Thursday, June 27, 2013
On Saturday, 21 July 2012, I attended the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Auditorium Theatre in Cedar City, Utah. Peter Amster directed the performance. Roderick Peeples played Sir John Falstaff, Jacqueline Antaramian played Mistress Alice Ford, and Melinda Pfundstein played Mistress Margaret Page. Rocky Mountain Power Foundation, Canyon Media, and MediaOne sponsored the season’s performance.
The play tells the story of a swindler trying to gain access to the riches of two families in Windsor by seducing the wives. Sir John Falstaff, the rotund good-for-nothing, plans to do this by writing two identical letters: the first to Mistress Alice Ford and the second to Mistress Margaret Page. Mistress Page receives a letter, reads it, and becomes bewildered by Falstaff’s advances. Mistress Ford then visits Mistress Page. Mistress Ford shows Mistress Page another letter that she has just received, an exact duplicate. Shocked by Falstaff’s egotistical presumption and outrageous effrontery, they conspire together to get back at him. Without telling their husbands, the wives lead Falstaff into thinking that Mistress Ford is falling for his advances. Falstaff sets up a meeting with Mistress Ford and goes to her home. Mistress Ford invites him in while her husband is away and pretends to be impressed by Falstaff’s seduction. Before Falstaff gets too frisky, Mistress Page warns her friend that her husband, Francis Ford, is coming home. In order to send Falstaff furtively away, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page tell him to hide in a laundry basket. Falstaff hides in the basket, Ford rushes in to interrogate his wife, searches up and down the place to find the perpetrator, and the servants take the heavy basket right under Ford’s nose. Later, the servants dump Falstaff into the river following Mistress Ford’s orders. The story continues showing both mistresses dreaming up other pranks to play on Falstaff, wondering at Ford’s fatuous suspicion, and concluding their plans to teach Falstaff a lesson. Other subplots occur throughout the play, but all get resolved amicably and hilariously.
There were two things I noticed about this performance: They were (1) the colors in both the scenic design and the costumes, and (2) John G. Preston’s portrayal of Francis Ford.
The scenic design of the stage imitated the Shakespearean format of the Adams Memorial Theatre. I had seen performances before at the Adams Memorial Theatre, so I was not surprised by the setup of the scenery in the Auditorium Theatre. The balcony of the set overlooked the actors to allow them to fill in the theatrical framing of the stage during their performances. The colors of the wooden paneling showed deep browns and warm yellows, letting the colors of the costumes stand out with vibrant yellows, blues, reds, and purples. In one scene, when Francis Ford, disguised as “Master Brook,” consulted Falstaff about proving Mistress Ford’s virtue, he wore a cloak that displayed a metallic, paisley pattern. This gave off a slightly effeminate and eccentric impression of Mr. Brook, concealing his true character effectively.
John G. Preston, arguably, was the pleasant surprise of the performance. Roderick Peeples disappointed me a bit in his portrayal of Falstaff; I expected more oomph that wasn’t there. However, Preston brought out the humor during the Garter Inn sequences better. While playing “Master Brook,” he talked with a funny, modern (maybe Oxford?) British accent that channeled the Mad Hatter in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Preston had his character break Mr. Brook’s character by releasing brutish rage for a second upon learning about Falstaff’s first escape in the buck-basket. The audience saw the sweat and spit fling away from Preston’s face during one of Francis Ford’s tirades. It was very entertaining.
The Merry Wives of Windsor is not Shakespeare’s best play, but it does allow families to watch it together without parents having to worry about modern innuendo, gratuitous violence, and nudity. I call The Merry Wives of Windsor “Shakespeare lite,” a play that introduces children to the florid language of Shakespeare without overpowering their appetite for comic frivolity. They may not understand most of the dialogue, but they will not miss the comedy.
Monday, February 11, 2013
The third DVD in Criterion Collection’s Eclipse Series 6, entitled Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy, is El amor brujo (Love, the Magician, sometimes known as Wedded by Witchcraft). Distributed by Janus Films and UGC D.A. International in 1986 and by Criterion and studiocanal on DVD in 2007, the film exhibits the screenplay and choreography of Carlos Saura and Antonio Gades. Saura and Gades base the screenplay on the musical score by Manuel de Falla and the libretto by Gregorio Martínez Sierra. Antonio Gades plays Carmelo, the forlorn and longsuffering admirer. Cristina Hoyos acts in the role of Candela, the hapless and torn heroine. Laura del Sol portrays Lucía, the temptress and young love interest of Candela’s husband. Juan Antonio Jiménez performs the part of the possessive and cheating husband, José. All together they dance fine flamenco numbers. The last important character of the story belongs to Emma Penella, who plays Hechicera, the venerable matriarch of Candela’s family. Saura returns as the director, and Emiliano Piedra as the producer.
