friday night lights
here’s a spoiler: you will die, alone

king lear

Robin and I went to a Shakespeare play together for the first time this afternoon. Our friend Artfan was in it: King Lear. He wasn't Lear, sorry … he played Burgundy, who has a few lines at the beginning of the play, and then did a few other small parts, one of which had a few more lines (he surprised us on that one by emerging from the wings right in front of our seats). He was good … let's face it, I can't say much because he had a small part, but he carried it off! Afterwards they had a "meet the actors" thingie, and we stuck around for a bit, but it was cold (it was an outdoor theater) so we left before we got a chance to say hi. So if you're reading this, hi Arthur!

For this production, they set Lear in America in the 30s, for no reason I could figure. It didn't get in the way, just seemed pointless. It was fun to see it on stage … I've seen several filmed versions, and of course then they can have real rain and they can do a pro job on Gloucester's eyes, but for this, it was big long sheets of something that they rattled for thunder, and the eye-gouge scenes were gross in a fun way, but not as emotional as they could have been because we were all thinking "whoa, look at that fake eye!"

King Lear rises and/or falls on the performance of the title character. Jeffrey DeMunn did a good job … I can't compare it to Olivier, because the latter was on film, this was live, and oddly enough I prefer filmed versions, all else being equal. He was up to the task, to be sure, and was one of the reasons this was a decent production overall. I don't want to sound like I am damning with faint praise … just noting that this very professional, well-made production didn't take me to the heights too often. We had a good time … keep getting into plays, Arthur!


You Know My Name, Look Up The Number

From the nose up, Jeffrey DeMunn looks so much like my dad did about 10 years ago that it kind of freaks me out whenever I see him on TV. Also, my sister’s seen DeMunn in at least a couple of plays, probably in Ashland —which may well be the place to go for Shakespeare.


I'll go to Ashland when Artfan's in a play up there :-). Meanwhile, it's a small world when one of my Giants-fan buddies has anecdotes about Jeffrey DeMunn!

You Know My Name, Look Up The Number

Naw, man, go to Ashland anyway. Totally worth it.


Thanks for coming! You guys are the best for schlepping all over the Bay Area to see these shows. Working at Ashland would be amazing, though it'll take some time, not to mention and equity card, to get me there. Going back to Canada to perform in the Stratford festival is another lofty goal of mine. Pipedreams are fun.

I find Gloucester's eye-gouging an interesting dilemma for a theatrical production insofar as, the more realistic you attempt to make it, the less disturbing it becomes. It's definitely a more fun moment in the play than it is a deep, emotive one. Many productions of Lear use stand-ins (red ribbons and the like) in place of fake eyes and blood, and, if done effetively, I'd imagine that elicits a more heart-rending reaction from the crowd.

Anecdote. In our early performances the props people hadn't quite gotten the blood formula perfected. When Oswald dies, he pops a blood packet onto the upstage side of his head. But early on, the formula was too watery, so when he popped the packet, the blood gushed all over the place. It looked like Edgar had caused a brain hemorrhage. Got a laugh every time. We've since made the formula more viscous, so there's more of a shock when he reveals the wound, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the sound of the splatter and amazed guffaws from the audience in reaction to the hit.


We enjoyed the play, but remember, Calshakes is only about ten minutes from our house ... this was the easiest one yet to attend!

The fight scene in Lear where you started off with rapiers or whatever they were and ended up with one guy getting smacked upside the head ... and the blocking clearly set it up so the blow could be away from the audience so you'd get the nice sound without actually braining the actor ... well, we chatted last night about how these plays make me think back to my own limited time as an actor in high school. The last play I was in was 1984, where I played Winston Smith. It was done in the round, so there were no blind spots where we could trick the audience, plus they were very close to us. Near the end, as I'm being tortured/reprogrammed, I say the wrong thing and I get smacked in the head for my mistake. During rehearsal, the guy would be standing in front of me, I'd see the fist coming, and I could time my flinch. I guess I was flinching too soon or something, because the director decided to have the guy be standing behind me when he smacked me, so the audience would think I didn't see it coming. We had some cue to let me know when it was coming, but it didn't matter ... my flinches were even more poorly timed because I was scared. So finally I told the guy I was willing to take one for the team ... and for the actual performances, he'd walk behind me, I'd say the wrong thing, he's smack me one ... and I wouldn't move an inch, because I preferred getting clubbed than flinching like a wussy in front of an audience.

Thankfully, we only did three performances.

You Know My Name, Look Up The Number

One of my college teachers said that he’d attended a production of Oedipus Rex wherein, in the process of gouging out his eyes, Oedipus is first seen with his hands over his eyes... and then... he pulls his hands away from his face, one by one... plup! plup! He’d palmed some red grapes and squashed them. Evidently someone in the audience went “Uhhhhhh God!“ and exited hurriedly from the theater. Would’ve been worth it just to see that.


It is kind of amazing the stuff you can get away with on a proscenium stage. Skilled fight choreographers can make some spectacular set-pieces. I took stage combat at Cal and though we really just scratched the surface, we learned a lot about how the simplest moves can look really good to an audience.


I posted a picture I took of the set. No actors in the photo ... I figured it was bad form to shoot during the actual play.


"scratched the surface"... groan

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