Archive for the 'Theatre' Category

Theatre: Twelfth Night at the Belasco

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

At a good production of Shakespeare, you may be impressed by the production values. The innovative choices made by the director may, at a good production of Shakespeare, impress you. At a good production of Shakespeare, you will likely be impressed by the actors.

At a great production of Shakespeare, you will be impressed by the Shakespeare.

Tim Carroll’s production of Twelfth Night, currently playing at the Belasco Theatre, is a great production, precisely because its component elements all come together to articulate, embody, and enhance the creative genius of the play itself. All of the comic bits and stage business of this production found all of those fun moments and built on them to create a cascade of joy for the production’s entire length.

Mark Rylance is the standout in the all-male cast. He manages to create an Olivia who is able to display a wide range of emotions without ever descending into camp. With one notable exception, none of the humor of his outrageously funny performance comes from the fact that he is male. His Olivia is vain; she’s not interested in Orsino’s advances, but can’t help but be flattered by them. And when she does fall in love, she can no longer maintain her practiced detachment. We laugh at the character, and not the actor playing her.

The one exception is that Rylance affects a very funny gait that makes it seem like he’s gliding beneath his flowing dress. This is probably funnier because we know it’s a man, but for the most part, Rylance creates a comic performance that’s true to his character and not at all about cross-dressing. In fact, I would say the same about the compelling performances of Viola (Samuel Barnett) and Maria (Paul Chahidi) as well; they created believable realistic characters that brought out the humor of the moments and not the drag.

I thought the cast was amazing across the board, but a few more of the actors are worthy of highlighting. Peter Hamilton Dyer was riviting as an edgy Feste. Angus Wright created a very funny Sir Andrew. And Stephen Fry was outstanding as Malvolio, as you knew he would be. In the early scenes, he was less prissy and arrogant than most Malvolii that I’ve seen, and so his innocent glee at reading the letter becomes heartbreaking. We actually feel sorry for Fry’s Malvolio, and making this character sympathetic is no easy task.

Everything was designed to look as it had looked in the Globe, with sets, costumes, and music carefully calibrated for authenticity. An all-male cast talked to audience members on stage. But for me, the best part was the raw theatrical moment of being part of a shared experience with the rest of audience. The performance I saw got more instances of spontaneous applause than a State of the Union address. And when the curtain call came, we didn’t want it to end.

The actors did the curtain call as a dance. The audience started clapping and cheering while the actors danced. Gradually, some of the clapping fell into the rhythm of the music, and soon we were all clapping to the beat. When the music stopped, the dance ended, and the audience exploded once again into a cheering applause. I left with a new respect for the play, and for the power of what great theatre can do.

You may note that I loved this production, but not the other production by the same creative team. How can this be? Well, I think a collaborative artistic creation is more than the sum of its parts. There needs to be a chemical reaction that takes place, and the play has to be a part of that equation. One performance worked with the play it was interpreting, and the other worked in opposition to it. The results of those decisions were two very different evenings at the theatre, at least for me.

Twelfth Night will be running until February 16, but Stephen Fry’s last performance will be on February 13, so that’s probably the end date you want to use. If you enjoy a great production of Shakespeare, you won’t want to miss this one.

Theatre: Richard III at the Belasco

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

In a NYC Shakespeare season filled with a Macbeth here and a Midsummer there, with two productions of Romeo and Juliet running and another two Kings Lear on the horizon, it would be hard for a single production to stand out as the fairest of them all. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to seeing Mark Rylance play Richard III in the currently running production at the Belasco Theatre with a higher degree of anticipation than any of the others. Richard III is my favorite play, and I love Rylance as an actor. I first saw him about 20 years ago playing Henry V in New York and then Benedick in London shortly after. He and I may not agree on who wrote these words, but I’m always glad to hear him speak them.

My anticipation had some extra time to build, as the actors do their pre-show preparations in full view of the audience. Some audience members were seated on the stage, which evoked the feeling of the Globe. The actors changed into costumes from Shakespeare’s time (not Richard’s) and the musical entertainment seemed Elizabethan as well. So when the show began, and Richard’s opening monologue was given in a presentational style, it seemed to fit with the concept they were going for.

