Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Unswitched-on Classics

BAM seems to have turned into an annex of the British Consulate. Right now, it's hosting not one, not two, but three imported productions at the same time—and in longer runs than is usual at BAM.

Let's start with the dispensable offering. At the Opera House we have Matthew Bourne's adaptation of Edward Scissorhands. The production is eye candy but its pleasures pretty much stop there: It never graduates from pleasing to thrilling. Even the big ensemble dances—something to which I usually respond in a Pavlovian manner—failed to raise my pulse. It's hard to pinpoint where exactly Bourne failed: It's all aesthetically pleasing, the individual performances are just fine. But Terry Davies' new score is a lite-jazz wash (Danny Elfman at least can do big-band stomp very well, a legacy from his Oingo Boingo days) and Bourne rushes through the story with such precipitation that nothing sticks. Like my colleague David Cote, I agree that his finest work in recent years has been Mary Poppins, and wish he'd work with better material—and on a real musical, not another of those those flaccid "dancicals."

On the other hand, I cannot recommend enough The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, in rep at the Harvey. Edward Hall's all-male Propeller company plays both, with the same cast and the same basic décor. I particularly loved Shrew, in which the comic elements are very, very funny, while the turn to harsher emotions in the second half is heartbreaking. The only two Shrews I'd seen before contorted themselves to sugarcoat the ending, trying to make it look as if Kate was a liberated woman on equal standing with her husband. But Hall plays the text literally and shows a woman broken by a lout.

Still, beyond my immediate liking of these two productions, it's hard not to be a little bit disappointed by BAM's overall trend of betting on dead white men (particularly Shakespeare) to bring in the punters. It's also showing Cymbeline this spring, and Ian McKellen's King Lear in the fall—and it's safe to predict those productions aren't going to fuck with the Bard, unlike Jan Lauwers' memorable King Lear, during which people fled the Harvey Theater in droves during the show.

I find this reflex emphasis on safety classics disheartening and the vision of world theater it presents ossified. The presence of contemporary non-American playwrights is dwindling, as are the appearances of major non-English directors (repeat visits by Thomas Ostermeier's being a major exception). The days when we could see Company B Belvoir's adaptation of Cloudstreet or Bernard-Marie Koltès' In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields at BAM seem sadly over.

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