Monday, December 14, 2009

Theater. Seattle Repertory Theater.

The other day J. mentioned an interesting play was finishing up its run at the Seattle Rep. I hadn't been there in years, and even during the time we held season tickets at Intiman or ACT we had rarely set foot in the Rep, mere yards away from Intiman on the northern edge of Seattle Center. I looked it up, and then noticed that it was a production that had originated at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, down in Ashland, Oregon, and that its star was Anthony Heald, whom I remembered from my first trip to the Shakespeare festival my sophomore year of high school.

The festival is like nothing I've ever seen, a tight company of actors who return - or base themselves in Ashland - year after year, playing multiple roles in multiple plays in one of three theaters. One theater is a minimalist black box - this is how I remember Anthony Heald, playing a mysterious, brutish man in an adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, a classic theater with a proscenium stage, and an open theater modeled, of course, on Shakespeare's Globe. The plays I saw at in Ashland are among some of the best I have ever seen in my life, and when I saw that Equivocation had first been produced there I knew I had to go.

The theater was nearly full, on the last night. There was a certain energy; people were eager to laugh, quickly and loudly, so much so that I even missed a few lines here and there. The production was slick. Costumes, sets (however minimal), lighting, everything was dead-on. Everything was tight, in a way only a production rehearsed and performed over and over again, with the resources of community that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has, can produce. The actors became so completely woven together that it came together into one single, seamless performance.

It is an angry play, written out of anger after the playwright watched the World Trade Center towers collapse eight years ago. It is an imaginary story of what happens when Shakespeare tries to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot, and becomes mired in a murky tangle of truth, lies, and conspiracy theories. There is his sorrow and grief over the death of his son, his alienation with his daughter, his despair at trying to write a play that will not get him hanged. Sir Robert Cecil, the power behind the throne, attempts to split apart their theater company with his secret machinations, but he cannot. The community of a theater is too strong. When the actors tell Cecil that he cannot break them, they are not just talking about the characters; they mean what they say: they are a company in life as on stage.

I leave with my mind on fire, every nerve in my brain electrified.