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“I believe the trade of critic, in literature, music, and drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and has no real value”. This is a statement that was made by Mark Twain in an autobiography. It is actually very evident that critics like David Sheward and Ben Brantley can disapprove this statement. This is upon recognizing their own raw yet wholesome interpretation that underlines the playwright, John Gabriel Borkman. These two critics masterfully integrate their own criteria of a play submissively as well as actively ignoring theories and recognizing flaws that a spectator may have accidentally overshadowed.
In a society where criticism and pessimism are unappreciated and disregarded, theatre critics are fearless in society. Critics are not rated based on great cast or scenery, they rate a production based on its actual value and also adding their own analysis as a twist. Readers are more likely to regard a critic because they give us their point of view through a perspective where they view a subject from each and every angle. It is actually their role to be critical and arouse reactions that make things visible to an audience that would otherwise be unaware.
Brantley and Sheward all bend at the relentless melodrama that later overshadows the entire work. Brantley relates the performance to a soap opera in the sense that at its most primitive, Borkman can devolve into a dynasty style standoff between maternal figures screaming “He’s mine! No, he’s mine!” And when Borkman volubly joins in the competition for young Earhart’s support in the third act, the audience with which I saw the show laughed with abandon. This made it rather difficult to reach a suitably somber state of mind for the play’s denouement… (Brantley 2)
The critics discard the ‘fully loaded’ content to a redundant and never-ending cycle towards reaching thematic destruction. “…much of the script is devoted to the exposition-crammed airing of old grievances” (Brantley 2). Although Sheward applauds the performances better qualities he nonetheless mocks it for its translucently apparent, reoccurring and excessive design and symbolism.
Even in a production as exemplary as the Abbey Theatre’s taut rendition, which features, a muscular new version of the script…there were audience giggles at Ibsen’s plot excesses. Plus the play concludes with a dragged-out denouement in a blinding snowstorm. The ideas are too often overwhelmed by the plot -heavy story and some obvious symbolism: A sleigh carrying the younger generation off to a new life literally runs over a representative of the old order. (Sheward 1-2)
Brantley believes melodrama interrupts; instead he yearns for cold and unforgiving realism. He enjoys the real ‘sense-numbing’ awareness that a play can offer even if it reaches the point of feeling uncomfortable. This reviewer uses the term ’art of festering’ to depict the plays inability to broaden the plot by demonstrating either a complicated or no solution. The thought of melodrama offers little variation. Brantley appreciates a hidden message but throughout John Gabriel Borkman, there is not much room for audience expectations when the thematic issues and conclusion are so readily apparent. Each writer values the consonance between the performers obvious display of a frozen and bitter persona in relation to that of the chilling climate.
“And snow it does, in a gorgeous, wind swept storm in the final act…Small wonder that Ms. Shaw’s character, pacing the prison of her drawing room in the opening scene, speaks of being plagued by the feeling of “ice inside me” Or that when someone dies at the end, it is said to be by means of an unseen icy hand of iron.” (Brantley 2)
Brantley and Sheward acknowledge and place the juxtaposition between the frozen and loveless relationships as symbolic to the play’s scenic snowstorm. This allegory of the cold Scandinavian weather heaped upon the set, definitely paints an intricate picture into the lives its cold and trancelike inhabitants.
Ben Brantley also reveres performance pieces that link post modernism to contemporary relations. Although both critics dislike melodrama, they use it as a parallel to connect it to modern day reality television, because of the recognition that society is now absorbed with melodrama. Brantley finds satire in the linkage of Borkman’s, “embezzlement of the fortunes of his clients-has a resonance in the age of Madoff that draws been there laughter from a contemporary audience” (Brantley 2).
Brantley dislikes usual and drawn out playwrights and appeals more to a current and relevant plot. “In addition, Borkman’s financial shenanigans parallel the contemporary fiscal crisis, giving the evening a relevant resonance (Sheward 2).
Sheward and Brantley both find countless critiques and errors running within the playwright and they do describe the talent of the actual performers as riveting. They don’t attribute the plays occasional flaws to the actors but to the script in which they were confined to. According to Sheward each entertainer really embodied their character all creating an eloquent image and exposing a sacred bond within the cast. “Fortunately, the cast commits to the material wholeheartedly. Rickman makes Borkman a wounded old wolf, still dangerous but tired after a lifetime of being a carnivore. Duncan keeps the dying Ella safely away from the tragic diva territory…” (Sheward 2).
Despite everything, Sheward places the ‘vengeful’ Gunhild and credits her as the main link towards the performances success. “Shaw is unforgettable as the vengeful Gunhild. Biting off her words, she always seems to be on the verge of exploding. Like a skilled musician, Shaw modulates Gunhild’s rage for maximum effect, letting off a scream here, pausing to push down another there. The actor’s physical life mirrors the character’s inner turmoil. Shaw constantly places a hand on her side as if to contain Gunhild;s monumental rage. It’s a fascinatingly detailed performance, and Shaw is missed whenever she leaves the stage.” (Sheward 2).
In the previous passage it becomes apparent that this critic holds a deep passion for pushing the limits in order to reach a maximum effect. Sheward appreciates Gunhild as engaging and convincing in every aspect. Although Gunhild contributes a lot of the melodrama she is makes a flawless representation of the bitterly cold Gunhild. As a performer she appeals to her spectators emotions and truly portrays her feelings not only through intense words but apparent actions. Ben Brantley also mentions the significance of Gunhild, “from her hobbled walk to the way she clasps her stomach, as if trying to contain the pain within…But unlike her husband and sister , this mad-as-hell Gunhild retains more than a spark of fire” (Brantley 3).
Theatre critics, Brantley and Sheward remain seemingly parallel, even collaborative in their critiques of John Gabriel Borkman. Their reviews not only mock the persistent melodrama but they contribute the ultimate success to an unblemished cast. These critics are writing to persuade you, it is merely suggestive and offers you an opportunity to open you horizons and or expectations upon viewing the play. Reading each critic helped develop a solid understanding and provide a comparative evaluation of two authors currently pondering over the same subject.
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