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, 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 CardiƱo, 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