Most important, "original practices" means an all-male cast. The result is a rather startling, fresh theatrical event. The all-male casting might be considered a gimmick concept, but in performance it actually enhances and clarifies the text, as the gender confusion is given the real focus and weight it deserves. This production, a rare, remarkable fusion of scholarship and stagecraft, brings emotional commitment and textual clarity, mining many levels of meaning -- social, sexual, and comedic nuances are clear and entertaining, a far cry from the generalized, unconvincing acting usually encountered in Shakespearean productions. A standout in this company is its artistic director, Mark Rylance, who gives a thoroughly charming and plausible performance as Countess Olivia. Rylance is spectacular as the flustered, love-addled lady, with a wide range of emotional subtext as well as a spot-on comedic sense: This Olivia brings down the house with a simple "Oh ..." This is a far cry from Rylance's recent turn as Jay, the sex-hungry tough guy in Patrice Chereau's film Intimacy, which briefly played South Florida this spring.
And speaking of Intimacy, a stage version of same receives its world premiere this summer at the Theatre Royal in the city of Bath, part of an exciting season indeed. Bath has been a resort city since the Roman times; more than a few plays have premiered at the Theatre Royal. Along with Intimacy, season highlights include The Distance From Here, a world premiere by American whiz kid Neil LaBute; Damsels in Distress, a new comic trilogy from Alan Ayckbourn; and a revival of Abigail's Party, a 1977 play by Mike Leigh, who has since found acclaim as a writer and director of films (Life Is Sweet, Topsy Turvy).
Comparisons of this rich theatrical banquet to our own South Florida scene might seem both few and unfair. London is old and filled with traditions; Florida is young and has very few. But comparing the robust health of London theater with the spindly condition of the local scene engenders an obvious if difficult question: How do we bring what we have up toward the level of theatrical success seen in London? Are there lessons to be learned that might be applied to the performing arts in Florida? Indeed there are; I'll be addressing them in a future column.