Tristan & Isolde
nytheatre.com review by Brad Lee Thomason
August 17, 2010
It seems like a lot of FringeNYC shows are titled something witty or attention grabbing...or they're trying to be edgy or propagate some agenda with the satirical or avant-garde. While I don't think there's anything wrong with any of that; we can't forget about the classics! They are still relevant too, and not just so we can make fun of Hamlet. (See: a lot of shows in this festival, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that either. I make fun of Hamlet all the time.) So you can imagine how excited I was to get to review a good ol' fashioned classical tragedy; and I say that without a shred of sarcasm.
It's a new adaptation of the legend of Tristan and Isolde by Josie Peterson, and from what I could hear the text sounds pretty good and classical. I don't have the room for a synopsis and I'm not very good at writing those anyway, so you can learn more about the ancient story here.
Actually, that's probably a better way to educate yourself than to sit through this tepid production from the Shore Theatre. The main problem was I couldn't hear much. The classical text isn't enunciated all that well by most of the cast; and I don't know if it was nerves or if Peterson directed her actors to say their lines as fast as they could; but that's what they did for a good portion of the show. Many of the characters are Irish and there are a few stabs at an Irish dialect; none of them all that consistent or believable, but adorably kicking in especially hard every time the word "Ireland" was in a sentence.
Each scene was broken up by an inordinately lengthy blackout while the next scene was being set; a static staging technique that killed any momentum the show could have gained and probably added a decent percentage to the (approximately) hour-and-a-half running time. For the first third of the show it seemed dark half the time...maybe I'm exaggerating. The blackouts were way too long is what I'm trying to say.
If I had one word for the production it would be "under-rehearsed". Sure, it's live theatre and there are bound to be mistakes, but there were too many noticeable ones here; and no real apparent reason for the difficulty. The technical aspects of the show are extremely simple and the tiny amount of fight choreography is very basic. Battle scenes are mainly recreated by two guys swinging a sword through the air at imaginary foes while screaming. I also understand the limitations with the tech schedule at the Fringe but the lighting transitions are extremely abrupt. More time could possibly help these problems, but right now this show just doesn't feel ready for public performance.