Sunday, October 19, 2008

Roman souls

I saw a fairly spectacularly good play on Thursday night at The Flea Theater, and it warmed the cockles of my eighteenth-century heart: a thoughtful and highly engaging production of Joseph Addison's Cato! I have read it and found it fairly oratorical on the page (the neoclassicizing impulses of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century writers produce a static sort of faux-Shakespearean texture as one reads the playscripts), but it was a wonderfully engaging performance, with acting of the highest caliber and a nice set of choices with regard to the fairly minimal staging. A very interesting play (wildly popular throughout the eighteenth century) about politics, reason and the emotions - far superior, I might add, to Richard Nelson's Conversations in Tusculum, which I saw earlier this year at the Public Theatre.

A nice bit from the program, from a contemporary letter by a member of the audience at a production of Cato staged at George Washington's behest during the winter at Valley Forge:
My dear Rachel,
I find by a Letter from my father that you are on a visit at Trenton. I should be happy could you extend your Jaunt as far as full View — the Camp could now afford you some entertainment. The manoeuvering of the Army is in itself a sight that would Charm you. — Besides these, the Theatre is opened — Last Monday Cato was performed before a very numerous & splendid audience. His Excellency & Lady, Lord Stirling, the Countess & Lady Kitty, & Mr. Green were part of the Assembly. The Scenery was in Taste - & the performance admirable – Col. George did his part to admiration – he made an excellent die (as they say) – Pray heaven, he don’t die in earnest – for yesterday he was seized with the pleurisy & lies extremely ill – If the Enemy does not retire from Philad soon, our Theatrical amusement will continue – the fair Penitent with the Padlock will soon be acted. The “recruiting officer” is also on foot.

I hope however we shall be disappointed in all these by the more agreeable Entertainment of taking possession of Philad

Adieu ma chere soeur, je suis votre.
William Bradford
It is only running through Nov. 1, but do go and see if it you get the chance!

(Photo credit: Richard Termine)

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