Sunday, February 19, 2017

Margin Notes: The Bride, a weaving

 Ella Smith and Colin Wulff as Holofernes and
Sir Nathaniel. Photo by Tessa Flannery.
The Bride, a weaving

Seen on: Thursday, 2/16/17.
My grade: C+

Plot and Background
The King of Navarre, his brother John the Bastard, and his two friends Claudio and Berowne, vow to eschew romance and dedicate themselves to their studies, just in time for a visit from the Princess of France, her sister Hero, her cousin Rosaline, and Margaret. Romantic hijinks ensue, but when the Princess receives word that her father has died, the four ladies lay aside flirtations to return home. When the characters reconvene in France over a year later, resentments brew among spurned lovers while a new romance is kindled between Hero and Claudio. Meanwhile, Constables Dogberry and Verges get up to their own hijinks, romantic and otherwise, and things don't end the way you think they will. Bottoms Dream, founded in 2013, is dedicated to reinventing classic texts, notably through their Weaving series, where they combine the text and story of two of Shakespeare's plays to form a new hybrid story. The Bride is a weaving of Love's Labour's Lost and Much Ado About Nothing.

What I Knew Beforehand
I reviewed Bottoms Dream's last weaving, The Ghost, and was impressed with the work I saw. I was also extremely familiar with Much Ado (probably my favorite Shakespeare comedy, thanks in large part to Kenneth Branagh's film), and fairly familiar with Love's Labour's Lost.


Play: I wanted to like this more than I did. There are some excellent ideas in play - the idea of combining these two plays, especially as regards the inner workings of the various different romantic matches, is appealing on its own. The liberal use of music throughout, played by the ensemble, lends a charming lightness. The framing notion of a trunk of costumes, distributed while the cast assembles the space, tells us that this is a story being told, in the old sense. Unfortunately, there's a lack of coherency among all these elements. I craved more of an intermingling of the two source texts, as was done in The Ghost - while there was some threading of Much Ado into the Love's Labour's half, and vice versa, they were largely treated as acts one and two of a larger narrative, which then ultimately felt more like two one-act adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. Most of the characters' major transitions happened over the intermission, such as Berowne's and Rosaline's twisting bittersweet resentments, or Verges's and Hero's shifting affections. The company could have gone so much farther than they did and instead couched too heavily in the narratives as they already existed. It didn't help that the production threw into even starker relief how bewilderingly large the number of characters Love's Labour's contains; though to its credit, the cast did its level best to maintain clarity across all the double- and triple-casting (this part of the troupe of players telling a story worked quite well). The music very rarely felt character-born or even comfortable to the performers (the exceptions being the haunting duet between Verges and the Queen and the final number), and sometimes contained inexplicable dissonances (a doo-wop song with acoustic guitar accompaniment?). And while I appreciated the surprising turns that concluded the narrative, these choices led me to wonder why the company chose two comedies and removed so much of the comedy within.

Cast: Aleda Bliss's Princess (and later Queen) of France has the heaviest load to bear in terms of emotional complexity, and she wears it well - a woman of gravity and presence, who knows it's not always diplomatic to speak as frankly or fiercely as her more fiery cousin Rosaline (as played by Katie Fanning) would. The two serve as balanced foils to each other in the armed battle of love and warfare with the gentlemen of Navarre. On the lighter end of things, Dogberry and Verges, potrayed by Nat Angstrom (who is also the adapter) and Allyson Capetta (one of the show's composers), have a simple sweetness to their clowns, with Angstrom in particular finding that which is noble and compelling in even the most inarticulate of fools. Other highlights include Colin Wulff's pompous Sir Nathaniel across from Ella Smith's Latin-spewing Holofernes, and Annie Winneg, who is credited as playing Costard but in reality plays about eight different parts.

Design: Although no designers are credited, I quite liked a lot of the aesthetic here, and I'm going to talk about it anyway because this is my blog and I do what I want. Nearly all the lights in the production are practical - fairy lights draped across the ceiling or artfully arranged behind lacy curtains against walls and windows, with some even integrated into costumes and prop pieces. As these are switched on by the cast, there's a palpable sense of wonder and expectation - here there be magic and romance. The set - though sparse - accentuates this, as the cast makes liberal use of the curtains, draping them this way to create a forest, that way for a wedding altar, and even here and there a small prison cell. I always enjoy when a show makes use of its space's eccentricities, and this production embraces its rather unusual space - complete with a cubbyhole and sliding door - with engaging enthusiasm.


Running: Now playing at The Access Theater (Bottoms Dream) - Opened: February 16, 2017. Closing: February 25, 2017.
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, 25 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Nat Angstrom, adapted from William Shakespeare
Original Songs: Mike Lee, Allyson Capetta, and the Ensemble
Director: Doug Durlacher
Cast: Nat Angstrom, Aleda Bliss, Allyson Capetta, Katie Fanning, Mike Lee, Trace Pope, Clinton Powell, Ella Smith, Annie Winneg, Colin Wulff.

Aleda Bliss and Clinton Powell as The Watch. Photo by Tessa Flannery.

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