Tag Archives: George Bernard Shaw

Season Seventeen – Costuming Through the Ages

We opened our seventeenth season, 1996-97, with David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. We followed with Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Shaw’s Candida, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and finally Synge’s Playboy of the Western World. The questions of how to mount, how to costume, were easy. Glengarry was written in 1983 and whatever changes may have occurred in men’s fashions over the last thirteen years seemed too trivial to bother with. The actors wore their own suits.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1996)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1996)

But Cat was written and takes place in the ’50s in a plantation home in Mississippi. The play is largely about sexual tensions: Brick, the male lead, is gay and closeted (not that anyone used that word in the 50s) but his wife Maggie is straight and unsatisfied. She is the cat on a hot tin roof. But the way people talked about sex, especially gay sex (if ever they did), was quite different between the ’50s and the ’90s. In the first act Maggie wears only a slip. That makes sense for a hot summer day in Mississippi in the ’50s, but I doubt any of our actresses even owned a slip in the ’90s. So we had to evoke the period.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1996)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1996)

Candida and Playboy both take place at the turn of the twentieth century; the Shaw in London, the Synge in western Ireland. Both are romantic comedies and the sexual language and tensions of the Vicwardian time, in London and in County Mayo are, of course, even more different than they would be at the turn of the 21st century. Obviously we had to recreate the setting and the costumes of the time and place.

Candida (1996)
Candida (1996)
Playboy of the Western World (1997)
Playboy of the Western World (1997)

The point is that the choice of setting and period for these plays was easy and automatic. But we also did Hamlet in that season and with that play, as always with Shakespeare, the choice is not easy. When does a Shakespearean play—any Shakespearean play—take place? Hamlet is based on a Scandinavian legend that Shakespeare read in a 13th century version written by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. That places it in Viking times and that sorts with the politics in the play. England owes fealty to Denmark, and the Danish king can give orders to the English king. But Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern were recent students at the University of Wittenberg, which was founded in 1502. And when Hamlet and Laertes duel in the last scene of the play their weapons are specified: rapier and dagger. The rapier was invented in the early sixteenth century. And rapiers are mentioned and worn and used not only in plays that can be thought to take place in Shakespeare’s time, but also in the King Henry plays and even in Timon of Athens and Two Noble Kinsmen, plays that presumably take place in classical or mythical Athens.

Hamlet (1997)
Hamlet (1997)

The ruler of Athens in Kinsmen and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is Theseus, the Duke of Athens, which is of course a great anachronism. Well, yes, there were dukes of Athens, but that was during the Crusades when a duchy of Athens existed for a while during the 13th and early 14th centuries. That is not what Shakespeare had in mind. In Antony and Cleopatra, Antony refers to a personal servant, basically a valet, of Caesar’s as “one who cuts his points.” Points were ties, ribbons, that attached a gentleman’s hose, his tights, to his doublet. And Cleopatra wears lace, which did not exist till some time in the middle ages. So we have a fair idea of how Shakespeare dressed his actors in that play.

unnamedIn 1594 or ’95, a schoolmaster named Henry Peacham made the drawing reproduced above, and, under it, transcribed some forty lines from Titus Andronicus. The sketch illustrates the moment in the first scene of the play when Tamora, Queen of the Goths, kneels before Titus, her conqueror, pleading for the lives of her sons. It is pretty clearly a drawing made either during or shortly after an actual performance of the play.

Hamlet (1997)
Hamlet (1997)

Titus, the two male (kneeling) Goths and Aaron the Moor are wearing Roman armor. Titus’ Roman soldiers however, are in Elizabethan doublet and hose. Tamara is dressed like a fashionable Elizabethan lady. Under their Roman armor the Goths and Titus wear hose: that is, tights. The anachronism in the weapons is just as striking. The Romans carry medieval ceremonial halberds. One sports a scimitar, an unlikely weapon for either a classical Roman or an Elizabethan English soldier. His companion and Aaron have medieval long swords. But twice in the play swords are called rapiers.

