The Bristol Old Vic production of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" currently at the Broad Stage and the Théâtre de Bouffes du Nord production of "The Suit," which opens Wednesday at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, both are connected to South Africa. Shakespeare's play involves Cape Town's Handspring Puppet Company. "The Suit" is an adaptation of a short story by South African writer Can Themba.
Furthermore, both productions are projects of British directors. But while Tom Morris and Peter Brook are generations apart and Morris' "Dream" and Brooks' "Suit" represent quite different sensibilities, what the directors mainly have in common is that each, in his own way, has worked now and then in opera and made a considerable impact doing so.
Morris' primary claim to fame may be his collaboration with Handspring on "War Horse." But he also enjoys a secondary claim to fame as the director of "Jerry Springer: The Opera," which is an entirely new form of hybrid operetta/musical/whatnot by Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee. It begins potty-mouthed parody and turns movingly surreal. Theater-goers at the Old Globe at the end of the 16th century might well have said the same about "Midsummer Night’s Dream."
Morris, moreover, was also the director of the deadly serious, theatrically potent if overly literal English National Opera production of John Adams' "Death of Klinghoffer" two years ago. Having provided an abundance of controversy with "Jerry Springer," Morris managed to do the welcome opposite with "Klinghoffer," skirting deep differences between the Palestinian and Jewish divide, but also making the opera's first British staging viable. This is the production that the Metropolitan Opera will mount next season.
Brook, who turned 89 the first day of spring, is of course a theatrical legend in his own time and whose untraditional Royal Shakespeare Company production of "Midsummer Nights Dream" was a Shakespearean revelation in 1970. But unlike Morris, who amplifies excess, Brook removes it, and 11 years after his "Dream" he staged a stripped-down, modernized version of Bizet’s "Carmen" that put opera on a life-changing diet.
At the 2011 Lincoln Center Festival in New York, Brook mounted a delicate, ethereal, slimmed staging of Mozart’s "Magic Flute" with only seven singers, two actors and a piano. This was no longer opera on a diet but opera ritually purified into a state of exquisite grace. Just as Brook mixed actors into the cast of his "Flute," he integrates musicians into "The Suit," an anti-apartheid play, in which they perform African and Schubert songs.
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