Posts Tagged ‘David Leveaux’

Wrong direction

When I read that Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was being staged with a Japanese cast at the Bunkamura’s Theatre Cocoon, I thought it would be a valuable opportunity to see the way Japanese artists deal not only with Western theatre, but also in a play that still keeps its freshness in a society in which many elegant households enshrine their own doll-wives. I was wrong, though, when I thought that there was something new about the play – it was actually premiered in Tokyo around 1900’s. In any case, reading again my English translation, I couldn’t help considering that the text has a special freshness in Japan.

The fact that English director David Leveaux was responsible for this staging was a bit of a turn-off for me. I have seen some of his stagings on Broadway and found them invariably disappointing and that would be the case again this time. Although sceneries and costumes were stylized (an arena stage with toy furniture and a couch – nothing more), the action was clearly set in the original late XIXth century, something that, in my opinion, broke any possibility of connection between the audience and the characters. I am positive that the audience viewed it as curious old and foreign story. I mean – what is the point of staging it in Japan with Japanese actors if everything was supposed to seem “European”? Why not bringing the whole staging from Europe with Japanese titles? The fact that the theatre was crowded certainly had to do with the fact that famous soap-opera actors were involved – and the dorama-style acting provided all-around made the whole thing sound silly beyond salvation. I have to confess that the redeeming feature for me in the whole experience was the quality Japanese language has to produce different kinds of enunciation for different kinds of situation. Even if you don’t understand the words, you can follow every turn of emotional atmosphere just by the change in the way actors speak.*

I believe that Nora Helmer is an almost impossible role – it is difficult for most actress playing the hysterically child-like aspects in a way coherent with the play’s denouement. If I can use a vocal image to describe it, the actress’s attitude has to be high-pitched with a hint of edginess. At first, doll-like Rie Miyazawa has the physique du rôle and also the right kind of nature. She has an excellent speaking voice and is extremely graceful. However, she never goes beyond the doll-like – as tension increases, she seems a bit at a loss and adds an extra dose of dorama-ish expression. To me, it is clear that the director never forced her out from her comfort zone – in a role in which an actress ought to be out of her comfort zone. She also misses entirely the sensuousness of her dance in act II and is undermined by an unbecoming costume in act III.

As Kristine Linde, Misuzu Kanno is far more comfortable in her skin. She plays well the Brangäne-like motherly attitude and is very sincere in her scene with Krogstad, but her sincerity is usually cut short by the overall shallowness. Shinichi Tsutsumi again falls in the trap of the soap-opera acting style, but at least he succeeds in keeping some dignity in his Torvald Helmer, a character easily made ludicrous by many actors. Hajime Yamazaki brought a welcome congeniality to Krogstad – there is nothing unbelievable in his volte-face, since he makes always clear that he is a desperate man fighting for survival. Tetsuya Chiba’s Dr. Rank needed a bit more reserve on the other hand.

* I don’t speak Japanese beyond the barely necessary for a shopping situation, but I had my English translation with me in the theatre.

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Before I say anything, I must be sincere about my dislike of Edmond Ronstand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Beautiful as Ronstand’s verses are, the “what” never was a novelty and the “how” is marred by colossal lack of timing – the comedy scenes take ages to take off and the dramatic scenes are rather sentimentalised. In order to make it work, a director needs to impress an unfailing sense of rhythm to the proceedings and concentrate on extracting from his actors the last ounce of charisma available. And I am afraid David Levaux failed on that – the general impression is at most workmanlike. It is thus particularly problematic that Tom Rye’s beautiful sceneries are too spacious and a lot of noise echoes there while actors are reading their verbose lines. The result is that you can hardly hear what most of them are saying… In this sense, Concetta Tomei deserves praises for her king size voice and personality unfortunately bestowed on small roles.

Among the leading actors, Kevin Kline predictably stands out – he is a technically accomplished actor who gives life to his lesser utterance and knows how to seize the opportunities when they present themselves. Unfortunately, they rarely did so considering the rest of the talents involved.

Much of the play’s interest lies on Cyrano’s dialogues with Christian. The problem is that Daniel Sunjata is simply miscast – he is neither good-looking in a way Rosanne could have noticed (with the impossible wig he is made to wear, he looks like The Rock in The Scorpion King, i.e., there is nothing poetic about him) nor produces the impression of good-hearted stolidness – self-consciousness at most.

The fact that Jennifer Garner has limited theatre experience makes me more tolerant about her shortcomings. She has received excellent coaching – and the bad news is that this is evident. Gestures and inflexions are all in place and correctly done – but there is very little spirit behind all that. It all looks like well-rehearsed routine. Maybe experience will enable her to do the trick – she does have a good voice and a most graceful figure and that is already something.

Minor roles are dealt with in the way operatic direction deals with comprimari – they are given one defining trait and you’ll notice them if the actor or actress has natural charisma. In one word, a missed opportunity.

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