Finally, to complete the list of anachronisms, while the left-most soldier wears a contemporary armor, his companion has on a breastplate of a Saxon style that passed out of use a hundred years before the play was performed. This is one of the best evidences that the drawing is the record of an actual performance. It would be difficult to understand why the artist, simply illustrating a scene from a play he was reading, would draw an armor he would never see in use. But it is easy to understand why an actor might be wearing such an armor: the theatre owned it precisely because it was no longer serviceable for combat.

Hamlet (1997)
Hamlet (1997)

So, there is no default proper period for any Shakespearean play, and that is probably one reason producers today seem to delight in finding strange settings and periods for the plays. But it seems certain Shakespeare did not place any of his plays in his own time. So we costumed Hamlet in the Viking period with rapiers and a university in Wittenberg. The religion in the play is Catholicism; Hamlet’s father’s ghost resides in Purgatory and Laertes says his dead sister will be a ministering angel when the priest at her funeral will “lie howling.” Claudius’s prayer in Act III is certainly a Christian prayer. But Hamlet’s absolute need to avenge his father is not a Christian notion. But it is a Viking’s duty, and mixing the Christian prohibition with the pagan, Viking duty helps to define the great conflict in the character of Hamlet.

Man and Superman: A Triumph

We opened our fourteenth season with Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw. It was our most ambitious production ever, and, according to Jack Crouch, the erstwhile chairman of CU’s theatre department, it was “a triumph.” Here’s why:

The Upstart Crow prides itself on its policy of never cutting or rewriting plays. When we did The Importance of Being Earnest we took the trouble to find Oscar Wilde’s manuscripts and we restored the play to the version he had originally written: a four act play that I think almost nobody but The Upstart Crow has ever done in its entirety. When we did Caligula we found that the only available English translation omitted a scene that we thought was essential to the play. We translated that scene (well, Kathy Reed translated it) and we added it to our production. When we did Molière’s Imaginary Invalid (we’ve done it three times) we actually performed the three inter-act interludes Moliere included in his production, and I think hardly any other production since his time has done that. (Actually, to be honest, not quite: The second interlude includes a dance by monkeys and no monkeys have ever shown up at our auditions, so we had a dance, but it was a monkey-free dance.)Man and Superman is loosely based on the story of Don Juan, a successful libertine that has been figured in works by Byron, Moliere, Mozart and others. In most of the stories Don Juan seduces Doña Ana, kills her father, and invites a statue of her father to the wedding. And the statue comes to life and drags Don Juan to Hell.

1
Man and Superman (1993)

Shaw reverses the story. It is Doña Ana (Ann Whitefield in Shaw’s play) who proposes and pursues Don Juan (John Tanner) across Europe to seduce and marry him. Tanner escapes in his motor car and drives through Spain. In the Pyrenees he is captured by a band of Spanish bandits who hold him for ransom. It’s night, they all fall asleep and John Tanner and the bandit chief have a dream, the same dream evidently. The dream is Act III, scene ii of Man and Superman. They dream of Don Juan, Doña Ana, the statue, and the bandit chief in Hell. Juan is played by Tanner; Ana by Ann; the statue by Roebuck Ramsden, Ann’s guardian; and Lucifer by Mendoza, the bandit chief. It is virtually a complete play in its own right. It has often been played as a complete play under the title, Don Juan in Hell, but it is almost always cut from productions of Man and Superman.

Man and Superman (1993)
Man and Superman (1993)

I have searched the Internet for every mention I could find of performances of the play, and virtually all of them indicate that the third act was not included in the production. I did find one that said the first production that included the dream was in 1915. (The play was written in 1900.)

Man and Superman (1993)
Man and Superman (1993)

The reason of course is length. Don Juan in Hell is about an hour and a half long, and the rest of the play is something over two and a half hours. That would make a very long evening. And the dream contributes nothing to the plot of Man and Superman. It really is easy to pull it out.

Man and Superman (1993)
Man and Superman (1993)

But Shaw called Man and Superman “a comedy and a philosophy,” and most of the philosophy is in the dream scene. And watching Tanner and Ann play their legendary prototypes is enormously enriching.

