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October 22, 1980 - Image 6

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-10-22

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ATPage 6 Wednesday, October 22, 1980 The Michigan Daily

In Ontario, a dramatic smorgasbord

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By DENNIS HARVEY
Ontario Stratford Festival this year
sprawled across 16 productions and five
months-an epic undertaking evep by
the standards of the festival's artistic
director, Robin Phillips, who has of-
ficially resigned from the post he's held
for the last six seasons. The non-
Shakespearean efforts were, as usual, a
wildly mixed bag, ranging from the
sublime to the totally banal.
The festival's least necessary
failure-a disasterous Henry V might
.have been worse, conceivably, but at
~least it had redeeming am-

bitiousness-was a mounting of D. L.
Coburn's The Gin Game, a play that
does for the image of the Pulitzer Prize
roughly what The Sting did for the
Oscar, only more so. It's slick,
preprosessed, calculatedly homey en-
tertainment, the sort of mechanically
"heartwarming" vehicle that's trotted
out for beloved TV stars on the road in
summer stock-one pictures Jean
Stapleton and Art Carney. being
adorable in it at the Cherry Country
Theatre or some such.
Fonsia (Kate Reid) and Weller
(Douglas Rain) are two elderly
strangers stripped of most of their

Saturday All Day
Oct. 25, 9:30 -5:00

.:
':'

possessions and dignity at a rather
seedy nursing home. United by being,
more or less, the only residents still
mentally alert, they sit on the porch in a
series of set pieces- playing gin,
aggravating each other, complaining
about the home, and occasionally
revealing something-but not
much-about their sad pasts. This frailr
structure does have a-ecrtain air of ten-
sion, because it keeps the audience con-
stantly anticipating some real drama, a
revealing of the point of it all. The
moment never arrives. The play jerks
to an abrupt halt without bothering to
provide a final note-it just ends.
THE STRATFORD production is a
respectable mounting of an absurdly
slim play. But why bother? The work is
little more than a particularly at-
tenuated sit-com, with one endlessly
repeated gag: Fonsia, the mousy,
novice gin player, constantly
frustrates supposedly card sharp
Weller by effortlessly winning each
game, even when she's upset at his tan-
trums and doesn't want to win. Instead
of being a play about the loneliness and
indignities of old age, its insights
spurred by a running gag, it's a one-
note series of double takes with scant
comment on the issues that should
dominate it. There's nothing wrong
with fluff, in itself-but when it turns
heavy-handed, witless and serious-
minded (without much of a mind to
support the attitude), there's definitely
The University of Mchcgan
DEPARTMENT OF THEATRE AND DRAMA
GUE§T ARTIST SERIES
presents
srin
p n
awakening,
by Frank Wedekind
ct. 2-25 8pm
Oct.26, 2pm
in the Power Center
Tickets at P.T P. Cal 764-0450
MasterCharge and Visa accepted

something wrong. A mellowed Neil
Simon-ish trifle like this should at least
have some charm, but The Gin Game is
curiously sour junk food. Rather than
discovering reasons why we can like
and sympathize with the two charac-
ters, we find out why no one
could-they're a couple of vindictive
bastards who seem to deserve what
they've gotten (nothing), having
alienated their children and squan-
dered their own lives. The play has
nothing but its depressingly familiar
gags-the even-tempered, proper
elderly woman driven by exasperation
to say "the F word" for the first time;
Fonsia snapping up her dealt cards like
Edith Bunker; the usual Broadway-
blue swearing-for-laughs, etc.
Under the circumstances, the two
performances are admirable, milking
each tired situation for all they're wor-
th; yet the characters remain cold and
shallow. Kate Reid, with her mugging
and excess of fluttery physicality, is
trying too hard to affect aged-
ness-she's artificial and rather
patronizing. Douglas Rain is, at least,
thoroughly convincing and com-
paratively restrained, though his
Weller remains unengaging.
THE FESTIVAL offered nonsense on
a more satisfying level with The Ser-
vant of Two Masters, Carlo Goldoni's
classic farce in a new translation by
Tom Cone. The archtypical work of its
genre, dashing about through a
breakneck confusion of mistaken iden-
tities, near-duels, entrances and exits,
Servant is sheer fluff, polished to
diamond-like perfection. The Stratford
company strains nobly for the
necessary high style-without quite
achieving it, surprisingly, and in a
comedy that demands as much
precision in playing and staging as this,
every small disappointment seems
magnified.
Brent Carver's trimly modulated
performance as juvenile lead Florindo-
and the relaxed, earthy good humor of
Jennifer Phipps' servant Smeraldina
strike just the right note of stylized
frenzy, but their subtleties are easily
overlooked amid the less exacting ham
of the other, variable cast members.
Most have their moments, and are kept
from real heavy-handedness by the
simple demand of having to race in and
out of doors without relief-with the
single exception of Barbara Budd as
Clarice, a disasterous cutie-pie em-
barassingly lacking the requisite
surreal silliness of the plottings.
Flawed as it is,Servant's mounting

