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, 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