Sunday, August 03, 2008

Big arts day yesterday

Yesterday I was an audience member for a large number of hours. In the afternoon I went to see Brideshead Revisited, the film being advertised for "intelligent viewers." Then last night I saw the new musical Little House on the Prairie at the Guthrie.

Brideshead was a fascinating film. I had never seen the older movie, or read the book, so I really didn't know the story at all. I saw commercials showing an old English manor, and that it starred Emma Thompson. Enough for me. In case you are as ignorant as I was, I'll fill you in on the gist of the storyline. Charles meets a young man at Oxford on his first day there, a young man who is as different from Charles as could possibly be. Sebastian is from a rich family of nobility, whereas Charles lives with his father in a small flat near Paddington Station in London. Sebastian befriends Charles, and takes him to his family manor, Brideshead, and the rest of the movie is the unfolding story of how Charles becomes involved with Sebastian and his family over the course of ten years.

The drama of the story comes in the relationships the family members have with one another and within themselves. The struggles Sebastian and his siblings have, the sheer force of their mother's love, the search for happiness his father undertakes - all are presented with bold, stark frankness that made me really ponder the situations even as I watched to see what happened next. I found myself wondering how I would have handled each situation, imagining taking on each character in turn, and aching for the turmoil they went through. The movie (and, I suppose the original novel) does an amazing job of allowing you to identify with each character, becoming aware of the good and the bad, and the complexity inherent in life with strong beliefs.

I highly recommend it.

Then in the evening I went to the Guthrie. A good friend of mine took me to a Guthrie production a year or so ago, and that visit reminded me how much I love the theater, and how much I missed it. This year I bought a season ticket series for 8 performances. Little House was the first.

I almost did something unheard of. I almost left at intermission.

It's not that it was a bad play. It was cute. The actors did fine jobs. The young women playing Laura and Mary had incredible voices and it was a joy to hear them in duets. Melissa Gilbert plays Ma and it was thrilling to see her on the stage. Her voice is clearly not her greatest strength, but she held her own. Nellie Oleson stole the show with her trademark mop of golden curls (based on the tv actress) and the actor playing Almanzo was easy on the eyes.

But the musical itself was, well, just boring. None of the songs were toe-tappers, I can't imagine anyone left humming any of the tunes. The story was fine if you are as familiar with the books as I am, and I am pretty sure most of the audience members were, but they condensed so much into a 2 1/2 hour performance that there was really no room for any depth or character development. If you walked in as cluelessly as I walked into Brideshead, I can't imagine you would have enjoyed it. And since I knew how it ended, I really did contemplate leaving at intermission. Sitting home reading with the dogs was just more enticing-sounding. But I did stay, and the second half was mildly better than the first, so I didn't regret it. Much.

My favorite part of the entire performance was when they were portraying a horse race and the entire cast stood in back as the audience for the race. At one point they all acted in slow motion, and it was marvelous - absolutely perfectly done, from the oldest man to the youngest girl, they all moved in perfect synchronicity until you believed you were watching a slow-motion film. That impressed the heck out of me.

But that, really, disappointingly, was it. So I don't recommend this one.


Mama Ava said...

Oooh I want to see "Brideshead". I saw the original soooo long ago that I don't remember it, but I love English movies. Guess I'm back to having to find a pirated version on the streets!

Dawn said...

Glad I'm not the only one that thought Brideshead looked good....I will have to put it on the to do list........

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