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, October 5, 2011

Marjorie Garber

           The opportunity seldom arises for one to attend a lecture given by one of the most respected Shakespeare scholars of her generation. In Marjorie Garber’s ‘Dreams in Shakespeare’ she expresses her perspective on the role of dreams in the Bard’s works. She had five actors perform 10 relevant scenes from 6 of Shakespeare’s plays while she provided commentary. She guided members of the audience to analyze the significance of each scene for themself. Her insights highlighted recurring themes in plays which, upon first glance, seem to have no similarities. Connecting Richard III to A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Antony and Cleopatra to The Tempest makes one think outside the lines of Comedy, Tragedy and History, and delve into depths of the realms of waking and sleeping… and dreaming.

           Though Garber is not a particularly charismatic speaker, her material is outstanding. Not only does she have incredible all around knowledge of the literature, but she finds hidden meanings in the text which are not only fascinating but insightful. You watch the scene and drawyour own conclusions, but then when she speaks, realize how much deeper the scene is than you ever imagined. In Richard the Third, she said that Edward wrongly distrusted his brother, who he saw in a dream. This is a commonly known fact. But then in Antony and Cleopatra, Antony has a dreamlike vision which causes him to mistrust Cleopatra. Or from how Leontes describes his long lost wife in A Winter’s Tale to how in Pericles, the King of Tyre. They both have been seperated from their wives for quite a while, but have had connections with them through dreams. These ties are caught by Garber’s keen ability. They made her lecture and eye-opening experience, providing a different perspective on Shakespeare’s fascination with dreams.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Titus Andronicus, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario


3 severed heads, 1 severed tongue, 1 rape, 10 onstage murders in cold blood, 5 offstage murders in cold blood, 2 human pies, 2 severed heads, 1 incidence of father-daughter murder, 1 incidence of father-son murder, 1 live burial and 1 instance of cannibalism. Let that suffice as a summary of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. Titus was also his first tragedy. The stupefying amounts of blood and violence are what make Titus a popular gap filler for companies looking to perform a full season. It is a much easier task than, say, Hamlet or Macbeth, because those two take more time to prune each line to perfection. Whereas in Titus, fake blood and stunts can substitute for real substance. However, it is often difficult to focus on lines when an actor is being stabbed to death behind the speaker.
            The biggest landmark of this play is Aaron the Moor, one of the most purely evil characters of all time. He is certainly Shakespeare's most evil character. While many argue in favor of Richard III or Edmund from Lear, they both have one defining trait which separates them. They both had somewhat understandable reasons for their villainies. Both were subject discrimination because of either birth or crippled limbs, both are humans who have become as they are because of treatment, not out of pure nature. The only possible contender is Othello's Iago. But I think he is better described as Shakespeare's most interesting villain,  because he seems to have no motive leaves his motive open to the interpretation of the actor. He does definitively have some motive, it is just left open. Hence Aaron is left as the most evil.

Yet, neither of the striking components of this production were Aaron. One was the set. Titus is mainly about two things; honor and blood. The honor was brought out by the long marble stage. Three platforms with lights underneath them sat around it. Pure white, unstained, like honor. Four columns stood at the back. Each was veiled by vines and roses, curling and snaking towards the top. Atop these columns were four marble torsos and heads of men being tortured. Horrifyingly bathed in faint red light, like blood.

Lavinia was the second star. The queen was rash and uncharacteristically lost her cool often. Aaron was too bland and cliché. Yet Lavinia shown through them when in scenes with them. Even when Titus faltered, she didn't miss a beat. Though after her second scene she loses the ability to speak, she still commanded the stage with her presence. Her heavy, yet natural looking, eye makeup and pure white dress made her seem chillingly holy, and tear stained. Her death was a gentle twitch from Titus, peacefully snapping her neck. Her abandonment of all human customs and distinctions made her seem like a woman stripped of everything, living only for vengeance.

I would see Titus if you’re looking for an action-packed bloodbath. But don't bring the kids; it’s not that kind of action. For Shakespeare fanatics, it’s definitely worth seeing Lavinia. This production brings a lot of onstage blood to the table, which is rare for live shows. The scene that gives the best sense of the horror the play contains is the memorable opening scene. Titus's slain sons are rolled onstage on top of a huge block covered in a red cloth. After the burial ceremony, a Roman tears off the cloth, revealing that the block was a cage, containing terrified human prisoners. The perfect visual combination of blood and acting. If you’re going to see one of the big plays at Stratford, drop by for this one.
(pictures to come)

Merry Wives of Windsor, Festival Hall, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario


      Sir John Falstaff. The very name is enough to send some folks into fits of laughter. The oafish, grumbling character pleased England's Queen so much that after seeing Henry IV parts I & II, she ordered Shakespeare to write another play solely for Falstaff. Hence this play. Though not generally thought to be anywhere near the stature of The Henrys, it does provide some gags and jokes. However to really make it worth watching it demands something more than what is written in the text. Regardless, whether it's effects, style, or anything else out of the ordinary.

