Saturday, June 20, 2009

12th Night : "Forces of Nature"

Every night when I watch Audra McDonald and Anne Hathaway play together through a swarm of bugs, I remember what Lucas Papaelias told me about his time doing Romeo and Juliet 2 summers ago: “Being in the band for Shakespeare In The Park is the best job. Those actors will go through hell being outside. You get to sit and watch it."

Last night was the first night that everyone in the show felt the bells ringing. Even the bugs gave their best performance yet. Entering at the end of Act 1 Scene 5, they clearly had their choreography together, sending to the stage a fraction of the numbers that have flown around the actors on previous nights. In the moment when love overtakes Olivia, they formed a perfect dazzling thought bubble in the air around her.

Perhaps Mimi Lieber our choreographer had worked with the bugs on their moves earlier in the day or perhaps after showboating for the past week, the bugs finally decided to leave their egos backstage and be a part of the ensemble. But I suspect they finally realized they are no match for the force of nature that is Audra McDonald...

It's the final moments of the same scene on Tuesday night. Olivia gives Malvolio the ring and sends him off after Cesario. Then Audra McDonald turns strongly to give the audience the totality of Olivia's feelings in her final lines.

"I do not know what - " she starts, her eyes wide with the wonder of love. Her next inhale perfectly takes in an air born marauder.

There is a most dramatic pause. Olivia's face hardens and her eyes dart to the ground. In the instant, you can see Olivia confronting an uncontrollable wave of anguish following the love that's just bloomed in her. With yellow flower in hand and watering eyes, you can feel Olivia, terrified, asking her brother if it is okay to proceed towards the possibility of new life before her. She is stiff, still, holding herself together, and you imagine that Olivia's time of mourning has now reached it's end.

You can experience these things most completely if you do not think of the bug that presently wanders the rich interior of Audra's golden throat. Like a tourist at Notre Dame Cathederal, I imagine it tiptoeing around, appreciating the warm acoustics, taking pictures and calling home to say, "Guess where I am!"

Then Audra McDonald as Olivia swallows hard. She continues, eyes still to the ground.

"-and...fear to find...Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind"

I marvel at the display of focus and control it must take to deliver these lines while suppressing a gag reflex. The effect gives Olivia an angry truth, placing her thoughts even more within the shadow of loss.

At this instant, I become aware of the Hem score which will come up in a few seconds to transition the scene. It's a bright and uplifting melody that perfectly suggests a progression out of melancholy. So no matter what the dramatic possibilities might be for Audra to end the scene within her present painful response to love, she knows we're headed to happy land. Audra, the amazing actress and singer that she is, knows this.

"Fate, " she says, a harsh address, "Show thy force".

...Olivia, tired of mourning has grown impatient, and speaking to fate as she might a servant. But then her body relaxes. A greater, natural sense seeming to overcome her.

"Ourselves we do not owe," says Olivia roughly, but with her head now raised, her eyes returning to search the bright places in the distance before her.

"What is decreed must be -" A brilliant musical note rings within the word "Be" and cuts though the humid air. Audra and Olivia are singing again.

"And be this so!"

The music comes in, perfectly in synch with the world thanks to the timing and rhythm and tone of Olivia's last words. And Audra McDonald as Olivia exits the Delacorte stage as she does most every night...to great applause.

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