Once Rylance began his winter-of-our-discontenting, I was hit by a sense of deja vu, before realizing that I had seen Rylance give this speech before. He delivers the same monologue playing Burbage in Anonymous. But this was a very different delivery than the one he gave in the film. Here, Rylance delivers Richard’s speech in broadly comical tones and with full interaction of the audience. When we laughed at his lines, he’d stop and laugh along with us, appreciative that we found the humor. He chummed it up with the audience members in the on-stage rows. And he was having so much fun, that we almost forgot that he was about to set up his brother to be murdered.

Can you play Richard III as a comedy? Sure. Many of Richard’s antics, as written, are way over the top, and his chutzpah in several scenes is absolutely breathtaking. I think you have to laugh at some of the more outrageous moments. And the choice allowed Rylance to truly revel in the most delicious moments of Richard’s glory, which provides some of the fun of the play. Richard becomes a Puck figure, that trickster devil who tempts mortals to their doom for his own increase. The play does work on that level, and elements of it can be found in any production.

The problem is that if you only play it as a broad presentational comedy, then it becomes a different play, potentially a good play, but one vastly inferior to the one that Shakespeare wrote. Rylance plays a very jocular casual-sounding Richard, and it doesn’t work. It’s not like the natural-sounding language of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado, but rather a presentation of the play as a shared joke with the audience. So, Richard isn’t Richard, but an actor playing a role. In the beginning, he knows the plots he’s laid are going to work – it’s in the script – so he barely needs to put any effort into getting there. And so, the inductions are not so dangerous. Later in the play, when he knows he’s going to lose, the presentation of the lines is more serious, but the outcome is just as sure and there still are no stakes. We end up watching a pageant, and not a play. It is merely a shadow puppet production of Richard.

And this matters, because the fact that Shakespeare’s Richard finds his own cutthroat machinations so funny is part of the evil of his character. And when I watch a good production of this play, I have the experience of a charismatic villain seducing me with his charm by making me feel like I’m on the inside of a momentous historical moment. Shakespeare makes me root for the bad guy. Who do I get to root for in this production? An actor playing a role, mugging for the audience, and not really seeming to care about how the plot progresses? I end up rooting for intermission.

So we get a stammering, mumbling Richard, with his back to the audience half the time, throwing his lines away and uttering his best asides under his breath. Actors meander about the stage with no sense of purpose, and Richard himself seems like he’s barely paying attention.

It was an all-male cast, which put the actors playing women in a very tight spot. If they played up the humor too much, it would play as a drag show, but if they played their parts too seriously, they’d be mismatched with the lead. Instead, they all ended up playing a kind of introspective sadness that plays as feminine without being too Monty Python.

It was disappointing that so much effort went into the costumes, music, set, and marketing for the show, and so little attention was paid to the direction. But Tim Carroll’s flat production felt more like an amateur reading group or high school production than Shakespeare on Broadway. Put simply, the play was not well articulated, and that’s the worst thing I can say about a production.

On the positive side, the lines played for comedy were actually funny. Kurt Egyiawan was a standout doubling as the Duchess of York and Richmond. I liked the final fight concept, and the dance at the end. And I always enjoy hearing Shakespeare’s words spoken out loud. But none of these are enough for me to recommend this show to you.

The same company is concurrently performing Twelfth Night, and I actually have much higher hopes for that production. Rylance will be playing Olivia. Stephen Fry, grievously underused in this production as an audience member sitting five rows ahead of me, will be playing Malvolio. Some of the elements that didn’t work for me in this production may be better suited to that play. In fact, I kind of got the sense that it was Twelfth Night where all of the attention was focused, and Richard III was merely slapped together as an afterthought.

May I live in hope? Watch this space.

Theatre: Macbeth at Lincoln Center

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

My mother used to ask me how I could go to see the same plays over and over again.

And I think it’s a fair question. Much of the fun in experiencing a work of drama is in the tension and suspense. Not knowing what’s going to happen next helps to draw you in, and the unexpected twists and turns keep you engaged.

But with poetic works like Shakespeare’s, I prefer to think of them as I would a song. You’d be very happy to listen to the same piece of music on multiple occasions, especially when interpreted by new performers who add their own artistic craft to the experience.

So when I went to see Ethan Hawke play Macbeth at Lincoln Center, I wasn’t sitting in suspense to find out how events would unravel, but rather to see how a new creative team would interpret the poetic depth and emotional arc of the familiar story.

As it happened, they did so rather well. They performed the script mostly as written, and the few minor changes that were made were for the benefit of the audience. The lights, costumes, and sets added considerably to the foreboding mood of the production, without ever drawing focus. And so, while it was the same old Macbeth, it was also something new and wonderful.

