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.


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...)