A Fine Mano A Mano In Bard's Elizabeth RexSunday, July 14, 2013
Two to one. Two experts one a retired UBC professor of English the other a retired play critic cite Findley as not being a very good playwright or even a playwright at all. The critic calls his play Elizabeth Rex (my rosemary and I attended the opening tonight at Bard on the Beach) one lacking in depth. The UBC professor simply said, “This is a terrible play. Findley is a good novelist.” The one yay came from retired UBC Professor Emeritus Errol Durbach. He and his wife looked at me in the eye and simultaneously said, “Findley’s play has depth.”
I am happy to report (but be aware that I am neither a theatre critic nor a retired professor of anything) that Elizabeth Rex deftly directed to my satisfaction by Rachel Ditor entertained me, challenged me with many aha! moments, and the acting in particular Haig Sutherland as Edward ‘Ned’ Lowenscroft, Colleen Wheeler as Queen Elizabeth and Bernard Cuffling as Percy Grower was spectacular. And Lois Anderson fresh from her performance as a madam/whore in Measure for Measure here is seamstress (sewer in actor's parlance) Kate ;Tardy' Tardwell and sews it one with a white horse. A play that entertains to me has a parallel with the novels of my favourite author Graham Greene who in self deprecation called them entertainments.
|Timothy Findley, Hotel Vancouver, 1988|
It is an irony that in having actors playing different parts in two plays during a Bard season one sometimes doesn’t get a chance to see an actor at his/her best. Sometimes William Shakespeare as Bernard Cuffling’s Percy Gower says (more or less) in Elizabeth Rex, “I am not given anything to say.” That has been the case for me in not noticing Haig Sutherland who seems to play colourless friars, etc. But not in Elizabeth Rex! He is terrific in not only being the equal to a real queen (Elizabeth, made to look like one by the costume design of Mara Gottler) but to the real actor that Colleen Wheeler is. In this mano a mano I would say it is a tie.
We all know that Shakespeare’s Hamlet has a play within the play (done in an original way by director Kim Collier in this year’s Hamlet) but Elizabeth Rex has a smattering of Much Ado About Nothing and some really juicy parts from Antony and Cleopatra in which Colleen Wheeler, Andrew Wheeler (a most manly Antony) and Haig Sutherland say it all too well and then in a shift that you might not notice, Andrew Wheeler (Jonathan ‘Jack’ Edmund but also Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing ) becomes Hal, Ned’s Captain who leaves him with the pox after a one night stand.
Such was the shouting (at one point I was shocked when Haig Sutherland’s Ned tells the queen, “Don’t shout.”) and crying on stage, a mere five feet from me, that my Rosemary’s mouth was wide open in glee.
As I watched actors and directors mingle after the play in a cool but beautiful evening with a repast served on tables outside the tent, I felt left out. Actors, directors (and musicians, too) seem to be in a different league of humanity. It is as if they have heard a joke and they all laugh. We cannot as we do not understand the joke. They seem to me like Masons minus the secret handshakes. But the masons built cathedrals and these directors, actors and musicians entertain us. We are all the better for them.
As I watched the second act (a most intense one) It seemed to me that the actors weren’t acting. It seemed that they were playing a game for themselves in which we the audience were superfluous. Could it be that these actors including David Marr as Shakespeare weren’t actors at all but the very characters they were representing? If this is so Findley’s Elizabeth Rex does one better than the old master, William Shakespeare. This is a play within a play within another and the only element of life impervious to it all is the bear.