In this third and last movie, we see the completion of Carlos Saura’s trilogy highlighting the art form of flamenco. This movie differs from the previous two in that it actually has a happy ending. This third installment relies on actors and dancers previously seen. If anyone were to scrutinize these three movies in detail, that person would find intertextual subtleties and recognizable patterns. (A case in point would be Antonio Gades and Cristina Hoyos’s characters leaning over each other in an intimate embrace in both Bodas de sangre and El amor brujo.) In this present review, the topic I will discuss is how the director frames the actors within the set and scenery.
The beginning of the movie foreshadows the cinematography the director uses to convey the work as an enclosed universe. The movie starts out in a warehouse where a large door hangs open. It begins to close when the first orchestra piece starts to play. Unlike the curtains of a theater that parts or raises when the show begins, the heavy door slowly closes until it hits the floor and locks into place. This effective inversion of theatrical protocol alerts the audience that it has left the outside world behind and entered into a space where imagination and suspension of belief exist. The camera slowly pans to the right, and we begin to see the rest of the set or soundstage. We see the scaffolding supporting the catwalks, the sets, the backgrounds, and the lighting fixtures. As the camera continues to pan to the right, we begin to make out edifices and a dusty square where children play. The inhabitants of this universe “live” as though it were a normal day in a Gypsy neighborhood in our world. The audience sees the performance being played out, but still sees the scaffolding holding up this little world. The inhabitants of this sphere do not notice the foundations of the universe sustaining them, a structure they either ignore or cannot see, but that the audience beholds readily. The juxtaposition of the soundstage and the shantytown connotes the universe in a microcosm. The structure of the world or universe, as it seemingly appears to the Gypsy inhabitants, provides a foundation for an unremarkable locale. In a phenomenological sense, the invisible becomes visible; nature’s superstructure becomes apparent alongside a poor community. Eventually, the audience no longer sees the scaffolding and the woodwork. We just see children playing, men socializing, and women working on chores in a settlement on the outskirts of any town in Andalusia. Nevertheless, throughout the presentation of the musical, the audience—as a spectator—reflects upon the hidden structure behind the horizons and colored sky. This veritable God’s eye point of view allows the spectator to have a privileged space and knowledge within this petite universe. It makes the magical elements that follow hereafter as commonplace as physics is in our real world.
Another particular characteristic of this small universe shows up when Carmelo returns from serving his jail sentence. By this point in the movie, Candela has lost her husband, Carmelo has been convicted of a crime he does not commit, and Candela becomes stuck in a rut by performing a nightly ritual. The belief of an afterlife remains embedded in the consciousness of the widow and the rest of community, though in a non-conventional way. The inability to let go of the past manifests itself in Candela’s masochistic drive to dance with her dead husband whom she evokes. To conjure the ghost of José, Candela repeats the pleas she uttered at his death: “José, despierta. José. José, vuelve. José. Vuelve. Vuelve.” (“José, wake up. José. José, come back. José. Come back. Come back.”) The specter or spirit of José comes in and dances with Candela. We know he is dead because we can see it by the bloodstained shirt he wears. Candela also wears a blood-stained pullover and dress corresponding to the injury José receives in the preceding death scene. The relationship would be quite romantic, in the literary sense of the word, given that such an obstacle, which is impossible to overcome, stands between them and separates the living and the dead; except in this relationship, the husband hypocritically remains possessive of the victimized and innocent widow, and she remains deluded in the ideal of an unsullied marriage. The trapped Candela cannot escape the clutches of a dead memory.
Yet Carmelo, having been released back into freedom, desires to rescue Candela from her psychological imprisonment. Before Carmelo gets to that point though, Saura delineates this border between the trapped world and the open universe by the way he frames Carmelo and Candela. In the first scene where Carmelo meets Candela for the first time after his release, Carmelo wastes no time in approaching her with romantic intentions. Saura uses squares and rectangles to frame the actors. When Carmelo approaches Candela’s house, we see him from the inside of the house looking out a window. The director frames Carmelo in the window, and we see to our right Candela and her sister looking out of the window. Candela goes to the door, and the door frames Carmelo again. When the camera angle changes to the outside of the house, we see the doorway framing Candela and the window framing her sister. Carmelo stands to the right prominently with his back to the audience. In this brief moment, the characters stand in place watching each other. In this surrealistic moment, the rectangles indicate a threshold between the trapped mind and the open universe. Of course, Candela resists Carmelo’s subtle invitations to join him immediately, but over time we see Candela move over to Carmelo’s side.
