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.


Friday, September 24, 2010


All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare Theater Company, Washington D.C., 9/17/10
     All’s Well That Ends Well doesn’t end well. This is because the ending is impossible to perform at a high standard. The actors aren’t to blame. Nor is it the fault of the director. No, in this case the shortcoming falls on the playwright. This is because the ending becomes an entirely different play. The characters change about 75% opposite of their previous selves. It’s not as easy as just becoming the opposite, but it’s still a drastic change.  It takes serious acting talent to be able to judge where to stop so that there is a glimmer of the true character that doesn’t fully disappear. Also they all change at different times in the same scene, while onstage. This means the actors also have to be able to morph in performance. To really pull this off, it takes raw acting talent. A lot of it. And this is not common. So most people have trouble performing such a challenging thing. Can you blame ‘em?
     The one thing about this play that really didn’t work for me was the set. The stage was bare, with a metal gazebo above it. The back drop was a sky. The idea was that it could take place anytime, anywhere. This worked when they turned it into a train station by projecting a dark wall on the back and lowering a clock. But for the other sets it seemed bland and monotonic. The direction kept Helena motionless, front and center for most of her scenes, which violated the idea of her being a courteous and faithful servant, as she was always the center of attention. The costumes were extremely effective. They were somewhat pre WWI but not completely. Like soldiers had old-fashioned garments as well as 20th century ones. This left it up in the air.
     Helena herself was quiet. She didn’t project or seem to get excited over Bertram. This showed that she had given up on the thought of being with him at all. At the end she clearly showed the talent she possessed. She switched into the role of the ‘mission accomplished’ very well. Bertram was an arrogant jerk even in the end. This worked, because he never made the switch at all. He utilized the fact that it was not as effective to do what Shakespeare wrote because it’s so hard to do it right.
     The Countess Roussillon was one dimensional. She neither emotionally changed nor did she stay the same when the end came. She just seemed to emotionally disappear. She didn’t react or speak with any sense of caring.  Paroles was slick. He slid in an arrogant comment here and there until Lafew called him on it. Then he began to self destruct. In the end he became a monk like figure. He quietly accepted all insults that were thrown at him. Lafew was pretty mean to Paroles in the way he physically treated him. He made gestures that indicated he didn’t think Paroles was even worth a thought. But in the end his grandpa side came out and he softened. The king was a by-polar king. He either spoke in a quiet rage or a slow joyous stream. The production had its flaws, but all in all it was the play that brought it down. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Twelfth Night, Sidney Harman Hall, Washington D.C. 9/5/2010, Shakespeare Theater Company, Shakespeare "Free for All"

Many Shakespearean comedies can be turned into a farce, and the cast can get away with it. A few of his plays are even considered to be better when performed as farces. Two Gentlemen of Verona, Comedy of Errors and Love's Labour's Lost are some of these. As You Like It has sometimes been played as a farce. It isn't one of the standout, 'made to be' farces, but it's well performed as a farce as well as a serious comedy. But its ‘sister’ play, Twelfth Night, is somewhat more serious. There are people who are wronged, disheveled and mentally tortured to a level beyond comic playfulness. Malvolio and Sir Aguecheek are not playfully made fun of, like Audrey or Silvius. They are really taken advantage of to a point where the entire play becomes bittersweet. In fact, Twelfth Night is highly revered, almost because it has many more layers than the simple comedy it first appears to be. The real strength that this play has is that to really understand it, you need to see it many times.

                         Yellow Stocking Clad Malvoilo and Olivia
This play was directed in a less serious manner than many others. Rose petals rained from the ceiling when Orsino, Olivia and Viola fell in love. Soppy music and very odd panels with roses painted on them were also added to the mix. Most lines were delivered with skips, jumps or affectionate gestures. It was as if the whole thing had a bow tied on it. This worked extremely well for the first comic scenes with Toby, Aguecheek, Maria, Fabian and Feste. When Toby and Aguecheek would tell jokes or trip and fall, the comic side of the play was really brought out by the effects and sounds. But in scenes with Viola, Malvolio and Olivia, it took away from the deeper meanings. Even the simple messages the play gives like 'don't judge a book by its cover' and 'analize the situation before you act' were muddled to a point where they were unrecognizable.

