Sunday, February 12, 2017

When you see a Bob Falls play, you remember it


Robert Falls directing "Don Giovanni" at the Lyric.
     What I really wanted to do was ... direct. No, kidding. What I really wanted to do was conduct the interview with Bob Falls to mark his 30th anniversary at the Goodman. But my colleague Miriam Di Nunzio snagged that plum. As a consolation prize, though, she kindly allowed me to write about some of my favorite Falls productions. This is in the Sunday Sun-Times.

     It has been more than 30 years since I saw my first Robert Falls' production. While I haven't seen most of his output, I've seen many, and remember them all. They lodge in the mind because, well, he takes the raw material of a playwright's art, whittles it to a point and thrusts it into your eye. I could discuss 15 hugely memorable Falls' productions, but I have room for five.
     1. "In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison" (1984): Performed in the small Goodman Studio Theater, you almost had to dodge William L. Peterson's spittle as he ranted and bashed his head against a filing cabinet. The lights came up after, and my friends and I blinked at each other, amazed to find ourselves back in the real world, in a theater, apparently, after having been hijacked into another realm by Falls' powerful staging.
     2. "Hamlet" (1985): Aiden Quinn walked onto the stage with a can of spray paint and, back to the audience, methodically began to paint "TO... BE... OR ... NOT... TO... BE..." He turned to the audience, jerked his thumb at the dripping paint. "That's the question!"
From the opening scene, in total darkness, the guards on the castle ramparts, cutting the night with their flashlights, to Gertrude, gazing at the king on a green room monitor, her face a Nancy Reagan mask of adoration, to Del Close's Polonius, a bumbling alderman, the play was one daring directorial choice after another.  My favorite: Ophelia, late in the fourth act, drawing on her face with makeup, hiking up her dress. My immediate thought was "She's crazy!" and then — duh! — it's Ophelia. Of course she's crazy. Falls makes the familiar new again...

Brian Dennehy with Pamela Payton-Wright in Goodman Theatre's 2002 production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night." | LIZ LAUREN PHOTO
Brian Dennehy with Pamela Payton-Wright in Goodman Theatre's 2002 production of "Long Day's Journey Into Night." | LIZ LAUREN PHOTO

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7 comments:

  1. I'll never forget the shock of that final scene in "Measure for Measure", the knife plunging into Isabella. Glad to read about four other of Mr. Falls' memorable works. I saw him recently on Mark Bazer's "Interview Show", and what stayed with me was his intelligence and passion for the arts.

    His latest directorial effort is now appearing at the Goodman -- Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya". I'm hoping to find time to get over there and see it.

    SandyK

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  2. I'm sorry but I cannot get past "In the Belly of the Beast" or take seriously anyone who thinks it merits attention. Jack Henry Abbott is a murderer and a sniveling wretch who plunged a knife into the heart of an innocent man days after that fool Norman Mailer got him sprung from prison. And he's a liar. He never had to eat rats in prison, and God knows what else he lied about in that stupid book which I have no intention of ever reading.

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    1. So you are damning the work, you've never read, and anyone who has, who "thinks it merits serious attention" because the author was a bad guy? I guess Mailer's writing doesn't merit attention either, since he stabbed his wife, and, now that I think of it, neither does mine, because I did mention Abbott's play and, i guess, for other reasons. Do this mean your going to scram now? Because I can live with that.

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    2. Did you watch the "60 Minutes" interview with Abbott after he was returned to prison for killing that waiter? It was nothing but whiny self-justification. Maybe you can separate the murdering bastard from the "artist" who wrote about the suffering he had to undergo as a consequence of being a murdering bastard. I can't.

      I don't want to "scram" because I enjoy your blog and expect to do so in the future. But if a difference of opinion over a murderer is a dealbreaker for you, then ban me. I can live with that.

      Bitter Scribe

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    3. I saw the play 32 years ago. No ones banning you, Bitter. Limiting yourself to art produced by artists you like makes for a very sparse world, but that's your choice to make.

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  3. @Scribe -- I've enjoyed reading your comments on this blog but am surprised at this one. Disliking the subject of any work of art is one thing; disrespecting the person/persons who put blood, sweat and tears into a production of it quite another. I personally never read "In the Belly of the Beast" nor saw Mr. Falls' stage play, but (in my humble opinion) your comments amount to a false equivalence. Stating your intense dislike for Jack Henry Abbott would have been sufficient and understood.

    SandyK

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  4. On a more banal, less contentious, note, I would have enjoyed a photo of 1985 Aidan Quinn. Guess I'll have to look it up myself.

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