Wednesday, June 21, 2006

London: Books & Plays [Updated]

Why some habits are hard to regain and others so easy, I'll never understand. After a few days, the trip to London with my folks is digesting in a number of ways. So I'll try to break it down.

First off, as my habit, I loaded up on complementary reading material: Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's memoir of his football obsession; Plays 1, the first collection of plays by Caryl Churchill, including Owners and Cloud Nine; and The Complete Plays of Sarah Kane. All of which delve into the not so pleasant aspects of the British psyche.

I managed to catch two plays: Titus Andronicus at the Globe and Enemies by David Hare (after Maxim Gorky) at the Almeida.

Titus, Shakespeare's money making blockbuster, lived up to expectations in this gory production. I've only seen this production and Julie Taymor's film, but both make me marvel at some of the soliloquays inbetween the horror... in contemplating grief and violence. The one major distraction was the awful bouffant mullets forced on Tamara's son's ..not quite fitting the otherwise predominant Elizabethan staging.

Enemies was searing with intense commentary on owners and the proletariat, and a nifty bit of metatheater, fitting for Hare's Stuff Happens, regarding the Iraq War, particularly the role in government to protect or exploit civilians. All sides seem tragic and disaster is prophesied. It was also good to get out of Central London as the Almeida required.

In a coda of sorts, I just read Korean filmmaker Park Chanwook's interview in Bomb by Esther Chae. Chanwook just closed a much heralded vengeance trilogy composed of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. Chae mentions Titus among others as classic tales of vengeance and asks Chanwook to cite any Korean classics that deal with personal vengeance, to which he says there are none:
"We have tragedies related to war and colonization, but we don't have a culture where on expresses anger in an aggressive way. I didn't' have any literature to refer to. And I find it stifling that we don't have such traditions"
[Update] Ben Brantley must have been at my heels. The show I wanted to see but couldn't get a ticket for was Tom Stoppard's new play Rock N Roll that just opened. Brantley's review came out today. 2/3's down he give a mention of Enemies:
"What is to be done?" might also be the mantra of "Enemies," a new adaptation by the industrious David Hare of Maxim Gorky's 1906 drama of aristocrats and proletariats at loggerheads, which ends this weekend at the Almeida Theater.

Performed with naturalistic vibrancy by a fine cast directed by Michael Attenborough, "Enemies" oozes the juicy ruling-class angst, idiosyncrasy and moral paralysis associated with classic Russian fiction. But it also presents an array of ardent, revolution-ready factory workers. The more insightful of the fluttery aristocrats envy the workers their certainty. But it's telling that the uncertainty of the doomed upper-class characters is what feels convincing, and unsettlingly familiar.

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