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Monkeys are smart. Though they haven't created cars or trains or weapon, they are educated through simplicity. They flourish on what they have, and if something doesn't work, they don't give up, but they evolve to overcome it. Like monkeys, Shakespeare had no thesaurus, no dictionary, no laptop and no editor. But when he came to a spot where he was at loss for words, he made up his own words. Through practice, perseverance and certainly trial and error, he created works that will last forever.

I am a 13 year old kid who is trying to read and attend live performances of all 37 Shakespeare plays (plus 3 possible collaborations) in 2 years. This is a record of my experiences.

I am now a 19 year old college freshmen at Northwestern University, pursuing a degree in Theatre. The spark of love for Shakespeare that began this blog has grown into a roaring fire. That fire burns a little bit brighter each day. This is where it all began.


PLAY COUNT: 40

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Play 19

HALF WAY THROUGH! This is the half way point! I am officially through half of the non co-authored Shakespeare plays!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Winter’s Tale, July 22, Shakespeare in the Park, Central Park, NY

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     Some nights are too rainy. Some nights are too muggy. Some nights are too dark. Some nights are just plain boring. And amongst this variety of nights, every once in a while, there comes one that is just perfect. A perfect night for anything, whether it be watching a sports event, attending a Shakespeare play, or just watching the stars. A night where the clouds cover half the sky, and stars the rest. A night where the moon peeks out every once in a while to bid hello to the earth. This was one of those nights. A night where The Winter’s Tale unfolds inside the Delacorte Theater, and as the music plays, and Hermione speaks, the moon seems to watch with the same intensity as the rest of the park. Quiet.
                                  Hermione, Leontes and Polixenes

     In my opinion, the first half of this play, in general, is not as potent as the second half. There just isn’t as much intense material. The opening, and death of Hermione, is moving, but not like her reunion with Leontes. The play is not one of his ‘super-plays’, but it does have some interesting elements. Many say that Hermione does not die, but she is hidden by Paulina, to ensure the Apollo’s prophecy comes true, and also to ensure that Leontes repents fully. I think that if she is hidden, Paulina is both devil and angel; Angel for preserving her life and the prophecy. Devil for keeping Leontes in such pain for sixteen long, painstaken years.

                           Shepherd and Clown (as gentlemen) with Autolycus

     This performance squeezed everything they could out of their bare set. They had basically a wood surface with ten or so trap doors and a glass panel. Basic. But as this play taught me, basic things do not breed boredom. They used it as the deck of a ship, a forest, a garden, a pasture and a palace. The actor strode around the stage so dominantly that it made the dull surface shimmer, and look twice its actual size.

                                             Leontes

     As for the players, Leontes and Polixenes were not as bonded in the early scene as some, but Leontes really came through in the hate speeches, seeming to spit his mind at his wife. Polixenes blew a fuse, showing his pent up anger, when his son disgraced him. Camillo and Paulina were both counterparts, and then fiancĂ©es. He was calm and soothing, though never afraid to speak his mind, while she was hot-spoken and angry, often cursing the world. But when the two were united, the audience “bled tears” with them, because they overcame, but did not forget their losses.

                                            Shepherd and Clown

     There were two more female leads. Perdita skillfully gushed emotion without becoming screechy. When she was handing out the flowers, she sobbed without screaming or wildly screeching. She and Floritzel combined for a powerful duo. Hermione was sweet and kind, though maybe overplaying the role of a goddess a touch too much. She was heavenly in a way that she, in my view, wasn’t meant to be. The Clown and the Shepherd played beautifully the innocence and fearfulness of law that good subjects should have. They were so king in giving Autolycus their gold to tell their story, that even he gave it back and apologized, in a righteous resolution. Autolycus was cunning and devilish.

                                                    Autolycus

     Though heavily cut. Shakespeare in the Park’s production of The Winter’s Tale was moving and delightful. Tickets go quickly, so don’t miss a chance!

                                                    Paulina and Leontes





Pictures courtesy of Shakespeare in the Park

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Troilus and Cressida, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, NY (July 21, 2010)

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    After driving for two hours through the pouring rain (and hail!), we’re about 15 minutes away from the site of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production of Troilus and Cressida. As the rain began to clear, we came to a beautiful bridge across a very narrow part of the Hudson River. The sight was beautiful. The mist was clear and wafty. There was a slight breeze, and the gentle patter of the rain made it all that much more magical. When we passed over it, directly on the opposite side was a pizza parlor/market. The pizza was cooked in a brick oven right in front of us. It was delicious.

