Dec 3, 2004

How Swed It Is

Is the LA Times’ Mark Swed having an identity crisis? I can only conclude as much from following his writing in recent months. I’m not talking about the fact that he’s the paper’s classical music critic of record but covers a fair amount of major theatre, as well, or that he was sent to cover performances around and about the Republican Convention that purportedly reflected the zeitgeist or some such thing.

I’m talking about his tendency to make being and becoming the theme of his theatrical criticism. To wit, there was this baffling statement in his mixed review of The Ten Commandments:
Indeed, "The Ten Commandments" is such effective theater that, after 2 1/2 hours of cheesy stagecraft and innocuous, blaring upbeat music, we don't just understand [Moses], don't just aspire to be Moses, we actually become Moses. That is to say, "The Ten Commandments" has the power to leave a epiphany-seeking theatergoer speechless.

Right. I honestly can’t tell if that’s praise or simply throw-up-his-hands bewilderment—if it’s shock or awe, or both. Then there’s today’s review of Macbeth ( A Modern Ecstasy) at REDCAT, in which English actor Stephen Dillane performs the entire play solo, with light jazz accompaniment. Given Swed’s Mosaic transubstantation, this graph stuck out:
"Macbeth" at REDCAT is only Macbeth. And even that isn't quite true. "Macbeth (A Modern Ecstasy)" at REDCAT is the embodiment of Macbeth, the spirit of Shakespeare made flesh. It is the performance of a single actor, Stephen Dillane, and it is a performance — prodigious, incandescent, incantatory — that defies belief.

And this graph even more so:
As if possessed, Shakespeare pours out of him [is something dangling here? Who’s possessed, Dillane or Shakespeare?—Ed.] in unstoppable flood. He channels Macbeth and he channels "Macbeth." That is to say, he is Macbeth, he is all characters in the play, and he is none.

That is to say something—and nothing—all at once. The coda to this Swed swirl is the short blurb that’s been running in the theatre listings, summing up The Ten Commandments. Apparently Swed regained his consciousness after his out-of-body Kodak moment:
Thou shalt not cast Val Kilmer as Moses. Nor shalt thou waste huge sums of money making a cheesy musical out of the Bible that looks, sounds and is quite stupid, and serves as a vanity show for a fashion designer whose clothes just happen to be on sale in the same shopping mall as the theater.

Mark Swed: trenchant critic or spiritual seeker at the footlights’ edge? You decide, dear reader.

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