Man and Superman (1993)
Man and Superman (1993)

So, being what we are, we did the whole play. We cast the four Don Juan characters in early summer, shortly after closing the previous season, and rehearsed that part of the play for about a month. Then, we cast the rest of the roles and rehearsed the framing play four nights a week, rehearsing Don Juan every Friday evening to keep it ready. After more than two months of rehearsal we opened on a Friday evening with Man and Superman without Don Juan. On Saturday we did Don Juan. Then, on Sunday we did a matinee performance at 3:30 of Man and Superman up through Act III, scene i. Then a break for supper, and at 7:00 the audience returned to see Act III, scene ii, and Act IV. For the rest of the run we kept up the same schedule: alternating the framing play and the dream play each Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and doing the whole show in a matinee and evening production on Sunday.

Cast of Man and Superman (1993)
Cast of Man and Superman (1993)

As far as I can tell, we are the only company in America that has ever done the entire play.

Season Seven: A Learning Curve

We survived King Lear: both The Upstart Crow and me. And we went on to finish our sixth season with three one-acts by John Millington Synge: The Tinker’s Wedding, In the Shadow of the Glen, Riders to the Sea. It was not the best choice we could have made. They’re all wonderful plays and I think we gave each a really strong production, but they didn’t go well together. Tinker’s Wedding is a farce, a wildly funny play.

Characters in Tinker's Wedding (1986)
Characters in Tinker’s Wedding (1986)

Shadow is—well—a melodrama, and the earlier farce tended to set the audience up to laugh at the characters in the second play.

Characters in In the Shadow of the Glen (1986)
Characters in In the Shadow of the Glen (1986)

Riders to the Sea is a tragedy, a profound and beautiful little play but the two plays that preceded it, so different in tone, did not help its reception by the audience. We had thought that since the same playwright had written all three, that would unite them. But Synge’s range is great; we had three directors and three different casts. It was just not a unified coherent evening.

Characters (Joan Kuder Bell and other) in Riders to the Sea (1986)
Characters (Joan Kuder Bell, other) in Riders to the Sea (1986)
We didn’t learn; we did it again. The second show of our seventh season was The Oresteia by Æschylus. The Oresteia is not a play; it is three plays, the only extant Greek trilogy we have. Agamemnon is about the Greek commander’s return to Argos after his victory in the Trojan War and his murder by his queen, Clytemnestra. The Libation Bearers is about the murder of Clytemnestra and her lover Ægisthus by her son Orestes. The Eumenides is about the punishment leveled on him by the Furies and their transformation into Eumenides: “All-seeing, Kindly Ones.” We did have a single director and a single cast, but we divided the trilogy, and three of us took one play each and edited it down to less than hour each so we could get all three done in an evening. So there were three voices. And we cut the choral odes drastically. That was a mistake. Two of the plays are named for their choruses. We should have known better. Each of the three plays was done well, I think, but they did not combine into a good, coherent, single production. You will recall, if you have read the first couple of blogs in this series, that The Upstart Crow started with a cutting of four Shakespearean histories into one play about Queen Margaret of Anjou; Vain Flourish of My Fortune. And that didn’t work either.

Characters in The Oresteia (1986)
Characters in The Oresteia (1986)
(Twenty nine years later we got it right: The show we did last spring, The Flies by Jean-Paul Sartre is his version of the same story, of Libation Bearers and Eumenides, in a modern existentialist version. And we didn’t cut anything.)

Crowd (Matthew Gary, Nicole DeNardo, Casey Lloyd, Matthew W. King, Alexis Bell, Christopher Shelton, John Taylor, Debra Conley) in The Flies (2015)
Agamemnon (Scott Cuzac Tuffield), Crowd (Deanna Young, Matthew Gary, Nicole DeNardo, Casey Lloyd, Alexis Bell, Debra Conley), Zeus (Matthew W. King), Orestes (Christopher Shelton), Tutor (John Taylor) in The Flies (2015)
In between the Synge one-acts and The Oresteia we did Shaw’s The Man of Destiny. It was, as I remember it, an excellent production, and it certainly was a unified, coherent event; it’s a short play, only about an hour long, and that’s the problem. It didn’t really amount to a full evening’s entertainment. Our audience base is a lot larger than just the city and county of Boulder, and there were certainly people who spent more time getting to the theatre and then getting home than they spent at the play.

