Monday, July 20, 2009

Theatre and Poetry (2)

As I mentioned in a previous entry, several of this year's Fringe Festival productions involved poetry. Sunday afternoon I went to see one that caught my attention.

"The Portrait," written and produced by local people, was described in the program blurb as "a play written almost entirely in poem form." The theme: murder and haunting and suspense.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, perhaps a Shakespearean performance in iambic pentameter or something equally solemn and dramatic. What I got was a narrator, the spirit of the niece of the man whose portrait comes to ... however, this isn't about plot intricacies but about the advertized "poem."
The lines were in a less conventional form; the complete play consisted of an extended ballad delivered in quatrain stanzas with lines of three or four feet and alterate rhyme. The marvel of the experience was twofold. Unless you were listening carefully for it, the rhyme and rhythm was almost unnoticeable. And even if you made yourself aware, there were enough changes to ensure that it wasn't repetitive or boring. The metric flow would often jump naturally from one character to another.
Although at the end I felt unsatisfied and wanting more, I left with a sense of amazement that the language had been so well-used.
The flow of narrative carried by rhyme and rhythm in this piece, contrasted with a segment of a performance I had seen the evening before. "Tell Me Another One" was a retelling of three fables. 'Little Red Riding Hood' was delivered as an interprative dance.'Fox and Girl' was a newer puppet show which, for me, didn't cohere. The center of the presentation was the Grimms' 'The Juniper Tree,' but it was done as a folk ballad. What could have been a brilliant concept in the hands of a true balladeer or singer/songwriter was turned into tasteless pap. I hadn't heard the story before; I don't remember it now. I couldn't tell you what it was all about and it didn't interest me enough to look up the original. The accoustic guitar accompaniment was uninspired and forgettable.
All I remember is a strumming guitar and a bearded face. That is neither poetry nor drama.

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