Tag Archives: drama

“The Man in the Iron Mask” by Alexandre Dumas, adapted for staged by Ben and Peter Cunis.

I attended this performance at Synetic Theater in Washington, DC, on June 9, 2016.

As usual, I came to the theater ready to give myself over to whatever was put before me – minimal expectations coupled with willing suspension of disbelief. Give me illusion! I’ll buy in. My other predisposition was to like the show because my nephew (stage name Will Hayes) was performing. So… I walked in with a positive attitude, and I was not disappointed! In fact, I was completely delighted.

The Man in the Iron Mask is pure adventure drama. Good guys, bad guys, intrigue and plenty of action.

Synetic Theater falls into the category of “physical theater”, which I never heard of before. It has a Wikipedia entry, so I guess it really exists… Synetic has produced plays without dialog, most recently a version of Romeo and Juliet. I wish I had seen that!

“Physical theater” (according to Wikipedia) is characterized by story telling that involves physical communication, like dance, stage fighting, gestures or mime. The Man in the Iron Mask featured the first two, along with a “normal” amount of dialog. The dance scenes were beautifully lush, and the stage fighting was the best I’ve ever seen. For sheer energy, this production can’t be topped.

For those not familiar with the novels of Dumas, the plot of The Man in the Iron Mask comes from the end of his Three Musketeers trilogy. The four heroes have drifted apart, one to farming, another to religion, and so forth. Reunited in Paris, they plot to take King Louis XIV from his throne, for the good of the French nation.

Too bad The Man in the Iron Mask will run for just a few more days. But Synetic has an ambitious program scheduled for next year (starting with Dante’s Inferno and ending with Carmen – Bizet is not mentioned) and Washington is not so far away.

“The Tempest” by Shakespeare

Every once in a while, I just need a dose of Shakespeare. It wakes up my brain and tickles my fancy, like a tonic. So I was very happy to attend a performance of The Tempest at Stockton University this week. This was a production by students, University staff and community members.

The Tempest is a comedy (nobody dies), but it deals with serious themes. Prospero, the Duke of Milan, has lost his office to his perfidious brother and suffered 12 years of exile on a desolate island. (Bermuda?!) A scholarly man, he has passed his time studying the magical arts, and is ready to retake his realm and take his young daughter back to her birthplace.

The crux of the play is the question of revenge. Prospero, an accomplished sorcerer, gains power over this enemies, power enough to kill them if he chooses. But he grants forgiveness.

The audience is reminded throughout the play that Shakespeare lived at the end of the age of magic. (Is it past? Do you encounter magical thinking? Indulge in it?) The supernatural elements (spells and sprites) are a large part of the play’s charm.

This Stockton production was highly successful. I was swept away by the poetry, music and plot. The acting, especially Rodger Jackson as Prospero, was first class. I loved Ryan Gorman as poor, bad Caliban and Erica Delbury as Prospero’s daughter Miranda. The entire cast deserves commendation.

So… South Jersey residents don’t need to leave home to enjoy good theater. And this probably applies to anyone who lives within striking distance of a college or university with a drama department. Support your local thespians! And remember the Bard.

“The Hard Problem” by Tom Stoppard, at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia

Tom Stoppard never caught my attention before. Everyone but me has read or seen “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”.

I went to see “The Hard Problem” because a friend was performing. Not acting, but providing musical accompaniment on the saxophone, mostly improvised. Good enough reason for a Sunday afternoon venture to Philadelphia.

I watched the play with no expectations whatsoever. That’s how I like theater. I’m ready to buy into whatever the playwright and producer offer. I love to see the curtain rise on the unknown and unexpected.

Part of the plot framework for this play is an Institute for Brain Science, a think tank that employs the heroine, a young woman named Hilary. At the beginning, I was afraid the whole play would be about evolutionary neurobiology, which could have been pedantic. But Hilary has a habit that surprises some of her acquaintances. She PRAYS. This makes no sense to those who believe that “consciousness” is physically determined.

That’s the “hard problem” of the title. What is consciousness? If it is as predetermined as quantum physics, how does one explain love, or sorrow?

The music that accompanies parts of the play is intended to reflect Hilary’s inner life, which includes emotions that can’t be explained by any theory of consciousness and which are revealed to the audience only slowly. Apparently, the musical accompaniment was an addition by the Artistic Director of this particular production of “The Hard Problem”, a relatively new work. I’m curious how the playwright feels about it, and whether it will be included in future productions. I vote “yes”.

I liked the music, but don’t feel I got the maximum from it. The dialogue was dense and required all my attention, so I think I tuned out the music some of the time. If I were to see the play again, I might react differently, and I do assume I might see it again. After all, I watch Shakespeare over and over.

At the end of the play, Hilary is giving up neurobiology for the study of philosophy. Does this tell us what Stoppard thinks about consciousness?

Oedipus Rex (by Sophocles) Revisited

On Sunday afternoon, I joined my husband’s alumni organization for a seminar on the classical Greek drama Oedipus Rex. I hadn’t thought about Oedipus since high school.

(Reminder – Oedipus was cast aside by his father the King of Thebes because a prophet said he would kill his father and marry his mother. Rescued by a sheperd, he was adopted and raised in an adjacent city-state. Unknowingly, he fulfilled the prophecy. See Wikipedia or Sparknotes for a better summary.)

The usual pattern for these seminars is to have a tutor (teacher) who asks a starting question and keeps the discussion “on track”, whatever that means. Our small group (seven participants) had no leader, but in less than five minutes we had a good starting question. Which was Oedipus’s greater sin, murder or incest? We seemed to spend more time and effort discussing the murder. Oedipus had, after all, killed a man, and had not troubled to find out that person’s identity.

The action of the play (Oedipus’ efforts to discover who had killed the king who preceded him on the throne of Thebes) is triggered by an oracle, who says Thebes will not thrive until the old king is avenged.

So… we spent lots of time trying to figure out the oracle, as well as Tiresius the soothsayer. The oracle had great power. What does it mean to live under the weight of a prophecy? The old king had so much fear of prophecy that he sent his infant to die on a hillside.

We talked about identity. Oedipus literally didn’t know who he was. He resentfully ignored hints that he was not the legitimate son of the man who raised him.

We talked about modern “oracles” and our experiences with them. How do we explain coincidences and miracles in a modern world without oracles and prophets?

We talked for two hours! What else will I find if I go back to other books I haven’t read since high school?

Please feel free to leave a recommendation.