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.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Comedy of Errors, Open Air Theatre, London, July 31

This is a madcap production of a madcap play, and deserves a madcap review! 

             Regents Park Theatre, London, bears a striking resemblance to Shakespeare in the Park. It's outdoors, in a kind of stadium. The only thing that is really different is the stage. Instead of a circle, a thick rectangular platform serves as the set. There is a thin catwalk along the back. The atmosphere it perfect for a play because it was so neutral, in the park away from the city, making it possible to change it to anything.

             Comedy of Errors is not a tough play to get your head around. It is simple comedy with little variation in emotional levels. Therefore to make it interesting, you must do something special. This production was sort of like a cartoon. It was done in 40's Casablanca! It was the most unorthodox version of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen. There was a billboard of a sunset and a man watching across the back which read “Ephesus Welcomes You”. There was also a smooth lounge band. The women wore a lot of makeup and lipstick. The men wore square rimmed sunglasses and blazers. The Dromios looked like Turkish slaves. As servants, their parts were the only non-nobility based character roles, so their costumes worked well. There were musical numbers and quirky sound effects. The maid was French and spoke with a heavy and hilarious accent.  The fact that it was done in such an anti-cliche way allowed actors to really go all out. The guidelines of the text were less imminent.

               The twins were very funny. Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse played a mis-match game with their twins from Ephesus. Antipholus of Syracuse was hilarious with his Dromio. The two were extremely comical in their ways. They looked and like they were honestly servant and master. And they had this thing where Dromio S. would poke Antipholus S. and then back and forth until they both fell over laughing. Dromio of Ephesus was very funny with his mistress and avoiding getting beaten. He cleverly avoided her blows by confusing her with gentle sarcasm. Antipholus of Ephesus was very strong, burly, and angry. He seemed to actually hate his wife. Not in a violent way, but in a begrudgingly.
              The sisters were a powerful 1-2 punch. Adrianna was so funny in her rebuke of Antipholus S., mistaking him for her husband, that the audience was literally crying. She was so mock passionate, so loving that she wrapped herself around his leg. He, in the meantime, had no idea what was going on. Dromio looked on in horror, and Luciana laughed  heartily. Luciana was very funny in her semi pursuit of Antipholus S. she liked him, but was ignorant of the fact that he was her sister’s husband. She seemed sweet and innocent seeming. Also the minor characters played a huge part. They were very strong all together. Angelo and his merchants were comical, swearing, and unswearing about the necklace. Egeon was played by the Herald from Branagh's Henry V. He was a picture perfect ex-noble, brought to seemingly the end of his rope.  Emilia was also very endearing in her way of making things right.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Henry VIII, Shakespeare's Globe, London, 31 July 2010


Henry VIII is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. This doesn’t make it a bad play. He has to work around the fact that Henry is Elizabeth I’s father, and a relative to the current king, James I. This means Shakespeare has to tell the truth without making it look like he was anything other than a righteous king. But there are a couple places where the great playwright himself skirts the line. This makes the play much more interesting. The dialogue is almost like a comedy, because that is how he chooses to mask the true ways of the true Henry VIII. Tragedy occurs to people who cross him, even in seemingly reasonable charges, though the underlying reason is not always what it seems. Often, Shakespeare slyly shows that certain player’s causes were just even though it was made clear that they were evil. It was also interesting because there was a little bit of ad-libing. It was funny, and it helped the plot along. I thought this was a perfect example of how different our times are.

Henry VIII is not easy. In fact, none of the histories are. But this one especially because the director must lay it out in a way that people can understand this play without knowing the plot in advance. Paraphrasing helped greatly with that. But acting must also be effective. Katharine was a perfect example. Despite the fact that she spoke with a Russian-sounding accent, she was in every way a proper Spanish lady. Also, she narrated because we could hear what she was saying to her serving women (obviously!). This was narrating the story without directly speaking to the audience. Wolsey and Buckingham also narrated, but stepped out of character. Wolsey did it in speeches, seemingly scheming, to take away from the kings subtly obvious faults. Buckingham spoke to the crowd urgently, but with a manner of ease. His final lines were delivered like a moral, rather than a desperate last resort. Together they were a perfect narrative crew.

Henry played the role to the way Henry probably was, not the way that Shakespeare clearly wrote him to be. This is allowed in our time, so it was very interesting to see him. He was real. He had human emotions, rebuking his daughter at first. Shakespeare would have originally had him be silently happy when he got the news that his daughter had been born. Anne was a devilish woman. She was clearly laughing inside at Katharine’s pain. It was a very unorthodox interpretation. The play was much more exciting than its reputation. Instead of being a history, it was like a comedy. It’s interesting to see what the rules were in his time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, Shakespeare's Globe, London, 30 July 2010

20 (12)

Shakespeare’s Globe was a magical theater. When it was demolished (by Puritans in 1613), and replaced by tenements), it was a true tragedy. But the modern reconstruction (1993) is almost as amazing. The layout is three floors, with a "common" in the middle so that some people can stand. There is an overhang above the stage to project the sound. The experience is magical. Because most theaters are made or set up to fit the play, so there are some small changes. But when done in the same setting that he set it for, the play really comes to life, as if it was the 1st time anyone had ever performed the play. It is always great to see Shakespeare's most colorful character in his most authentically English play. The pubs and jolly fat men are like a trip back through time.

