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86Comparative Drama The N-Town Passion. Video. Produced and directed by Robert Cohen. 67 minutes. Text adapted and modernized by Edgar Schell. (Full text and notes included, pp. 5 + 27, illus.) University of California at Irvine, 1990. Anyone teaching or studying the plays of Shakespeare usually has a plethora of both texts and audiovisual materials to hand, or easily available , to help with the process. Such is not yet the case for the medieval drama scholar, for whom the gathering even of primary texts can be a problem. Thus I welcome the appearance on video of The N-Town Passion in a striking production from the University of California at Irvine, packaged along with notes on the production and the full modernized text, both by Edgar Schell; yet I also lament some of the editorial and directorial decisions made in regard to this production which limit its usefulness for the academic audience and possibly its appeal for other audiences as well. Two Passion plays, of which less than half of the second is actually presented here, together make up more than a quarter of the N-Town manuscript, a late fifteenth-century East Anglian collection of biblical plays often still erroneously referred to as the Ludus Coventriae. Apparently performed in alternate years in an outdoor place-and-scaffold arrangement, these plays remain one of the most dynamic and gripping representations of the Passion story. The action, made more explicit than is usual in medieval play-texts through uniquely extensive stage directions, is often simultaneous, taking full advantage of the multiple-stage format to juxtapose events. Two stage directions, quoted here from Schell's modernized text, should serve as illustrations: Here Satan enters into the place in most horrible wise, and while he plays they shall put on Jesus' clothes, and overall a white cloth, and lead him about the place, and then to Pilate by the time that his wife has played. (P. 13) And, 57 lines later, Here shall the devil go to Pilate's wife, the curtains drawn as she lies in bed; and he shall make no noise, but soon after he comes in she shall make a piteous noise, running from the scaffold with her shirt and kirtle in her hand, and she shall come before Pilate like a mad woman. ... (p. 15) More typical of the rest of medieval drama is the play's juxtaposition of grim humor and pathos, such as at the buffeting of Jesus before Annas and Caiaphas, played as a game of "Hot Cockles" or "Blind Man's Buff," or when Jesus' torturers finish nailing him to the cross "and dance about the cross briefly" (p. 21). In this production, all such simultaneity and juxtaposition is absent. Shot with many close-ups on a single indoor stage, this version transforms the play into a dark and highly serious modern melodrama. The stage itself is admirably flexible, with various undifferentiated sedes of perpendicular gray wood, yet the tight focus of the camera never allows us much sense of the set as a whole. Satan does not "enter" but is revealed, apparently in hell to judge from the lurid lighting and smoke effects and the angled rather than vertical timbers around him. It is an effective scene dramatically, but quite different from what the text predicates: not Reviews87 only the stage direction quoted earlier but also Satan's speech itself makes explicit that he is now on earth among those "That dwell in this world my will for to work" and those—visible onstage—"That joke now with Jesus" (p. 14). He does communicate directly with a devil in hell during this speech, but of course the hell scaffold, like all others, should be visible throughout the play. This particular speech should prepare us for the harrowing of hell and the resurrection, but neither event is included here, the production ending with a spear being thrust into the side of Jesus (but not by the blind Longeus, and without the miraculous restoration of his sight— features of this and most other medieval representations of the Passion). Without the original triumphal ending of the play, Satan's long speech and the scene with Pilate...


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