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WEBSTER Robert David MacDonald Directed by Philip Prowse The Citizens' Theatre (Glasgow) Xerxes Mehta Britain's most stylish and adventurous regional company and Scotland's national theatre in all but name, The Citizens' Theatre of Glasgow closed its 1983 spring season with Webster, a new play by resident dramaturg/director Robert David MacDonald. MacDonald's earlier landmarks have included numerous Goldoni translations that are now produced worldwide; an adaptation of his former teacher Erwin Piscator's War and Peace that ran for two seasons on Broadway; his flamboyantly perverse and controversial Diaghilev-based, Bakst-age spectacle, Chinchilla (1977); and A Waste of Time (1980), the company's three-and-a-half-hour version of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. The last two of these were realized by designer/director Philip Prowse, who also designed and directed Webster, and who forms a second leg of the triumvirate that rules the "Citz," the first being company director Giles Havergal. Of John Webster, titan of Jacobean playwrights, a program note declares: "We do not know when he was born or when he died, whether he was married , or any other details of his life. We do know that he wrote a play called The Guise, now lost." Speculation has The Guise, which followed The Duchess of Ma/fi, as either a tragedy or "a comedy about disguise," thus pointing to the play in the Anglo-French title, the first of the evening's many puns, deceptions, and verbal and visual chimeras. The curtain rises on a high, bare, plank-floored chamber, containing a few rough sticks of furniture. The pigeon-holes that fill the towering cobwebbed walls are stuffed with scripts, masks, musical instruments, goblets, antlers, skulls-the paraphernalia of a theatre. Downstage center is a wooden wheel on which there are some candles. Everything is gray, the visual abstraction immediately suggesting those images-charnel house, cells of brain and prison-with which the play will play. The space is, in fact, an allpurpose ante-room next to the stage proper on which, just offstage of the theatre in which we sit, Webster is reading his new play to his company. With this elegant, striking device-two stages separated by a thin wall and several centuries-MacDonald and Prowse install the mirrors that will blaze with refractions of life and art through time. The reading ends, the company enters, they have not liked the play-too dark, clinical, perverse, difficult. They also detest the innocent new boy with the unbroken voice whom Webster (Ciaran Hinds) insists on for the monstrous female role at the play's heart. From the bitchery, obscenity, and 61 C0 WEBSTER rampant ego-display that ensues among the lounging assembly-theatre demystified-a new force gradually emerges, a youth with the beauty of Satan, last year's favorite, murderous in ambition and rejected love. Finally, there is Webster's family, a pious and dull wife and an adolescent son in Bedlam rags and bandaged head, who trembles uncontrollably following brain damage in an accident. When most tormented, the boy falls into fits, ejaculates, drools, shits himself, to general hilarity. In time, these eruptions , which pierce smiles and anticipate evil, become a kind of moral seismograph, a release through every orifice of nature and the subconscious . His father calls him Parsnip, in honor of his vegetable status. Throughout the early going, Webster talks compulsively, fending off criticism, defending the boys he loves-actor and son, playing on his writing, his dreams, his constipation, the wreck of his career, his hatred and love of existence. MacDonald's language here spans the chasm of a static plot with a dazzling mix of aphorism, repartee, low humor, and obsessive monologue. This flagellation of self and others is leavened by the playwithin -the-play that has by now started on the interior stage. As we watch the imperious, careworn figure struggle with the bitterness of his life, a Grand Guignol epic rages next door, complete with masked and sheeted actors -outrageously brocaded and bejewelled, buckets of blood, spears, skulls, trumpets, drums, collective roars and moans, and the most superbly passionate fustian. The brilliance and clarity of art is mirrored in the 62 grayness...


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pp. 61-63
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