Friday, May 9, 2014

Go! National Theatre Live Screenings at L.A. Theatre Works by M.R. Hunter

Whether you're a theater lover or not, National Theatre in London reliably mounts the best productions in the world bar none. Unless you're flitting across the pond a few times a year, the chances of witnessing these outstanding, ground-breaking shows are slim. The NT productions are the kind of quality we can learn and be inspired from as artists regardless of our discipline. Unfortunately, some folks are reticent about attending a "screening." Theater purists for a lack of better word, reject the idea that a screening can be just as good as watching something live. Let me assure anyone with these misgivings of their error. It is as good and the cinematic quality put into these screenings allows even further appreciation, not less of both art forms (theater and film). These stagings will NOT be touring in the U.S. so there isn't much in the way of opportunity to see these shows unless you go to the screening (which is limited in its run and venues across the country).

As a theater critic, I prefer live shows. I also love mastery, clarity, superb performances and seeing something that will stay with me forever. The National Theatre Live is not the equivalent of going to the movies. It is a chance to experience the magic of theater without the need for a passport. I am dismayed at those who claim to love theater not taking advantage of the NT Live screenings. These productions are not available in any other way once the run is over. They are not released on DVD (I think NT is dead wrong on this but hey...that's their deal). It's the screenings or nothing. I've seen some wonderful shows in LA so nothing against us, but none of it comes close to National Theatre stagings either. I am a better critic, artist and person for having skipped a local matinee to watch NT Live. L.A. Theatre Works at UCLA and other venues like the Downtown Independent are giving us the rare opportunity to see life-changing theater at a fraction of the cost. It is imperative that we make an effort to support these screenings and marvel at the pristine excellence so that we as artists may rise to this standard.

I attended the screening of National Theatre's "Othello" at L.A. Theatre Works this past Sunday at the James Bridges Theater. This production is how the Bard must have envisioned it when he wrote it over 400 years ago. It's hard to imagine anyone ever coming close to it let alone surpass its brilliance in every conceivable way. This is the "Othello" to leave all other Othellos behind. Why? "Othello" is a tricky play that in lesser hands does not fully explore and integrate on every line writ the psychological pathos of human frailty when love, loyalty and power is at stake. Director Nicholas Hytner is a genius and our current great shepherd of Shakespeare's work in terms of accessibility and dissemination. A thousand hours spent on Shakespeare can be condensed in seeing a single Hytner helmed production and any person on this planet intimidated by the Bard can suddenly have a transcendent understanding of the text by his intuitive handling of the work. 

The cast of "Othello" is perfection. Not one actor is miscast and everyone down to the smallest cameo infuses their role with realism, tension and grace. I am at a loss between Othello and Iago if I were to compare the two men, Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear. They were both exceptional beyond juxtaposition. Lester's "Othello" is sublime and no actor before or after his rendering will come close to the wretched journey of this character. He loves with full abandon and prideful knowledge of love's preciousness and hates by the same Achilles Heel with passion, intelligence and arrogance. It is pure joy to watch Mr. Lester expand every line with such dynamism and authority. He's gorgeous, soulful and evokes sexuality at every turn. Rory Kinnear is a name to watch for as he is one of the most amazing actors on the planet. His Hamlet was excellent, no doubt, but his Iago is a career-changer and a high point for him as an actor. His evil, duplicitous and steely manipulations are mind-blowing. Kinnear pivots between the dastardly strategist and the phony flatterer so easily to take one's breath away. Like Lester's Othello, no one will ever surpass Kinnear's Iago. 

That I didn't see "Othello" live does not diminish the incredible performances, set design and clarity of the script in any way. I've seen the best "Othello" and if I have a complaint it is that National Theatre has ruined any subsequent future Othellos for me. I may not bother because once you see how it is supposed to be done unequivocally in the most pristine way, there's really no chance of being satisfied by a lesser version. I know Othello more deeply than any class, dramaturgist, reading or prior production has ever hoped to illuminate. You haven't seen "Othello" until you see National Theatre's glorious creation. If I am guilty, it is of loving this production too well. 

To find a screening near you and a list of what is playing please visit:
Watch the "Othello" TRAILER
Watch an interview with Lester and Kinnear

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