Ethan Hawke gave a powerful performance in the title role. I know from Shakespeare Uncovered that this is a role he’s always wanted to play. Film actors always get ribbed by critics when they do the Bard on stage, but I can tell Hawke from a handsaw. I saw him years ago, also at Lincoln Center, playing Hotspur in a production that featured Kevin Kline as Falstaff. I’ve been impressed with him ever since, and thought he carried Macbeth’s sword well. Other standouts in the cast were Daniel Sujata as Macduff and Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth.

Director Jack O’Brien highlighted the supernatural elements of the play, and gave Hecate more of a central role. These scenes were the best of the production. I appreciated how he injected just the right amount of spectacle to sustain the slower moving scenes, but got out of the way for the meatier stuff. The witches remained omnipresent throughout the play, often playing minor roles or just showing up to watch their handiwork play out. This added an extra layer of cohesion to what is already a particularly cohesive play.

Macbeth will be running through January 12, so there’s still plenty of time to reserve your ticket. You may already know the song, but the singer is well worth the listen.

Film: The Tempest

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

I was surprised to see that my local theatre was showing a movie version of The Tempest with Christopher Plummer as Prospero. I was unaware that there was such a film, and this is kind of my thing.

It turned out to be a filmed version of a stage production from the Stratford Festival in Canada. I’ve seen stage plays captured on film before, and with good effect, but never in an actual movie theatre, and this was unlike any other such film I had ever seen. Footage was taken from two different performances in front of live audiences. They used 10 different cameras, so they really were able to cut from scene to scene in a very cinematic way. And the actors were all miked for the film, not the audience, so the sound quality was immaculate.

I have to admit that the immediate effect was somewhat jarring. After the opening storm scene (which is meant to be jarring) we have the scene where Prospero gives the exposition to his daughter Miranda and the audience. Here we see the effect of imposing close-ups on a medium that wasn’t designed for it. We hear and see actors emoting and projecting for an 1800-seat theatre, but right up close and personal on the big screen. This took some getting used to, but once my eyes adjusted, the artifice disappeared, belief was once again willingly suspended, and we were left with just the story.

There is a difference between seeing a stage production and a movie, and ultimately this was more like seeing the stage production. There are so many opportunities to have digitally-enhanced special effects in movies, but we quickly become jaded to these. The better the effect, the more invisible it becomes over time. However, in the theatre, the opposite is true. The magic of the stage has a much greater chance to be awe-inspiring, and this effect was preserved even as we know what we’re watching has been filmed. Just as in the theatre, we could see stagehands striking set pieces and the stage revolving to create wonderful illusions. The theatre requires much more of the audience than films do, and knowing that we are in on creating the illusion through our belief is part of the fun. Whether we’re being asked by Shakespeare to “piece out our imperfections with your thoughts” or by Peter Pan to clap for Tinkerbell, there is an actor-audience dynamic that loses something when the two don’t share the same space.

So, I was very conscious of the fact that I was watching this performance with two different audiences. First, the Stratford audience was visible and audible in the movie, which added a great deal. But there was also the audience that I was part of, sitting in an air conditioned movie theatre on a warm Sunday afternoon. The stage audience was quite often laughing and clapping along with the performance, while we in the cinema audience rarely were. And as much as I was appreciating the audience response, perhaps even needing it, it served as a constant reminder that I was one step removed from the living space. I was an audience to an audience, vicariously living out the theatrical moment.

Nevertheless, I had a transformative experience, and that’s not something I get to have too often these days. Frankly, The Tempest has never been one of my favorite plays. But as I was sitting there watching this amazing production, it occurred to me that I could not remember actually having ever seen a stage production of it. I’ve read it, held readings of it, taught it… I even led a 7th-grade class in creating a half-hour animated musical production of it, for which I edited the script. But never having seen it the way Shakespeare was meant to be performed, as they say, I never fully appreciated it until now. So maybe some of the magical fairy dust was able to find its way into the movie house after all. I do believe in fairies. I do!

Gerant-Wyn Davies stole the show as Stephano, and his scenes with Bruce Dow’s Trinculo and Dion Johnstone’s Caliban were laugh-out-loud funny. I loved the music, particularly the goddesses singing, which was a masterpiece of theatrical spectacle. Julyana Soelistyo was delightful as a spritely Ariel. And, of course, Plummer was magnificent as Prospero, drawing me into his world as though I were just another one of his hapless victims. His delivery of the most famous Prospero speeches, no more than overly familiar words to me, made me understand why they became so famous in the first place. When he finally said “I’ll drown my book” you could feel the deep sense of loss for him. I can’t say what Shakespeare had in mind, but someone was definitely saying farewell to something that was deeply profound and meaningful to him.