Characters (Joan Kuder Bell, other) in Man of Destiny (1986)
Characters (Joan Kuder Bell, other) in Man of Destiny (1986)
Here’s what we were missing: We thought we were selling you a ticket to see three plays by Synge or by Æschylus, or one play by Shaw. Actually, we were selling you a ticket to attend a single artistic event whose center was the three plays or one play. But, of course, you cannot have three centers.

 

  Every good play has a shape, a rhythm. The Greeks named the parts: prologue, strophe, antistrophe, episode; and again strophe, antistrophe, episode, till the conclusion. Almost every good play can be analyzed as exposition, complication, climax, denouement. You can think of these as analogous to movements in a symphony. Small, intimate scenes will alternate with crowd scenes and soliloquies. Shouting and whispering take their turns. Shakespeare was the best of all at this. Look at how often, just as the tensions in a tragedy were reaching a climax, he would introduce a comic—even a farce—scene; not because the plot demanded it, but for the sake of the shape, the rhythm.

 

The three Synge one-acts are very good plays and I think we did them well. And each has the kind of rhythmic structure a good play needs. But they did not resonate with each other. We kept saying, “Forget what you just saw. It was good but it’s over. Start again.” We invited you to a banquet. We gave you a pot-luck.

Misalliance – 1990

We are currently in production for Misalliance, a show we have done once before. Below are some photos from our 1990 version.

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw plays August 28th – September 12th, 2015 at The Dairy Center for the Arts.

For tickets call 303.444.7328 or visit https://tickets.thedairy.org/Online/Misalliance


Misalliance (1990)
Misalliance (1990)

 

Misalliance (1990)
Misalliance (1990)

 

Misalliance (1990)
Misalliance (1990)

 

Richard Bell and Jim Fogelberg in Misalliance (1990)
Richard Bell and Jim Fogelberg in Misalliance (1990)

 

Misalliance (1990)
Misalliance (1990)

 

Set from Misalliance (1990)
Set from Misalliance (1990)

A Child Of The Theatre Part V: Misalliance and Shaw

Last night we opened Misalliance. Which is why we’ve been too busy to post about past productions. Anyway I recently realized how many Shaw plays I’ve been in. Interestingly, only one of them, like Misalliance, was set in Shaw’s own time.

Joey Percival (Stephen Krusoe), Hypatia Tarleton (Alexis Bell) in Shaw’ Misalliance (2015)

The first one was in 1992 and the show was The Apple Cart, which is set in some time in the future. I was Princess Alice.

Princess Alice (Alexis Bell) in Shaw’s The Apple Cart (1992)

Then in 2005 I played Joan of Arc in St. Joan.

Joan of Arc (Alexis Bell) in Shaw’s St. Joan (2004)

Then in 2011 I was in The Philanderer, along with Louis Clark and Joe Illingworth who are also in Misalliance.

Julia Craven (Alexis Bell), Cuthburtson (Louis Clark), Leonard Charteris (Joe Illingworth), Col. Craven (Richard Bell) in The Philanderer (2011)

And most recently I played Cleopatra in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, with John Taylor, who also, is in Misalliance.

Rufio (John Taylor), Cleopatra (Alexis Bell) in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (2013)

Misalliance

Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw plays August 28th – September 12th, 2015 at The Dairy Center for the Arts.

For tickets call 303.444.7328 or visit https://tickets.thedairy.org/Online/Misalliance


 

John Tarleton (Louis Clark), Mrs. Tarleton (Katherine Dubois Reed), Bentley Summerhays (Alex Mazzola), Joey Percival (Stephen Krusoe), Hypatia Tarleton (Alexis Bell) in Misalliance (2015)

Shaw liked to call it “Miss Alliance” in his letters. The affectionate nickname tells us something about his feelings for this play.  It is the middle play in what has been called his Marriage Trilogy: Getting Married and Heartbreak House are the other two and they really are about misalliances. This play, in spite of its title, is the only one of the three that contains within it a really happy marriage and ends with the prospect of another happy marriage.

