Washington Shakespeare: Night and Day & Wolf Trap Opera: Le Donne Curiose

There are many theater companies in the world that pride themselves in doing productions of little known works.  Washington Shakespeare is one of them; this year’s season for them ends with two shows running in tandem, Night and Day, one of Tom Stoppard’s earlier and lesser known plays, with two obscure Tennessee Williams one-acts which my family decided to skip.  Wolf Trap’s opera company occasionally likes to do it too, and they managed to fish out from early last century  one chamber opera with the title of Le Donne Curiose by Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and in the lecture before the show the opera was raved about, talked up as a real find, and two scenes from it were presented where the powerful voices of the company’s young artists were on full display; the music went over better in the lecture room than it did on the stage; even Wolf Trap Barns’ small theater was just a little too big for it.

The basic problem with doing this is that there are truly a limited amount of diamonds in the rough, and too many plays and operas that get forgotten simply because they weren’t very good.

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Washington Shakespeare Company: Juno & the Paycock

The one thing you can say about Washington Shakespeare Company in staging Sean O’Casey’s Juno & the Paycock, which I saw Friday night, is that they themselves didn’t do much wrong.  The actors were all very good, maybe especially Joe Palka, who as Jack Boyle had the hardest part, they managed to make the audience laugh a lot in the first act, when they were supposed to, the design and light and sound were all strongly effective, especially during the transitions of the final act.  They also did it with an awareness that not only are the Ireland of 1922 and the Ireland of 2011 distressingly similar, but the latter has recently crashed and burned in a very similar manner to the family in the play.  Unfortunately I am writing this on the last day of the show’s run, but if you wanted to see Juno & the Paycock, you might as well have seen it here.

So that merely leaves the question of the merits of the play itself.  Personally, I found the comic first act didn’t work nearly as well as the tragic third.  Meanwhile, on the drive home, my father made a very good comment: if this play hadn’t been written by an Irishman, it would certainly be viewed as anti-Irish.  Or at least anti-Irish men; the women are much more sympathetic, and portrayed as treated very badly indeed by the male characters; it makes you feel a little better at the end that at least the mother and daughter desert the no-good father, and it’s not like he was doing them any good anyway.  You feel more sorry for the son, though, and at any rate, the heavily Irish audience seemed to appreciate the play.

Washington Shakespeare Company: Richard III and Mary Stuart

The Washington Shakespeare Company is a two-decade old theater company situated in Arlington, VA that my family has patronized, on and off, for much of their lifespan, my sister worked at occasionally in her younger years, and even I was employed by once when I was 14.  They’ve had mediocre productions succeed, fantastic productions flop, I believe have been on the verge of folding more than once, and perhaps are a touch hit or miss, when all is said and done.  After living their life these twenty years in a renovated garage, this year they moved into a new building, a former museum Arlington is now trying to turn into an Artisphere, as it is labelled, with two theaters on the second floor and a gallery on the third.  Alas, their problems are still showing; my parents and I originally had tickets to see Mary Stuart three weeks ago, and had to have them rescheduled to last night because the lead actress got sick and there was no understudy.

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