|Robert Falls directing "Don Giovanni" at the Lyric.|
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...
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