Mrs. Tarleton (Katherine Dubois Reed), John Tarleton (Louis Clark) in Misalliance (2015)
And that makes Misalliance a kind of rare bird among romantic comedies; indeed among plays of any kind that deal with marriage. Look at the married couples in the dramas and tragedies that we have done in the last couple of seasons: The Flies, Juno and the Paycock, and yes, Blood Wedding. We’ve done comedies in which a romantic couple figured in a sub-plot and were engaged at the end of the play, and we believe that they will live happily ever after, but only because that is a convention of the form. Arsenic and Old Lace and Madwoman of Chaillot are examples that we’ve recently done.
Sir Toby (Richard Bell), Maria (Katherine Dubois Reed) in Twelfth Night (2015)

How about plays where the love stories are the center of the action? Twelfth Night ends with three marriages. Toby and Maria will make it; they have known each other for years and we have every reason to believe in them. But the other two couples: Olivia and Sebastian have known each other for about an hour when they marry, and Orsino proposes to Viola, who he thought was a boy, about five minutes after  condemning her to death. Good luck.

Bo Decker (Michael Gurshtein), Cherie (Kristy E. Pike) in Bus Stop (2014)
How about Bus Stop? It is a charming love story, but if you believe that Bo and Cherie will make it to the end of the bus ride you are very sanguine indeed. Bus Stop is almost the prototype for romantic comedy. A couple meet and are attracted to one another. They quarrel and believe all sorts of bad things about each other but finally realize that amor vincit omnia and they get married. But it is the quarreling that provides the jokes and the action of the comedy.

 

To paraphrase the opening sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy marriages are alike; every unhappy marriage is unhappy in its own way.” Obviously, unhappy marriages are more interesting.

 

Is it possible to write a good comedy about a couple who meet, like one another, love one another, never quarrel, and then get married? Where would you find the conflict? Where would you find the jokes?

 

All of the stuff of romantic comedy is in Misalliance: the quarreling, accusations and actualities of infidelity and adultery, mistaken identities, death threats, secret panels, even—all are in Misalliance. And all of that melodramatic stuff is presented through some of the best and wittiest dialogue Shaw ever wrote.  And most of the wit is there by virtue of  all the past and potential and failed misalliances of most of the characters in the play. The successful alliance that ends the play is interesting largely because of its contrast to the others.

 

Getting Married and Heartbreak House, like this play, show us a number of past and potential misalliances and end with marriages we hope will last. In Getting Married the couple marry only after writing a pre-nuptial contract designed to make divorce easy should they want one. Heartbreak House gives a heroine who is in love with a married man and engaged to a ruthless plutocrat, a heroine of about 20 who ends up married to an 88-year-old man. That marriage will be happy but short.

Lina (Dana Padgett), Bentley Summerhays (Alex Mazzola)

Shaw had been married for about ten years when he wrote this play. It seems to have been a happy marriage; it lasted another three decades until his wife’s death in 1943, but the marriage was never consummated. (I am not sure how we know this: but we do.) But if Charlotte Shaw remained chaste, her husband almost certainly did not. He had a number of extra-marital affairs, the most notable being with Mrs Patrick Campbell who played Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion and was the model and inspiration for Hesione Hushabye in Heartbreak House and Orinthia in The Apple Cart. She said of  this play: “Misalliance is out and out surely the best you have done and that I suppose means the best modern play.”

Marat/Sade

Right now, as I write this, we are in rehearsal for Shaw’s Misalliance. There is a wonderful little meta-theatrical moment in the play when one of the characters, a well-read philosophical type, who habitually calls upon those he is arguing with to read this or that author. He talks of evolution and says, “Read Darwin.” At one point he talks about The Superman and says “Read”—no, not Nietzsche—. He says “Read What’s-his-name.” What’s-his-name is, of course, Shaw, who wrote Man and Superman about six years before Misalliance. Man and Superman is about a writer, John Tanner, who has written an important essay called “The Revolutionist’s Handbook.” And Shaw wrote just such an essay and it is appended to copies of Man and Superman and it is as good as the play says it is.