And, as though you hadn’t already gotten your $18 worth, there is a bonus at the end. After the play is over, the movie continues with a Q&A featuring director Des McAnuff and Plummer taking questions from the show’s producer and an audience who had viewed the film. Plummer was witty and charming, especially delighting in taking wry pot-shots at Anonymous without ever mentioning it by name. They also discuss the challenges of interpreting a stage production for the screen and some of what they’ve learned about working with The Tempest.

I don’t know how much longer this movie will be in theatres, but if you can’t see it on the big screen, it will definitely be worth checking out on a smaller screen near you.

Kevin Spacey as Richard III

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

On Friday evening, I went to see the Bridge Project production of Richard III, directed by Sam Mendes.

I’ve always been a fan of Kevin Spacey, particularly in American Beauty, The Usual Suspects, and Glengarry Glen Ross. I was very much looking forward to seeing him in my favorite play.

He gave a fantastic performance as Richard III, but I thought the production took too many liberties with the text for the sake of their famous headliner. Take a look at an excerpt from the production script and I think you’ll see what I mean.

ACT IV. SCENE II. London. The palace.

Sennet. Enter KING RICHARD III, in pomp, crowned; BUCKINGHAM, CATESBY, and others.

KING RICHARD III
Stand all apart Cousin of Buckingham!

BUCKINGHAM
My gracious sovereign?

KING RICHARD III
Mine. 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I’ve always wanted and now I have it. I rule! But shall we wear these honours for a day? Or shall they last, and we rejoice in them?

BUCKINGHAM
Still live they and for ever may they last!

KING RICHARD III
O Buckingham, now do I play the touch,
To try if thou be current gold indeed.
I need to shape up fast: think now what I would say.

BUCKINGHAM
Say on, my loving lord.

KING RICHARD III
Cousin, thou wert not wont to be so dull:
Shall I be plain? I want to look good naked!
What sayest thou? speak suddenly; be brief.

BUCKINGHAM
Give me some breath, some little pause, my lord
Before I positively herein:
I will resolve your grace immediately.
Exit

CATESBY
The king is angry: see, he bites the lip.

KING RICHARD III
Let’s all sell our souls and work for Satan because it’s more convenient that way. Catesby!

CATESBY
My lord?

KING RICHARD III
Rumour it abroad
That Anne, my wife, is sick and like to die.

Exit CATESBY

Our marriage is just for show. A commercial for how normal we are when we’re anything but.

Enter TYRREL

Is thy name Tyrrel?

TYRREL
James Tyrrel, and your most obedient subject.

KING RICHARD III
Ely always said, “I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.” Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me are those bastards in the Tower.

TYRREL
Let me have open means to come to them,
And soon I’ll rid you from the fear of them.

Exit TYRREL.

Re-enter BUCKINGHAM.

BUCKINGHAM
My Lord, I have consider’d in my mind
The late demand that you did sound me in.

KING RICHARD III
Well, let that pass. Dorset is fled to Richmond.

BUCKINGHAM
I’ve heard we have the Marquess lost, my lord.

KING RICHARD III
Lose him? We didn’t lose him. It’s not like, “Whoops! Where’d Dorset go?” HE QUIT. Someone pass the asparagus, please.

BUCKINGHAM
My lord, I claim your gift, my due by promise,
For which your honour and your faith is pawn’d;
The earldom of Hereford and the moveables
The which you promised I should possess.

KING RICHARD III
I’m really thirsty. I used to dehydrate as a kid. One time it got so bad my piss came out like snot. I’m not kidding, it was all thick and gooey.

BUCKINGHAM
What says your highness to my just demand?

KING RICHARD III
That guy is tense. Tension is a killer.

BUCKINGHAM
My lord!

KING RICHARD III
I used to be in a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois. The baritone was this guy named Kip Diskin, big fat guy, I mean, like, orca fat. He was so stressed in the morning…

BUCKINGHAM
My lord, your promise for the earldom,–

KING RICHARD III
Tut, tut, thou troublest me; I am not in the giving vein to-day.

BUCKINGHAM
Why?

