Comedy is not all black and white
By Donald V. Calamia
If you live in Metro Detroit, that’s a four-letter word. It’s what defines us as a community – and not in a positive way.
That’s because instead of actually communicating about race and race relations, we shout time-worn platitudes at one another. Sure, blacks and whites often see things from diametrically opposed perspectives, but it’s sad that we rarely dig deeply into what those differences are – and what we can do as a society to move past them. So instead, we go nowhere.
One who sees the bigger picture is poet, playwright and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Derek A. Walcott whose 1977 comedy, “Pantomime,” is currently on the stage of Lansing’s BoarsHead Theater. Born of African, English and Dutch descent on the West Indian island of St. Lucia – a “mulatto of styles,” he once said of himself – Walcott has long been fascinated by the cultural divisions that formed in the Caribbean as a result of colonialism. His internal struggles with the conquerors and the conquered and the African and the British cultures are evident in much of his work. “How choose/between this Africa and the English tongue that I love?” he asks in the poem “A Far Cry from Africa.”
It’s that clash that forms the nucleus of “Pantomime.”
One-time British actor Harry Trewe (played by Tim Jacobs) has abandoned the stage to take ownership of a rundown beachfront resort on the island of Tobago. Because the brochure promises nightly entertainment, Harry comes up with a plan he’s sure will be a big hit: Why not stage a vaudeville-like production of “Robinson Crusoe,” but with a black man as Crusoe and a white man as his native servant, Friday?
It’s an idea that Harry’s employee and projected co-star, Trinidad-born Jackson Phillips (James Bowen), wants nothing to do with. However, the ideas begin to percolate, and before long the two are hard at work on developing their masterpiece.
It’s just that each man has an entirely different vision for the show – and it all boils down to one thing.
Or does it?
Playwright Walcott has crafted a script that at times is witty, and at other times, insightful. However, I suspect it’s also a bitch to stage, as director Janet Cleveland must weave her two characters in and out of “moments” during which it isn’t always clear if the men are serious or not – or whether they’re simply sizing each other up.
It’s no picnic for the actors, either, as Jacobs must maintain a British accent throughout (and doesn’t totally succeed) and Bowen must master the unique Caribbean dialect (which he does).
What occasionally suffers is pacing, but I suspect with a few performances now under their belts, that’s no longer a problem.
“Pantomime,” a co-production with Plowshares Theatre Company, runs Wed.-Sun. at BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand, Lansing, through March 19. Recommended for mature audiences. Tickets: $25-$33. For information: 517-484-7805 or http://www.boarshead.org.
The Bottom Line: An uncomfortable topic is intelligently discussed by Walcott, Cleveland, Jacobs and Bowen.
Review: ‘Antony and Cleopatra’
Love gained, worlds lost: Shakespearean epic graces Hilberry stage
By John Quinn
That Shakespeare dude was really on a roll at the turn of the 17th Century, knocking out four great tragedies in a row: “Othello,” “King Lear,” “Macbeth” and “Antony and Cleopatra.” The fame of the first three overshadows the last, but director Lavinia Hart makes a great case for “Antony and Cleopatra” as Shakespeare at his poetical best.
A suitable play with which to follow “Julius Caesar,” produced earlier in the season, here we have (forgive me), “J. C. II.” Rome is wracked by the civil wars that brought down the Republic and birthed the Empire (and you thought Lucas was being creative). Big winner at the death of Caesar, Marc Antony (Patrick Moltane) is now Rome’s Ruler of the East. One third of the world is his oyster – until he meets the shrewd and seductive Queen of Egypt (Morgan Chard). Smitten with the exotic beauty, he allows his political rivals to bring him down.
Hart gets the credit for slowing her cast down, giving them time and space to understand the language, never letting them rush through the “boring parts.” On the plus side, we get textured performances, clearly defined characters and a sense of the historical context. On the minus side, this production is three-plus hours. This ain’t “Short Attention Span Theater.” But does Will S. make the time spent worthwhile!
When challenged by Shakespeare, success can be gauged by how well the performer “gets” the playwright’s intent. Morgan Chard gets it, and she shines as Cleopatra, playing waspish and passionate, calculating and blind – in short, the breadth of one of Shakespeare’s most interesting women.
Michael Brian Ogden gets it; as the rough warrior Enobarbus, Antony’s captain, he gets some of the most soaring of the Bard’s poetry, and delivers both language and emotions with style.
Hart’s notes quote Peter Hall, the director for the National Theatre in London: “If we can keep our nerve and we don’t allow this monster to scare us, I know we’ll be all right.” It IS a monster in size, and the rep company is stretched to fill out the massive cast. But the troupe doesn’t let on it knows the meaning of “fear,” and are indeed “all right.”
“Antony and Cleopatra” plays in repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, Detroit, thrtory through May 4. Tickets: $15-$28. For information: 313-577-2972 or http://www.hilberry.com.
The Bottom Line: A rare chance to hear Shakespeare as master of the language – passages so sharp they reach out and bite you on the asp.