George Bernard Shaw
Now, that’s unique. I know of no other playwright who has written about a great writer—a fictional great writer—and quoted his work or printed it. You can write about second-raters, and quote their work, but you cannot quote a fictional writer who is a better writer than you are.

 

The same thing is true about writing about playwrights or actors. As an actor I have played a playwright twice. I played Shaw in Dear Liar, a play about his affair with Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and guess what? The character, Shaw, was as good a playwright as the real Shaw when I spoke his lines. And I have played Peter Quince, a writer, director, and actor in the Pyramus and Thisbe episode in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. And guess what: he was not as good an actor as me. How could he be? If I could portray an actor better than me I would do it all the time.

 

And that brings us to the most interesting play of our fourth season: Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss. That’s not the real title. The real title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. I played Marat.

Marat (Richard Bell) and Others in Marat/Sade (1984)
Actually, I played an inmate of an asylum who had been cast as Marat in a play that Marquis de Sade had written and directed. The actors playing de Sade and the staff of the asylum were actually playing those roles. The rest of us were playing lunatics who were playing roles. We were actors acting actors acting. In our fifth season we did Dream and again we had actors playing very bad actors. But that was easy; it was all for laughs.

 

This was different. We were not going for laughs. We were going for pity and terror. And we were trying to evoke pity and terror by doing it inadequately. We couldn’t just over-act, and forget lines and props, and fall on our prats. (There’s a little of that written into the play, but very little.) We had to portray our lunatic actors as realistically and sympathetically as we could. We had to dramatize and make our audience understand the great questions the play deals with, but never resolves: de Sade’s desperate striving for an ascetic self-awareness and self-fulfillment that ultimately led to the sadism named for him; Marat’s desperate striving for liberty, equality, and a just government, a striving that ultimately led to a reign of terror. And we had to play unsympathetic, unattractive, deluded characters accurately, but in a way that made them sympathetic, attractive, and understandable.

 

Characters in Marat/Sade (1984)
There is very little in our training that prepares us for this sort of thing. The long shadows of Constantin Stanislavsky and Lee Strasburg have fallen upon us and every American actor today is, at least partially, a ‘Method’ actor. When we prepare a role we explore the emotional life of the character by summoning up our own emotional life. We teach ourselves to use our sense memory to understand the feelings of the character. We read the lines and ask ourselves: what are they really saying. We read through the text into the ‘sub-text’ and let the secret, unspoken dialogue control how we act and react. We discover the ‘spine,’ the ‘through-line’ of the character. We come as close as we can (we tell ourselves) to becoming the characters, and let what they feel control what we do. And so we create, or try to create, authentic, realistic, consistent characters.

 

None of that works in this play. The two characters the Marat/Sade actor must play—the historical figure in the French revolution and the mad actor who portrays him—cannot be consistent. They are two different people. The historical figure may have really lived, and therefore is authentic and real, but he exists in the play only as the imaginary creation of a lunatic. The lunatics are purely fictional, but they are the characters the actor must portray truthfully.

 

Characters in Marat/Sade (1984)
But how? The actor cannot trust his sense memory, because he is playing someone whose emotional life does not find a counterpart in the actor. The actor would feel and respond in that way if this happened to him, but the point of the character is that he doesn’t respond that way: he is deranged.

 

And there is no way we can discover a sub-text because we really have no text. With a few exceptions the characters never speak for themselves; they recite lines they have memorized that de Sade has written for them.

 

Characters in Marat/Sade (1984)
So, a play like Marat/Sade—(Is there another play like Marat/Sade?)—asks a lot of the actor: great challenges and great rewards. The actors found their own ways of meeting the challenge. In some cases the nature of the mental illness that afflicted them is specified by the playwright—Peter Weiss, not de Sade—paranoia, sleeping sickness, melancholia, but in most cases the actors diagnosed themselves and diagnosed the severity of their condition. Some found they could pretend to immerse themselves in the character they played, and use the play as a way of escaping from whatever private horror they had. (Yes, there really are actors who do that—über-method actors—but our actors who made that choice were actually technical actors playing method actors.) Some decided the play was a lark and what they liked best about it was that they could misbehave and annoy their keepers. Some were patients who were unable to participate fully, but who heard the political messages of the play as statements about their own incarceration, and so they repeatedly lost control. Some were not mad at all, but were confined because they were an embarrassment to the state and to their well-placed families who managed to get them committed, rather than jailed. (Historically, this was de Sade’s case.) Each of us made our own choice, and the result, we hoped, would be a coherent production made out of incoherence and a single statement made out of contradiction.