Again, the director takes advantage of framing Carmelo and Candela in certain ways to indicate the obstacles and thresholds they must overcome. One night, Carmelo furtively follows Candela as she goes to the place where her former husband has died. Candela invokes José’s spirit to come dance with her. This time, however, the audience shares the viewpoint of Carmelo. Carmelo does not see José; he just sees Candela dancing alone. Carmelo watches her from behind a skeletal frame of an automobile so as not to disturb Candela’s trance. From Carmelo’s viewpoint, we see Candela cross the screen and pose in one of the openings of the jagged steel car frame. At the same time, the lighting in the background changes hue to a pale, purplish color. These elements show the distinct realities between the surviving lovers. One inhabits the world of supernatural captivity while the other remains in open reality. The threshold created by the steel framework allows Carmelo to glimpse the Candela’s actuality.
Another scene that I would like to comment upon is the musical number in which the women of the neighborhood get together to hang up clothes and bedspreads. This sequence does not rely on rectangles and squares to frame certain characters like we see it do on Carmelo and Candela. Actually, the bedspreads that the women hang on the lines create a sort of enclosure that only the women inhabit. In this artificial space, the women are able to maintain a dialogue that does not go beyond the cotton barriers drying in the sun. Here, women speech reigns under no fear of any patriarchal oversight. They chatter and they gossip until one of the women asks Candela’s sister out loud when she is getting married. She answers, and the song begins. (Parents should know that the musical number deals with sexual topics and innuendo. At the time of the movie’s release, the Spanish authorities rated this as appropriate for general admission. Had this movie gone through the American movie rating system, this scene would have bumped up the rating to at least a PG-13.) The discussion of the song banters back and forth interspersed with dos-à-dos steps. The zest of the moment allows everyone to let their hair down, enjoy themselves, and take pride in their strong, feminine qualities. After the song, Carmelo’s sister accosts Candela privately, informs her of her brother’s love for her, and attests to her former husband’s infidelity with many women, especially with Lucía. Upon receiving this information, Candela glares at Lucía while the latter goes on with her chore. In an act of pathetic fallacy, the wind picks up as Candela’s emotions start to boil. Because the gusts of wind associate with José’s presence, the audience presumes the spectral presence is nearby, starting to scatter the distaff in a fit of patriarchal rage. The wind whips the drying laundry and forces Lucía and the rest of the women to head indoors.
The last notable example of scenery framing the actors within the set happens when Carmelo and Candela take steps to obtain assistance from Hechicera. The couple recognize that José’s influence will not go away on its own. They pay a visit to Hechicera. Hechicera fits the archetype of the motherly wise woman. She straddles the border between her middle-age years and her elderly years. She does not intrude in other people's business, but is always available when sought after. She fulfills this availability by resting in an armchair in various places around the shantytown. She can be seen in her armchair fanning herself from time to time during the night, and often she sees Candela go to her meeting place to perform her nightly ritual. She knows what goes on in this neighborhood. She gives wisdom and encouragement with a strong confidence that emanates authority. At one point, she summarizes why a particular course of action needs to be taken. She says to Carmelo, “Hijo, la felicidad de unos es siempre a costa de la felicidad de otros. Así es la vida.” (“Son, the happiness of some is always at the expense of the happiness of others. That’s life.”)
When Carmelo and Candela approach Hechicera, they find her sitting in her armchair and framed in an alley with scaffolding behind her. The setup looks like a cathedral. She informs them that she has been expecting them. The scaffolding reminds the audience about the beginning of the film with its sustaining structure of the microcosm. In this context, the place and time insinuate that she has some spiritual power or ability to obtain answers and materials from this transcendent universe. She knows just what they need to escape their dilemma. She tells them the way to break the clutches of the dead husband is through fire.
For the rest of the movie, Saura takes advantage of camera angles and color saturations to progress the story, indicate mood, and complete the denouement. In true Saura fashion, the dance and music provide the lion’s share of the entertainment. The form in which the movie takes tells an additional story behind the apparent plot. When placed together with Bodas de sangre and Carmen, we see a saga in which several souls pursue one another over dimensions, stories, and lifetimes until they successfully unite with their rightful partners.