Viola and Orsino made a picture-perfect couple, playing the characters to fit like puzzle pieces.  Even when Viola was disguised as Cesario, she and Orsino seemed to bond. He often affectionatly put his hand on her shoulder or hugged her. Viola often screamed at the audience. instead of switching personalities in her solo monolauges where she admitted her love of Orsino, she did the entire part with the same attitude and traits. She seemed to have only one level of emotion and physicality, as opposed to the genius heartbroken turned lover that the bard created. Olivia was very dramatic. She changed her dress for almost every scene, and rolled all over. She shamlessly forgot her maiden restraint. This side of the character fit the production well.

                                            Viola and Feste

What the production really benefitted from was the Aguecheek-Toby relationship. Aguecheek treated Toby like a brother in body language as well as vocally. Toby physically scorned him while vocally praising him. Fabian was physically on Toby’s side. Feste ended up playing them all with his mock-beggary. He had very many levels. He was a genius, knowing he wasn't a funny fool. His smart, double-headed humor was perfectly matched with his brilliant but sorrowful monologues. Maria was homely and endearing until she took part in the destruction of Malvolio. And he who was wronged the worst was also the most comical in the scene with his yellow stockings. Malvolio almost stepped out of character to be funny. Almost.

Feste and Fabian persuade Sir Aguecheek

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Tempest, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Ontario Canada (2 September 2010)

Christopher Plummer can act. Is there any doubt about it? If there is, two words: Last Station. But did you know he’s also one of the stage’s most prominent actors? He has credits from all over the UK, Canada and US. He has played everything from King Lear to Richard III. He has also written a book. At 81, he is still able put on a show. In Ontario he is currently playing Prospero in The Tempest.  He brings many things to his show, but he doesn’t make it a one-man show. He shares the spotlight with fellow actors. Even in scenes with Miranda alone, he sits behind her and doesn’t do anything too showy.

What really makes him amazing is that he can act without any strain. His face isn’t contorted but he still conveys emotions. When he first caught Miranda and Ferdinand together, he looked old and weary without frowning. In his conversations with Ariel he conveyed deep affection without smiling. And with Caliban he showed hatred and disgust without sneering. Ariel was played by a small woman and painted completely blue. She played the mischievous creature to be a bubbling sprite.  Caliban also had an elaborate costume. He had many costumes and a snaky tail. The production had fantastic costumes and effects. Tickets go fast, so don’t miss Christopher Plummer’s The Tempest.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Two Gentlemen of Verona, Stratford, Ontario, CANADA. Stratford Shakespeare Festival, 9/3/2010 
                              Lance and Silvia 
Two Gentlemen of Verona is thought to be Shakespeare’s first play. It has clear roots to many of his other great comedies. Even lines are recycled. But it is also thought to be one of his weakest plays. I don’t think this is necessarily true. It really depends on the interpretation. The BBC movie played it more like a serious comedy, similar to Twelfth Night or The Tempest.  But in Stratford, the production was very different. The whole thing seemed like a joke about love. Usually, silly added things like Proteus stealing Valentine’s wallet or Silvia making cheesy lovey-dovey signs the second that Valentine turns away are considered way over the top and unnecessary. But here, the whole thing was over the top, so the cheesy gestures fit in. The different version made it almost a new play. Instead of seeming weak, it looked deliberately so. It was almost like a spoof on love, not a serious story with a moral, that Shakespeare wrote.


The stage was small, square, and with seats 270 degrees around it. This provided an ability for the actors to range around the stage without turning backs to the audience. The players also lived up to the way the director directed the play. Old-fashioned clunky props and slim suits were used. The actors overacted and used silly sound cues, perfect for the spoofy nature. Thurio at one point even used a shiny wig, putting it on onstage before courting Silvia. They all made it like an old-fashioned movie.

                                            Proteus and Lance

The real thing that made the play work was the chemistry between players. Valentine and Proteus had secret handshakes to look like friends. They were all happily together at the start. Then when the conflict came, they all had odd costume changes and Crab actually came onstage and sat there. The whole thing was extremely funny. The audience was laughing till they were in tears. Valentine had a very good stage presence. When he wasn't speaking, he didn't just stand there like a rock, but reacted to what others were saying. Proteus seemed like a crook for most of the play. He slyly took Valentine's wallet. But in the end he showed his true colors. Silvia was like a diva. she often stood on a block to be taller and spoke with arms open to the crowd. Julia seemed shy, as she was often in the corners unless she was alone. Being one of the bards rarest plays, finding a production is like finding a needle in a haystack. So finding a true gem, and if your in the area or really love Shakespeare, don't miss The Stratford Shakespeare Festival's production of Two Gentlemen Of Verona.