 

Characters in Marat/Sade (1984)
Did it work? This is from the closing speech:
This evening may have seemed confusing
But our hope is you found our play amusing
And we are sure that you will understand
If now and then a scene got out of hand.

Wayfaring Actors

The Servant (Katherine Dubois Reed) in Blood Wedding (1981)

Blood Wedding was our last production at the Free School. It was not just the sky-blue walls and the baptismal font on the stage that were hard to work into a set design. (The building had been built as a church.) It was not just the lack of parking at the corner of Broadway and Balsam. It was mostly the fact that the Free School—to its credit—hosted all sorts of community events, all valuable in themselves, but difficult to share the building with. It was hard performing a poetic medieval tragedy with a drum concert in the next room, for instance. The final blow was a cooking demonstration, during a performance of Blood Wedding, in the basement just below our theatre that filled the building with the delectable odor of various kinds of seafood: it was strong.

Caligula (Bill), Caesonia (Mary Bell) in Caligula (1982)

So, we became a traveling company. We performed wherever we could find space. Caligula was our next production and we did it in Theatre 300 in the University Theatre. It was a wonderful space but, unfortunately, only available to us for two weeks during Christmas vacation. That’s a good time to do The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol, but Caligula lacks some of the wholesome, sentimental quality of most Christmas plays. It was not our best attended show.
Next was Shaw’s Arms and the Man, and we did that at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church in East Boulder.

Raina Petkoff & Captain Bluntschli in Arms and the Man (1982)

Next: The Winter’s Tale and we found a great performance space for that: the Chautauqua Community House. That was our last show of our second season. We loved the space: theatre in the round with great acoustics and a full balcony. We opened season three in the same place with The Imaginary Invalid. We would happily have stayed there forever if we could, except for one small problem: The building was unheated. That was fine for Winter’s Tale performed in May and Invalid performed in September (actually not quite OK: we returned to Chautauqua for Heartbreak House in September of 1984 and once had to rent a propane heater to warm the room up before the performance. It didn’t.)

Toinette & Argan in The Imaginary Invalid (1982)

Next: A special event: We did a single performance of The Monkey’s Paw for a Halloween show at the Boulder Theatre.

Next: Our third church. We did Ibsen’s The Master Builder in the church hall at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder. And our fourth church. We closed the show after three weekends at St. John’s and packed it up and took it to Denver for a weekend at the First Unitarian Church. That makes seven different theatres by the middle of our third season.

Halvard Solness (Richard Bell), Hilda Wangel (Joan Kuder Bell) in The Master Builder (1982)

Next: The Rivals, and another church: The Unitarian Church in East Boulder.

The Rivals (1983)

Next: Back to Denver again. We entered a festival contest and performed a one-act: The Golden Fleece at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. We didn’t win.

Then, back to St. John’s. We finished our third season with two more shows there: Macbett by Ionesco and Dark of the Moon, the American Appalachian classic. St. John’s became our home for the next couple of seasons.

Lady Macbett (Joan Kuder Bell) in Macbett (1983)

Three seasons: Twenty productions; nine theatres. Some of us were younger then.

Repertory (or Why We Repeat Plays)

The summer of 1981: We were planning our second season. We were pretty bushy tailed then and flushed with success: We had done a season of classical plays and we had turned a profit. We knew we were an ensemble, and a classical ensemble, but we wanted to be more. We wanted to be a repertory company as well. That meant we would return to the same plays from time to time: certain plays, the greatest plays, would be in our permanent repertoire. The Importance of Being Earnest was a great sucess in our first season so we would do it again. In repertory with—with what play? What would be the perfect companion to alternate performance nights with Earnest? There have been famous pairings of plays done that way: Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra alternating with Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra; Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival this summer is doing Henry V and its sort of sequel, Henry VI, Part I. 