Many consider Falstaff to be Shakespeare’s greatest character. But it is much harder to play him that it seems. You can interpret him any way you see fit. But no doubt, when he is done well, there is nothing better. It is amazing to see a good Falstaff. And at London’s Globe Theater on July 29th, I saw a great one. Roger Allam. He played Falstaff to the crowd. The role can also be played darkly or non-chalantly. But Allam didn’t dawdle at all, everything was snap-snap. He almost didn’t have a dark side. He was amazing at warming the crowd. People were laughing so hard they were crying. The direction also was very good, because it utilized the entire stage. Many people place rings of characters around the star, but this director made the star bounce around, and sometimes he was alone while everyone else was spread around the opposite side. It sounds easy to do this, but it takes true genius to be able to format it all and make it work. Directing a play may sound easy, but is one of the hardest things to do.

Hal was very prince-like. He acted like royalty gone wrong, but kept in on a human level. It's hard not to overdo it and turn into the superhero-prince that many have attempted. He was like a puppet, though. He seemed rehearsed. It was as if everything he was doing was controlled by someone else. He was funny, but like a mime is funny. He was sort of empty. Poins was like also a crowd-pleaser. He was extremely flashy, wearing a suit entirely gold! He and Hal made a hilarious duo though. Their pranks on Falstaff made the theater shake with laughter. King Henry was also impressive.  He was a realistic king and disappointed at his son. He raged around the stage in a state of near hatred. It takes real talent to weave in and out of emotions like that Percy was very funny with his wife, and a beast on the battle field. He roared like an animal. Falstaff was great without stealing the show. The interpretation was also very interesting, because instead of Falstaff and Henry IV both flip-flopping bad father-good father, Falstaff was always bad and vice-versa.

I would definitely try and see Shakespeare’s globe’s production of Henry the Fourth Parts I and II!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Julius Caesar, Courtyard Theater, Stratford-Upon-Avon, July 28, 2010

Little is known about the small, cozy town called Stratford-Upon-Avon, besides the fact that it is the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and that it marks the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, or RSC. The RSC is famous for consistently producing world-class performances of Shakespeare plays. Their main house is currently under construction, so they are holding their plays in a temporary playhouse. The Courtyard Theater is constructed of plywood and paint within a metal box. On the outside it looks like an enlarged freighter. It is modular, and can be disassembled. They will bring it to New York later this year.

Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies. The role of Mark Antony has been played by many Shakespeare greats, such as Marlon Brando in the 1953 film. This play is extremely hard to even attempt, because it takes a full range of strong actors. The set also needs to change without changing. There are many settings that must be shown with one stage. The play also has almost no jokes, so playing to the audience is not an option. To even make an attempt at this play, it must take a lot of interpretation to bring the set, acting, and script all into one.

The performance opened outside of the script: Romulus and Remus fighting. This was extremely effective because it foreshadowed the fact that Rome would be divided. Then came the text. The first scene was beautifully directed, with the tribunes on either side of the cobbler, and the other merchants around the them. The yelling and scolding was magnified by this setup.

Julius Caesar himself was the first thing that struck me. He was royal and tough, like a king without a crown. His fatal flaw was made clear from the get go. It was obvious that he cared to much for his social status, which was clear because he would not display and sense of fear. As a ghost, he was ominous and foreboding. He dressed in a white night gown stained with red, and wielded a sword. When Brutus rushed on Strato’s sword, he was cut off in the middle by the ghost, who walked in between the men and dealt Brutus’s final blow. This was effective because it is Caesar, not Strato, who really kills Brutus. 

Mark Antony was tyrannical in act II. He roared around the stage, terrifying messengers. Only Octavius was treated as an equal. Octavius also stormed about like a bull. Brutus and Cassius combined for an effective duo. They seemed to have an unseen connection which was like the bond of twins. Cassius had compassion, which is vital. Brutus came alive in the second half. He was passionate against Antony’s forces and in his death; he showed that he was really the noblest of all Romans!

Watching the play, it was immediately striking that there are almost no women. Contrary to many of his other plays, especially tragedies, there were no strong women at all. It is odd to see such a different style of writing from the same man. It's like two sides of a coin, but more so, as if the two sides are also of a different material.   

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Back from Merrie England

I saw five plays in England:
Julius Caesar
Henry VI part I
Henry VI part II
Henry VIII
Comedy of Errors
I will not be available for a couple of weeks, so the reviews will halt.
To continue August 16-17.