Went to see Propeller’s latest last night, a Mexicali-themed Comedy of Errors at BAM. The troupe was all on stage playing various instruments with the house lights up as we filed into the upper balcony — when I’m not reviewing, I buy the cheap seats — & while it wasn’t their best by any stretch, they brought great verve and play to the show. What I like most about Propeller is how much fun they seem to be having at their high points, which here came toward the middle of the play, in the scene between Antipholus of Syracuse and Luciana, a wonderful game of overdone wooing, and also in the two Syracusans enthusiastic descriptions of Nell, the “spherical” kitchen wench in whom Dromio can find out whole Americas and Indies. (Shakespeare’s only use of the word America, btw.)
That said, the show did not have as much life as it might have. The physical comedy was exhausting & violent, & my favorite scene in the play, Egeon’s long description of his shipwreck and separation from his family, was static & frankly hard to understand, even for someone like me who’s got most of the lines by heart. His efforts to “speak my griefs unspeakable” sounded pretty dull — I know it’s only plot machinery, but that scene should, I think, ratchet up the emotional intensity in a play that soon becomes pure fooling. It should prime the pump for oceanic lines like Antipholus of Syracuse’s “I to the world am like a drop of water” and Adriana’s similar plea for a salt-infused self. Without that full force of immersion — “Nothing works like immersion,” somebody says — the violent farce lacks, well, depth. Propeller is always fun, but this production lacked urgency.
Which, perhaps, is why I was happy to leave at halftime & return for dessert to the Stonehome Wine Bar, which is always an excellent place.
I agree. I am writing the review for Shakespeare Bulletin, which will have a more diplomatic version of the following . . . the over the top comedy, and interminable playing for laughs with every gag in the book, skipping right past some of the lovely poetry in the play (Adriana’s speech for one) left me exhausted and disappointed. What I originally loved so much about this company–their beautiful handling of the language (to include the poetry and emotional import) was missing. The setting was distracting rather than provocative or stirring.
Steve Mentz says
They used to be able to pull off the over-the-top stuff in ways that added to the emotional punch. I’ve never seen more moving productions of Twelfth Night or Winter’s Tale. It seems as if they are losing their way, a little bit — I didn’t love their Merchant either. Alas. Maybe the Cheek by Jowel Macbeth will be better? I am still hoping to see JDT’s Mac at some point, but the next time I’ll be in the city — tomorrow — it seems to be sold out.
We saw Saturday’s matinee performance, and as much as I usually like Propeller productions, I was disappointed by this one. The opening scene, as you suggest Steve, was ghastly, and the overemphasis on slapstick comedy detracted from the play. After seeing four performances at Blackfriars Theater in Staunton, VA, I’d say they conveyed the humor much more effectively.
We stayed for the post-performance talk back, and nothing the actors said made me see the production any differently. (Sometimes a talk back helps me understand better certain performance decisions; not this time.)
Steve Mentz says
So, what to think — has Propeller lost its formerly magic touch? I hope not. We’ll have to wait & see. Are you going to the Cheek by Jowel Macbeth or the Donmar Warehouse Lear? Or the Tfana Macbeth with John Douglas Thompson that got a rave in the Times recently?