Gwendolyn (Lorree True), Merriman (Kris Barstow), Cecily (Katherine Dubois Reed) in The Importance of Being Earnest (1980)

So, what did we choose? Is there a play that shares characters with Earnest the way those above share characters? No. Is there a play that is somehow thematically related, whose pairing with Earnest will reward an audience by comparing and contrasting the treatment of similar themes? Well, Earnest is about how the infant Earnest Worthing was mistakenly placed in a handbag that was lost at a railway station, and who was brought up by foster parents and ultimately learned who his real parents were and got married to live happily ever after. Well, there is another famous play about an infant abandoned by his parents who grows up and learns who they were and . . . and is already married, it turns out, to his mother and she hangs herself and he blinds himself and lives in exile ever after.

So you see, Earnest and Oedipus Rex are simply two versions of the same story.

Cecily (Alexis Bell), Merman (Gregory Reed), Gwendolyn (Lisa Hoyt) in The Importance of Being Earnest (2003)

And, of course, I’m just making this up on the spur of the moment, as I go along. I have no idea, now, 34 years later, why we thought those two plays belonged together as a double bill. I think—and I may be making this up too—that we just wanted to do Oedipus, but were afraid of it. We thought a Greek tragedy, perhaps the darkest of all the Greek tragedies, was simply not up to the taste of a modern audience, and, by pairing it with our most successful comedy we would at least break even on the combination. Or maybe we just wanted to do Earnest again; we had a wonderful time with it, but were afraid that doing it again so soon might not draw our audience back so we would hedge by combining it with quite a different, but excellent, play that would bring in our existing audience and a new audience. Whatever.

Oedipus (John Stadler) Jocasta (Ruth Helz) in Oedipus (1981)

Anyway, it’s really hard, in your second season, to say you are a repertory company unless you simply repeat the first season more or less forever. We repeated Earnest but we picked five more plays that we had not already done (It was only our second season.): Oedipus, Federico Garcia-Lorca’s Blood Wedding, Albert Camus’ Caligula, George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, and William Shakespeare’s: The Winter’s Tale. Now, except for Caligula, we’ve done all these plays again. We did Earnest again in 1987 and in 2003. We did Oedipus again in 2001. We did Blood Wedding again last year. We did Arms and the Man again in 1988. We did The Winter’s Tale again in 2003.

Why? Why do a play again for an audience, pretty much the same audience, who saw our last production of that play? Actually we’ve only done that once: with Earnest. It was virtually the same production, with only a couple of the smallest roles played by different actors, but it was as much like an extension of the run of a production, as it was a new production of the same play. But when we did Oedipus again it was hardly the same play. Yes the script and the music were the same but that was about it. The first production had a cast of eight speaking roles and a chorus of eleven singers and dancers. Nobody doubled in more than one role.

Jocasta (Joan Kuder Bell), Oedipus (Eric Wahlberg) in Oedipus (2001)

But our second Oedipus had a total cast of eight. Eight actors entered. One of them was wearing a headdress that was almost a mask and a royal robe. He was Oedipus and he spoke the opening speech to the chorus: the rest of the cast. At the end of the speech one member of the chorus went upstage to a costume rack, put on the headdress and robe of a priestess and continued the scene. Then Creon entered. That is, the priestess took off her priestess mask and robe and rejoined the chorus. Another actor—another member of the chorus—put on the mask and robe of Creon and played the next scene as that character. And so for the rest of the play.

And so it is with every repeat of a script. Different actors, usually a different director, always different mounting. But suppose they were much the same (as with our Earnest). If you liked it the first time you’ll like it again. How many times have you seen The Nutcraker? Or A Christmas Carol?  Has anyone ever said “Why should I go to the concert? They’re doing Beethoven’s Ninth and I’ve already heard it.” Or “I’m not going to the Louvre. I’ve already seen the Mona Lisa.”