Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 17, 1975 · Page 81
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 81

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 17, 1975
Page 81
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Page 81 article text (OCR)

The Bard Other Beautiful Things By Mutht Smith STRATFORD, CONN. - He is 78 years old. His voice trembles with an emotion tempered by .age. The hands that reach out in bewilderment at his lost youth and lost kingdom are unsteady. He is King Lear as interpreted by Morris Carnqvsky, a man universally recognized as one of the greatest living Lears. Carnovsky is part of what has become known as "the Stratford experience." It is total theater, set in a woodland surrounding inhabited by roving bands of madrigal singers. Visitors to the American Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford often bring picnic baskets to lunch on the lawn between matinee and evening performances. In addition to the madrigal singers, a sidewalk bazaar lines the pathway to the theater, with booth proprietors offering antiques, objects of art and souvenirs of Stratford. It is a festive place, dedicated to celebration of the bard and other beautiful things. This season, two Shakespeare pieces and Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" -- as American as apple pie -- are being-presented in repertory with distinguished casts and opulent settings. is a reminder of the Lear played by a more youthful, but less sympathetic Carnovsky. In his soliloquies, Carnovsky is unparalleled. The actor becomes, as Lear describes himself: "every inch a king." "King Lear," the four-hour-long tragedy of one of Shakespeare's most tormented kings, is a tour de force for Carnovsky. In his third Stratford portrayal of the betrayed tryant, Carnovsky commands the stage with the magnetism of his majestic presence and superb craftsmanship. Lear is a king in his winter years. Of his three daughters -- Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia -- he banishes the one who' genuinely loves him because she cannot voice her affection. Enraged because Cordelia has been his favorite, the product of his advanced years, he revokes her- dowry and sends her to be married in France. Shortly after his generous gifts to the other daughters, Lear falls victim to their'plots to undermine his power. His army of attendants mysteriously dwindles, dismissed by his daughters. Goneril speaks to him as a mother angered at a disobedient child and Regan upholds her sister. There is continuous tragedy throughout "King Lear," as mercilessly exploited by his daughters, the aged king is driven to madness. Similarly, Shakespeare shows no mercy to the women in this story, condemning them to ruthless roles. There is no happy resolution here. Reunited briefly with Cordelia, Lear dies broken and senile. In "The Winter's Tale," theatergoers are treated to a masterpiece of set and costume design. The entire stage is carpeted in snowy, thick fabric, with a raised circular platform the focal point. Suspended above stage are dozens of clear glass rods, hung at various levels, like groups of glittering, icy stal- lactites. All the characters wear flowing costumes in shades of white, ivory and cream. Fabrics are velvet, rough linen and smooth fur. It is impossible to view this creation of winter without chills running up the spine. It is a peak of artistry for designers John Conklin and Jane Greenwood. "The Winter's Tale" is one of Shakespeare's most tangled, complicated dramas -- again dealing with a tormented king. In this play, Sicilian King Leontes, torn with jealousy and bedeviled by imagined wrongs, accuses his wife Hermione of adultery with his childhood friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia and a visitor-in their home. Leontes, blonde and fair, looks on the darkness of his Bohemian friend and seethes in blind, insane rage. Mad with jealousy, Leontes 'ponders Hermione's advanced state of pregnancy and is convinced the child belongs to Polixenes. He clutches his tiny son Mamillius and looks for reassurance hi the child's resemblance to him. Leontes attempts to poison Polixenes, but the Bohemian king escapes to his homeland. Leontes turns his rage on Hermione. Accused of adultery and traitor- ism, Hermione is imprisoned. Her attitude toward the banishment and her suffering -- that through endurance she will attain a higher state of grace -- is a theme threaded throughout the story. Ultimately her false accuser Leontes suffers a similar penance and through it, he too finds grace. From the first accusations against Hermione and the unborn child to the resolution is a long pro- cess requiring 16 years of penance from Leontes, a penance he willingly fulfills since he was-wronged his wife, his child, and the gods. A happy resolution results. Leontes regains his sanity, and the child he abandoned at birth -grown to a beautiful woman -- is reunited with her parents. Leontes reaffirms his friendship with Polix- enes and the friendship is sealed by the marriage of Leonte's daughter Perdita and Polixenes' son Florizel. credibility as a king gone mad, then redeemed. In supporting roles, two players give remarkable readings designed to attract and please the most demanding audience. Bette Henrice's Paulina is the epitome of a strong-willed, sharp-tongued woman with heart of gold. It is she who, throughout Leonte's penance, constantly reminds him of his wrongs. And it is she who ultimately releases him from his mental prison by reuniting him with Hermione. In the smaller role of buffoon and shameless rogue, Fred Gwynne delights as Autolycus. He is the comic relief, brought on stage for a break from the tension of the drama. It is Autolyous who, as thief, master of trickery, and con artist extraordi- naire, mocks the upper classes. But it is he who helps resolve the tragedy that has brought downfall to a king. Gwynne's character is devilishly end'earing and perfectly developed. Although supported by such noted actors as Lee Richardson (Kent) and William Larsen (Gloucester), Carnovsky emerges supreme, at times rousing himself to project Lear as a raging, wounded bear. It Maria Tucci, a strikingly beautiful ice maiden, is expressive and poignant as Hermione. Donald Madden's Leontes is'a deeply passionate performance, succeeding in It is in "Our Town," however, that Fred Gwynne has his finest hour. It has been Gwynne's unfortunate luck to be associated with two rather mindless television series in which he starred several years ago, "Car 54, Where Are You?" -- remember Toody and Muldoon? -- and "The Munsters" .. (he was Herman.) For those who might sell Fred Gwynne short, be forewarned. He is a marvelously capable actor, going about the business of Stage Manager -- a folksy, good-natured narrator -- with flair and style. Gwynne is the master of the understatement, the stage slouch, the comic aside. It is Gwynne who tells us that Grover's Corners -- "Our Town" -- is the greatest place to live. But is it? He can't overlook Simon Stimpson, an artist driven to drink and, ultimately suicide, by the stifling atmosphere of Small Town, U.S.A. And what of Polish Town across the tracks? Grover's Corners isn't so great if you live across the tracks. "Our Town." the reminiscence of a day and time untouched by technology and pollution and social upheaval, is possibly one of the most seductive American plays ever written. We all want to go back and live then, stringing beans on the back porch with Mrs. Gibbs ana Mrs. Webb. It's possible to go back for a few hours with Fred Gwynne and his two incrediable leading ladies -- Geraldine Fitzgerald (Mrs. Webb) and Eileen Heckart (Mrs. Gibbs). Both these renowned actresses have won the highest awards offered in film and theater, yet they take time to recreate small parts in a manner that brings Wilder to tantalizing life. Morris Carnovsky, Maria Tucci, . Fred Gwynne, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Eileen Heckart -- all part of the Stratford experience. And what a wondrous experience it is. Remaining performances of the Morris Carnovsky as "Lear." Fred Gwynne as "Autolycus." season include: "Lear" -- matinees Aug. 20 and 24, evenings Aug. 22,27 and 30; "The Winter's Tale," - matinees Aug. 21,23,28,30, evenings, Aug. 20 and 26; and "Our Town," -- matinees Aug. 27 and 31, evenings, Aug. 19,23 and 29. Reservation information is available by* calling 203-375-4457. Ticket prices range from $4.50 to $9. Statt Mdgattiie 1 , Mugasf'J'T! 1975 ·".

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