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April 02, 1969 - Image 2

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1969-04-02

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uTwo

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Wednesdoy, April Z, 1969

Two THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Wedne dov Anril 2 i~69 ------/ -,

I

Hamlet

and

The

Alchemist

Mo re

life

than

the

Living

Theatre

By ERIN CURLEW
THIS IS, in the end, an adver-
tisement for a classical theatre.
The occasion of the National
Stratford Company being in
Ann. Arbor and offering two
very good but in no way magni-
ficent plays, which are never-
theless engaging to see, churns
up some speculations about how
dead the theater is or isn't.
Consensus seems to have it
dead: the rich and jaded mid-
dle classes go to the theatre as
a social routine, but that's not
where the life is. The life is in
the cinema - this is the film
generation - or on the campus
malls or in the ghetto streets.
The cinema with its q u i c k
shifts and zooms, its cutting
and pasting, tells it better. Not
bound to the unities it can play
with wider worlds 'and m o r e
time than can,-the stage. So goes
the theater's epitaph.
And only the avant g a r d e
theater with its revolutionary
slogans, its battering down of
the distances between players
and spectators, is "living"
enough to catch those who are
alive. This may be a simplified
picture but the curve is right.
Perhaps it is true (and per-

haps it isn't) that theater as a
medium is no longer timely -
not fit to catch the edge and
tension of the times-a-and can
only be regarded as a thing
classic. If that is true then an
easy case can be made for its
best stuff being classic stuff.
I've heard some people in thea-
ter propose that, to revive t h e
theater, heavy plays - Eliza-
bethan, Restoration, Ibsen,
Strindberg, Chekov, Shaw -
should be performed in reper-
toire in an auditorium uphol-
stered in red velvet, an e x t r a
wide arm for every seat so- that,
spectators can nurse a drink
through leisurely performances.
,And this seem an interesting
prescription for nursing t h e
theater back to its magic, (al-
though it forgets the pit, the
streetcorntr, and t h e barri-
cades). For we live 'in a secular
age. And the theater, at least
"classic theater," is tailored for
heightening, exaltation, exilara-
tion. Its excitement is probably
in its richness, in what is oper-
ative and stylized about it.
AN AGE WITHOUT PRIESTS,
but with technocrats may offer
special challenge's to the arts,
and along these lines the point

probably is that "old" can meet
the challenges better than the
"new." This is perhaps one of
tIhe reasons why the Living
Theater, which has been talked
about so much since their self-
imposed return-from-exile, seems
so flimsy. It's hard to bring
anything substantial to a group
of people "performing" odd lines
like "Feed the world", "Open
the jails", "Ban the bomb",
"F*** for peace", or to rise to
any exilaration that comes from
witnessing life as it is distanc-
ed from life through dramatic
stringencies. Though such a
stance is-dirty word-tradition-
al, distances may be a necessary
predicate of the drama. Without
these, the living theater be-
comes a theatre of self-hood, a
theater of vulnerability.
One enthusiastically partici-
pates by, say, stripping, and
thus making himself symboli-
cally at least vulnerable to the
love of the audience at large.
But its quite hard to produce
and love for aimless mass of
people doing nothing more than
piling up auditorium chairs In a
resolute breach with tradition-
all tradition. Though the phy-
sical fitness of the troupe has
been marvelled at, "Le Living"

probably gets by more on the
strength of its programs than
its performances: the Becks
have been widely interviewed
both underground and over-
ground, so that audiences come
to see their performances with
a good briefing, aforehand of
what they are "trying to do."
THE SAME tendencies toward
the "cheapening" of r i t u a 1
modes are evident in the vogue
of sprucing up the classics, so
that Shakespeare, for instance,
gets plunked down in every
country and time but Eliza-
bethan England, as though, it
were versatility of garb and set
that proved universality and
nothing in a play itself.
The last time Hamlet was in
town, we got something so arty
and pretentious that to relate
to it at all, one had to regard it
as a non-Hamlet, somethini else.
While this, Ellis Rabb's Hamlet,
may have had its advocates, the
fact that a foul quarto and not
the fair, folio edition was per-
formed, suggests a fear that no
"honest" H a m-1 e t would be
square. One is not necessarily
coming out against creativity to
advance the notion that there
are some things that shouldn't
be tampered with, that are, in
this secular age, sacred.
- The Alchemist and Hamlet
are a good pair. They are both
about cozening. But in the one,
a tragedy, cozening becomes the
lie that smacks of mortality and
that has profoundly destructive
consequences. In the other, the
comedy, cozening is an art of
deceit, and has the mild reper-
cussions of showing up the coz-
eners for the sleezy characters
they are. Together the pair rep-
resent polar extremes of man's
experience. And it is these po-
Qt