                                                             Greeks vs Trojans
                
     Upon arriving, we saw immediately that this would be no ordinary performance. The ‘playhouse’ was a tent, with seats around it, overlooking a beautiful picturesque mountain scene. West Point rested on the next mountain. The Hudson rippled 500 feet below, and the entire area was enclosed with woods and gardens. There was almost no place outside of the tent that didn’t shimmer with newly fallen rain. The clouds were dark and swirling, but gentle.
                                                             Trojan Brothers
   After the opening statements, a deformed man (and a born Richard III, as his performance emphasized), came out and gave the prologue. He would also play Thersities. As he exited, Troilus was seen wandering out in the open plain, towards the tent. As he came into the white shelter, Pandarus twirled, skipped, and all out barged on stage, in the happiest of happy moods. He was a very traditional Pandar, and portrayed the futile transition from euphoric joy to hateful anger. His final speech lacked the full seriousness, however, as he uttered the words with a slight chuckle. He and Thersities were the only two characters with many of their lines intact; the play itself was heavily cut.


     Cressida, Troilus and Pandarus                                            
   Ajax, Hector, Achilles, Ulysses, Thersities, and Aneas held the play together. Though small character roles, and many very different, they all shared one thing; passion. Whether it was scheming against Achilles, cursing Hector, arguing over Helen, or expressing hatred towards the world, they all did this or that with passion. This gave the rest of the actors the life that they needed.
  
                                       Nestor, Agamemnon, Menelaus and Ulysses

Despite the beautiful atmosphere, this production of Troilus and Cressida did not do justice to the depth and complexity of Shakespeare’s problematic text. Troilus and Cressida is a dark and serious play. This was almost like a spoof. They had songs interspersed and cut many of the great, philosophical speeches and emotionally intense lines. This made sense because with such a rare and obscure play, it must appeal to a broader audience. Cressida was pretty and sexy. She was full of fire, but she did seem to stumble over her lines, sometimes unsure of the precise meaning of what she was saying. This indecisiveness did work when she pledged herself to Diomedes, seeming to have some dregs of goodness left.

 Troilus was clear, and steady, albeit a little barbaric early, he really pulled it together in the scene with Ulysses.

                    
   Overall, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Troilus and Cressida was, all in all, a very, though heavily cut, good play to take the family to. While sparing the moral dilemmas, it has its moments and is a perfect way to teach kids that Shakespeare isn’t all comedy and mockery, without coming on to strong!



Photos courtesy of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Monday, July 19, 2010

Henry VI Part III, Wide Eyed Productions / Columbia University, NY, July, 14, 2010

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New York is truly the cultural center of the U.S. A low budget production of an obscure play, directed by a Columbia student, becomes one of the best performances I have seen. It isn't that other places lack the talent, or the means and motivation. It is just that New York has a unique quality and quantity of acting talent brought by people from other states and countries, trying to cut their slice of the Big Apple. New York is a city where people are unafraid act outside of stereotypes.

Henry VI                                                      


             York & Margaret

Messenger
                                                                                Clifford

  

               Northumberland, Margaret, Clifford
  
     Henry the Sixth Part III is a perfect example.The play opened with a bang. During the pre-show chatter amongn't the audience, a chair fell from the ceiling and smashed on the floor. Instant silence. A man dressed in white came onstage and put the pieces into a pile on the side. Another chair fell on the opposite side of the stage. The man in white did the same. On the stage there were two chairs. A throne and a very small wooden chair. I think it reflected on the relationship between fathers and sons in the play. But it was also crucial to have a throne, because kings and princes are fathers and sons, but are also political counterparts. Order and politics are what this and many other of Shakespeare's histories are about, and the authority of fathers is central to that. The man played the messenger throughout the play, but he also sat on a ladder in the back-round. He silently and invisibly moved around the stage, like a spirit. He seemed to instigate war on both sides.
                                                    Clarence
  
     Richard was the star. His disability was so believable that I actually thought he was disabled for a while. He was evil and bloodthirsty. His portrayal of hatred was so amazing that he almost bore likeness to a psycopath. He and Henry were bitter opposites. Henry was effective on a higher level; he was futile from the start. Usually, Henry starts confident and then caves. But he started so weak it was easy to understand why his downfall came to pass. He was always pressing his head into his hands, perfectly whole and holy, while Richard, deformed and Satan like. The three brothers were a skillful combination. They complimented each other with the evil, scheming plots of each to destroy the other.

    Warrick was a monster at first. But as the play progressed he became an honest man trying to protect the honor of the crown. Clifford, Margaret's chief partner in crime, and York, the duke with a claim to the throne, were mirror images. Clifford was so evil in his destruction of the York family; he was almost like a horror film. York meant well but was weaseled out of honor by his sons. But there was one weak link; Margret, Henry's wife, was not evil enough. She was stern and cold, but she wasn’t as unforgiving as Clifford. It took away from her 'unnatural' ways.
                                Richard, Clarence, And Clifford (Dead)                                            

     I don't think that it is fair to have so many performances of plays like As You Like It, or Much Ado About Nothing. Maybe they are well known, but I thought this play was every bit as good. It is a bit confusing, but if you read it or watch a movie in advance, it's perfectly understandable. When done properly, Henry VI Part III is a very enjoyable evening! Although it is easier to understand other plays, that doesn't make them more fun.
                                                   Warrick
    Since it is the third and final part of the War of the Roses, it is extremly bloody. Anyone who gets in the way of the war is sucked in. This is like the city of New York, because you can't ignore it. But, although this quality makes it very interesting, the play itself is extremely rare. There are only a couple performances a year. So don't miss the Wide Eyed Productions & Columbia University's producton of Henry The Sixth Part III!

