Feb 18

playRites – How Do I Love Thee – Review

by Wil Knoll · 0 comments

“…am I rambling?”

I have to state that the words and images used in this show are beautiful. The writing of the two poets profiled are the standard beautiful words. Specific words are chosen for their emotion and specifics over other words that would have just passed an idea along. There is no doubt that the two are top shelf Victorian poets. There is no doubt that their work is for the ages.

But does that translate well to the stage? Florence Gibson has tried to flesh out the passion and the romance in her new play How Do I Love Thee, which is enjoying its world premiere run at ATP right now.

The largest criticism I have about How Do I Love Thee is that it is a play about poetry, not a play of poetry.

Beyond his Sonnets, Shakespeare’s plays are written as plays. The meter can be used to identify internal states of the characters, to provide hints about breath and sounds. Browning’s words are written to be read of course, savoured in the heart, but they are written as poems.

Unfortunately, for a show that pulls from prolific writers of such quality, it speaks best in its one-liners. The most is communicated on stage in quick bursts, not the long wide thoughts pulled from the Brownings’ poetry. The most laughs are pulled from quick salvos back and forth. I believe that these parts are the writing of Gibson herself, and they do show her ability to motivate characters and have them interact in a believable fashion.

But when shoehorning the massive passions of the poets work into the dialogue, something is lost. The pace falls off, and the conversation does not feel genuine. What may be missing is time. The Brownings’ had a full year or courtship through letters before they even met, but those letters back and forth are chopped apart and turned into an almost Instant Messaging style courtship that we have seen so often in contemporary movies.

To the average ear, it comes out sounding a bit too verbose. It says it all, says it all so beautifully. But it’s missing the breath of time, the anticipation and waiting, and the silence of contemplation that often accompanies great writing.

There is a passion in the writing, don’t get me wrong. There is a passion in the performances given by the playRites ensemble. The staging is apt and functional, with a majority of the deck being well used with action happening at all ends of the thrust. The lighting design deserves a particular nod. One of the light queues, at the height of addiction, is a really twisted organic sequence that trips along with the high and bends the eye. But very obvious synthesized music grates against the beauty of the period, words, and overall design.

Fans of poetry in general will get more out of this show then I did. There is something with promise happening on stage. There is a play in here, but to borrow a line from a greater writer than myself, it is far too eloquent than essential when getting to the meat of it.

How Do I Love Thee
By Florence Gibson

Part of ATP’s playRites Festival
Runs through Sunday, 7 March 2010
Martha Cohen Theatre

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