Going to the Source
The Asolo Rep’s production of the comedy La Bete has gotten rave reviews from area critics. But producing artistic director Michael Edwards waited nervously last week to get an assessment from David Hirson, the man who wrote it.
“OK, everyone wants to know what you thought,” Edwards asked Hirson at the start of a post-performance discussion on the Cook Theatre stage.
“I thought the production was wildly imaginative,” Hirson said. “I was constantly surprised, and I laughed and laughed. And it’s not easy to laugh out loud at a play that I wrote 20 years ago and that I’ve seen so often lately. “
Indeed, Hirson has been actively involved with recent successful revivals of La Bete in London and on Broadway. It’s been a welcome second chance for Hirson, who was disappointed when the original Broadway production in 1991 closed after only 25 performances.
Written in rhyming couplets and originally set in the 17th-century French court, the play explores the tension between high art and entertainment. Elomire, a classically trained dramatist, is threatened by the growing popularity of Valere, a self-centered playwright with the common touch.
Edwards has set the show in modern times, and Hirson said he thought the change was effective. “There’s something about the texture of the show that allows for creativity and imaginative approaches,” he said. “Seeing Michael’s approach was a fantastic experience for me.”
The high point of the show is a breathtaking and hilarious 25-minute monologue by Valere, portrayed in the Asolo production by Danny Scheie. Hirson gave Scheie a warm embrace at the talkback, and noted that he had seen many actors perform the role who were clearly lost at sea.
“This role demands a great actor, and Danny clearly is,” HIrson said. “You have to have a musical ear for this role, as it’s a kind of musical piece. And this was like hearing a great opera singer do it.”
More than 100 audience members stayed for the talkback, and judging by their applause, they were thrilled. “I’d like to see it again, but done at half the pace so I could take in more,” one woman said.
“With a work of art, which this is, you need more than one viewing,” Edwards said in response. “You wouldn’t listen to a Beethoven symphony only once.”
Heard on the Street
A glowing Wall Street Journal review of another Asolo production, Twelve Angry Men, is also causing plenty of buzz around the theater. The Journal’s drama critic, Terry Teachout, flew down from New York to catch the opening night performance. He called the production “exceptional” and “inspiring,” and said it was “staged with bracing clarity” by Tony Award-winning director Frank Galati.
“As for the cast, I wish I had twelve paragraphs in which I could separately sing the praises of each member,” Teachout said.
He did single out Jud Williford for his “beautifully understated” performance in the role made famous by Henry Fonda in the movie version. He said James Clarke, who plays the angry, tormented Juror No. 3, does a “singularly fine job of making him seem like a human being instead of a hammy tragedian…”
And as the baldly racist juror, Doug Jones “ transforms an Archie Bunker stick figure into a bone fide villain,” according to Teachout. He said that Asolo veteran David Howard looks and sounds like the great screen actor Fredric March, “and he uses those attributes to compelling effect.”
Two Views of The Crucible
Congratulations to the Sarasota Opera and the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for collaborating on a thrilling “Spoken and Sung” program in conjunction with the opera’s upcoming production of The Crucible.
On Monday, students from the actor-training program performed five scenes from Arthur Miller’s Tony Award-winning play. After each scene, the opera’s studio artists sang arias and ensemble pieces from equivalent scenes in Robert Ward’s opera.
The program was smartly narrated by the opera’s Greg Trupiano and conservatory student Dane Clark. Interest was so high that seats filled quickly for the 4 p.m. performance in Felding Hall. Nearly 60 people were happy to stand in the back and along the sides, including the opera’s artistic director, Victor DeRenzi, and its executive director, Susan Danis. A second performance was added at 5:15 p.m., and it was SRO as well.