Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It’s not every day you see a play like Philaster. Don’t miss your chance!

Imagine a play with the moody,intellectual protagonist of Hamlet, the rampant sexual jealousy of Othello, the inappropriately raunchy cross-dressing of Twelfth Night, and the brief pastoral reprieve of Cymbeline. Now add a dozen or so stabbings, some live music, and the best Spanish-Italian-Russian accent you’ve ever heard. What have you got? Philaster, Or Love Lies A-Bleeding. Disclaimer: neither Francis Beaumont nor John Fletcher (the co-authors of Philaster) is Shakespeare, though the latter did collaborate with him occasionally. As such, Philaster can’t promise you a “to or not to be” moment. If you want Shakespeare, you know the ASC has him: come see Richard III and Much Ado about Nothing, two of the other shows currently running in our Actors' Renaissance Season. If you, like many frequent theatregoers, need a break from Shakespeare,but aren’t keen to walk away from his themes of usurping kings, melancholy princes, and lovers running amok in the woods, come see Philaster.
At the talkback after Philaster’s opening night (the ASC offers talkbacks after every school matinee and on most Thursday nights, so stick around after the curtain call to hear the actors’ perspective), Greg Phelps,who plays the titular character, opined that in the Actors’ Renaissance Season the chosen texts, especially those by Shakespeare's contemporaries, are often rightfully obscure - but that Philaster isn’t. It’s true that not many people know it (even certain interns who may or may not be dramaturgs), but Philaster is a play that deserves a second chance.
The play is never boring. It is at once tender and funny. The love scenes between Arethusa and Philaster are heartbreakingly sweet without being sickening; they remind you of passing your first crush in the hall between classes. They move effortlessly into the comedic scenes, both romantic and rustic. Pharamond’s attempted wooing of Galatea and successful conquest of Megra is as physically comedic as a Marx Brothers’ movie, while the innuendo rivals that of a best selling bodice-ripper. There are also scenes featuring the lower classes – woodsmen, citizens, mutinous rabble-rousers –and they come as a welcome break and an interesting contrast to the shenanigans going on in court.
Between the first reading and opening night, Philaster bloomed.Each rehearsal brought new discoveries and challenges, and each performance bears out the actors’ hard work. There's nothing not to like in Philaster, and there’s a whole lot to learn. Come see the show -- It runs through April 6, 2012, and you may never get a chance to see this play again. After all, not every theater has the good sense to stage it.

Here’s a chart, highlighting some of the prominent Shakespeare-esque themes and some of the all over best moments in Philaster:

What Is It?
What Happens?
Spectacular Factor 1-10
Hamlet alert!
Philaster feigns madness (or maybe he’s really mad?), and yells at the King in front of the court and freaks out when he pretends (again, maybe?) to see his father’s spirit.
5 – Mostly for sheer audacity, as we all know nobody talks to the King that way, but also for Greg’s face when he “sees” his father’s spirit.
Swagger like a Fop Star
Aidan O’Reilly (playing Pharamond) walks around and says things.
8 – Come see the show; you’ll get it.
Green Eyed Monster
Philaster immediately believes his servants when they falsely tell him the princess Arethusa has taken up with her page boy. Philaster – without even asking for proof – resolves to kill her. Or himself. Or maybe both.
6 – See Greg try to explain to his servants (John Harrell, Dan Kennedy and Ben Curns) why he’s so angry over the princess’ lusty missteps, since the servants know nothing about Philaster and Arethusa’s hidden love.
It is a woman!
In some very Twelfth Night-esque scenes, both Philaster and Arethusa seem a bit too interested in the page “boy,” Bellario.
4 – When the reveal came on opening night, the audience groaned amusedly as if to say, “You didn’t figure this out four acts ago, like the rest of us?”
Tourist Trap
Alli Glenzer plays a country fellow who interrupts Philaster and Arethusa during an intimate moment in the woods.
10 – The ARS at its best: the actors take a moment that is inherently funny but difficult to stage, and make the absolute most out of it. The whole play is worth it just for this one scene.
A page out of Cymbeline
Philaster wanders about in the woods, musing that his life would be better if he had been born, raised, and married there.
5- It’s a poignant moment not only about the difference between country and city, but also about Philaster’s constant “the grass is always greener” syndrome.
Groove Factor
Ben Curns, Jeremy West, Dan Kennedy and John Harrell stage a very jazzy pre-show.
10 – A jazz trio, interesting information about the ASC and the ARS, and a werewolf. No, seriously. A werewolf.
Swoon Factor
Chris Johnston opens the show with his rendition of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love.”
10 – If you’re into that sort of thing. Which everybody is.

-- Lia Razak

1 comment:

  1. Lia, this is wonderful. Thanks for posting--I can't wait to see this show.