Last night at the Actors' Gang theater in Los Angeles, we were asked by the house manager NOT to write reviews of A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Tim Robbins, because it was not their final production. He told us that they were workshopping the play and after the performance would be open to comments and suggestions. As a gentleman, I feel obligated to do my best to honor his request.
My only comment -- and this is my stupid and immature sense of humor -- would have been that they were fucked if they wanted to improve the performance because it was so far beyond perfect that there was no place to go. My only suggestion would have been to invite Joss Whedon -- whose Much Ado About Nothing is by far the best film of the year -- and discuss translating their enactment into a film for a larger audience to enjoy.
The trust that the actors displayed for Tim Robbins' intense vision, the commitment that they made to their roles, and the love and respect that they showed for each other, the language, the play, Shakespeare, the theater in general and their theater in particular, were magical, riveting, and inspiring.
The score by David Robbins, played beautifully and precisely by Erin Wigger and Mister Robbins, was so luscious and organic that it felt as if the music was a character in Shakespeare's play. Again, astonishingly perfect.
For me, of particular note were Will McFadden, Adam Jefferis, Bob Turton, Pierre Adeli, and Sabra Williams (that voice!) and Hannah Chodos. I don't know any of these actors and I've never seen any of them before, which only redoubled my admiration to their faith in the process of creating an ensemble piece and their willingness to search deeply and uniquely into their characters and give 110 percent with their body language and facial expressions. The choreography -- the constant movement -- of all of the actors swirling around the stage at all times might prove distracting for old-school Shakespeare lovers, but I found the pacing and the cadences so fluid that the entire piece felt like one symphony or concert with an intermission. Where some performances of Shakespeare can seem long and boring to contemporary audiences, this performance felt more like going to a Cirque du Soleil show.
I also saw The Way Way Back this week and was reminded how difficult it is to pair especially gifted, daring, and charismatic actors in the same scene with other actors. If someone handed me a guitar and told me to jam on stage with Jimmy Page, that would be analogous to putting almost any other actor in a scene with Sam Rockwell. The guy just chews up the scenery, renders all of the other actors around him translucent. If I were directing a film I would never cast Sam Rockwell in anything but a one-man show because I would just pity anyone who winds up on the screen with him except Tilda Swinton or two or three other people. His bizarre swagger, his jerky shoulder movements, and the way words roll off of his tongue, makes him completely magnetic -- it's basically impossible to notice anything else going on after he enters the camera frame.
And that's the way I felt about Hannah Chodos in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last night. I found her performance to be risky, daring, and even dangerous. If all of the other actors were giving 110%, it seemed as if she was giving 115% - she was performing on a high-wire without a net - her energy was so kinetic that it seemed as if she could spontaneously combust at any moment. The pathos elicited in the opening scenes by Ms. Chosod's flailing arms, contorted face, and swiveling torso, was so compelling that I couldn't take my eyes off of her for the rest of the evening for fear of missing something.
The entire play -- showing for the next 2 weeks at the Actors' Gang Theater in Los Angeles -- was nothing short of miraculously brilliant. However, they asked us not to review it so I will just say that if you ever get the opportunity to see Hannah Chodos perform, don't miss it.