A Special Thanks to Kristin Skye Hoffman, Artistic Director and Co-Founder for the photos!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Othello, July 8, 2010, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA.

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     The ASC’s production of Othello was on Thursday, July 8, 2010. The production was in the Blackfriar’s playhouse. It was about 102 degrees F. when we arrived in the garage. I had been contacted Sarah Enloe (my contact there) who sent me pictures for this post. I would like to thank her for all the help. She’s made finding pictures for me so much easier.



     This production had many good points! The minor characters really delivered. Montano, Barbantio, Cassio, Emilia and Rodrigo all delivered solid performances. Montano was very regal. He carried himself like a king, honor added the stars that his title excluded. Barbantio was possibly the best actor out there. His rage was uncontrollable when he heard of Desdemona’s love. He was a real angry father figure. Cassio was strong and honest. This is important for his character (see paragraph 4).

     Emilia is sexy, mocking, and homely. She had real chemistry with all the other players, whether it the relationship was hostile or loving, it was obvious why they felt that way. Last Rodrigo was very preppy at the start. I thought this was the mark of a bad portrayal. But instead it accented his transformation into a savage.

     Othello was a little angry in the early acts. But as the play progressed he became more of a monster. His transformation wasn’t complete, because he was not  extremly calm in the early stages. But he grew more into the role throughout the play. Iago was so emotional,  he seemed to lose control. In my oppionion Iago;'s power over other characters stems from his disarmingly smooth and controlled exterior. His true colors should only flash by in the speeches. There, the solitude and serenity of being alone excites him  And Desdemona was innocent, which was convincing. But she didn't show allot of emotion. She seemed a bit worn out. 

                          

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Coriolanus, June 10, The New American Shakespeare Tavern, Atlanta, GA

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As our cab left the Atlanta Airport, my father and I were talking about The New American Shakespeare Tavern’s production of Coriolanus. But at the first mention of Shakespeare, our cab driver turned a little and said (In a very thick Nigerian accent) “Do you like Shakespeare, boy?” Of course I replied yes. He said that he had read 25 of Shakespeare’s plays abridged and Macbeth unabridged. He asked if this was my first time in Atlanta. I said yes and that we had come for 12 hours just to see Coriolanus. He asked if I had read Macbeth. I said that it was the first play I had ever read and I’d seen it twice. He asked me what if I knew what “Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight” meant. I said that it meant because Duncan was such a good man that seeing him dead in the chamber will destroy your vision. He said that that is true, but what about it would destroy your vision. I said that I didn’t know. He said the pools of blood on the ground caused such damage to the eyes that they were destroyed. His name is Bertram Ibekwe and he came from Nigeria to be a doctor, and was studying in between shifts. His daughter got into Yale and Harvard.



When we arrived we had a couple minutes to spare. We hung around the lobby, with a model of the Globe Theatre and bongo drums from a performance. When the doors opened, however, my father and I found that the American Shakespeare Tavern, as its name implies, is a unique space in which to see the Bards’ work. We entered a large room with a kitchen in the back, cafĂ© tables in the center, balconies all around ¾ of the space and a stage with a smaller balcony but stairs in the front. We bought food. I ordered a ‘Kings Sandwich’ which was very tasty. My father had Sheppard’s pie, which was basically beef stew. Food could be purchased during intermission, and eaten all throughout the performance.

As a play, many critics and writers such as T.S. Eliot consider this to be Shakespeare's greatest tragedy. But many also don't even believe he really wrote it. There is much contoversy. Personally I believe he wrote it, but I don't think its one of his best plays either. It is a good play, with many interesting perspectves on politics: honor, self-interest, compromise, maternal love and tyranny. Also minor characters are more persuasive than the major. Menenus and Coriolanus's mother are great roles, with powerful lines. But Coriolanus himself is an all together weak character. And great plays need great leads.

When the play opened there were so many positive things I noticed in the first ten minutes that I can only name a few. The Meneus was extremely homely. He was type cast of course, but this didn’t make it less entertaining as he was bellowing support to Coriolanus and then just as emotionally devastated by his rejection. The two representatives (tribunes) of the people were great. Brutus showed a grain of regret but was always following Sicinius in needling Coriolanus. But Coriolanus himself wasn’t as good as the rest. He was NOT one dimensional. Usually this is a good thing but not with Coriolanus. He isn’t supposed to be conflicted. His role revolves around one thing: Honor is everything.