This production chose costumes, more subtle than many other options, yet strikingly effective. All of the characters, and even the set, seemed as if they had just flowed out of the pages of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Each character was dressed in the garments which fit the stereotype for his/her social class.
The lords were like Sherlock or Watson, the servants as commoners, the ladies as gentlewomen and the thieves as regular London drunkards. This made many of the lines which are usually dull funny not because of what was said but because of who said it. To hear such proper figures spewing such nonsense was very original.

The actor who most brought this out was Master Ford. His lordly countenance was transformed into a wronged nobleman who could well have just been cheated by commoners with half his stature. He tugged at his neatly combed hair and began to shrink his practiced, formal posture down to that of a hunchback. This physical change accented the visual focus of the performance quite brilliantly. Meanwhile Anne Page was the model of a chaste, young English maiden. Her sweet, accepting tone sounded like a canary’s song.
 This countenance was maintained even when talking to utter fools such as her suitors. She ignored their idiotic attempts to seem manly, yet seemingly acknowledged them. This made her seem the ultimate polite daughter, disguising her ulterior, individual motives. 

Finally, of course, Falstaff. His jolly guffaw echoed throughout the hall like the roar of a triumphant lion across an African plane. His childish whining pierced the ear like a needle through cloth. His air of arrogance, coupled with his tight courtiers attire could have had him looking like a true knight. That is, if his mountainous stomach had not pushed his buttons to the point where it appeared a wonder they did not snap right off. His loose fitting hat clung comically to his dwarfish, pudgy face. His beard hung from his chin in an untamed mess. When he spoke, his timing was so impeccable that it seemed as if he were in a movie. Each joke had such a precisely crafted pause or action before the punch line that he often got laughs before finishing his thought. He seemed a cartoon in the world of the real.
 He is an unruly outlier in a very controlled atmosphere.

Seeing this performance really changed my view of the play. It showed me the true comedy in it that the text doesn't reveal. Especially since it was performed on a stage which had the old wood of an antique shop, the grandeur of a palace and the versatility and comfort of an old British cottage. I would see it if possible, but if not, just remember not to give up on this play. It really can be worth it

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Macbeth, The Duke on 42nd street, Directed by Arin Arbus


 “Blow wind come rack, at least we'll die with armor on our back!” The powerful lines exploded througout the Duke Theater the second they left John Douglas Thompson's throat. These lines began the final scenes of a performance of Macbeth which will be forever seared into my memory. Everything was picturesque, from the dark lines of the bearded he-witches to Lady Macbeth's final scene as she stood in a white gown, rubbing her hands and tearfully spewing nonsense, and half the beast, of what was once a loving couple had been vanquished. The direction showed through the dense web of the plot when Malcolm and Macduff stood, atop a balcony, looking out as gods, poised to strike, while mere men toilded and fought below. But the most memorable moment was when Macbeth revisited the whiches. As Thompson lay writhing on the floor, sheilding his eyes from the previous visions, eight lights sprang from the pale slabs of stone beneath him, representing the third and most sinister illusion. Finally, as the final seconds ticked down, Malcolm stood, newly crowned the king of Scotland. And as the cheer of "hail" rippled throughout his soldiers, his boyish features relinquished their hold on his body, giving over to those of a man.

This production did three things, among many notable ones, which particularly moved me. The first was the witches. This was the first production I know of which portrayed them as men. Though this seemed unusual, Banquo does infact mention that, due to their beards, he can’t distinguish their sex. These three being men made the Lady Macbeth the only woman in the play, which sets up the next momento; they turned the Macbeth into a loving, human, emotional couple. Instead of keeping them both demonic in their seperate ways, they often clung to each other and loved. Seeing such a drastically different interpretation made me understand that what Lady Macbeth really wanted to be a man. She has to carry out her dreams and aspirations through Macbeth, who faltered when she would not have. Her obsession finally costs her the thing which allows her to live these fantasies: her mind.  This ultimately was her downfall. The third was the most striking. The lighting! The blank stage came to life through the lighting. Lights hung from above, left, right, even below the stage. They brought out the finer qualities of the performance. Rather than create a visual specter, the lighting merely opened the door for the audience member's minds to create the scene. And that is the most vivid imagery there is.

As I said, this production was possibly the greatest production of a Shakespeare play I have seen. Unfortunately I caught the last show of the run. But I certainly didn't catch the end of John Douglas Thompson and his fellows! He has emerged as one of the best Shakespearean actors around. Arin Arbus' masterful direction can be found somewhat frequently aswell. So don't miss a chance to see one of these stars! I know that this performance was an eye opener for many, and truly understanding Shakespeare or anything else means seeing all aspects of it.

 (pictures to follow)

Monday, June 20, 2011

King Lear, Bam Theater, Donmar Warehouse Productions


King Lear is a play about everything, and nothing. The heart-breaking story is filled from curtain up to curtain down with hints of hatred, misunderstanding, unfairness loyalty, love, death, pain, age, sanity, evil and rage. But the play is really about nothingness, or the path to it. Life is really just a race towards death, the ultimate equalizer. When Lear is king he has everything. But through the play he is slowly brought down to the basest level, his throne being usurped by a bastard and a fool teaching him lessons. This is brought on him because he attempted to defy nature. By dividing his kingdom, the undying union, he alters the ways of nature. This fault costs him his daughter, his mind, his kingdom and finally his life, though his adversaries are defeated. The true tragedy is that he loses his life after everything else has been taken.

