Monthly Archive for: ‘March, 2014’

The Habit of Art in a bi-polar production by Theatre Rhinoceros

L-R: Donald Currie as Auden, Tamar Cohn as Kay, Michael DeMartini as Neil, Justin Lucas as Stuart, and John Fisher as Britten in The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett, directed by John Fisher. A Theatre Rhinoceros production at Z Below. Photo by Kent Taylor.

The Habit of Art: Comedy by Alan Bennett. Directed by John Fisher. Theatre Rhinoceros, being performed at Z Space Below, 470 Florida St., San Francisco, CA. 866-811-4111 or www.therhino.org. Wednesdays through Sundays, March 27 – April 13, 2014

 The Habit of Art in a bi-polar production by Theatre Rhinoceros Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5 stars)

Before every performance Theatre Rhinoceros prides themselves on their longevity as a unique gay theater company being in existence for 36 years. Unfortunately, after losing their home base on 16th Street in the Mission District they have been nomadic moving between various venues. For their latest venture, The Habit of Art, they have landed in the intimate Z Space Below and they use every foot of the commodious stage to give credence to Alan Bennett’s latest play that is a paean to theatre as well as to W.H. Auden and Benjamin Britten.

 If you are not familiar with the writing of Auden and the music of Britten be advised to brush up on their biographies before seeing this problematic play. They were among the most revered artists of their generation and their reputations have extended beyond their graves. However, since their deaths information about their sexual orientation has been revealed by their biographers and is included in Bennett’s play.

To give credence to the personalities of Auden (Donald Currie) and Britten (John Fisher), his major characters in this intricately woven play, Bennett uses the device of a play within a play. The actors break the fourth wall to comment on their interpretation of the parts they are playing.

The setting is a theatrical rehearsal hall where the actors are having a run through of a play called Caliban’s Day that takes place in Auden’s rooms at Oxford in 1973. The play is about a fictitious meeting between Auden and Britten who had not been in contact for 25 years. Britten is writing an opera of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” and is there to ask Auden’s advice on how to portray the potential pedophilic relationship within the book. Auden erroneously assumes Britten is there to ask him to write the libretto. Bennett slyly inserts comments about Britten’s association with Peter Pear and Auden’s partner Chester.

Before that engrossing scene takes place late in act one, we are treated to the semi-chaotic run through directed by Kay, the stage manager (Tamar Cohn) whose love of the theatre is palpable with her protective nature of her aging leading man who seems unprepared with his lines. There are the conflicts with the author and between actors.

In the play within the play there is a hilarious scene where biographer Humphrey Carpenter (Craig Souza) arrives to interview Auden and is mistaken for the rent boy Stuart (Justin Lucas) hired by Auden. 

Bennett’s dialog between Auden and Britten are handled brilliantly by Currie and Fisher. Justin Lucas does a creditable job as the sensitive rent boy. This review is being written about a preview performance and Craig Souza’s bombastic voice and his entrance in drag playing a tuba to start the second act throws the play out of kilter. Hopefully that will be corrected.

Within the play within the play, there is a conflict between the cast and the playwright as to the play’s ending. Currie gives a beautiful delivery of one of Auden’s poems that is suggested as the ending but Bennett has elected to give the love of the theatre the final shrift. Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes with intermission.

Cast: Tamar Cohn, Donald Currie, Michael DeMartini, John Fisher, Justin Lucas, Seth Siegel, Craig Souza, Kathryn Wood.  Creative team: Valerie Tu, Gilbert Johnson, Jon Lowe, Alicia Bales, Scarlett Kellum.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com


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