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.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Timon of Athens, 11/21, American Shakespeare Tavern, Atlanta, GA

With this performance of Timon of Athens, the American Shakespeare Tavern has become one of the few companies to complete Shakespeare’s First Folio. In March, with performances of Two Noble Kinsman and Edward IIIthese two are extremely rare, and I hope to make it back for them, they will complete all the surviving works that were traditionally attributed to him, entirely or in part—which was thought to be the entire Shakespeare canon…until recently. In the last few months, Double Falsehood, another play, has been credited to him. If they performed this before June, they would be the first company ever to boast all the plays attributed to him. (The RSC will put on theirs in June.)

          Shakespeare's rarely-performed Timon of Athens is not written in acts. It is in scenes. Shakespeare wrote all his plays in scenes before moving to the Globe. Some that were performed  for the queen may have been transposed. But she never watched Timon. This makes it hard to find a place for an intermission. Jeff Watkins, the director, had the task of finding a good place in the flow to halt. This meant that he could put it in a place which was most helpful to his interpretation. During intermission, Jeff mingled with the crowd. It was an unexpected pleasure to meet the director half way through the play, as they almost never come out before the end.


The intermission spot he chose gave him an opportunity to clearly separate Timon’s (Maurice Ralston) god, man and beast stages. These are the thirds of the play. The idea of Timon is that he cannot relate to people at first because he is so far above them. Then he is ruined and cannot relate to men because he is so far below them. in the middle third, he is being brought down. It is a play that tests the extremes of human existence. 

 In the first third of the play, Timon acts like a god. In this part of his life, he gives away fortunes to his friends without any thought but kindness. Instead, he was troubled by everything when he blew through his wealth.  He seemed to contemplate his decisions as if he wasn’t sure whether they would or would not affect him. In the third of the play where he falls to earth, he was moving because he looked as though he had been pulling his hair out, distraught that none of his "friends" would help him in his financial struggles. And in the final third where he becomes an animal, he was brilliant. Almost insane. With a sick cough that grew worse and worse. It is one of the most challenging parts in all of Shakespeare’s plays.
          Appemantus (Andrew Houchins) is the local beggar, cynic, and only antagonist of Timon. His quiet rants against humanity were very effective because he often sat on a thrust which was also a staircase. Being the lowest of the low, he had very little tolerance for the rich. He alone predicted Timon’s end.  Therefore he was below the nobles, but also closer to the real world (the audience). This really brought out his low place in society. Only when he came upon Timon in the woods, was he above him. Timon lay in a pit, because he was a beast. Appemantus, though poor, was a man.
      Captain Alcibaldes (Travis Smith) shouted his commands with violence. It worked towards his commanding nature, but in the trial scene where one of his men is accused of murder, he didn’t build up to the rage that got him exiled, because he was already at the level he should have been moving towards. The steward, Flavius (Paul Hester), was quietgentle and understanding. These three men were the only ones who didn’t wear masks throughout the entire play, besides Timon. They were his only true friends. This is important because Timon is the bard's only play without any lovers or family members. Only friends. Mr. Watkins’s idea of masks was genious; Only real friends showed their faces.

      The ensemble parts, though uneven, were invaluable to the play. Their reactions fed the leads. Whether they were lords, ladies, guards, merchants, servants or friends, without fail they kept the flow moving in the grey matter, between scenes.  

      Congratulations to the Tavern! It is one of the most difficult but rewarding things in the world of arts, to accomplish Shakespeare’s entire cannon! Many years of work and more work have brought together such a magical thing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Merchant Of Venice, October 29, on Broadway



                                            Shylock and Antonio

Starring Al Pacino, the play was hyped up a lot. There are commercials and posters all over Broadway, after a successful run in Shakespeare in the Park.

The set was like prison. Metal bars were everywhere. They rotated on grates, swirling around each other to either close someone in, or block someone out. There was a tower as well. An abacus in the back was a clever idea. The abacus rotated and could have been an accountant’s office. The entire place was dark.

                                  Portia and Shylock

This production’s theme was unclear. I couldn’t tell what the play’s meaning was aiming at. The direction also didn’t have a clear idea: The cast seemed to have certain directions and have lines instead of being living them.  They seemed programmed to say certain things at certain times.

                              Portia, Antonio and Shylock

Antonio (Byron Jennings) made the most use out of the space. He sometimes stumbled around, leaning up against the bars, to show that he was trapped.  In the trial scene he was slow moving but steady, and quick with his features. This made his flickering eyes exaggerated when he feared his life. But elsewhere he seemed too old and without a sense of purpose.

                              Jessica and Shylock

 Al, on the other hand, always kept focused on his surroundings. He was always very aware one where he was. And he was hilarious when he was acting friendly. But he didn’t play Shylock in any particular way. A good production depends on the way Shylock is portrayed. There is no right way, but there are many wrong ways. And doing no particular way is worse than that: He wasn’t a joke of a man, but he wasn’t totally a jerk. But he also wasn’t a wronged, deserted man. He cut off a few lines, too.
                                                Shylock and Bassanio

            Bassanio (David Harbour) was a quick and impulsive man. You could see in his face that he barely pondered his decisions. This could’ve been an impressive way to communicate his thoughts, but he was too rude, not charming, making his thoughts clear. His man, Gratanio (Jesse L. Martin) was also rude, but it worked for him. He seemed less interested in Nerissa (Marsha Stephanie Blake), and flashed true colors, showing that Nerissa wasn’t his only goal. The third lover, Lorenzo (Seth Numrich), seemed awkward towards Jessica (Heather Lind). Lancelot (Christopher Fitzgerald) was probably the most striking; he was kind but ambitious at the same time. He was very calm, although when confronting people he became stout, frank and to the point.


Portia (Lily Rabe) was raspy, not confident and altogether too mobile and monotonic. Flouncing around the stage in mock anguish or bliss doesn’t fit the role. Nerissa was quiet. Shecaptured the maid part of the character, but not the nanny.

                                                   Lily Rabe

The moral of the production was perhaps the most intriguing. At the end, all the characters separated one by one; angry or hurt. Nerissa left Gratanio. He slunk away. The same for Portia, stalking off. Antonio then tried to comfort Bassanio, but was rebuked. Antonio stood in disbelief, and then stumbled off across the stage. Lorenzo left his coat on Jessica’s shoulders, after pausing, as if trying to form sentences before giving up. Finally Jessica threw the deed of her father’s into a shallow pool of water, and looked up at a balcony, where Portia had appeared. They shared a gaze. Then the lights went out. All Shylock wanted was his bond, and in losing it, broke all others.

              Outside the theater there was a huge crowd waiting for Al. The police had to cordon off the street. The play was clearly built around him. There was a huge cheer as he got into his black SUV and drove away.