KING RICHARD III
Because I don’t like you.

BUCKINGHAM
Why, then resolve me whether you will or no.

KING RICHARD III
Will you go to lunch? Go to lunch. Will you go to lunch?

Exeunt all except for BUCKINGHAM

BUCKINGHAM
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.

Theatre: Twelfth Night in the Park

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Last week, I saw the Public Theatre Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night. It was, in more sense than one, Shakespeare the way it was meant to be performed. For in addition to the clichéd compliment, the production took very few liberties with the play and instead chose to communicate Twelfth Night to us as written. It was one of the best productions I have ever seen.

I almost didn’t get the chance. Rain drizzled throughout the early scenes. The rolling green hills of the set looked like they might get muddy under such circumstances, but theatrical illusion being what it is, they were in no real danger. The roving band members, on stage for most of the performance, were tucked under umbrella-covered seats. In the middle of the third scene, the rain became too much and a voice over the loud speaker announced a “Pause for precipitation.” Julie White (Maria) looked visibly frustrated which elicited a laugh from the audience. We sat in the rain another fifteen minutes before it let up, not to return for the rest of the performance. The actors started over at the beginning of the scene, and we looked on with a renewed appreciation for the opportunity.

The cast was lead by Anne Hathaway, who gave a masterful performance as Viola, the keystone of the ensemble. But what struck me the most was how consistently good each member of the cast was in playing his or her role, together bringing forth the vibrant panoply of memorable characters that makes this play so much fun. For me, the standouts (in addition to Hathaway herself) were Hamish Linklater as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Michael Cumpsty as Malvolio. But really, there wasn’t a weak performance in the pack, and I hesitate even to name those two at the expense of the rest.

The real star of this production, however, was the music. Along with As You Like It, this is one of Shakespeare’s most musical plays. Music is introduced as a vital theme in the very first line: “If music be the food of love, play on.” Scene after scene, music has the power to disturb, provoke, and inspire the passions of the characters. In this production, music is absolutely the driving force, with David Pittu (Feste) brilliantly leading a troupe of musicians around the stage, taking over every scene they’re in. Viola doesn’t sing in the original text, but perhaps director Daniel Sullivan didn’t want Hathaway’s beautiful soprano voice to go to waste, because she is given a song in her first scene as Cesario. (The song, I believe, is borrowed from Measure for Measure.) And, on the night I saw it, when Feste ended the play with “The rain, it raineth every day,” the audience laughed again in a shared joke with the company.

The show will run through July 12. If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend you do so. This is one hell of a good time in the theatre.

Theatre: Propeller’s The Merchant of Venice

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

In the performing arts, there is often a distinction made between creative artists and interpretive artists. In the theatre, the creative artist is the playwright who created the original work. Interpretive artists include actors, directors, designers etc. who take these creative works and interpret them for the stage. The word “creative” here is used in its narrowest sense; clearly a great deal of creativity is needed to be an interpretive artist.

How wonderful, then, to encounter a company like Propeller, that under the direction of Edward Hall is able to stage vibrant, original works that not only remain faithful to the original texts, but illuminate them. Their brilliance is not only that they go beyond the play, but also that they bring the play along with them. They are interpretive artists and creative artists at the same time. I had the opportunity to see their productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music two years ago, so when I heard that they were returning to BAM with their production of The Merchant of Venice I knew not to miss it. I went in with high expectations, and they were well exceeded.

The entire production is set inside a prison. Two levels of prison cells loom large as they stretch around the perimeter of the stage. The all-male cast is in drab uniforms and prison tats. The Christians and Jews congregate in different cliques in the yard. And when Antonio crosses that line to borrow money from Shylock because of his love for Bassanio, the concept is so strong that you might as well be watching an episode of HBO’s Oz. But these elements are in the play already; the concept brings them to the fore.

The prison connection is a bit more abstract in the Belmont scenes where Bassanio and his rivals must choose their caskets, though these scenes are the comic highlight of the production. Portia is a prisoner in a different sense, in that she is not free to marry who she chooses, and so the setting for these scenes works more on the symbolic level. But Shakespeare’s play does contain a sharp contrast between the realistic world of commerce in Venice and the fairy tale world of Belmont, a contrast that the production concept, once again, illuminates. Once Bassanio chooses the correct casket, Portia removes her artificial feminized clothing, and joins the rest of the prisoners in the yard.

