Sunday, June 02, 2013

Regional-Theater Stage Discourse And Deportment

On Friday evening, my parents, my middle brother, and Joshua and I went to The Guthrie Theater to see a stage adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s second novel, “Home Of The Gentry”.

I have never read “Home Of The Gentry”, first published in 1859. I have read the fourth of Turgenev’s six novels, “Fathers And Sons”, and I have read Turgenev’s most-produced play, “A Month In The Country”. Otherwise I have ignored Turgenev. The loss surely is mine.

The adaptation, titled “The Primrose Path”, was by British playwright Crispin Whittell, none of whose work I have seen. The direction was provided by Roger Rees. Since The Guthrie was presenting the very first full-scale production of Whittell’s adaptation (it is my understanding that the adaptation has been workshopped once or twice), a lengthy rehearsal period had been provided by The Guthrie.

The plot is a typical 19th-Century Russian plot set in Russian provinces. A young woman from a financially-strapped landowning family must choose a husband between two men, one selected by her mother because of the suitor’s stability and social prospects and the other selected by her own heart. A large number of subsidiary characters—servants, retainers, friends, family members—enriches the plot and enriches the drama.

I found the story and characters riveting (I want to read the novel as soon as possible), the Guthrie production not good enough, the adaptation in need of further revision.

Whittell’s script is too jokey, especially in the first act, when Whittell tries too hard to keep the audience amused while the characters are introduced and the plot set into motion.

The script is also poorly paced. The adaptation never finds a rhythm for any sustained period of time; the two great surprises that occur during the course of the play are poorly written and do not come off as genuine climactic events.

The Guthrie cast was unimpressive, especially the cast members assigned the four primary roles. Each was one-dimensional; each offered nothing more than an on-the-surface portrayal. “The Primrose Path” is the kind of play that cries out for the level of casting and performance London’s National Theatre can provide. What we got in Minneapolis was strictly regional-theater stage discourse and deportment—and it was much too “American” in tone and much too “2013” in tone.

Before the performance, we enjoyed an excellent dinner at a fine seafood restaurant. We ordered Maryland soft-shell crab as appetizer and Idaho trout as main course. We were pleased with our meal.

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