1930s drama

Despite what the last I’m-not-sure-how-many-posts would have you believe, we continue to keep busy with outings and activities in NYC as well as our travels further afield, and before we get too distracted by festive frivolities I wanted to (finally) write about a couple of performances I went to last month.

My two November theatrical outings really couldn’t have been more different , which struck me all the more forcibly when I realised that they had been written just a few years apart. (The fact that one was performed in the Metropolitan Opera’s wonderful space, and the other in front of the altar at the no-less-wonderful St Bart’s church also helped point up the contrasts.) Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1938) is set in a quiet New Hampshire town, where everyone conducts themselves with the utmost decorum, in complete contrast to Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1932), which effectively showcases a full spectrum of bad behaviour.

Stalin apparently left part way through the opera (as did a fair proportion of the Met’s audience, actually), but really, what’s not to love? Seduction, homicide, a comedy priest, a suspiciously Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esqe chorus of police, and some of the most evocative incidental music I’ve ever heard. The mid-20th-century set and costume design worked extremely well, and I was completely delighted by the whole thing.

In total contrast, the action of Our Town takes place in the first decade or so of the 20th century, and calls for very minimal setting. The St Bart’s Players’ production brought out the warmth and humour of the script, and the entire cast were very good indeed. We hadn’t come across the play before, though apparently it’s a classic school-reading text here (I can see why), and I felt that it’s quite reassuring that a work like this, which calls for a significant amount of imaginative effort from actors and audience alike, is still being performed.

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