Lear is clearly a very deep and difficult role. Every line he says can be said in many different ways, and how he says each one dictates what will cause him to be in such trouble later on. In the first scene, if he goes into a rage the instant Cordelia does not please him, it will then follow that he should be impulsive and storm out onto the moor without begging Regan or Goneril for shelter first. But if he is calm until she makes it clear she has no better answer, he will seem more thoughtful, and not charge onto the moor until he has exhausted every manner of abiding with his daughters. Therefore, complete thought is required for every one of his lines.

Consequently, each member of the cast is invaluable in King Lear, because each one, to become nothing, has to lose their defining quality. In the end everyone is reduced to indistinguishable shadows. As Lear falls, Glouchester, who can always see what must be done, loses his eyes. His son Edgar loses his sophistication and is reduced to an animal. Kent, the ever loyal subject, is banished and therefore loses the ability to be loyal to his master. The fool loses his baseness and is forced to play the wise man, as Lear is less wise than he. Goneril and Regan lose their evil unity fighting over Edmund, and both flail and perish alone. And finally Edmund is evil because he has no love, and when both queens begin to dote on him, he basks too long in the glory of it and undoes himself with pride. This Lear brings out new qualities in the play that bring up new topic.

What made this performance so special was not only that the world renowned Derek Jacobi played the troubled king, but also that after the run ends, he will have knocked off the last great Shakespearean role. Having the privilege of seeing him live is unforgettable. The stage was beautifully crafted to his abilities. It was blank with three large and thick white walls in the back. This allowed him to utilize the skill which sets him apart from the multitude; he filled the gigantic stage from corner to corner with his small frame by expanding his features rather than contracting in pain. Jacobis choice was to dote until one particular point. Where, instead of raging against subjects till he lost it, he snapped then and there. He just lost it springing upon Cordelia. Even with Regan and Goneril, where he is traditionally supposed to cling to some hope, he was, for the most part insane. Only once did he show some human nature, and in a very interesting part of the show. When he fled Goneril for Regan, he embraced Regan on the same part of the stage, in the same manner as he had Cordelia. It was his way of bringing Cordelia back. But Regan responded with defiance, reminding him that his Cordelia could not be replaced. And from that moment on he was an animal, only loosely resembling the shape of King Lear.   

            Jacobi grew clearly sicklier as the acts went by. His reddening face was more and more stressed as more pain was piled on his already towering plate. Finally he snapped. He skipped on stage to find Glouster and Edgar, blinked at them and moved on like a toddler, humming out of tune and mumbling insanities to him. His performance was so moving because in his eye he still seemed to hold some remorse for the banishment of Cordelia. Most others are too impulsive to do this. His unburdened happiness was unlike many other Lears who seem tormented. Holding a glimpse of sadness for his daughter, almost unrecognizable, but there was the only human trace about him. Others often become animals, hating everything. He wore a clean white sheet, showing his burden lifted. On his head sat a wreath of sticks and leaves. Like most of The Bard's works, Lear is interspersed with traces of Christianity. Hence, like Jesus, Jacobi wore a crown of thorns. Though seen in many other versions of the play, I still think it is an interesting point and should be pointed out.

Jacobi had a very strong supporting cast as well. The fool wore white makeup, stockings and a hat. His streaked face paint masked a worn complexion of cracked cheeks and sunken eyes. He spoke truth in jest, as he danced and skipped around. Both his daughters seemed to become fed up with him rather than hate him from the start, which I found very interesting. Glousters eyes were actually torn out on stage. Servants covered his head, and Cornwall smashed blood packs on his face. He emerged with blood covered eyes and bloody cloths, writhing in pain and anguish. It was gruesome, but it made the play real. His son, Edgar, and Kent were lights of loyalty burning through a cloak of injustice. And Edmund, the slimy bastard, undid his father with a twinkling of joy in his eye. They helped create a true, full scene of nothingness and emptiness, a world where values take a back seat.  And this is probably the only opportunity to see Jacobi play this coveted role. If you can find tickets, don't let them slip!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Edward III, April 7, 2011, The New American Shakespeare Tavern, Atlanta, GA. Directed by Andrew Houchins.


As the New American Shakespeare Tavern nears full circle in its quest to compass all of the Bard's works, they are down to the late obscurities he wrote near the end of his days. Edward III was only recently deemed possibly late-Shakespearean, as it was banned from the theaters when King James took over from Queen Elizabeth I and, being from Scotland, condemned the play as 'derogatory to Scotts. Though excluded from the First Folio it has re-surfaced and been confirmed is that it is a perfect prologue to Shakespeare's histories, and therefore was subject to speculation and investigation. It tells the story of The Black Prince, father-to-be to lamb-hearted Richard II. His father, also an Edward, is waging a war to capture France, and Scotland is caught in the crossfire. Young Edward with 20 to 1 odds defeats the French army, and captures the king and his two sons. This history is tough to perform well because, unlike Hamlet or Macbeth, you have to split focus between telling the story and explaining it. It is much harder to perform a play when your audience already knows the basic story.

