Thursday April 11, 2013

KEENE, N.H.

Doctor Faustus -- There are two extant versions of Christopher Marlowe’s "Doctor Faustus," the first considerably shorter than the other. The directors of the restored Globe Theatre decided to do the longer one (playing time 147 minutes), and one wonders if they made a wise choice.

One can judge by viewing the Kultur two-disc release of the play, which demonstrates that if Marlowe wrote every line of the text he simply did not know how to develop the action.

The beginning, in which Faustus (Paul Hilton) rejects all knowledge and calls up spirits, leading to his blood pact with Mephistopheles (Arthur Darvill), is quite powerful. The ending in which he is dragged to hell is nearly overwhelming. But the play sags badly in between.

First, Faustus wastes all his opportunities in playing silly jokes on other characters, including the Pope. Then again, the comic scenes are frequent, overlong and mostly unfunny. (And yet there are those who believe that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare’s plays.) But mistake me not. This production of the play as such is excellent.

The special effects and diabolical costuming are very good, and Hilton and Darvill work well together. With very few exceptions, the lines are read by one and all with great clarity -- but how I wish Kultur could arrange to have the Globe people add subtitles. It is now and then something of a strain to follow the dialogue.


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Drama departments and anybody interested in Elizabethan drama as well as versions of the Faust legend will find this "Doctor Faustus" a must.

Much Ado About Nothing -- The Globe Theatre on Screen series on Kultur DVDs is increased by a pretty good "Much Ado About Nothing," one of Shakespeare’s happier comedies. I say "pretty good" rather than "excellent" because of two serious flaws.

When a certain British actor played on television the title role in "Hamlet," I had to wince at his chopped delivery of some of the most eloquent lines in all western theater. Charles Edwards, the Benedick of this production, is either allowed to or is actually directed to speak in that same modern manner that even in the prose passages takes all the beauty and wit out of the performance. He is good, he is lively, he is a crowd pleaser -- but Edwards must learn to speak the Shakespearean line and not try to be "modern."

The other serious fault is treating the comic City Watch as cartoon characters and not simple people who do not know how funny they are. Paul Hunter, who plays their leader Dogberry, has been directed to throw in a grunt and an abrupt body motion every five lines or so. It is not funny the first time nor any of the several other times. And that goes for a good deal of the "humor" the Director thought fit to give this group to pad out the second part of the production.

Eve Best might look a little too old for Beatrice, who always is dressed casually, just on the safe side of sloppiness, perhaps to show her independence and lack of any thoughts of attracting a man. Best is a fine actress and succeeds, I believe, where younger and more attractive actresses have not.

The energy in the first part of the production is palpable; the serious moments in the second part never seem too serious (for we at least know what some of the characters on stage do not); and the denouement at the very end is done with good timing. The jig at the end is a little too modern for my taste, as is the guitar used in the scene in which Benedict is duped into thinking Beatrice is ... No, no spoilers for those who do not know the plot.

And when a shaved Benedick refers to a fully bearded Claudio (Philip Cumbus) as "beardless," someone in makeup should have taken notice!

The racial intermixing among the cast is done with taste so both Hero (Ony Uhiara) and her father Leonato (Joseph Marcell) are of the same ethnicity. Finally, the icily evil Don John is well played by Matthew Pidgeon.

And the rain did not dampen the audience’s enthusiasm! (But why did they choose to film on a rainy day at all?

The running time of the two-DVDs is 166 minutes and the picture is in widescreen. Alas, no subtitles.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.