Sunday, June 28, 2009

Shakespeare in the Park

The sculpture shown above sits in the courtyard of San Diego's Old Globe theatre complex (it has been renamed the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center but "locals" still call it The Old Globe) in Balboa Park. Said complex consists of three stages - The Old Globe Theatre, the newly soon to be opened remodeled Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre which replaces the Cassius Carter Theatre and The Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. Every summer, from mid-June through the latter part of September, the Old Globe presents its Summer Shakespeare Festival in the Lowell Davies outdoor theatre show below. This year's offerings include "Twelfth Night" and "Coriolanus". And, for the first time in over five years, the festival is offering a different playwright's work during the festival - Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano De Bergerac".

Last evening "Cyrano De Bergerac" was on the boards and it was a delight! Now, everyone should be familiar with this play (it was even retooled and adapted by Steve Martin into the 1987 movie entitled "Roxanne" - Steve Martin also starred in the title role. Of course the masses loved the film ... me, I prefer the original stage version...). Or, you might be familiar with the 1990 film version starring Gerard Depardieu (as a side note, it uses the same translation of the play that the Old Globe is using). In any event, for those of you unfamiliar with the play here's the synopsis from the Old Globe: "One of the greatest and most produced plays of all time, this big and audacious production is equal parts, drama, comedy, action-adventure and old fashioned love story. Poet, war hero, philosopher and dazzling swordsman, Cyrano has it all - except the woman of his dreams - the lovely Roxane. Ashamed of his large nose, Cyrano is unable to woo her. When the handsome but inarticulate Christian also falls for Roxane, Cyrano gives Christian the poetic words to win her heart. Cyrano’s hopes seem dashed forever, until fate steps in."
For those of you wanting a bit more explanation here 'tis:
Set in Paris in 1640, Cyrano de Bergerac is a classic tale of romance and tragedy. Talented poet, swordsman and Cadet in the French army, Cyrano falls in love with the beautiful Roxane but lacks the confidence to reveal his true feelings due to his abnormally large nose. Resigned to his loss, Cyrano offers to help his fellow soldier Christian win her affections by writing love letters on his behalf. Roxane falls in love with author of the letters not realizing it is Cyrano. His tender verse gives voice to the inarticulate, dashing Christian, gaining him her heart just before both men depart for war. This classic romantic story is laced with swagger, gallantry and sacrifice, and some of the most beautiful verse ever written.

Anyway, back to last eve. As usual, the Old Globe did a fantastic job. The actor who played Cyrano, Patrick Page, was fabulous. The rest of the cast was just as wonderful. With 39 roles, and scores of costumes, shoes, wigs and accessories "Cyrano" is the festival's biggest production this year. So, as would be expected the production was lavish and indeed lived up to its director's (Darko Trensnjak) statement that the play is "a painting come to life." Not to be redundant, but the performance 'twas fabulous and reminds me to encourage all reading this blog to go see live theatre.

The evening was, as always, chilly, nippy or cold, depending on your perspective. Anyone familiar with attending plays in the outdoor theatre knows to either bring an extra layer of clothing to cover one's self up with or else rent a blanket at the theatre - besides who would be uncouth enough to come to the theatre in shorts and flip flops! One also knows to bring or rent a seat cushion. Rather than stand in the long lines during intermission drinks were ordered beforehand and were long finished before some patrons had even gotten their turn in line. Dinner before the play was enjoyed at one of my favorite restaurants - The Prado. It's located in the park and if you tell your wait staff that you have theatre tickets they're very good about getting you in and out in a timely fashion(of course, don't be silly enough to make 7 PM dinner reservations when the play has an 8 PM curtain call). Starting the culinary quest at 5:30ish pre-dinner drinks included mojitos and martinis. Black bean soups with chiles & spices, garnished with red onion, sour cream & lime and cesear salads of fresh romaine hearts with herbed croutons, cotija cheese & fire-roasted poblano chile caesar dressing followed. Main entrees included rosemary roasted half jidori chicken with field greens, garlic mashed potatoes and roasted garlic pan gravy, grilled chicken & orecchiette pasta tossed with pancetta, red onions and toasted pinenuts in a gorgonzola cream sauce and slow roasted center cut pork prime rib with aged white cheddar potato croquette, medley of squash, wild mushrooms, fennel & blue lake beans and roasted apple demi. After ALL THAT belgian chocolate mousse with grand marnier, peach ice cream puff & candied orange peel, a pear, forestberry & mango sorbet trio served in an almond-poppyseed florentine with a raspberry coulis, and tahitian vanilla bean cream cheese flan with a lattice tuile globe and fresh flower confetti made its way to the table. It's a good thing there is a bit of a walk between The Prado and The Old Globe as the high calories consumed needed to be walked off as much as could be in the distance covered.