The Black Prince was really the star of this production. His boyish features did nothing to diminish his warrior-like demeanor. As he was knighted, he was given a suit of armor. When he donned the knightly suit, his body language changed from boy to man. His impulsive childish movements halted abruptly, giving way to thoughtful, slow, experienced motions of one who is confident but wary. His father was brilliant in the first half of the show, where he professed his love for one of his subjects, the Earl of Salisburys wife. But in the second half his unkingly swoons and mock toughness gave over to an unconvincing type of semi-bloodlust. He didn't seem to believe in his demands and orders, even though he should've. His second half, although weaker than his first, was justly centered on the development of his son, and doing his part in preserving the royal line by raising his heir.

The play is a tough one to direct because there is a lot of dialogue in-between stage combat, and the scene flips around the battle field frequently. Therefore effectively portraying a fight, which neither distracts from not smothers the lines, is required. Mr. Houchins tackled this with a brilliant roundabout scheme. All actors for three or four scenes would charge onstage from the right, and the actors who were to deliver lines would pause in a dead lock on the thrust. As the battle continued from the ensemble behind them, the actors would shout their lines during pauses in swordplay. Then all the players would charge off to the left, just as the next round of warriors bounded onstage to continue the scheme in the same manner. After three or four of these fights, the directions reversed, entering left and entering right. Thus the illusion of a battle scene was created through mere organized chaos. Edward III is rare but not necessarily a bad play. It provides a very explanatory prologue to Shakespeare's other works on the English royal family, and it is a must see for history lovers. Think of it as the way the War of The Roses should have gone. 

{photos to follow}

Two Noble Kinsmen, March 8 2011, The New American Shakespeare Tavern, Atlanta GA. Directed by Troy Willis

                Two Noble Kinsmen is a confusing play because, unlike many other celebrated works of art, the play’s main theme is unclear. Some traces exist of many different lessons such as honor is everlasting, and doesn’t choose in whom it resides by the side it’s on, or that family should come before all else. Or maybe its message is a warning about the consequences of lust. But I think the real message is deeper than that. Because this play was written by two playwrights, about two cousins, Two Noble Kinsman has potentially an intriguing underlying sub-theme. In the play, both men, Palamon and Arcrite, are in love with the same maid, Emilia. In reality, both men were competing for the esteem of their sovereign. Having collaborated on many other works together, the two were very familiar. This play was really a metaphor for their lives. The ups and downs the characters endure are really just adapted reality situations. When Palamon and Arcite are locked in a prison together with no hope of escape, it symbolizes the years when the playhouses were constantly being shut down. But when the two began to quarrel but decided that they were too close to end their friendship, it showed that instead of competing, the two playwrights had chosen to collaborate.

                Even without this interpretation, Two Noble Kinsmen has many sides. Only one or possibly two major subplots leave a lot of room for expansion of a few well thought-out ideas. Unlike Shakespeare’s famous comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, tons of ideas do not have to be constantly crammed and compressed to fit time limits or whatnot. Therefore in some ways lesser known, more simplistic plays should be given higher expectations.
The two kinsman should benefit immensely from this aspect, being onstage for well over half the play. Palamon (Daniel Parvis)  was very committed. In a scene where even his co-star lost his composure to mirth, he remained calm and serious. This is tough to do because the focus required to remain in character, when the wall between your world and the audience is shattered, cannot be taught, and is pure commitment. He flashed slight arrogance but sweetness when courting his lady, but his true talents showed when he displayed his love for his cousin, especially his genuine contentment when he sat in prison with his coz. Yet his co-star, (Matt Nitchie) was too uneven. Rather than stay consistent, he was sometimes teary-eyed and sometimes strong as an iron soldier. They were often at times when his changes made no sense. His composure fell apart completely in one scene, when he was considering whether or not to attend the games. He just stood and blankly recited his lines.
                Again in this performance the direction was the real masterpiece. Having a play where two or three characters occupy a blank stage for most of the production is tough. To keep the audience awake is a feat in itself. But Mr. Willis captivated his audience throughout every scene. The way he did it didn’t seem like much at first, but on second thought I realized how he’d done it: suspense! Instead of listening to the implied violence (like many other directors in any play) stated in the script, he almost did it. As the cousins began to quarrel, they drew their swords. They swung forward, but then stopped abruptly, remembering something they’d meant to say. Then they came closer to striking blades, but the same result. And once more it happened. The audience was on the edge of their seats waiting for the blows. Finally they struck. One sharp, metallic clang rang throughout the playhouse, followed instantly by shouts of halt.
 They were stopped, which, according to the text, should have happened near the end of their fight, almost instantly. This method provided little or none of the satisfaction the audience had been anticipating. Through this method, he kept his audience enveloped in the play from lights up, to lights down.
 Paired with Edward III, these two plays create a talent-filled weekend. Oh, and congratulations to The New American Shakespeare Tavern on, with this performance, becoming the first American theater company to perform Shakespeare’s cannon!

{more pictures to follow}

Monday, April 25, 2011

Richard III, Propeller Theater, Boston MA, Directed by Edward Hall.

