Friday, Jun 23, 2017

The Clay Cart (2008)

I saw The Clay Cart at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival the same weekend as the plays in my first batch of reviews – the week leading up to July 4th. The fact that I’m just now finding the momentum to post this is probably a review all by itself, but the truth is more complicated than that. Reading just a little bit between the lines, I think it’s clear that The Clay Cart is meant to be Bill Rauch’s “signature play” for the season: “this is how things work on my watch.” I don’t think he’s trying to disparage Libby Appel’s work, he’s just making his mark; new kid in school and all that. The marketing material for members is fronted with a picture from the production, as is this year’s Illuminations. When L. and I bought the tickets last year we were excited, since Mr. Rauch had just knocked our socks off with his Romeo and Juliet.

Even my pre-play anticipation was stoked. The set by Christopher Acebo is gorgeous: a round stage with couches surround about 2/3rds of it in a way that makes the audience the last 1/3rd of a complete circle, including us in the company; beautiful lanterns are suspended over the stage and out into the audience… it was wonderful. When the company enters, they trickle in, bowing their way into the circle, and sing an invocational hymn. Yay! I’m ready to be awesomed.

And then the play starts. I have only three problems with it.

1. I hated the play.
2. I had a visceral dislike for Miriam Laube in the role of Vasantasenā. (Note that Ms. Laube is, typically, a tremendous actress.)
3. As much as it pains me to say this about Lorca in a Green Dress himself, Cristofer Jean didn’t thrill me either, as Chārudatta.

Note that #s 2 and 3 account for the two leads in the play. Right.

The Clay Cart is an ancient play (we’re talking millenia not centuries here). As such, it cannot be surprising that the ethical models are unusual, and I’m no prude for these things. Still, I couldn’t help but throw my hands up at the cavalier way certain issues are handled. I actually have a bigger problem with the thief who is merely winked at despite his life-wrecking burglary than I do with the married man in a love story with a courtesan. If the wife accepts it as a perfectly fine part of the relationship, well, who am I to judge? I have poly- friends, I’ve had my tolerances for strange (to me) relationships broadened. In any case, the plot strains credulity, and I’m quite credulous. :p The one possible redeeming charm is the humor of the thing, but it is played so broadly, so (I can’t believe I’m saying this about an OSF production) amateurishly, that it goes from playful to hammy to painful in mere minutes. I’ll save you the recap of the ending, which would be spoilerish if it wasn’t already such deus ex machina as to make no difference.

As for Miriam Laube… I really don’t know what to say. I had such a deep dislike for her portrayal that it’s almost beyond discussing. She’s a gifted actress, and she both sings and dances proficiently, which may help explain why she has the role. However, I found her diction to be overly-precise and her tone of voice “yelly.” I’m sure theater majors have a word for it; all I know is that many actors are able to fill a hall without sounding like they’re trying. Ms. Laube was trying. Hard. Really hard. Really, really hard. I can go on if you’d like.

My greatest disappointment was with Cristofer Jean, who I really like and L. simply adores (in that way that partners must occasionally suffer in each other). He was just so damned bland in the role. I get it, the character represents he who can accept all calmly. If you’re going to be the center of the play, you have just got to figure out how to be accepting and wry, or accepting and passionate, or… something. You’re the actor, figure it out; yogurt is all-accepting, too (it makes a tasty shake in any flavor!), but who’d want to watch that for three hours?

Maybe this play is just over my head, or I was in the wrong mood. There is no way, however, that I could recommend this production to anyone, particularly someone who only sees a few plays a year. It may have some salvageable moments, but it’s not worth the effort.