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I ushered for ASP's Measure for Measure this Sunday at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center.

They've had shows there before, but each time they've chosen a different layout. This time, the audience was on opposite sides of the performance space, set up to give the vague impression of jury boxes, which worked. Otherwise, the set was a panel on the floor that included a round picture of Blind Justice (a blindfolded woman holding balance scales), and a contraption with spaced vertical ropes that could be raised/lowered by one of the doors to form the bars of a jail cell.

This production is set in the here-now, with the Duke taking his leave of absence because he's reached the end of his rope, heading for some kind of break-down (the implication of addiction, to pills, to booze, to whatever), and needs to step back for a while, which I liked better than the sometimes-used assumption that he was trying to be a puppet master for all his citizens. As the actor pointed out in the talk-back session afterward, this showed the period assumption of the state mirroring the condition of its head.

It's an intense time to see this play about law unequally applied, in the wake of the same USian problem (Ferguson, NY, so many other cases). One might have thought we'd have gotten just a little bit farther along the path towards true justice...

Oh, and the ending was interesting. The Duke has asked Isabella for her hand in marriage. The play has hinged about how this novitiate has rejected the amoral demand for carnal knowledge by Angelo, and it's unclear whether she is willing to give up her chosen path for a more legitimate offer. The play embraces that ambiguity by ending with her kneeling to pray about it, and him following suit, open to interpretation by the viewer rather than a definitive answer.

Not at all relevant to the production: ASP set up a concessions stand in the gallery opposite the main stage area, which is having an exhibit of work by Cynthia Brody, which I enjoyed seeing.
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I ushered for a stage performance of (selections from) Arabian Nights (Dominic Cooke), put on jointly by the Nora Theatre and Underground Railway Theater companies at the Central Square Theater. I enjoyed the performance; they did a great job with lovely costuming (it looked period, yet so comfortable; plus a ship hat that was particularly striking and gave me ideas of things to consider), some pillows, and an impressive variety of puppets that ranged from a small hand puppet to a huge, multi-person roc that flew the hand-puppet Sinbad away. The stories are enjoyable, as always, but the frame situation bothered me a lot more than it has in the past: all those girls dead, yet the sultan is redeemed by finally realizing his love for Shahrazad. Plus, one-night marriages are obviously only about sex/sex-appeal, not real marriages at all, so it's particularly icky, basically a loophole droit de seigneur to salve his conscience.

Tangential to the performance: I was the only one of three ushers to show up at the stated time, one hour before curtain. I stuffed programs, scanned tickets, handed out programs, directed people to their seats. Luckily it was not a full house. Then another usher showed up five minutes before curtain, doing almost nothing (handing out programs), sleeping through the first act, then leaving without cleaning up after either. I was not impressed.

Henry VIII

Jan. 2nd, 2014 10:21 pm
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Sunday I ushered for ASP's production of Shakespeare's Henry VIII. I was particularly excited about it because I've never seen it, and I've read enough about the period to be familiar with the story.

The production was (er, "is", I suppose, in the sense that it runs until Sunday (with an extra show added due to demand, surprisingly enough), but I'm unlikely to see it again) done in period costuming*, with a lot of choreographed movement, most of it dancing, some processing. As with most of their productions, it was a minimalist set: there was an elaborate painted circle on the floor, with knight and king names on it in a manuscript font, a la Round Table (all the names other than Henry's were Arthurian); the back of the stage area had irregular plinths into platforms, with a huge cross on one side, and those medieval chairs that look rather like heavy wooden criss-crossing camp chairs (I noticed that the cross was one step up from those thrones: religious authority trumping temporal, at least in this). And that was it.

* I had lots of costume envy. Some of the men's clothes, especially, looked like they'd be great today. And I didn't mind seeing so many men's legs in tights, either!

The story was oddly episodic, with one problem person until knocked down (beheaded, defrocked, divorced, whatever), then another one arising. Henry was too much a man of emotions, as always, but often seemed to play the deus ex machina of each playlet, rather than being center stage throughout. I kept wondering how Henry's later excesses would be addressed, but they were completely avoided by ending with Elizabeth's christening, allowing the priest to give a nicely prophetic speech at the end, avoiding all those later disastrous marriages which didn't even get him any heir material. The unfortunate Mary is mentioned only as her mother's daughter, so her problematic reign is ignored completely too. It left me feeling like a carefully written marketing backstory for Elizabeth, even though the earlier plots (Cardinal Woolsey, some nobles meeting unfortunate ends) had nothing to do with her. Even Anne Boleyn was portrayed as not wanting to catch the king, but unable to do anything to turn his fancy aside (not the view I've read, but hey, history is open to interpretation).

Apparently the company did much editing to get to their 2:30 show, some of which included putting a lot of minor characters onto one actor, who was jester, random nobles, and random women as the need arose. I was impressed with how well this worked, the adjustment of a scarf or a jester puppet helping. I wasn't as sure about the video projection during Catherine's death scene, more because it didn't fit with the rest of the production than anything else. All in all, I'm glad I got to see this, even having to stand for the first half.


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