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Maggie Smith as Virginia Woolf, with Patricia Conolly (background) as Vita
Sackville-West, in -Edna O'Brien's Virginia, an examination of the British
authoress' life which opened this summer at Ontario's Stratford Festival.

was a fair enough trifle. Its imperfec-
tions are finally rescued by the delight-
ful hokum of musical underlining
(surging accordions, wailing violins),
and choreographed by Jeff Hyslop that
constantly keeps the actors just this
side of exploding into dance, held
fleetingly in a succession of blissfully
funny postures before sliding into
genuine dance for a lovely curtain call
sequence.
THERE WERE many more moments
of grace in Robin Phillips" and Urjb
Kareda's staging of The Seagull,in a
new version by John Murrell.
Clbeckov's pastoral drama seems
charming but weightless in this in-
telligent, sometimes touchingly lyrical
production-it's full of hushed, spectral
flourishes of movement and finely ob-
served characterizations, but there's a
weakness at its core that renders this
Seagull a charming comedy but an em-
pty tragedy.
Pat Galloway's embittered Masha
and William Hutt's genteel, slightly
befuddled Dr. Dorn are particularly af-

Motor City Theatre Organ Society, Inc.
presents
"The Phantom of the Opera"
STARRING ~
LON CHANEY, SR. 4
with Theatre Organist Extraordinaire
Dennis James
at the console of the Barton Organ
Tickets: $6, $5, $4
Available at The Michigan Theatre
box office, and The Redford ~
Theatre box office, 17360
Lahser Rd., Detroit, 537-2560
Major Events Presents...

fecting among a gallery of fine perfor-
mances, and Maggie Smith's aging,
grandoise queen Irina is a marvelous
creation-all those glorious Smith
mannerisms are at home, supplanted
by some unexpected shadings that keep
the characer from becoming another of
the actress' standard eccentrics. As
author Boris Trigorin, whose restless
fascination with and rejection of would-
be actress Nina sparks the central
tragedy, Brian Bedford does a thought-
ful walk-through. He doesn't quite seem
to get under the skin of the artist, and
the character emerges hazily, indistin-
ct.
But this Seagull's failure lies in the
lack of strength in its crucial relation-
ship, between the frustrated young
writer Konstantin (Jack Wetherall)
and Nina (Roberta Maxwell). Maxwell
does come with the required bloom of
youth and naivety, a natural radiance.
.It's a disappointment that she can't
really manage the devastating shift-to
harsh resignation in the play's black,
final scene. Jack Wetherall is a facile,
small-spirited actor whose gestures
and expressions are never more than
just that-everything seems painfully
self-conscious, aggressively acted with
a simplistic lack. of insight.
Catastrophically unable to deal withthe
complex range of heroism as Henry V
this yeari his failure here is less vague,
with less blind flailing about-it's an in-
cisively hollow performance,
mechanical and heartless. Wetherall's
continued presence at Stratford, amid
so much real talent, reduces me to a
state of mystification.
MARGIE SMITH can reduce the
viewer to simple gratitude. She's a stun-
ning technician, and those deliciously
precise schticks-the slightly nasal
drawl, the air of Bea Lillie-ish slumped
chic, the wrists jerking about like witty
exclamation points-are so distinctive
and devastatingly effective that one
begins to suspect her of coasting on
their strength after a while, because
they're just so good that she really
doesn't have to do much else. In this
summer's Much Ado About Nothing at
Stratford, she didn't-her Beatrice
played off Brian Bedford's Benedick
like an unerring tennis pro, exacting a
laugh from every paluse and gesture; a
bit mechanical in her seamless
proficiency. She's dazzling in the most
conspicuous way, -a blessing/dilemma
that can save, eclipse, or submerge a
play- most memorably in last year's
London and New York productions of
Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, a per-
formance so electric with charisma,
razor-edged campiness and sexual ten-
sion that one could almost forget to
wonder why the hell Maggis Smith was
doing a classic star turn in the middle of
an otherwise wildly different-toned
political drama/satire.
The most welcome of all Virginia's
successes is that it manages to put
Maggie Smith at the center of its

. dI
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with special guest
Livingston Taylor

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