Richard III, Propeller Theater, Boston MA, Directed by Edward Hall.

"Now is the Winter of our discontent, made summer by this son of York." These meaningful lines escaped the lips of the crippled brother to prince of England to begin Shakespeare's darkest and most sinister play. The play began with one, white clad, masked figure came to the front of the stage. He sat, perfectly still staring out into the audience. The audience looked at him, quieted down and started to pay attention. But nothing happened. The audience went back to their original banter. They hardly noticed the second, and the third. Soon ten men dressed in white stopped motionless on the stage. Creak. The audience hushed. Creak. Thud. Creak. Thud. A metal boot crashed onto the stage, then a foot, then the boot, then the foot. Richard the Third limped his nature-beaten body onto the stage. His white hair was slicked back onto his head. He was older, but not old. His left harm hung uselessly by his side. In that moment, I almost felt bad for him. I sympathized with his pain. I almost understood why he could be so evil.
Another murder by Richard  
But as the play went on, I lost sympathy quickly. The play was blank staged, with only a metal frame and a platform in the background. And every time a courtier was killed off, they were swallowed up by a sea of men in white. Then their body appeared onstage in a black bag. In the next scene they became part of the troop. This was extremely symbolic. To me it said that in the beginning, the men in court were dressed in black and therefore they had black and heavy hearts, weighed down with the stress of life. They were all individual in their troubles. But the black bags were indistinguishable. And when they dressed in white they were clear and carefree.
 An elaborate murder
Richard was amazing. He was slicker than oil, with his comb over. He talked his way in, and out of everything. But he was darker than ink. He paid people to kill his brother, then killed them. He was more feeble than an infant. He couldn't quite jump onto the throne without help. Not quite. And he never died, till the second gunshot. He fought the last. His changing self was reflected in the play. Every asset of the production had more than one use. The actors all played parts in the play and they also served as the men in white in the chorus. The throne could be reclined into a torture bed, or pushed up to fit the needs of the actor sitting in it. The metal platform served as a lookout point, a bed room and torture chamber. Everything reflected Richards’s nature. The chemistry of an all male cast is captivating because the director is forced to find another way to break down the wall between the audience and the stage. Don't miss a chance at tickets!
The Queen learning of her children's deaths
The countess observing her fallen husband 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Antony and Cleopatra, March 19, 2011, Take Wings And Soar Productions, Poet's Den Theater, Harlem, New York

Antony and Cleopatra  is a play which, probably due to its vivid imagery and dark story, has inspired many other forms of art. Paintings, poems, operas, songs, and even movies (1972 by Charlton Heston). Shakespeare himself got the idea from a folk story, although it is he who made it famous. Having such a high bar set, due to the grandeur of past performances, this play is extremely difficult to attempt. In this small, oddly shaped rectangular theater in Spanish Harlem, someone in the theater decided he was going to take it on. And take it on he/she did. A blank stage with three swivel chairs, a bed, and a table serving as the the set and two snakes, swords and glasses the props, this company became a troop of soldiers, toiling through the sands of Egypt and the cities of Rome.

Antony is a character who can be interpreted many different ways. He stands by Caesar in Julius Caesar, but is this really the right thing to do? He leaves duty for love and went back to Egypt in Antony and Cleopatra, but is this the right priority? He fought against his friends to protect his love, but is this really being loyal? All these question marks swirl around him, and each much be answered by the director be for the show, because he cannot, under any circumstances, seem unsure. Even if he is clearly wrong, his character demands an air of complete confidence. Michael Early spoke loud and sternly, always leaving no room for doubt. His voice carried throughout the entire house, filling every corner. Even when he lay down on his death bed his voice carried to each ear in the audience, without any strain. However, was too slumped to be kingly. He was almost never standing upright, and when he did it was un-convicingly. To be a real general or leader, one must look the part.

No play is complete without its heroine, and Cleopatra (Debra Ann Byrd) completed this one. An accomplished actress (elected into 2011’s Who’s Who, and co-founder of the company) she, perpetuated perfectly the firey Egyptian. When told Antony was well she floated, as if on a cloud. When told he was. He roared, nearly killing the messenger with sheer terror. Her fire was only quenched when her love died, whereupon with a low moan she sunk to the ground, clutching the asp to her chest, follows suit.

Octavius Caesar (David Heron) was also quite powerful. He strutted around like a king, and his neck veins popped when his authority was questioned He never cared about others advice and showed off how his features whenever he could. He shared a little implied incest with his sister, which was an interesting tweak. He was one of three experienced stage actors, who were unmistakable because their voices carried throughout the theater without the strain of TV stars. The variance between the two on the cast list was monumental.

Though the play is tough, the crew was tougher. They persevered through scenes and a few blown lines. Each actor and actress gave their all in every scene, even if they had few or no lines. The performances were greeted with a loud round of applause from the audience, and they received it with a lot of class. Although there may have been more energy than expertise, each player took his/her own bow with as much recognition as the stars, and the collective focus was not relinquished until the last line. This kind of commitment is hard to find, and it often exceeds all expectations when discovered. Antony and Cleopatra is under-rated because it is so hard to find a good production, and seeing this one did a little to help change my view. And hey, who doesn’t love a little Roman tragedy now and then?

