shakespeare is concerned. Arthur Colby Sprague in a book called SHAKESPEARE AND THE ACTORS (which I would dearly love to own again!) explains that from 1825 to at least 1890 when Phoebe appeared in "As You Like It" she did so chomping on a turnip. In another age and play, for at least as long whenever the Ghost entered Gertrude's closet, Hamlet had to jump up so fast his chair fell back Wham! onto the stage. Those were strait-jacketing conventions no one could take seriously today, and I think that a demand for darkness and pointed hats is just a yearning for one more mouldy turnip.

"But there is a major drawback when you put the witches front and center: The tiny flame of free will the Macbeths possess is quenched." "At play's end, with Macbeth dead and Malcolm taking up the crown, the Witches – beating their drums – slowly encircle the new King, who stiffens and turns to the audience, a sudden Look in his eyes…. Sorry, folks; I don't buy it – and neither would an Elizabethan audience. They would have demanded that Good triumph over Evil." " .. but Macduff's traditional entry with the tyrant's head is essential, probably with the crown in his other hand. The end of the play can then build toward hailing the new king, however doubtful his future may be."

Well, I didn't find Free Will quenched, I did Buy It, and I found the point when Macbeth felt Macduff's steel enter his heart a "ghastly but genuine passion" because the actors had made everyone people I cared about.
What I don't buy is any frozen-minded insistence that "you can't DO that!" Shakespeare's plays are absolutely nothing but words in the mouths of actors. Everything else is open to suggestion. They most certainly are not Operas, wherein the dead hand of the dead creator demands of the performer a crescendo here, a pianissimo there, connected by a recitative or two. They are not classical scores that must be reproduced note-perfect (but with "personal fervor"!), they are jazz riffs ripe for improvisations
And so I found the Boston Theatre Works production " ... the Best Damn "Macbeth" I Have Ever Seen: no frills, no bullshit"


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide