JWR Articles: Live Event - Shakespeare: If Music be ... (Director: David Ferry) - March 30, 2008

Shakespeare: If Music be ...

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All the world's a binder

The Art of Time Ensemble’s multidiscipline “If music be …” attempts to conjoin the spoken word, art song, pure music and dance into an artistic whole in celebration of the Bard of Avon.

It’s a noble undertaking that probably works better on paper than in live performance. Not surprisingly, the highlights of the first-night performance came from the apparently spontaneous, straight-from-the-heart “moments” rather than the too-much-in-evidence printed page: three-ring binders from which to declaim the often brilliant thoughts of other storied persona (“No one has ever been so many men as this man who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality” – Jorge Luis Borges; “… and seek the truth” – Nathaniel Hawthorne) and the well-known lines from Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits (Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet).

Not to be out-propped, music stands dotted the Enwave stage, silently framing the pitches and text be they for Erich Korngold’s Songs From Shakespeare—artistic director Andrew Burashko (at the beautifully voiced Yamaha piano) accompanied soprano Monica Whicher who delivered lovingly shaped phrases but, ironically, lacked the consonant clarity to bring the well-read poetry into meaningful life—or more convincing readings when Marie Bérard brought her considerable skills to the service of a quartet of violin & piano Shakespeare-inspired, just-short-of-saccharine bonbons, which were also penned by the premier orchestrator of Hollywood’s golden era, and served as the musical glue to Beatrice and Benedict scenes.

A covey of actors (veterans Tom McCamus and Chick Reid; relative newcomers Cara Ricketts and Marc Bendavid) took the stage and “balcony” with mixed read/recited results.

Inevitability, timing and much visual innuendo suffered as McCamus/Reid read through their genius-crafted squabbles, but when they momentarily slipped “off book” the difference was palpable. Similarly, with Strauss’ Ophelia Lieder, Whicher got deep under the skin without benefit of parchment.

Doffing both script and garments, Bendavid/Reid were given the marvellous opportunity of rendering the Romeo and Juliet post-coital scene with warmth and conviction that a flapping script could never allow. Bendavid’s extra-kiss returns were especially fine.

Not as effective was Reid as mad Ophelia: too broad by half and the frequent tossing of petals into the seats followed up with an insane kiss to the ever-thoughtful Burashko left the capacity crowd as puzzled as they were reluctant to applaud. She doth parade too much, methinks.

Director David Perry gets the kudos and the chides for the action. More’s the pity that the economics of twenty-first century art precludes an entire “show” that would let the performers leave their pages offstage and raise the bar of excellence on it.

Of course, the dancers didn’t have a choice.

The closers of both halves let the bodies do the talking.

Piotr Stanczyk’s and Rebekah Rimsay’s “Romeo and Juliet Before Parting” (Prokofiev) is a couple of rehearsals away from cohesion and unity of purpose. Magically/deservedly, Peggy Baker brought the house down with her torrent of arm-flying despair set to John Cage’s “Why the Brook Wept.” Simultaneously, Burashko took his interpretive cue and inspiration from the purposely heavy-handed score as the pair eschewed all words to produce the finest drama of the night.

That irony would not be lost on the world’s best-loved playwright. JWR

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Songs From Shakespeare - Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Ophelia Lieder - Richard Strauss
Romeo and Juliet Before Parting - Sergei Prokofiev
Why the Brook Wept - John Cage
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