larities which define "high"
theater. Despite Polonious' fun-
ny catalogue -historical-pasto-
rial, comical-historical, tragical-
comical - historical - pastoral-
drama is probably defined as
consisting of these two high ex-
tremes which say all that can
be said about man on the stage.
They need no third variant, and
really have had none.
IN BOTH productions the
staging is swift and polished.
They are directed at a good clip,
Hamlet by John Hirsh and The
Alchemist by Jean Gascon. In
fact, at times the clip is too
good : due to the exigencies of
fitting long plays into a likely
three hours, the quick pace en-
tails that the plays be whipped
up and strained instead of gen-
erating their own rhythms.
Often we, thus getbehavior ab-
stracted from personality.
This was particularly true of
Hamlet (Kenneth Welsh) on
opening night. It took him three
acts to warm up to himself but
in the last two he was attrac-
tively vigorous when he began
to work from inside instead of
fitting a preconceived frame.
The whole stage then came
alive around him. One reali es
that - dramatically the play
amounts to very little unless
'there is a good strong Hamlet
for the others to play back to.
In The Alchemist, Sir Epicure
Mammon (William Hutt) was
full of a kind of "uffish haste,"
speaking in oral italics and mov-
ing all the time with an ex-
tremely funny erotic intensity,
like a man on the brink of a
megaton orgasm.
Also noteworthy in the two
productions are, in random or-
der, Kastril and his sister "Wi-
dow" Pliant as two regular
churls in preposterous matched

costumes of scotch plaid; Par-
tinax Surly's absolutely lewd
Spanish breeches; Subtle's spec-
tacles which, catching the right.
light, glint blankly; Gertrude,
who for once seems a woman of
grace and stature equal to the
magnitude she has in Hamlet's
life (though this is not a par-
ticularly Oedipal rendering of
the play; and the last scene of
Hamlet (a scene specially de-
signed by Patrick Green) in
which the sword play is unus-
ually skilled and which amounts
to a real orchestration where
the many battles fought surrep-
titiously throughout the play
finally surface all at once.
THE SINGLE touring set used
for both productions is neither
ingenious or stunning but this
can be explained by its being
functional. It works better in
The Alchemist where it is hung
with ;signs or the zodiac and all
kinds of occult drapings, than
in Hamlet where it would prob-
ably best be left spare and un-
adorned. The costuming in
Hamlet is Russian, supposedly
to evoke vaste wastes and loneli-
ness, but it is sumptuous and
colorful and so suggests neither.
But the productions are not
disappointing, are in fact mild-
ly exciting just because they are
what they are. Where the "liv-
ing" theater avowedly caters to
futurity, these seem to cater, if
they do, only to man's need for
ritual and involvement. They
have a certain histronic convic-
tion that is indigenous to what
has long been called theater.
Perhaps what has long been
called theater has a vested in-
terest in the past. If so then the
survival of theater will mean
that one of its odder functions
will be to defend itself from the
future

I

4

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& letters

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I

Program Information 2-6264

STARTS
THURSDAY

LAST TIMES TODAY
At. 1,3, 5,7, 9:05
TODAY LADIES PAY
ONLY 75c UNTIL 6 P.M.

NORTH CAMPUS COMMITTEE
presents
a Little Club
with
"THE JOHN HIGGINS
QUINTET"

if#

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FREE!

Fri., April 4, 1969
Bursley Snack Bar
9-12 P.M.

r

DIAL 8-6416
Tues. -Thurs.-6 :48-9:00
Wed.-1 :15-8:45-6: 15-8:45

i

RESISTANCE OPEN HOUSE
7-10 P.M.
CANTERBURY HOUSE: Wed., April 2
Tues., April 8
BASEMENT: Thurs., April 3
802 M0)IR0E Thurs., April 10
Come and talk'"bout non-cooperation
(w, the draft, university, corporations)

Try Daily Classifieds
Phone 764-0558
PROFESSIONAL THEATRE PROGRAM
Presents
Festival Theatre of Canada

41

I

"FACES"
Is
"ONE OF THE'
YEAR'S
10 BEST!"
-Judith Crist -jNew York Times
FACES"
is ,
"A PHENOMENALLY
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Newsweek
"FACES
is
"A MILESTONE! A
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-.Juih rllhf.

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NATIONAL ENCRAI CORPORATION
FOX EASTERN THEATRES
FO.AVILIE.-
375 N4o. MAPLE PD. "76 9.1300

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ENDS THURSDAY
Times: 7:00-9:00

v

Dean M
COLUMBIA PICTURES prAsLEN
AN IRVING AL.LEN prodttion

lartair

M as att Helm
.-,swings
With
SThe
Wrecki ng
TECHNICOLOR

THE ALCHEMIST
with William Hutt,
Powys Thomas,
Bernard Behrens
Directed by Jean Gascon
Apr. 3, 4, 5, 6

"Bubbling Cauldron
of bravura!"
-DET. NEWS
"A fantastic
theatrical romp!"
f/-A .A.NEWS
Eves. 8:00 P.M.

CHEROKEE PRODUCTIONS Presents
JAMES GARNER JOAN HACKETT WALTER BRENNAN
i"SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF"
coa-starring HARRY MORGAN JACK ELAM Written and Produced by WILLIAM SOWERS Directed by BURT KENNEDY
COLOR by Deluxe *,&.n .

STARTS FRIDAY *

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SgestdFor GENEAL dines:;

unnou minsmuu(
7asame"CcCotpprae~oo.

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Mats.,
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