Saturday, March 15, 2008

Swords and sandals

I am not sorry I saw Conversations in Tusculum last night at the Public Theatre--I am a sucker for anything Roman, and if I hadn't seen it, I always would have wondered whether it was actually kind of great! In practice, not--I think the Times reviewer was too kind.

1. Very wordy. Very undramatic!

2. Second half much worse than first half.

3. On the other hand, marred by earnestness rather than cynicism. The one thing that drives me absolutely crazy in the theatre is a slick cynical opportunism combined with contempt for the audience, and that certainly wasn't the problem here...

4. Either the parallel between Caesar and George Bush is so blindingly obvious and naive as not to deserve further elaboration, or else it is clumsy and malapropos enough that the especially awful scene in the second half with Brutus and Cicero ranting is just pointless! Also it would be more interesting if we were not quite so sure what the play thinks of Caesar, as it were...

5. Indeed the playwright's view of human psychology and of politics both seem fatally thin--people just don't act like this, it is not so clear-cut!

6. The costuming and the men's body language so strongly recall a sort of backroom Belle Epoque American costume drama that I kept on thinking that (a) really it was going to turn out to have been written by Gore Vidal on an off day and (b) I couldn't help expecting that an actor dressed as Mark Twain would suddenly appear on stage and start doing an annoyingly folksy story-telling frame!

7. Awkward tension between extreme faithfulness to the real history and overly colloquial language and delivery--but with slips (colloquial narration in contemporary America for instance so often has the speaker slip into present-tense verbs for the "saids" that past-tense verbs plus strikingly casual wording and modern American accents are jarring on the ear).

8. The acting is for the most part very good--but though this is nobody's fault, I kept on getting distracted by the startling resemblance between Aidan Quinn and my nephew Jack Maverick, who is shortly coming up on his first birthday!

It was definitely one of those evenings when dinner was better than the play--in fact it was a most enjoyable excursion, the next best thing after a magically good play is a fairly watchable play that hospitably invites one to itemize its flaws!

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