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PLAY ON YEATS HAS `SPIRIT,' BUT LACKS SHAPE.

Byline: Daryl H. Miller Daily News Theater Critic

In the new drama ``The Poet of Woburn Place,'' turn-of-the-century Irish poet William Butler Yeats is depicted as a man who longs for a placid, conventional life, complete with a wife and children. Trouble is, he can't convince the great love of his life - Maud Gonne MacBride, a fiery and beautiful Irish nationalist leader - to share his dream.

History records that Gonne MacBride inspired some of Yeats' most impassioned work. As presented here, she's an often-exasperating muse, turning cold and standoffish when Yeats talks of marriage - hoping he'll be content to think of his poems and plays as the children they'll never have.

Exploring the nature of Yeats' creativity, playwrights Archibald Roberts and Edward V. March wrestle with the cliche that one must lead a tortured life - thereby developing an intimate understanding of life's extremes - to become a truly great artist.

They suggest that for Yeats, at least, the cliche held true.

Whether by intent or clumsiness, they also question the poet's devotion to the Irish cause. Yeats was a leader of the Irish Literary Renaissance, which stimulated appreciation of traditional Irish literature and new works written in that spirit. Yet here, he frets about the passions stoked by his writing - specifically ``The Countess Cathleen,'' which he wrote for Gonne MacBride - and the fighting he fears it inspired. Like everything else, he seems to support Irish independence mostly to please Gonne MacBride.

Some interesting ideas percolate through the script, which is being given its first staging at the Ventura Court Theatre in Studio City. Unfortunately, the storytelling suffers from awkward construction, florid dialogue and generally clumsy writing. The staging falters, too, because directors Roberts and Jon Rashad Kamal haven't quite managed to shape the action into the necessary ebbs and flows of emotion. At one point, Yeats bleats, ``I'm on the verge of a breakdown'' - and if he didn't announce it, we wouldn't know.

As for the acting, Ian Stuart seems stiff and ill at ease as Yeats, and Laura Gardner isn't nearly as compelling as Gonne MacBride as she was in her recent turn as the embattled mother in the Road Theatre Company's ``Idle Wheels.''

Co-director Rashad Kamal delivers some humorous moments as Yeats' visitor from the spirit world (don't ask), but his wide-eyed, spooky-voiced performance is over the top, to say the least. Tricia Allen gives the most compelling performance as Gonne MacBride's adopted niece (or so Yeats thinks), effectively conveying her character's conflicted emotions and torn loyalties.

The set - with walls constructed like folding screens - and costumes evoke the period's essence, and given the obviously small production budget, serve their functions well. (The action unfolds at Yeats' London flat - 18 Woburn Place - in September 1917, when the poet was 52.) The lighting is awfully unsubtle, however, as it abruptly floods the stage in blue for each of the spirit's visits.

THE FACTS The show: ``The Poet of Woburn Place.''

Where: Ventura Court Theatre, 12417 Ventura Court, Studio City.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; through May 19.

Running time: Two hours, 10 minutes; one intermission.

Tickets: $20, available by calling (213) 660-8587.

Our rating: Two Stars.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Apr 12, 1996
Words:532
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