Spring Break

In addition, both productions had sound underneath the action and speaking, which naturally muddied the sound. The Macbeth sound design (by Tony Thompson), however, was interesting and only minimally obtrusive. Mark Landis' sound design for A Midsummer Night's Dream, on the other hand, was generic, rather dull "Caribbean," and loud.

Although Macbeth's director, Doug Finlayson, messed around with the text a bit, I appreciated the reprise of Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy with which Finlayson ended the play, because it was rather garbled and unclear the first time around. Suzanne Celentano, on the other hand, went in for some major revisions of MND. She set the play on "an enchanted, remote island, somewhere in the Caribbean" (thus the music and lots of faux-dancing); Theseus, the play's moral center, stopped being Duke of Athens and became "President of Sun Inc." His bride, Hippolyta, no longer an Amazon, became "President of Amazon.com." Cute? You bet! Sensible? No, because one of the two major plotlines depends on Theseus, the moral and authoritative center of the play, making a bad decision. And why should the president of Sun Inc. be interfering in the family matters of one of his employees and her daughter, especially when the director has gone to the trouble of setting the play in the present? Present-day mothers do not tell daughters whom to marry, and mothers' bosses do not threaten the daughters with perpetual chastity or death if they don't obey their mothers. And if said president should be judging, shouldn't he also be listening to the arguments of the parties before him rather than nattering with his bride? Not by Celentano's lights he shouldn't. Theseus doesn't listen at the end of the play, either, when the young lovers try to explain, at his request, what happened to them on the previous night. Instead he natters with Hippolyta. Stupid, just plain stupid.

Celentano also decided to cast the play nontraditionally, which is cool. Why shouldn't Puck be played by a woman? On the other hand, why change the sex of the child over whom Oberon and Titaniacontinued on page 72continued from page 70quarrel, and why identify her in the program as "Oberon's natural daughter"? Why should tumbling studmuffins attend Titania, "queen of the spirits" (not queen of the fairies in this production)? Likewise, why should willowy groupies attend Oberon, likewise de-fairied? Not terribly regal. Is Celentano striking a blow for feminism? Is "fairies" politically incorrect? Or has she merely indulged in some notions that just don't make much sense? I'm putting my money on the last explanation.

The worst of it is, what the director should have been doing is preparing student actors to act the play successfully so that the community can experience one of the great plays of our language. Celentano, more interested in her notions, neglected her actor/students and shortchanged the community.

Finlayson went after a more traditional Macbeth and got it. His concept of the play involved a great deal of imaginative motion skillfully accomplished -- although the play became, surprisingly, rather static as its climax approached. But the stuff he set up for the witches, battle scenes, the banquet and the appearance of Banquo's ghost were full of life and liveliness. And although their lines often made no sense, the actors' words themselves were generally clear. Macbeth's costumes (by Chris Peters) were fascinating; its set, designed by Scott Neale, was artful and interestingly layered, and Marc Moore lit it with great skill. Celentano also had a great set and lighting, both by Jim Burwinkel, but MND's costumes, by Gregory J. Horton, were neither interesting nor becoming. The responsibility for Macbeth's mediocrity and the fiasco of A Midsummer Night's Dream lies squarely on the backs of their directors. Their deans should speak to them.

-- Harry Weber

Adapted from Lewis Carroll by the Alice in Wonderland cast and Robert Neblett; music by Brian Hohlfeld

Washington University Performing Arts Department
Reviewing Washington University's Alice in Wonderland feels a bit like reviewing a class' chemistry experiment. The production began as the project of a course taught by Jeffery Matthews, the director, and the program book comes complete with a half-dozen student essays. Nevertheless, the Performing Arts Department presented the result as part of their season. So here are a few comments.

Robert Neblett, who took the lead in adapting Lewis Carroll's books and who played both Alice's father and the White Knight with his usual skill, noted in his essay that a major difficulty in staging the Alice books is Alice's passivity -- not a good thing in a play's protagonist. The class partly solved this problem by framing the piece as Alice's dream, thereby giving her a more active role in what happens. Unfortunately, they ended the framing story with a sentimentality foreign to Carroll's phantasmagoria. And they didn't come up with a clear dramatic line to drive events forward and pull them together.

As a result, Alice broke down into a series of episodes, most of them built around Brian Hohlfeld's musical numbers. These featured Carroll's creations -- the Caterpillar as a gospel preacher, the Mad Hatter and March Hare as a vaudeville team, the Walrus and the Carpenter and their oysters as participants in a Busby Berkeley extravaganza, the Mock Turtle as a blues singer. The success of these numbers varied with the skill of the performers, with Jonathan Reitzes especially strong as the Caterpillar and Emily Levy as the Mock Turtle. Todd Palmer's video work highlighted the delightful Cheshire Cat of Tijuana Ricks. Brooke Kleinman's Alice charmed throughout. But the whole was less than the parts.

-- Bob Wilcox

« Previous Page