Men play female roles in female clothing, but with no wigs. This was also true of the earlier two productions I saw, but in this case there was an extra layer to the choice, as it left the impression that all of the characters were biologically male while some had female gender identities. Not a word of the original Shakespeare is changed to accommodate the sex of the characters nor the prison setting, so the audience is left to absorb these elements conceptually while listening to the dialogue. When Portia and Nerissa arrive dressed as young men, the conceit of a man playing a woman playing a man requires a bit of extra audience attentiveness, but it works well.

The cruelty of the prison setting allowed the production to explore what the play has to say about the cruelty of society and man’s inhumanity to man, and it did so by playing with our sympathies. When Antonio asks for money from Shylock in this production, he is an uncouth thug trying to bully the prison loanshark. But as sympathetic of a character as the original Antonio is, that’s an undercurrent of the original play. When Shylock delivers his most humanizing speech in this production, he does so while committing a violent prison atrocity. But if you read the whole scene, that’s faithful to the original play as well. In the end, Antonio wins his case in this production, not just because the judge is really Portia in disguise, but also because he is able to rile up an angry mob against the Jew.

And, in a very real sense, that’s part of the original play, too.

Measure Still for Measure

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

One of the wonderful benefits of living in New York is the wide availability of theatre and other cultural events. Of course, my particular interest being Shakespeare, I have easy access to live productions of his work, and if I decide to see a play on a particular evening, I often have my choice of Shakespearean fare. On rare occasions, I have the opportunity to see two different productions of the same play on the same day. This is a special treat, because watching two different interpretations of the same text back-to-back illuminates the choices made by each individual production, and draws out the essentials of the play itself.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see two productions of one of my favorite plays, Measure for Measure, both in the East Village. I saw a production staged by the Guerrilla Shakespeare Project at the Under St. Marks theatre at 2pm, and a second production staged by the New York Neo-Classical Ensemble at the La Plaza Cultural park at 7:30. Both shows were effective at reaching a small audience who might not be familiar with the play, though they did so in very different ways.

Jacques Roy, directing the Guerrilla Shakespeare Project production, masterfully stripped the play down to its barest elements. The space was a tiny Black Box set-up, and the set consisted only of a few vertical bars that looked like they belonged there, a spool-shaped stool, and about twenty feet of rope that was used in a variety of inventive ways, from defining the space to threatening a hanging. The script was also stripped down so only the main storyline was depicted. Only seven characters survived the cut. As it turned out, that was all that was needed to really tell the story. Gone were Mistress Overdone, Barnardine, Juliet, and Elbow the Constable. The role of Escalus was expanded slightly to absorb the Provost and a few other functional roles, but otherwise only Claudio, Lucio, Mariana, Angelo, Isabella, and the Duke were needed. The cast was fantastic across the board. Kelby T. Akin and Diana Buirski were outstanding in those all-important scenes between Angelo and Isabella, and Tom Schwans absolutely stole the show as Lucio. For me, though, the real stand-out was Kimiye Corwin as Mariana. For me to watch a show I’ve seen a dozen times and feel like I’m watching it for the first time is the greatest compliment I can give, and her performance did that for me. Unfortunately, I saw the final performance, so I’m unable to send you to see it, but this is a company I’d like to keep an eye on in the future.

The New York Neo-Classical production was a free outdoor performance, and it was a beautiful night for it. Under the direction of Steven Stout, the production was very broad and presentational. It felt like it was staged for a much larger arena than the four-leveled stone steps where we were sitting. It occurred to me that this style must have been very much like the original staging of the play in Shakespeare’s time. The production played up the slapstick elements of the play, and the audience was well-entertained. Even the small children who were playing on the steps throughout the performance would pay attention to the action from time to time. Richard Douglass and Ariana Venturi as Angelo and Isabella were able to sustain the more serious moments of the play. She seemed very young, and he looked like he had a good ten years on her, but that just highlighted her innocence and made his advances all the creepier. Also worth mentioning are Michael Bartelle as a more proactive Escalus than I’ve seen before, and Danielle Levanas, who played a number of minor roles (such as Juliet, Froth, and the Servant) but never let you forget she was on stage.