 (photos to follow)

Double Falsehood, Classic Stage Company, March 19, 2011


Double Falsehood was recently deemed a genuine Shakespeare play, and a handful of productions have sprung up across the world. It is said that he co-wrote an earlier version of the play (under a different name) with John Fletcher, a popular playwright in his time. Before the play was deemed Shakespearean, no-one performed or cared very much about it. It is the only play I haven't read and seen the video of, but seen; I could find either. Because of Double Falsehood's obscurity, I will provide a short summary.

                                                                Julio and Violata

The Bard’s early obscure romance is about a two young, sweet lovers named Julio and Leonata, who are engaged to be married pending parental consent. But Julio gets a letter from court, calling him to service. Meanwhile Henriquez, the devilish and impulsive younger son of a prince, pursues a common farm-girl for his love. But when finding her unresponsive to his advances, he rapes her and then deserts her. Violata, as she is called, then disapears into the mountains, leaving her life behind. Henriquez then discovers Leonata alone and decides he wants to marry her. He chases her, exiles Julio, and she runs to a nunnery in the same mountains Violata escaped into. Henriquez brother, thinking him honest, helps him steal Leonata from the nunnery. Violata and Julio meet in the mountains and plot against Henriquez. Together they inform Henriquez's brother of his evil deeds and in the end Julio and Leonata are married, and so are Henriquez and Violata, to preserve her honor.

                                        Henriquez, his father and Julio

With a seven-actor cast, all of the players were stars at one point or another. But Henriquez had the most overall stage time. Being a physically imposing actor, he was big and intimidating, but also nervously smiling when his father, the prince, was near. He would roar at his brother, and then quietly bow to his father. He made it seem as though, under his sneers and snarls, was a gentle lover, confused about how and who to love. It was unclear if he was reallythe bad guy, until the last scene where he violently abolished all doubt by flashing his true colors to Violata and his father. He cursed them both in stead of bowing his head in aceptance (which he was forced to do anyway!). It is extremely tough to portray emotions on multiple levels the way he did.


Julio was noble when with Leonata, and remained so until he was exiled, where he emerged half-naked and smeared with dirt, careeming around stage like a caged animal. The vigor with which he defended her was so chivalrous that not a cough was heard throughout the playhouse.  

                                                                    The opening scene

Leonata was always dressed in white, until she was in the nunnery. She was virtuous in everything, dress, behavior and looks. She fought Henriquez as a maid, not a warrior. When he advanced, she gently stepped back instead of pushing him. Leonata shared little stage time with the only other actress. Violata was very blank throughout much of the play. After she was raped she shook very violently at first, but less so when she began to think of revenge. When in the mountains, if she looked on him it was not with malice, but with a sense of duty to restore justice. This type of mercenary-like emotionless complexion fit the bill for a wronged woman quite well.

                                         Leonata and a messeger

Plays cannot be performed without director and crew, and a good director like Brian Kulick makes all the difference. The set-designed had the stage carpeted, literally! Carpets hung in the backround and three were on the floor. As scenes changed, light illuminated rectangular spots on the floor. Actor then appeared and moved the carpets into the designated spots. The direction had actors utilizing all four corners of the stage, at all times, which filled the large stage with a small cast.

                                                               Lenoata and Julio share an embrace

After the show there was a type of press conference and discussion where two Shakespeare scholars from Columbia and Yale explained the origin of Double Falsehood. They said that Shakespeare wrote a play called Cardiño, reportedly derivative of one of the chapters for Miguel Cervantes' Don Quijote. Apparently in the late 1800s someone did a restoration of Shakespeare called (what else?)  Shakespeare Restored. The author translated Shakespeare into simpler language. He cited Double Falsehood as someone else’s restoration. But though the play we have is truly a restoration of a restoration, I felt that in many ways it was just as moving as his one of his originals.

Comedy of Errors, Propeller Theater Company, March 18th, 2011, BAM Theater, Brooklyn, NY.

An all-male production of a play with mostly female roles is no easy task. Especially a play where most of the plot comes from mistaken identities of husbands and wives, and it is essential to have these mistakes seem reasonable. Therefore, impossible circumstances must be portrayed as reality in a way that can be bypassed by the audience, avoiding any major conflicts within the plot. When a man, Antipholous, and his servant, Dromio, arrive in the town searching for their respective twins, the townsfolk mistake them for their brothers! And, consequently, so does Antipholous's brother's wife. They immense confusion ensues, consisting of servants mistaking masters, masters mistaking servants, wives mistaking husbands, men pursuing women, women pursuing men, creditors mistaking bound, and finally, hookers mistaking clients!

                                                                                Antipholous surrounded by townsfolk

With an all-male cast, as you can imagine, very little is easy to perceive visually. And in (director) Edward Hall's production it was even tougher to discern by ear, as words were slurred and lines lost in chaos. Though this was the only big flaw in the production, the audience accepted these blown lines as a tradeoff for slapstick gags and Mariachi (there was an actual band) sound effects. The classically clueless Italian officer wore tight leather pants, and upon each step a mocking kazoo sounded. A doctor appeared at one point stark naked with a lit firecracker inserted in his behind.

