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On Making A Good End

June 28, 2011

I've been mulling over the ways in which the directors of Wagner's Ring Cycle and Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (Francesca Zambello and Joel Sass, respectively) which I saw last week chose to finish off their productions as there were noted similarities in their approaches and yet stark differences too.

Both directors chose to end with a momentous bit of stage business performed by a child.

At the end of Gotterdammerung (the fourth and final Ring opera) a small girl in a white dress who had not been seen in the production up to that point walked to the front of the stage with a sapling (an olive tree, probably) and then planted it in the ground as the lights faded.

Titus Andronicus finished with the boyish Young Lucius (played by Caleb Alexander) wandering around the stage on his own looking at the various bloody corpses strewn about and then crouching down in front of the enormous, half-eaten meat pie baked by the vengeful title character containing the ground-up bodies of Tamara's criminal sons. The actor then stuck his finger in the pie and tasted the contents. Fade to black.

Both directors used children as a symbolic way to meditate on "the future." Zambello's use of the olive tree-bearing little girl seemed too easy an ending. It didn't ring at all true for me personally. But Sass' more troubled image of the boy literally "tasting revenge" made a much more imaginative, visceral impact.

Cliches can be powerful, especially when used as the very final image of a production. But they can easily be mishandled. I was bored by Zambello's ending. But Sass gave me something to chew on.

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