I love this play, but there are certainly problems with it, and one of the really fun things about yesterday was watching how each production dealt with a particular problem in keeping with its own production concept. One good example is the scene where the Duke (disguised as a friar) tries to convince the Provost to postpone Claudio’s execution. After an extended debate, the Duke realizes he’s not getting anywhere and says “Yet since I see you fearful, that neither my coat, integrity, nor persuasion can with ease attempt you, I will go further than I meant, to pluck all fears out of you. Look you, sir; here is the hand and seal of the duke: you know the character, I doubt not, and the signet is not strange to you.” So where did the letter come from? Obviously he wrote it, but if he had it all this time, why go through all of the debate? Roy handled this by eliminating the letter. When the Duke said “Look you, sir; here is the hand and seal of the duke,” he removed his cowl, revealing his identity and creating a very entertaining theatrical moment. In Stout’s much sillier production, the Duke actually turns his back to the Provost and writes the letter in full view of the audience. He then turns back to the Provost, who hasn’t noticed the long pause, and presents the letter.

Another troubling moment of the play is at the very end. After everything has been resolved, the Duke propositions Isabella, which to a modern audience is completely inappropriate after all that she’s been through. I expressed the same problem with the ending in my lipogram summary. In Stout’s production, the Duke delivers these lines quite cavalierly, and scampers off, leaving the rest of the cast on stage slackjawed and dumbfounded by the suggestion. Roy’s solution was simple: he just cut the lines.

As I said, the Guerilla Shakespeare Project production is over, but the New York Neo-Classical production is just getting started. If you like your Shakespearean comedy writ large, it’s well worth checking out.

McKellen Lear on PBS TONIGHT

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, set your DVRs. Via the Shakespeare Geek, we learn that the Ian McKellen King Lear will be on PBS tonight. Check your local listings. Here in New York, it will be on Thirteen at 8pm.

I saw McKellen play King Lear live, and I can highly recommend this production.

Shakespeare 24

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Via News on the Rialto, we learn of an international event called Shakespeare 24:

Shakespeare 24 (S24) is an exciting worldwide Shakespeare performance event. Beginning in New Zealand and ending 24 hours later in Hawaii. 60 youth groups will stage 30 and 45 minute adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays at 7pm, local time on Shakespeare’s 444th birthday, April 23rd 2008.

It all sounds very exciting, but I have to admit that when I first saw the title of the post, I had something else in mind entirely…

MEMO: CONFIDENTIAL

SEASON SEVEN PLOT OUTLINE FOR SHAKESPEARE 24

In a prologue, Jack Bauer asks for the audience’s generosity in accepting the extremely contrived plot in the season to come, and informs them that the following events take place between 8am and 9am.

8:00am – 9:00am: On his way home from a mission, Jack is stopped by three witches, who offer cryptic prophecies of a terrorist attack to take place in the next 24 hours. After he threatens them with a belt sander, they agree to get more specific. The attack will come in the form of a virus that makes the infected people seem like they are dead for a short period of time, after which they will be perfectly fine. Jack doesn’t think that sounds so bad, but the witches assure him that it can actually cause quite a bit of trouble.

9:00am – 10:00am: In the White House, Sandra Palmer is now president. She is having drinks with a group of community activists, when she realizes that one of them is Richard Heller, long lost son of the former Secretary of Defense. She immediately welcomes him into her cabinet as the new Secretary of Defense.

10:00am – 11:00am: Richard is installed as the new Secretary of Defense. He makes a phone call and tells the person on the other end that the plan is working and that he will be president by the end of the day. Sandra Palmer mysteriously dies of a poisoning.

11:00am – Noon: The vice president is sworn in as president. The Speaker of the House, suspicious of the poisoning, leads a campaign against him.

Noon – 1:00pm: Jack is visited by the ghost of his father, who tells him there is a mole in CTU, and that Jack shouldn’t trust anyone. Jack appoints his most trusted lieutenant, Agent Iago, to head up the investigation.

1:00pm – 2:00pm: The president is impeached, and the Speaker of the House is sworn in as president. The former president is imprisoned and is later killed by henchmen working for Richard. Iago puts a suspicion in Jack’s mind that Chloe is the mole.

2:00pm – 3:00pm: The president is alerted to the terrorist threat, and must cancel his trip to the Holy Land. He asks Jack to track down the leader of the cell. Jack traces the money trail to a Jewish moneylender near Venice Beach.

3:00pm – 4:00pm: Jack arrives at the moneylender’s place, and tries to interrogate him, but kills him accidentally. He finds three caskets, and knows that two of them are rigged with explosives, and he must select the correct casket to find out the location of the terrorist base. With some help from the moneylender’s daughter, he chooses correctly.

