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Monday, April 23, 2012

OSF 2012: Medea Macbeth Cinderella (and the others) (updated)

How to watch this play: (update 6/27) now that I've seen this wonderful production twice, viewed the videos on OSF's website, and heard several different participants - Bill Rauch, musicians, and actor Tasso Feldman - all talk about it in person, here is some advice about  the ways you might view this complicated but rewarding play:

You can just let it wash over you (don't attempt to follow it; just experience it).

Or you can follow one of the three stories most closely, sticking with that.

Or -- and this makes the most sense to me -- you can see it as a symphony: it's carefully written and orchestrated, with very precise cues and timing, so that one actor's lines in one story are the cue for another actor's lines in another story, just as in an orchestral composition one instrument cues another even as they all play at the same time; themes soar individually, then join with others; and content, sound and movement fuse, ballet-wise, over the whole experience.

And as you let it wash over you like a musical composition yet note the interweaving of stories you know too well to have to think about it much, just know that even if it seems confusing when three streams of dialog all come together at once, at other times, the key parts--the wonderful, classic lines you're intended to focus on--will be clear enough because those parts will stand out like beacons. Just let it happen, but that doesn't mean being passive.

And of course if you don't remember much about Medea or Macbeth (surely we all remember Cinderella well enough), review their outlines by reading the linked synopses. You don't need to know any of the stories by heart, because MMC takes just the main elements of those stories, then uses them in very clear, new ways--but you don't want to miss Banquo's ghost!

There - now you're ready to go :)

What follows is my original review, which refers you to another review with info on the play, followed by some further comments from me - and then that's followed by more from me, in the form of an update, after I saw MMC a second time. This review might be accretional, but then so's the play, in its way...
How's this for lazy: I really liked this review in Blogging Ashland, of OSF's MMC, which just opened in previews last week. Since that review covers just about everything I'd have said, and probably says it better, I'll just link to it here: http://bloggingashland.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/girl-boy-girl/

It was a joy to see one of my favorite actors, Miriam Laube,
 in a major role in this production. She is Medea. 
Next time I see this - and I plan to - I'll try to get a seat somewhere in the middle, because there's so much going on onstage that I think it will be fun to follow the big picture from a center seat next time. There are no really bad seats in the Bowmer, though, so anywhere you sit, you're in for a treat. And you won't catch it all anyway; you're not meant to. I can't wait to see--no, experience--this again.

Well, maybe I'd add one other thing: the performances! The musicians were great, the timing was amazing, the actors were OSF at their best. (And so, of course, kudos to directors and everyone else who brought all this complexity together so lucidly.) The time I saw it, particular standouts were Miriam Laube as Medea (so wonderful to see her again, and in this part), Christopher Liam Moore as Lady Macbeth, Al Esponosa as Macduff, Jeffrey King as Macbeth, Laura Griffith as Cinderella...but wait. It's unfair to single more out: they were all fantastic and when I see this again, I'll undoubtedly be having even more favorites as I track different aspects of the show.

Update 6/15: Okay, the first time I saw this I really enjoyed it--enough to want to see it again--and the second time I saw it I LOVED it! This is a play you should see more than once and it gets better each time.

My friend Paula says, "I think this is going to be my this-season's-Hamlet." She's referring to the great Dan Donahue Hamlet of a couple of seasons back, which was famous for its fans who saw it multiple times. In this production, somehow the synergy of all the juxtaposition had an "order of magnitude" effect on both of us when we saw it again. Paula's seen it three times now and plans on more. I'd like to see it again too.

The first time I saw it, it was great fun just seeing how the structures of the plays overlapped and the lines and situations came together, the characters blending and coming apart again, the emotions of the stories strangely compatible despite the radically different styles and ages of the different plays. The second time I saw it, I was more emotionally moved because I was more focused on the stories--as expressed in speeches which are high points in each play--and less on the spectacle.

Seeing the three plays worked together in this way does bring out the universality of storytelling. We're used to thinking of the ancient Greeks, or the Elizabethans, or even 1960s America, as being very different from ourselves but M/M/C shows the lie in that, just as living in a different culture (if you really live in that culture) teaches us that all humans are the same beneath the cultural differences.

I'm a space fan, so I kind of visualize this play in my mind as three merging galaxies. Medea and Macbeth are spirals, like the Milky Way and Andromeda, whereas Cinderella is M110, an eliptical, and they're coming together in the great cosmic pinball game. As they run into each other and cross through each other, their stars are not altered (as ours and Andromeda's won't be, when we finally cross) yet the shapes of the galaxies are. They remain what they are, and yet they affect each other--and belong together in that moment in time. Well, that's probably a pretty labored analogy if you're not a space fan too. Anyway, it works for me!

One of the things that bothered me at first about the three plays was the difference between the tragedies of Macbeth and Medea, which have a certain emotional similarity if not congruence, and the galaxy of the mid 20th century Cinderella, which seems so vacuous and sweet that there feels like no connection at all - it crosses through the others without ever touching them. Yet, as the play progresses - it does touch them. In the end that dissonance of tone just lends another layer of depth to the enterprise.

The thing I was bringing to the play that was giving me this discomfort (and okay, M/M/C is not really meant to be comfortable, I know, yet...)--the thing that was bothering me, though, I realized later when I thought some more about it, was that the earlier folk versions of Cinderella are very bloody and cruel, and as feminist scholars have shown us, viciously antifemale in their message. Therefore, at first glance the traditional version of Cinderella would seem a better choice to pair with Macbeth and Medea, to go with the great depth and genius and pain of those literary works. But then I wondered if I could have sat through three such tragic entertainments and realized that this version of Cinderella, for all its silly fantasy, still contains the elements of the original story (from a feminist point of view)--prettied up and made to feel happy on the surface, yes, but if you really understand Cinderella the feminist tragedy is still there. It's the one we're all living now, whether or not we know it.

What I came away with most, on my second viewing of MMC, was an appreciation for what the actors were pulling off - all staying in their different styles, there together on the stage. I wonder if any other acting situation requires them to do this. It's not just the costumes that remain in their distinct styles, it's the acting styles too. Saccharine Cinderella and tragic Medea are utterly true to themselves, right next to each other. As the costumes are altered at the end (and I think I missed this element almost entirely the first time around) the actors remain the characters they are, in the styles and periods in which they belong. It's just amazing to watch.

Looking forward to watching it again, and finding out what I see next time.

Finally, parataxis: see "other uses." 

What a wonderful enterprise this is. Thank you OSF!


So now I've seen all the plays currently being staged and enjoyed them all. Some I want to see again, especially Troilus and Cressida, which surprised me in much the same way OSF's Measure for Measure did last year: a whole new understanding of a play I'd never liked before. I'll be seeing that again soon. Would love to see The White Snake again too, but it has a short run and seems to be sold out except for the most expensive tickets. Romeo and Juliet and Seagull both have their strong points and are well worth seeing. And I did at least review Animal Crackers , in this post. Maybe more on the others later, especially those I see again.

The rest of the season's plays will open in June and July. I have my tickets ready!

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