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Thursday, October 02, 2008

 

An Open Letter To Mandy Patinkin

Dear Mr. Patinkin (and to the producers of your show):

I've just come from seeing your new production of THE TEMPEST at Classic Stage Company, an institution that considered New York's premiere home for classical theatre -- and, as such, one of the major American institutions devoted to the preservation and reinterpretation of the classical titans. Perhaps you noticed me; I was the guy outside on the sidewalk afterward, raving like a lunatic, shouting at my helpless friends about how your take on Shakespeare's timeless fantasy has singlehandedly destroyed culture as we know it.

It's not that it was bad, per se. Or perhaps I should say, it's not JUST that it was bad. What struck me over and over, like a lead pipe to the cranium, as I watched Shakespeare's charming wordplay reduced to witless and soul-killing spectacle, was how wide the production's abyss of imagination was. How empty and devoid of ideas, perceptions, and statements it was. How reductive and pervasively unsatisfying an experience I was involved in. And how this TEMPEST is merely endemic of a larger trend, spreading like a virus across theatres everywhere...how in this new century the theatre has sacrificed itself, on the altar of escapist "entertainment" and celebrity, and in the process forfeited its cultural value and vitality. How dead we all feel, after something like this.

Oh, the production had moments. The cloud-covered roof moved. There was sand in Act I (which inexplicably vanished in Act II). And some of the acting mitigated the truly appalling work of Elisabeth Waterston as Miranda and Nyambi Nyambi as Caliban. (Was he really intended to be retarded? Did you really mean to imply that mentally-challenged individuals are "monsters"?) Mandy, your diction rendered much of the text unrecognizable, even to people like me, who know the text well. And if I squinted my eyes and imagined calming thoughts, I could almost block out the inept dances, the clumsy phrasing, the poorly-constructed costumes, and the complete lack of any dramaturgical frame.

Sometimes mediocrity is worse than awful, and in this TEMPEST, the air was positively toxic with the stuff. Long story short, it looks like you didn't even try. It looks like you don't understand the text, or have any interest in understanding it. It looks slapdash, harried, and unfocused. It looks like a shameless attempt to pimp a famous actor without any concern for the audience experience.

Worst of all, however, this TEMPEST makes it look like Americans can't do Shakespeare. And after tonight, I have to say: maybe we can't. I realize that the British have a deeper relationship with classical repertoire, and that American universities have dropped the ball in regards to classical training. I understand our country lacks the sheer centuries necessary for an experiential knowledge of the period. But as the standard bearers in this nation, I must say to you, Classic Stage Company: YOU MUST DO BETTER. Your mission is too important, your work too rare, and your necessity too obvious to allow mediocrity a home on your stage. I've seen great work from you before (remember The Mysteries?), but this thing, tonight...this was...well, unacceptable.

Do better. I say this as someone who loves your theatre, and as someone who loves what you are capable of. Do. Better.
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5 Comments:

Blogger speck said...

I think I love you. Write on!

10/2/08, 6:59 PM  
Blogger J.J. said...

Wow! (I'd love to hear Mandy argue back -- but only in his high, hollow singing voice.)

10/3/08, 8:02 AM  
Blogger ladydisdain said...

And I was just wishing I could see Mandy's Tempest. Oh well - good for me!

Americans can do Shakespeare. You must go to Staunton VA to see Shenandoah Shakespeare.

10/3/08, 3:41 PM  
Blogger J said...

I find it interesting that you, as a lover of Shakespeare and theater, failed to blame the director for what you consider mediocre pap. Understanding that this production was meant to be different (with music and unusual staging and effects) and perhaps appeal to a different audience, one must also accept the idea that the this was not MEANT to be classic decpiction of the Bard's words. I wonder why you purchased tickets if you read the press and knew what it would be and if you did not read the press, I wonder why you failed to educate yourself on the production if you are seasoned theater patron. The production may not have worked for you but it is getting good reviews and may attract those who are not usually interested in Shakespeare. In my mind, if we can get the newbies in the door, we have a chance at getting them into the classics and encouraging them to explore the works.

10/4/08, 3:18 PM  
Blogger ModFab said...

J., almost every premise you make here is specious. I'll take them point by point:

>>I find it interesting that you, as a lover of Shakespeare and theater, failed to blame the director for what you consider mediocre pap.<<

I do blame Mr. Kulick (the director), but no moreso than the other collaborators, all of whom seemed to completely phone it in.

>>Understanding that this production was meant to be different (with music and unusual staging and effects) and perhaps appeal to a different audience, one must also accept the idea that the this was not MEANT to be classic decpiction of the Bard's words.<<

I did (and do) accept that this was a nontraditional Shakespeare production; in fact, that excited me about it. My problems are not of design, but of poor execution. As far as the audience, the most heartbreaking part of the show was to watch young audience members around me, turning off on theatre as boring and incomprehensible...when it doesn't have to be that way.

>>I wonder why you purchased tickets if you read the press and knew what it would be and if you did not read the press, I wonder why you failed to educate yourself on the production if you are seasoned theater patron.<<

I try not to read reviews in advance, and didn't for this production, because I want to make up my own mind. (I read them afterward, however.) I did educate myself on the production, and wanted to see it. I had no idea that the talented people involved would be so uninterested in putting on a quality production.

>>The production may not have worked for you but it is getting good reviews and may attract those who are not usually interested in Shakespeare.<<

A quick Google search just now tells me that most of the major theatre critics in town disliked the show. And while I don't dispute that Patinkin might bring in audiences that wouldn't normally attend classical theatre, I think this production will turn them off on the genre forever.

>>In my mind, if we can get the newbies in the door, we have a chance at getting them into the classics and encouraging them to explore the works.<<

Not true...or only partially true. We have to get them in the door, and THEN we have to present them with a quality production so they'll be interested in seeing more. Classic Stage did the first part, but did not do the second.

10/4/08, 11:30 PM  

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