Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Richard the Third versus Tony the First

Here's what I think will happen to Tony as The Sopranos comes to an end on Sunday.

At the end of the last episode, Tony is on the run in the dark lying on a mattress without a sheet in the abandoned house of his demented Uncle Junior with an automatic weapon balanced on his prominent gut. Bobby Bacala is dead and Silvio is comatose, successfully whacked by Phil's minions. David Chase could let Tony continue the long drop, but I predict he will pull a reversal. Tony, who has shown a knack for changing his fortune at other low points, will figure something out. The solution need not be elegant because his enemies are not elegant in reasoning or in tactics.

His final position will be forlorn, however. Melfi has dropped him, concluding that he is irredeemably sociopathic. Tony's losing wife, daughter or son would seem to be necessary to make the outcome appropriately equivocal. It all must end in bitterness and uncertainty. But what Chase has so cleverly done is set up a conclusion in which those of the audience who are neither sociopaths nor from the Greater New York area -- where hatred of one's fellow man is in the water, along with the fluoride -- can still root for Tony with a minimum of embarrassment because Tony's nemesis Phil Leotardo is in most ways less attractive than Tony.

I don't like him. Phil is better looking, more ruthless, luckier in family (his dead brother was a first-rate thug, not dim and limp like AJ), a big-city guy contemptuous of the inferior Jersey product, a sociopath without Tony's engaging quality of somehow regretting the fact he is one. Or at least, as in Tony's case, having a good case of suburban middle-class angst as garnish to his sociopathy. So if we have to choose up sides -- and all those eons of evolution are on the side of choosing up sides -- we pick Tony.

Maybe that's not how it will end. I'm just saying that's what Chase has set up.

Or he could follow the Shakespearean model and torment Tony during the last episode and run him through the Pine Barrens and roll him through the squirrel poop and then chop him down, expression glazed, without a final word. Glazed and wordless would not be the Shakespearean model, of course, but letting the audience on some level understand and sympathize with The Protagonist while on a more conventional level approve of his violent end would be Shakespearean.

Shakespeare is in my thoughts because also on Sunday we saw, at matinee, Cal Shakespeare's production of Richard III. It may have been the best CalShakes production we have seen. The cast was uniformly strong. None of the actors seemed to be mumbling through summer internships as is too often the case. Other than the insane use of the song "Wheel of Fortune" as a musical motif, the interpretation was strong. Richard is so pleased with himself, with the ingenuity of his own villainy, with his artistry as a villain. As his villainy grows ever more crude, his pleasure lessens. It's the process. The more power he actually has, the less satisfaction he finds in it. He has no delight in his own viciousness at the end. He calculates but he does not play. His death is a release for villain and audience.

Richard III is not like Tony Soprano. Both are monsters, but one tends toward the majestic and one towards the domestic, if I may be forgiven so glib a rhyme. Tony really doesn't enjoy the process of becoming a mob boss and then holding on, at least the murderous part of the process. He kills in anger. He kills out of principle, to uphold the "family" code and to protect his empire. But it's survival. It's not a game. That was one thing I found in Reg Rogers portrayal -- his excellent portrayal -- of Richard III.

Up until the end, he was having fun, wonderfully wicked fun.

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