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.


Friday, June 20, 2014

6/14/2014 - MacBeth With Kenneth Branagh, The Armory


          We stumbled through the vast darkness of the armory, searching for our seats amidst the literal battlefield that would become the stage. Finding our wooden, backless seats (really just benches), we sat on one side of the narrow, mud-ridden alley. We peered down as if watching a joust. Three men could not have stood shoulder to shoulder across the space. On either extremity the alley widened out. On one end were three primitive stone arches, calling to mind the likes of Stonehenge. Beyond them was the expanse of terrain through which we had entered. 

          Opposing these ominous relics was a tile-floored altar, the only ground in sight that was not mud. There stood a white-clad woman, motionless, with her back to us. Suddenly, our attention snapped upwards as a crash of thunder signaled the opening of the show. Rain began pouring down on the stage in front of us as armor clad warriors began to flood into the aisle. The ensuing battle was bloody, ending with Duncan fooling his foe into a fatal ambush. In the aftermath, bodies remained on stage as the living vacated it. The rain ceased. For a moment, there was stillness. Then, out eerie gloom arose three creates, quietly shattering the foreign stillness with the familiar words "when shall we three meet again." 

The main stage

          For the next two hours I sat fully immersed in the world of Kenneth Branagh's Macbeth. From vicious slaughter to anxious scheming, there was no shortage of captivating drama. This fast paced rendition of Shakespeare's classic enraptures the audience in a cinematic performance, riddled with special effects and intricate lighting.

          Branagh brings a unique urgency to the role of Macbeth, a squeamish quality that emphasizes the tragic warrior’s uneasiness away from the battlefield. His relaxed fluidity in any of the immaculately choreographed fight scenes emanates total control and comfort in his surroundings. However, when forced to play the political game, his skill and artistry is replaced with indecision and impulse. This resulting contrast casts Macbeth in a barbaric light each time he verbally interacts, as if he is “dressed in borrowed robes,” from the very start. Unlike Banquo and MacDuff, he is unable to shed his warrior’s demeanor with his armor.

Branagh and Kingston

As for Branagh’s counterpart, Alex Kingston displays a variety of Lady Macbeth, from eccentric and frightened, oscillating in a moment. The ultimate politician, she morphs to fit any circumstance. She foils Macbeth completely, able to say anything convincingly but do very little. Thus she pulls Macbeth along as if she were leading a dog. Complementing each other, the two exhibit strong stage chemistry, at once lusty lovers and murderous allies.

         As an actor myself, I can understand the toil of actors and actresses on stage. Rarely do I attend a play after which I would say this, but I could not imagine carrying out that Macbeth every night. It is a testament to the mettle of cast that they are able to do so, and at such a high level. Between the constant fighting and traversing the vast area of the theatre at a rapid pace, I don’t think Branagh went five minutes without an all out sprint, with the same pressing urgency each time. Until the last line, I was hunched on the edge of my bench focused intently on the play unfolding before me as if I were seeing it for the first time. It was only after the final round of applause that I realized my back was killing me.   

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Twelfth Night and Richard III, with Mark Rylance

            I’m Back! Since the completion of my quest I’ve been very busy with regards to Shakespeare. I’ve seen many more productions and interpretations of his timeless characters. I have not, however, been reviewing them as I had been. I recently saw two new performances (both by the same cast) of Richard III and Twelfth Night. Ruminating and discussing them afterwards lead me to feel the urge to once again document my opinions of the performances, so I decided to start up the blog again and continue to just review plays that I happen to see. So, Enjoy!

            These two productions, both starring Mark Rylance and taking place on stage at New York City’s Belasco Theater, were about as opposite as two performances by the same cast can be. I will start by discussing Twelfth Night.

Rylance as Olivia in Twelfth Night

            If you’re a parent, looking to take your kids out for a nice introductory night into the world of Shakespeare, this is the play for you. The performance is riddled with slapstick humor, silly costumes and outrageous displays. Performed by an all male cast, and staring Rylance as the female lead, Olivia, there is certainly enough awkward innuendo to keep the night interesting. If you are, however, a Shakespeare aficionado hoping to spend the night being lulled in to the ornate, fantastical world of love and faint melancholy of Shakespeare’s mystical masterpiece, you will be disappointed. This magic, which sets Twelfth Night apart from many of the bard’s comedies, is lost entirely in this SNL style portrayal. Rylance and co. seem more focused on seeming ridiculous than holding any shred of humanity. Key elements of the play are therefore lost all together. Malvolio’s (Stephen Fry) indignant declaration of contempt at the conclusion of the play seemed out of place and therefore in sharp contrast with the rest of the play. The tender reunion of the twins seemed utterly forced and one-dimensional, as there was no context for, what should have been, sentimental joy.

            This leads me to a simple conclusion; they picked the wrong play. They simply picked the wrong play. Shakespeare’s varied comedies span multiple genres, and he wrote a number plays that are ideal for this sort of performance. For example, The Merry Wives Of Windsor would have been ideal for such a portrayal. Arguably his most slapstick play, Comedy of Errors, may have also been a fit for this cast, especially since it also has twins who are essential to the plot. But certain comedies, As You Like It being another example, are only classified with those above because they too have a happy ending. They are, however, written with a wider range of emotions and are designed to evoke a far more intellectual response from the audience members. If they are not treated as such, they lose what makes them masterpieces, and are reduced to dull comedy like the others in their category (and not particularly strong comedy at that). Shakespeare fanatics beware!

Rylance with Fry

            Now on to the other hand, Richard III, with Mark Rylance as the title character, is not a play you want to bring the kids to. The play in itself is very difficult to follow without prior knowledge of the plot and language. Rylance offers an interesting incarnation of the infamous hunchback. Straying from the usual dark nature of the king, he marks with role with a memorable forced laugh. He repeats this laugh throughout the performance, often when speaking directly to the audience. Though his mouth laughs, his eyes show now mirth, inspiring an eerie effect. This sets up his take on the character as a whole, as he acts as though he is constantly forcing himself to fit into the society around him. He often changes his tone, playing up the fakeness of the character by accentuating the constant conforming to those in the court to gain their trust. While this in itself is a very effective quality, he loses much of the bloodlust and fiendish nature that is so often (and rightly so) associated with the character. Though it is not all there is to him, Richard is, at least partly, a monster. He loves to witness the destruction of those around him, feeding off strife. Rylance perfectly captures the wistfulness and deep-seated desire for normality, but fails to be convincing in his murderous ways. Yet it is certainly worth seeing for Shakespeare fans, as such an iconic character can never have too many interpretations and each one illuminates a slightly different aspect of the role, perhaps one you had not previously perceived.
Rylance as the hunchback

            I must also add that both these shows run in the same time frame, sometimes even on the same day. The cast displays incredible diversity in their ability to switch roles. Finding such versatile actors as can play an innocent lady one night and a warrior the next is not an easy task. While I was not blown away by either, I maintain that Richard III is certainly worth the price of the ticket, and Twelfth Night is the perfect way to introduce the kids to Shakespeare.

Readers, I’m glad to be back, and I plan on keeping this blog up and running for many months to come!