Friday, April 2, 2010

The Dregs

Wow. That was the worst BYU production I've seen in a long time. In fact, I'm kind of surprised that the director was able to enough unattractive, tone-deaf bad actors to stage As You Like It. How bad was it? Let me count the ways.

1. Muddled concept.
According to the dramaturge, this production was inspired by Eastern European coups. And homeless people? And, judging by the costumes and accents, cowboys and hipsters and biker gangs. And the prologue told us that this takes place in the United States. What now? The hodgepodge was a mess, with no clear direction or theme. Instead, it was as if the director had suffered indecision and just thrown every modernization concept into one production. In the program, she admits that when someone asked her if she was going to portray this play as romantic comedy or political commentary, she replied, "Why choose one over the other?" The answer, Ms. Mellon, is well illustrated by this disaster of a play.

2. Terrible casting.
In addition to not coming up with a clear direction, Ms. Mellon was evidently scraping the bottom of the BYU acting bucket when she cast. Now, in her defense, she was compelled to include as many seniors as possible, especially those many upperclassmen who admit in their cast bios that this is their first BYU production (ow!), but do we have to shell out $14 a pop in order to see leading ladies who are a foot taller than their romantic interests, and strikingly unattractive shepherdesses, and (and this is rather shocking) the entire Mellon family, including husband and, in a departure from tradition stagings of As You Like It, even her children. What? Has childcare really become that expensive?

3. A wretched lead.
It's hard to not take the opportunity to single out Ashley Bonner as the shining pinnacle of bad casting. Unfortunately, she also played Rosalind, the lead. At one point in the play, the evil Duke forbids his daughter to associated with Rosalind because "she is too subtle." Ah, if only. Ms. Bonner was subtle to the same degree as a air raid, and roughly as shrill. She meloacted her way through Shakespeare's witty lines with such extremes of response that it's surprising that she didn't fling herself off the stage in paroxysms of overacting. In her defense: you could hear her from the balcony and brought to the role the natural appearance of a man.*

4. A tone-deaf supporting lady.
Anne Shakespeare, as Celia, was correctly shorter than Ms. Bonner. If this had been a normal production, she could have acted her way through. Unfortunately, Ms. Mellon decided to inflict Ms. Shakespeare with two solos, the audience being caught in the unfortunate crossfire between her singing and the actual notes. Somewhere, the entire band of Death Cab for Cutie is weeping. And not for the typical reasons.

5. Shameless pandering.
Poor Death Cab was drawn into this play, and probably not willingly, thanks to fair use laws. Bright Eyes and Ingrid Michelson were also misused at various places in the production, but I'm afraid it didn't necessarily add much to the play except for all of the students who where attending to fullfill a class requirement were able to sit up and say, "hey, I know that song." (Not that they did that often--I watched two young students around me get comfy and doze off after a few minutes of darkness.) Misusing popular music may be low, but not as low as exploiting the children. Aside from an allusion to Jaques' famous "stages of life" speech, the small children that were constantly being paraded about appeared to serve no other function than try to distract from the childishness of the adult actors. Throw a few pop songs and three-year-olds in a play and the audience is sure to love it, right? Oh. And there was a singalong and dancing on the stage at the end. Only if they had thrown in a few Jones sodas could it have been more shameless.

6. Poor stagecraft.
Aside from the major faults, there was a cascade of minor ones that added to the whole jumbled effect of the production. The actors didn't know their lines (and this was the final night!). They spoke right over any laughter or applause that the audience offered them, often rushing through three or four lines without so much as a pause. They muttered and spoke quickly or levied heavy pauses in. Awkward places that. Didn't make sense. The stage fighting was laughable. At first, we though it was stylistic, but then it became obvious that comedy was not the intention. I watched Ms. Shakespeare raise a flat palm perpendicular to her chest before issuing the line that would evoke a "slap" from her father. It's okay to fake a slap, but do you need to prepare for two or three seconds before? It's not a fault of her ladylike disinclination to violence; the wrestlers weren't much better as they grunted before they were hit and kept a solid foot and a half between foot and stomach, hand and face. People tripped over sets, knocked into each other on accident, dropped things. It was sloppy all around.

Over all, it was outclassed by high school productions I have seen, and while I am disgusted that BYU's drama department would hoist this on an unsuspecting public (and season ticket holders), it did give me a giddy joy of criticism that I haven't had since the awful staging of Beggar's Opera in 2003, but without the well-designed costumes and "shocking" morals. Incidentally, As You Like It was concerned that we were going to be offended by the violence and double-entendres, even suggesting that this production was no appropriate for children under thirteen. There was no disclaimer for how immorally bad the quality would be.

*Now, I would feel some remorse over this characterization, if I didn't have it on good authority that Ms. Bonner was not as gracious a principal as behooves someone who lists only hailing from Texas on her bio. Having a prima donna in a production is never pleasant. It is far less pleasant when she is sub-prima.


Day said...
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Margaret said...
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Christian said...

Ouch, friend. But I'm glad I didn't bother to go see that one now.
I suppose there really is something nice about having a totally horrible work to sink your critical teeth into. We get so super accepting in the arts culture sometimes its nice to unleash a little blatant criticism. Makes me want to be a film critic. :)