by Margaret Croyden


Photo of Margaret Croyden
Margaret Croyden is a theater reviewer and essayist for the New York Theatre Wire.

Friends, I’ve been away a long time writing a new book “The Years In Between – A Reporters Journey: World War II-The Cold War,” which I hope you will read and enjoy. It is available at and Barnes & Noble. My reviewing this year will be shorter than most years and I’ll get to the point quickly.

The first thing I’ve seen this season was “A Magic Flute,” directed by Peter Brook. The production is not your usual Magic Flutes, it is simply a story of lovers. It has been pared down to an hour, keeping most of the music in it, but the simple tale is one of a love story. Brook said he would no longer like to do large productions and I gather that his main interest right now is in finding simplicity, quietude, and the meaning of love. The production is on a bare stage as usual and the only thing that is used is long, wooden sticks in a remarkable way to signify time, place, and action. Some people were disturbed that Brook gave up his idea of large staged, big productions as he’s done in the past, but Brook is his own man. He looks for different aspects of life, which few directors can do.

The same idea is coming out now in a production of three one act plays of Beckett at the Mikhail Baryshnikov theater on West 37th Street. I will review the Beckett plays later on.

The next big thing that went on during the beginning of the season was the import of the Royal Shakespeare Company. They reconstructed the armory and built a replica of the original Stratford Shakespeare Theater and presented four Shakespeare plays in repertoire: "As You Like It," "Winter’s Tale," "Romeo & Juliet" and "King Lear." Having seen all of these plays years ago in Stratford, England, this was not something new for me. In fact, the whole thing was a big disappointment in New York City. None of the actors were really great. The great British Shakespearean actors have unfortunately all passed away, and I’m sorry to say they have not been replaced. The directors think that they are doing modern productions of Shakespeare always try and do better than the master – such as putting sneakers on Juliet’s feet, which is preposterous, though they think it’s avant garde. To my mind, spending all of this money to reconstruct the armory was a cute idea, but stupid, wasteful, using money that could have been put toward something far more serious. Nothing was really changed by seeing these plays in this environment because the fact of the matter is the play is the thing, as Shakespeare himself has said. People ran to see it (because of the so-called avant garde) the tickets were over $100 a seat, hardly what the masses of Shakespeare’s time would have paid to see his plays.  Sitting through four plays which in themselves are magnificent played by inferior actors was no picnic.

Frank Langella is one of my favorite actors. Everything he does he does with fire and strength. Tall, handsome (he looks like he's in fine health), has a deep voice, tremendous energy, he eats up the stage with his presence, and is always wonderful to watch. In "Man and Boy," he has picked a rather cheap melodrama about a nasty financier who wants to use his estranged son to regain his power. Of course, Langella, even in this crummy play, eats up the stage and his energy carries the play, very much like when he played Nixon in both the play and the film "Frost/Nixon." Langella is one of the last of our great leading men and I hope he doesn’t waste his talent in anymore schlock. Stick to important stories and you’ll be okay; not that he would take my advice, but it’s a good piece of advice anyhow.  These days with tickets on plays being what they are, go to the movies instead (still, I would vote for him as one of the best actors we have).  

If you want to have fun, and you don’t mind the Broadway crowds, go to the Marquis Theater to see "Follies." The play is a reminiscent of the good old days where the Follies were the thing, now however it seems hackneyed. All the same, for a lot of young people it would be fun, though it is a relic of the past. If you love Stephen Sondheim, this is for you. If you don’t love him, it’s a bore. For me, I could never remember one melody he’s ever written aside from “Send In The Clowns.” Still, people love him, so now in his eightieth year, it wouldn’t be a very nice thing to put him down. Bernadette Peters, whom everyone thought was too old for the part, was a surprise. For me, no surprise, because Peters always does the same thing for which she’s noted. She looks good, young, lively, she still sings well, and surprisingly carries off the part very well. It’s a fun show if you want to be around Broadway at the Marquis Theater, which by the way is one of the worst theaters in New York because it’s in a hotel and a nuisance to get to. However, the show is still going and may be would make a nice holiday gift for your Grandmother.  

This is an interview that was published in the program for A Magic Flute. Interview not conducted by Margaret Croyden.
Here are things that Peter Brook said about his production A Magic Flute:

Q: Most people think they know Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, but after watching this production I saw things I didn’t know were there. Is this what you wanted to achieve?

 A:   For me theater exists only in the present and there is no reason to look at how things have been done in the past. Most directors and designers who approach this opera today ask themselves: “what will be new? What effects does this opera need that haven’t yet been used?” Over the centuries there have certainly been extraordinary productions, but this attitude has created an accumulation of ideas that are not necessarily in line with the essential aim of the creators. For me, it works best to go back to the original. Within the intimate space of the Théâtre des Bouffes, I had the opportunity to work with a group of young singers who were open and willing not to be intimidated by tradition. Marie-Hélène Estienne, Franck Krawczyk, and I worked with the greatest love and respect on our adaptation; we tried to find what had gradually accumujlated to block, for the singers, the intimate relationship with the melodic line and the German words.

Q:   How did you do that?
A:   We experimented every day and little by little the roots of the lyricism revealed themselves to us. It was a journey o f discovery. Because of this I called it A Magic Flute not The Magic Flute since this production was not created to compete with other stagings by using spectacular effects, video and set changes. I respect them, but here we try to suggest something else.

 Q:  Is this how you search for the beauty in the opera?
A:   In today’s world, it is necessary to pull yourself up by the straps and find beauty where you can. An opera like Flute allows us to get in touch with a different dimension of life. It helps us find ourselves inside ourselves. I am not a Mason and consequently to juggle with the different levels of symbolism [in this opera] is both pretentious and useless. All that Mozart wished to express about what had touched him so deeply is in the music. Mozart and his librettist don’t preach; they didn’t create a philosophical opera like Goethe could have done. This is a pure language of story, people, and sound.

Q:   You have said that you wanted to do this Magic Flute for a long time. Why did you decide to do it now?
A:   The answer to this question is as mysterious as the opera itself. In my career, I have done different works when the time felt right. Our experience at the Bouffes and on tour has shown how deep the need is to be in touch with a quality we can’t find in the daily accumulation of miseries that life brings our way.

Q:   How is the music of Mozart theatrical?
A:   Mozart’s music can explain the unexplainable. It goes beyond words and opens us up to a feeling of amazement. He brings us to a new dimension and gives us a new perspective.

(Translated by Barbara Sartore and edited by Charles Sheek from a recent interview by Peter Brook with Paris’ ARTE television.)

Margaret Croyden has conducted numerous interviews with Peter Brook, of which have been compiled into the book Conversations With Peter Brook, which is now being printed with TCG. Her latest book is The Years In Between – A Reporters Journey: World War II-The Cold War.

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