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.


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. 

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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!

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