All in all, the evening was just delightful except for one "thing". During the first half of the play there were a lout who seemed to feel the need to "review" the play with his companion as it unfolded. Said companion tried to hush The Lout but The Lout either choose to ignore said requests or else was just attempting to break the "world's biggest boor" record. The two must have "had words" during intermission because they weren't in attendance after the intermission - thank god for the "theatre gods" - they must have interceded on the audience's behalf and sent these two to an environment more conducive to The Lout's behavior. Anyway, this bump in the road reminded me of a recent article by the UK's Benedict Nightingale. I'll share it below, with some additional rules offered by readers of the article (for the most part the article is right on the mark but I hope you'll "hear" some of Nightingale's humor).

"The 15 golden rules of theatre etiquette"
1. Don’t just switch off your mobile in response to what’s very likely a cute invitation from some fake-friendly voice. Make sure it’s off before you enter the theatre, thus making sure that you’re not publicly humiliated by Richard Griffiths or A.N. Other.
2. Never whisper, let alone talk, during the performance. If you’re hard of hearing, hire a loop rather than bother your companion for info about the plot. And don’t hum along with songs, even if they’re by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
3. Don’t bring picnics. In fact, don’t eat anything, not even your fingernails, even if the play is, well, nail-biting. If you must buy an ice cream in the interval, make sure you finish it and dispose of the carton before the restart. The scraping at remnants sounds like scratching on a wall.
4. If you fear that you’ll cough, bring a handkerchief to smother your mouth and pastilles to put in it. Considerate theatregoers would rather asphyxiate than interrupt a good actor.
5. Always apologise if someone is forced to stand as you make your way to your seat, but if you are late (and you should never be) reduce your apology to a quick, sorrowful nod.
6. Don’t clap actors’s entrances, even if they’re famous, or their exits, even if they make them in the swaggering style that half-invites applause. All this is dated and naff and makes you look like a celeb-hungry prat.
7. Have nothing to do with standing ovations unless a performance is close to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In America such ovations have become meaningless and, if they don’t occur, they indicate disapproval. We don’t want them to become regular here.
8. If a friend is on stage in a comedy or farce, or has written one, don’t pile on the laughter. The artificiality is usually transparent enough to make failure more and not less likely.
9. If you must go to that often obnoxious, spuriously glitzy occasion, the first night, don’t ponce about pretending to be an important guest, even if you are one. Think of your fellow audience members and the actors, both of whom want to get on with the show. And that the show isn’t about you (I know people who think everything in the universe is about them).
10. No need to dress up, let alone wear dinner jackets and evening gowns, as was once the case. But try to be a little better dressed than the critics, who often look as they’ve been grabbed from a washing machine that hasn’t yet been turned on.
1.1 If you see a sleeping critic don’t necessarily wake him or her up, as guilt is likely to ensure that his or her review is more favourable than it might otherwise be. But don’t let him sleep too deeply or he may (and this has happened) crash into or across an aisle, causing injury to the innocent. And snoring is unacceptable, whoever does it and however awful the show.
12. If critics irk you by scratching notes on a pad, be forgiving. They’re only doing their jobs. And virtually all critics accept that lighted pens, once common, are now verboten. If you see a critic turn one on, whisper something tactfully germane, like “you blind sod, switch it off”.
13. If the child you’re bringing is chatty, gag it. If it’s fidgety, handcuff and shackle it. And if you’re altruistic enough to bring a school party to a Shakespeare matinĂ©e, threaten potential wrongdoers with tickets to the next revival of Timon of Athens, to be followed by a ten-page essay on the ethics of Apemantus.
14. Try your hardest not to be tall, which means shunning headgear and primped-up hair. And if you can’t help your height, ask for a seat on the aisle or somewhere where you won’t interfere with people’s sightlines.
15. If you are maddened by a fellow member of the audience, postpone a serious or violent encounter until a suitable pause in the action, preferably the interval. But usually a schoolmarmy stare and an English sniff, followed by a reproachful smile, will suffice.

Now some readers' advice:
16. Preferably don't go straight from pub or restaurant to theatre roaring drunk. If you must,get plastered after the show, when your ravings, mad laughter, dropping of possessions, sliding to the floor and snoring will be less disturbing, especially to the actors
17. don't just SILENCE your mobile phone, turn it OFF! Texting on a silenced phone disturbs those in the audience and on stage - the lighting designer worked hard to create his/her template, and does not wish to have blue cell phone light added to the palette.

O.K., back to the festival lineup. Next to be seen, in July, will be Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night". Then, in August, it'll be the political drama "Coriolanus", his final tragedy and considered by most, if not all, to be one of his greatest. I'm sure I'll blog on both. However, a) there will not be such a high caloric pre-theatre intake as this old hippie doesn't need the calories and b) I think I'll take a copy of Nightingale's "rules" just in case The Lout shows up!