As evidence that the silly season of summer has a theatrical equivalent, along comes Peter Oswald's Plautus-inspired jape "The Storm," which will attract more attention than it otherwise might as the last new full production of Mark Rylance's distinguished regime at Shakespeare's Globe.
As evidence that the silly season of summer has a theatrical equivalent, along comes Peter Oswald’s Plautus-inspired jape “The Storm,” which will attract more attention than it otherwise might as the last new full production of Mark Rylance’s distinguished regime at Shakespeare’s Globe. At this point, venue a.d. Rylance has no doubt earned the right to assume three separate roles collectively amounting to so much baiting of the critics, and response to the show will depend on a willingness to forgive a perf — indeed, a production — so casual they all but deconstruct themselves.
On the other hand, after playing Henry V, Richard II and Prospero, not to mention Cleopatra and “Twelfth Night’s” grief-prone Olivia, why shouldn’t Rylance be allowed a farewell lark? Long after the shenanigans that comprise “The Storm” have been filed away as sub-“A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” (another Plautine romp), auds will remember Oswald’s play as the one in which Rylance sang, settled old scores, chatted to the audience and showed quite a bit of thigh.
Indeed, it’s possible to see director Tim Carroll’s production as his and Rylance’s about-face from the rigors of their masterful three-person “Tempest,” which opened this Globe season. “The Storm” resembles nothing so much as a time-honored reconciliation saga steeped in the traditions of British pantomime and also Monty Python: A woman comes in sporting wings for arms, only to announce that she’s “in plane (sic) clothes.”
That’s about the level of drollery, which will seem either tiring or faintly giddy, depending on one’s mood. From the start, we’re urged to turn off all “anachronisms,” but not for long: Cell phones equipped with cameras are pressed into service to create the sort of lightning display that the Globe — with its emphasis on minimal artificial light — could not itself provide.
Our young hero Sceparnio (James Garnon), slave to the bereft businessman and father Daemones (a likably shambolic Rylance, sporting a gruff American accent), speaks of some “as yet unnamed device,” which is another cell phone cue.
There are “semen” puns, dizzying riffs on names (of Palaestra, we’re told “the nearest equivalent would be … Jim”) and melodies whose lyrics deliberately don’t scan. And just when you’re wondering what Plautus has to do with any of this, Rylance is on hand with an answer: “There’s a weak place in every plot, ladies and gentlemen, and in this case, the weak place is the plot.”
Such pronouncements don’t exactly give off undue confidence in the material, and you can’t help feeling as if Woody Allen has been there already with such quips as (from Sceparnio), “I am a great lover; I practice all the time on my own.”
The high spirits, too, tend to dilute the heft of a narrative whose thematic arc — the central issue here, as in “Forum,” pertains to freedom — builds to the reunion of Daemones with his long-abandoned daughter, Palaestra, who was kidnapped at age 3 and has spent her adult life as a prostitute.
But there’s great fun to be had from watching Rylance’s “Tempest” colleagues Alex Hassell and Edward Hogg joining in the spirit of a romp that finds Hogg extolling “The Usual Suspects” one minute while Hassell engages in some of the more herky-jerky movements that here pass as dance.
The principal women sound like variations on Jane Horrocks in “Ab Fab” (“Our life’s been horrible, but it can get worse,” one hooker advises another), leaving an especially hapless Globe steward to get in — albeit rather lethally — on the act.
Rylance, as always, plays the difficult Globe space like a master, his confidence by now so assured that he is perhaps too conversational; at times, he sacrifices audibility to a kind of offhand cool.
Though his avuncular Daemones demands most of his attention, he appears fleetingly as the Weather (“You can call me Clement”) and as a pimp amusingly prone to double negatives who goes by the name Labrax.
In keeping with Labrax’s syntax, one can report that “The Storm” is not unenjoyable, and that its star after 10 years departs the Globe a one-man whirlwind of deadpan.