4:00pm – 5:00pm: The president is assassinated by a sniper, hired by Richard. The president pro tempore of the Senate is sworn in as president. He gives a rousing speech and then orders an air strike against the terrorist base located by Jack, but the terrorists are tipped off by Iago – the mole in CTU. During the phone call, we finally see the leader of the terrorist cell is Jack’s nephew, Josh Bauer. Josh escapes with his top henchmen before the air strike hits.

5:00pm – 6:00pm: The president is killed by a bomb planted by Richard, and the Secretary of State is sworn in as president. Jack learns from aerial surveillance footage of the strike that his nephew is involved in the terrorist plot. The new first lady discovers that Richard is a terrorist and tries to warn everyone, but she is dismissed as mentally unstable. She puts a curse on Richard, and calls Jack to tell him of Richard’s involvement. Then, she disappears.

6:00pm – 7:00pm: The president dies in what appears to be an automobile accident. The Secretary of the Treasury is sworn in as president. Jack goes to the White House to stop Richard.

7:00pm – 8:00pm: The president is killed. Jack is framed. Richard is sworn in as president. Jack is sentenced to death by a secret military tribunal.

8:00pm – 9:00pm: Chloe pleads to Richard, who is now the president, for Jack’s life. Richard agrees to sign a pardon for Jack if she will sleep with him. She agrees, planning to substitute a double, but the only match in the CTU database is Jack’s daughter, Kim Bauer. At first, Jack refuses to allow her participation, but when he realizes he will die otherwise, agrees to go along with the plan.

9:00pm – 10:00pm: Before she can follow through with the plan, Kim appears to die of the virus. Richard has her put in a trunk and dropped into the ocean.

10:00pm – 11:00pm: Kim washes ashore and is recovered by the owner of a brothel and his wife. Some other stuff happens, but nobody really cares. Josh gives a canister of the virus to a mercenary and asks him to attach a timing device set to release the virus at 7am.

11:00pm – Midnight: Not knowing who she can trust, Kim tries to make her way to CTU disguised as a boy, which makes her look exactly like her cousin Josh.

Midnight – 1:00am: Kim is approached by the mercenary who has completed the timing device. He gives it to her, believing she is Josh. Kim returns to CTU with the canister where she is again mistaken for Josh and arrested immediately.

1:00am – 2:00am: Jack escapes custody and heads back to CTU disguised as a bedlam beggar. Kim is interrogated by CTU agents who still believe she is Josh. The mercenary finds the real Josh, and demands payment for the timing device. Josh refuses, insisting he never received it. Hilarity ensues, and then Josh kills the mercenary.

2:00am – 3:00am: Jack and Kim reveal their disguises. Mischievous fairies put a spell on Chloe, who falls in love with Iago. Jack leaves to confront his nephew.

3:00am – 4:00am: Jack captures Josh, and discovers evidence on Josh’s cell phone that proves the mole inside CTU is Iago. He calls Chloe to tell her Iago is the mole. Chloe goes mad, sings a song, and drowns herself in a river.

4:00am – 5:00am: Jack returns to CTU to confront Iago, who at first refuses to speak until he is given immunity, but then confirms that Richard has been responsible for the day’s events. Josh reveals that Jack is his real father, and it was his bitter resentment over his bastardy that made him turn to a life of crime.

5:00am – 6:00am: Kim learns that Josh is not her cousin, but her half-brother, and goes to see him. Josh, moved by his half-sister’s compassion, repents. Jack goes to the White House and slips past Secret Service to confront Richard. Jack and Richard fight, and Richard is slain. Before he dies, he not only confesses to his crimes, but also provides a recap of the entire plot for the season.

6:00am – 7:00am: Messengers from CTU arrive at the White House and report that Josh has had a religious conversion, and has revealed the location of all of the canisters, except for the one he gave the mercenary. Jack realizes that the canister Kim was carrying is equipped with a timing device, and rushes back to CTU. The Attorney General is sworn in as the eighth president in the last twenty-four hours.

7:00am – 8:00am: Jack gets to CTU, but it is too late. Everyone at CTU has fallen to the virus. Jack, believing he has failed, delivers a monologue on the meaningless nature of brief life and commits suicide. After he dies, everyone wakes up from the virus and, seeing Jack dead, kill themselves. The new president arrives at CTU to give Jack a medal. He sees all of the bodies and laments the tragic events of the day. He then pledges to restore peace to the nation.