                                                               Luciana and Adriana

The play was seemingly set in a Latin-American, Spanish or Italian costal town where rich entrepreneurs and wayward travelers converge to drink away their troubles and spend away their money. The main stars, Antipholous of Syracuse and his Dromio, were tremendous physical actors.  Each of them could make some unusual vocal sounds to reinforce their points. Though neither of them could really project their voices throughout the large theater, I soon forgot that because their scenes were full of jokes, gags and old-fashioned effects, which had the audience laughing so hard no one would've been able to hear them anyway.

                                                                             Luciana using one of her (his) weapons

In this type of performance, every actor must have five or six talents to be able to really contribute. Therefore everyone played at least one instrument, everyone could sing, everyone could act in multiple roles, most people and gymnastic capabilities, and everyone had enough energy to tear around stage for two hours, sing an intermission concert and then sing a final song at the end. Oh, and did I mention that soon they will also play a Richard III on alternating nights? The amount of energy needed to perform two ensemble Shakespeare plays back and forth, especially such opposite ones is mind-blowing. Ensemble performances like this seldom come around, and I'm glad to have seen it.

                                                                Program Cover

                                                                                                  Handout given out as a joke before the show

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Merchant of Venice, Pace University, New York City, March 9, 2011

There is little doubt that F. Murray Abraham is talented, being one of the most respected actors of his generation, on stage and on screen. But why? What makes him unique and influential to the way characters are portrayed? Until watching him live I had no idea. On screen he is brilliant; but on stage he truly is on another level. Not only does he seem genuine in feelings, the way many actors portray their characters, but he is seemingly genuine in his behavior; every movement he makes, every expression, is consistent with everything his character has done throughout the play. Unlike many other performers, no impulsive and incoherent decisions or actions exist in his performances. This is what truly divides him from the multitude, and makes his works ones for the ages.

In this performance he played Shylock. Shylock is a character for whom a very particular and unusual chain of events have to pass for him to be brought to his demise. Therefore he must retain the right amount of dignity, honor, charity, and even wisdom throughout each catastrophe until he finally snaps at the end of the play. It is easy to overplay the part and make Shylock truly look like a villain from the start, which defeats the purpose of so tragic an outcome. Mr. Abraham's talents were suited to this task. He had to think out each action, and display no outward greed or sinfulness, while inside he was pinning his hopes on things that were soon lost, until he had no hope left to pin. 

                                                                 F. Murray Abraham

There were many notable performances aside from Abraham's. But one really stood out to me. Lancelot Gobbo, the servant of Shylock, was un-conventional to the extent in which he would have been laughed at if he'd played any other role. But Gobbo is a character who is extremely quirky at times, and therefore the actors who portray him must be as well. In his first scene, to everyone’s surprise, out stomped a heavy African-American man with semi-dreadlocks, smoking a joint. This caught the audience off-guard, and it took him fifteen seconds to quiet them down. He then promptly began to jiving a heavy accent, sending the house into roaring laughter again. But the funniest part of his act is how well it worked! He was perfect for a jolly man, though witty, and always looking out for Number One.


But plays are not all about their actors. Though modern, and cleverly crafted, the set of this production was very minimalist. There were three laptops on desks which served as the three caskets, and three TVs above them, to display their messages and contribute to the atmosphere of the setting. The entire set was metallic and made of panels. Many entrances began from behind these panels and, due to the rapid blurring and un-blurring as they walked in-between panels, looked like holograms. This brilliant staging acted as a gateway to the many acting talents showcased in the event.

                                                         Shylock at Antonio's throat

The production of Merchant we saw at the Joseph Papp Public Theater on Broadway, starring Al Pacino, was different, larger and more expensive. But it was blown away by this smaller but classier production. The true talent of these actors shone through the small set, and illuminated the faults of its more expensive counterfeit.

                                               Antonio, Bassanio, And Shylock

 Pace University has some great Shakespeare (This particular production was actually co-done by Theater for a new audience). I've seen three plays there and each one had its own unexpected surprise. If you’re in NYC, don't miss one of their productions.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing, Princeton University Campus, 3/3/11, Class of 1970 Theater in Whitman College.


Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny, nonny, nonny.”

The beautiful, rhythmic, words of Shakespeare waft through a playhouse like summer breezes, gently bending back and parting the tall blades of grass on their way through the air. These lines come from one of the Bard's most under-rated plays. The 'not quite a fairy tale' story of Much Ado About Nothing is matched by few, if any, other plays of its kind. The text is centered on two lead couples, Benedick and Beatriz (the constantly bickering secret admirers) and Claudio and Hero (the meant-to-be but deceived lovers) who sculpt the plot with hands of mischief and passion. They are vital parts of the plays nature.

The small black theater in the heart of Princeton University Campus is not a popular spot. But that has little correlation with the acting that takes place there. As a play about couples, it is only fair that it should be reviewed couple-by-couple, based on ability to work together.
Benedick and Beatriz are the most famous lovers. They were the only truly mismatched couple. Benedick did everything well that Beatriz was trying to do. He filled the stage when he had to, but also left some of it empty when necessary. However, she did little to expand her stage presence. Other than crossing her arms or knitting her eyebrows a couple times, she seemed manikin-like. Her physical comedy was strong (a scene under the bench), but life seemed to drain from her person when she tried to express the more thoughtful and sensitive side of Beatriz.

