BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Review
by Kathryn Osenlund
As always at the Wilma, the set is inspired. A plain, white curtain opens to reveal the beautifully articulated backstage of a long ago abandoned theater. A character enters from an unexpected place. The look -- the lights, scenic design, and costumes-- is truly wonderful. The play, Red, however, is literal, wordy, overly loud, and cumbersome.
A successful romance writer originally from Shanghai (Jade Wu) returns there to find inspiration for a meaningful novel. She encounters an old star of the Beijing Opera (Francis Jue) and a young woman in the Red Guard (Lydia Look). The play brings back the days of the Cultural Revolution, in which Chairman Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing purged China of "decadent" art and culture.
This is a melodrama ostensibly about politics. There are few intentionally humorous moments --and some of these are not fully realized. Although evidently intended to explore human relationships, the play fails to handle this aspect as well as it should.
Director Blanka Zizka's blocking and staging are managed with skill, but she is less successful in helping the actors bridge the gap between emotion and the written word, which results in tortured performances. Reflecting the play's problems, a song brought back at the end, meant to be touching, is merely cloying.
There are good ideas here, but they are ruined in the execution. The lines are hard to get around, resulting in acting that alternates between stagy --with dialogue that sounds like page-bound recitation -- and over-wrought harangues. Over-explained and burdened with rhetoric and spiels, the preciously serious dialogue is sometimes laughable. None of the actors are able to defeat these problems; however, Francis Jue gives it a good try, bringing grace and good instincts to his role as a Beijing Opera artist.
Red holds secrets, which are revealed in time, but do you want to stick around long enough to find out what they are? Trying too hard to be a historical play, it becomes almost as much an ordeal for the audience as it is for a character who undergoes brutal treatment. Yew's play, with its twisting plot underpinnings, might have been compelling had the language been written for actors to act. Melodramatic and clunky, the seemingly never-ending words get in the way of letting the play work. Could political sympathies have taken precedence over considerations of its viability as theatre in the decision to produce Red?
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.