New Century Theatre, Northampton, and American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge. Philip Glass opera with a libretto by David Henry Hwang
Two plays, the first offering of the season from Northampton’s New Century Theatre and the last offering of the season from the A. R. T. in Cambridge. I had insufficient time, as I raced to complete my volume of the Cambridge History of British Theatre, to write up these two plays, and they are now rather dim in my recollection. The Glass opera was, I have to admit, much better than I feared it might be, after a painful experience a few years back with his operatic version of The Fall of the House of Usher. It has an Asian, specifically Japanese, setting. The first act, comprised entirely of two characters, was wonderfully well realized. It would seem, if only by coincidence, that the spare Japanese or Yeatsian sticks-and-bones style of mounting that I found myself longing for in the production of the A. R. T. Pericles a few weeks back had been fortuitously realized, for me, in this fine, extremely simple mounting of Hwang’s text. Glass’s music, something I’m not a great fan of, nevertheless proved itself a supple, affective vehicle for clear, powerful emotion, even as it resolutely eschewed two centuries and more of aria-and-recitative approaches to the composition of grand opera. In fact, this is not at all “grand,” but, rather, minimalist and conversational throughout. What I truly appreciated was the clear-as-a-bell diction of the singers, miked though they were. I almost never understand what singers are saying, even if they are saying it in English. Here — in the tradition of grand opera, mind you — we were given supertitles projected on a screen positioned high up toward the ceiling of the house, but well off to one side, so that the audience could conceivably choose to ignore them at will. They were nearly superfluous.
(After the fact, I see that I did not even attempt to review the Charles Busch play. Alas.)