Claudio was extremely soupy around Hero, which took away from the fact that he could really act. Hero was quiet and physically introverted. It didn't fit with her character. Angels are trumpet- tongued, and never was there one who kept on a muffler.

Now for the other two, less cliché couples: Leonato and Don Pedro (the prince) were not a love couple, but as a duo they brought others together. However, the Prince swallowed almost all of his lines! He coughed through his one or two speeches and had his back completely to the audience sometimes! Leonato started out this way, but then became stronger as he progressed. As his daughter was shamed, he became more serious and valiant.

Meanwhile, the other couple was the best duo on the stage. Don Jon, the dark prince, and Borachio, the evil-doers. Don Jon seemed less quiet than seething in fury at all times. His face almost twitched with hate whenever anyone spoke to him. His sidekick, Borachio, was extremely slick, dressed in all black. He strutted around like he thought he wore a crown. The two destroyed other relationships with ease.

The last, lone man was Dogberry the constable. Dogberry is a whacky part and few character roles are more glorious. But here he was too composed in terms of posture. He stood and moved little. Dogberry should crawl and strut and jump and roll around the floor.

Though this production had its flaws, if youre near Princeton, come by and check out some of their plays. They have some real gems!  

(Photos to follow...)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pericles, The Black Repertory Theater, 1/22/2011, Saint Louis, MO


The experience I was about to enter when I walked into the theater to see Pericles in Saint Louis took place in one of the most unique and diverse atmospheres I have ever encountered. The stage was blank up front, and towards the back of the stage there is a rock arch. It could be walked on or through.  The backdrop was a screen, which changed to display different flags and scenes with the plot. Everyone was buzzing with excitement until lights dimmed and music stopped. This performance really impressed me because The Black Rep did an unorthodox rendition of a play that by itself is already extremely challenging and still captured my attention until the very last line.

Ka'ramuu Kush

One of the things that makes Pericles a very tough play to do is its fairytale-like, cliché plot. It can be extremely boring if it is not done with some added twists to liven it up. To conquer this obstacle, Ron Himes, the director, decided the play should be set in the Caribbean. It was a brilliant idea, morphing the story but still retaining it’s morals, as Pericles bounced around coastal cities during his adventures. The different types of people he encountered seemed to have no limit. He restored health to Haiti and was wrecked on the shores of Cuba. Each city was filled with different accents. It mystified the atmosphere in a way that even the bard himself could not have imagined.

Kush and McClain                                                          

To tackle the difficulties this rendition of play presents, the actors did not use conventional technique. Because they had to play specialized and adapted parts, standard technique, such as clear projection and facing the audience, would’ve made their roles much tougher. They spit on some of their lines, and did not vary the different heights of actors to create levels. Many scenes in Pericles are filled with jumbled confusion or chaos. Therefore, an organized style of directing would not have worked as well as what, on first glance, seemed to be a jumbled mass of bodies. 

                                                 McClain twirls for her suitors and father  

Each of the players added to the atmosphere Mr. Himes was creating in their own way, each becoming a special piece of the puzzle. Pericles (Ka'ramuu Kush) was very strong-jawed in his take on the wronged prince. Throughout the entire play he seemed conflicted and concerned, mistrusting his surroundings, which, though an unusual take on Pericles, worked well for this performance. In the very first scene someone tried to trap him. Even when in his own court he was shifty. He looked as if he’d been stripped of his ability to trust, and had no more left to share with the world. His haggard appearance after losing his daughter and wife was grizzly, but still a little regal. He still retained a little bit of arch in his spine, as a man who once was great would do when begging for a living. When he begged mere fishermen for food and shelter, his tone vibrated softly, but distinctly. He stood with only a torn pair of pants, but yet filled the room with an air of nobility. Helicanus (Chauncey Thomas), his faithful servant, was precise to the last detail, but still natural and relaxed. He beautifully crafted each line to his purpose. His skillful exactness made his words glide. Marina (Sharisa Whatley) was chaste as could be. She always wore white and when evils were enacted in front of her, she stared in confusion. She couldn’t even comprehend that people would do such things. Her lord, the mayor of New Orleans, was hilarious. He had a different accent for each of his characters including a fisherman and a lord. Also, the wise woman, or doctor, was one of the best character actresses I have seen in any play. She played both the doctor and the goddess Diana. When she was the doctor, she held Thaisa (Patrice McClain), the stricken queen, with a nimble sweetness almost out of a movie. She brushed everyone back and gently awoke the lady. The beauty of her actions out-spoke the beauty of her words.

As a black theater, The Black Rep also has a large African-American following. They’ve cultivated  loyal fans, from all races, and their audience was into it though out the entire play. Each member sat transfixed, nodding in approval. The company is centered around diversity, and their play was enhanced greatly by its own diversity. The Black Rep has been performing for a long time and I wouldn’t miss a chance to see them!
McClains coffin and her saviors

Thomas and Kush share a moment of loyalty