Sandra Deer's "Sailing to Byzantium" is a story of love gone awry in a number of cases, against the backdrop of the Irish Easter Monday Rebellion of 1916 and World War I. It tells of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, his secretary Ezra Pound, and their various loves of the Shakespear women, Yeats and Olivia, the novelist, and Pound and her daughter Dorothy.

Pound is determined to be a great poet. He's perpetually broke, refuses to earn a living, and women love him. He upbraids Olivia for her modesty and her desire to write novels that please. He says those qualities are "The reason there are no great women poets." Dorothy is flighty, spoiled, and madly in love with Ezra. Linda Alper is the strong charismatic Irish patriot Maud Gonne. She's been tending the wounded in France, but in the wake of the failed rebellion is determined to get back to Ireland, by any means necessary. At the seance, Maud finds out that her husband, John McBride, is one of the rebels who will be executed the next day. Pound also finds out that his best friend, Guathier, has been killed in France, and Olivia sees the failure of Dorothy's marriage to Ezra. This is one of the most powerful scenes in the play. The otherworldliness of the seance is juxtaposed directly to James Edmondson's Hope Shakespear, explaining to Ezra how he carves wooden legs for the soldiers returning from France. Ezra tells Hope that it can't be art if it is useful. Hope finds adventure and purpose in aiding Maud.

"Sailing to Byzantium" is a powerful production of a play that never really seems to get off the ground. We have extremely interesting characters and events that could provide a springboard into the Irish Rebellion. We could have explored the great Irish poet who was not allowed into Ireland because the British authorities considered him too volatile. We're told that "What the poet can dream, his nation can create," and indeed Yeats' poems about the Rebellion helped to inspire the Irish people in their fight for independence. We get none of this, though, and in the end we're left with a rather mundane tapestry of mostly failed love. Despite these shortcomings Chris Coleman's productions and the powerful characterizations make Sandra Deer's "Sailing to Byzantium" a very worthwhile experience at the Black Swan Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival 98

Henry IV Pt.1 | Cymbeline | Comedy of Errors | Measure for Measure | Touch of the Poet | Sailing to Byzantium
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