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June 28, 1978 - Image 5

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Michigan Daily, 1978-06-28

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The Michigan Daily--Wednesday, June 28,1978-Page 5
Devils and Chekhov at Stratford

Special to the Daily
Aldous Huxley's book The Devils of
Loudon has served as the source for two
adaptations: a Ken Russell movie, and
the play by late British playwright John
Whiting. Both play and film are slick,
sensationalist surveys of man's poten-
tial for wanton evil and degradation,
and in both, there is considerably less
than meets the eye. Yet the Russell
film, despite its repulsive and graphic
The Devils
by John Whiting
Stratford, Ontario
Mannoury . ........... ............. Eric Donkin
Adam......Frank Maraden
Ninon .. .......... ....... Alicia Jeffery
Jean DArmagnac .......Rodger Sartnn
Guillaume De Cerisay. roert Rattan
Father Urban Grandier ........... Nicholas Pennell
A Sewerman ..................... Richard Monette
Louis Trincant .................... Robert Benson
De La Rochepozay ........Douglas Rain
Father Rangier . ........ Gregory Wanless
Father Barre ...................... Max Helpmann
Phillipe ............ . .........Barbara Stephen
SistereJeanne of the Angels .......... Martha Henry
Louis XIII......John Wojda
Cardinal Richelieu................ ... Rex Southgate
Prince Henri De Conde ............... Douglas Rain
Father Ambrose....................... Rod Beattie
Robin Phillips, director; Daphne Dare, ser designer;
John Pennoyer, costume designer; Berthold Carriere,
music; Michael J. Whitfield, Lighting
Uncle vanya
by Anton Chekhov
Avon Theatre
Stratford, Ontario
Professor Alexander Serebriakovc.. Max Helpmann
Elena Andreyevna... . ...... Martha Henry
Sonya Alelxandrolvna .............. Marti Maraden
Ivan Petrovich (vanya) .............. William Hutt
Maria Voinitsky ...................Mary Savidge
Dr. Mikhail Astrov ......... . Brian Bedford
Waffles ............................. Mervyn Blake
Marina .......................... Helen Carscallen
Yefim......F. Braun McAsh
Robin Phillips and Urjo Kareda, directors; Daphne
Dare, designer; Berthold Carriere, music; Michael J.
Whitfield, lighting
scenes of violence, sustains an un-
deniable emotional fervor that is sure
to have one either on the edge of his seat
or scrambling for the nearest exit.
The problem with the Stratford
production-due in large measure to
the weaknesses of the material-was its
failure to incite much emotion on even
this primitive level. Where the play's
dialogue never rises above glib ironies,
The Devils lacked the visual flair and
intensity that might have compensated
for its inherent failures of will.
DIRECTOR ROBIN Phillips tried, in
mismanaged spurts, to charge the
production with the same gaudy, flashy
surrealism that pervades the movie,
but this added up to merely an erratic
assortment of theatrical gimmickry.
The performance oscilafed wildly from
stylized sensationalism (including
strobe lights and raucous organ music)
to tight-lipped, pseudo-literary dialogue
that was heavier on flavor that sub-
The play, based on historical inciden-
ts, chronicles the downfall of Father

Urban Grandier (Nicholas Pennell), a
worldly and very temporal vicar pur-
sued by Cardinal Richelieu when he
fights the state's demands that the
walls surrounding Loudon be torn
down. Grandier is a sophisticated, ur-
bane man of the world, and righteous in
his conviction that he may attain
divinity through human love. His
political entanglement with the heads
of state is deepened when Sister Jeanne
(Martha Henry), a hunchbacked nun
who is prioress of her convent, becomes
obsessed with his image as an outlet for
her twisted sexual repression. She
feigns being inhabited by a demon, and
her nuns, wallowing in the same
sexual repressiveness, are transf or-
med into frenzied, animal-like
creatures, claiming that Grandier has
violated them. Grandier, pursued not
just by Richelieu's agents but by the
townspeople who are in an uproar over
his sexual promiscuity, is tortured and
burned alive.
AS YOU MAY have gathered, this is

whose inexplicably self-destructive
nature allows him to die by the senses,
since he has lived by them, is left up in
the air.
Pennel put forth a commanding
presence, and his world-weary Gran-
dier, the only sympathetic character,
provided the only sane reference point
in a play crowded with violence so
deliberately executed that it seemed
other worldly. Despite Pennell's best
efforts to embue his scenes with a sem-
blance of realistic torment, the effect of
the play was stilted-it is hard to care
about one whose end comes at the
bequest of a deranged, creepy gallery

staged trivilaity.
however, was another story. As with all
of Chekhov's plays, this subtle master-
work does not simply provide oppor-
tunities for nuance--it depends on
nuance for the very character of the
performance. PTP's production of this
play two years ago suffered precisely
from such a miscalculated character:
the play was inadvertantly converted
into a slapstick farce that would have
more aptly been titled "The Uncle
Vanya Show," and the title character
did not merely stew in the hopeless
tragedy of his squandered life-he was
such a pathetic whiner that one wanted
to tell him to shape up or ship out.
In the Stratford production, William
Hutt's Vanya had a heavy does of spunk
mixed in with his self-pity, and it was
precisely this that gave the performan-
ce an edgy poignancy. We witnessed the
quiet yet devastating journey of a man
whose smokescreen of witticisms
evaporates to reveal a life consigned to
nothingness. The final scene, with

Pictured above are two performances from the current productions of the Stratford Festival in Ontario. Pictured left, in John
Whiting's "The Devils," are Nicholas Pennell (Father Grandier), Robert Ruttan (De Cerisay), and Rodger Barton
(D'Armagnac); right, in Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," are Max Helpmann (Professor Serebriakov), William Hutt (Vanya),
and Mervyn Blake (Waffles).

the sort of material that would have en- of wicked hoodlums. The character of Vanya working on the estate's finances
countered little trouble in obtaining the Sister Jeanne, played sympathetically ina meager attempt to push his failings
Marquis de Sade seal of approval. The in the movie by Vanessa Redgrave,was out of his mind, was absolutley wren-
play abounds in violent visions: Gran- given a purely frenzied treatment here ching. 'And the metaphorically an-
dier, with head shaved, getting his legs by Martha Henry; but then, what is one ticlimatic end was executed softly and
shattered; Sister Jeanne, doing her to say about a character intended to delciately, with Sonya's desperate cry
devil shtick, snarling for all the world embody centuries of Christian sexual of "We shall rest" closing on a note
like the reincarnation of the demon who repression? For all its violence, deeply grounded in the necessary ac-
graced Linda Blair in The Exorcist. "outrageousness,'" and attempts td ceptance of human misery. Added to
Exactly how all of this ties in with the grapple with weighty issues, The Devils this was the impeccable staging, in
intellectual dilemmas of Grandier, was little more than a ponderously See DEVILS, Page 7
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