It has taken a (very) long time, but PlayShakespeare is proud to announce its first review of Two Gentlemen of Verona, performed in Shona (native to Zimbabwe), no less. London reviewer Craig Melson caught the production, which is part of the Globe-to-Globe festival hosted by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. You can read his review here.
Reviewing 'lesser done' Shakespeare is a key goal for the site. We have reviewed twenty-nine Midsummer Night's Dream productions, twenty-seven Hamlets, and twenty-two Macbeths. By contrast, for example, there are only two King John reviews--a fact we'd like to change over the coming year. Additionally, we are still looking to review a production of Two Noble Kinsmen, Sir Thomas Moore, and Edward III. If you are putting on a 'lesser done' Shakespeare in the near future, please be in contact with me or the staff reviewer in your area, as we are keen on reviewing your show.
NEW YORK, NY - The Shakespeare's Sister Company is raising funds for our all-female theatrical production William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to premiere Valentine's Day, 2012 in New York City's East Village. Our film noir version features chicks with guns during the 1929 St. Valentines Day Massacre. The production is being presented as the Shakespeare's Sister Company's on-going mission in women's empowerment and social change for women's rights.
In 23 days, we will need to raise a minimum of $8000 to get the show up and running for a solid production run.
In Our Production
This epic tragedy will be set in the roaring 1920's of Chicago when gang rivalries between the Italian and Irish sprung up over power struggles within the underworld culture. Emulating the Al Capone vs. Bugs Malone rivalry, the Capulet's will represent the Italian south side and the Montague's will claim the Irish north side.
Underground Speakeasies, playing jazz and rag time music, provide a mysterious setting to escape from the strict laws of prohibition. With a high unemployment rate leading toward the great depression, desperate people take desperate measures to maintain jobs and keep friends. The Capulet's host a masked ball where they invite policemen to drink from their illegal alcohol stock and seal the deal to keep their bootlegging anonymous. Romeo sneaks into the Capulet's masquerade party to spy on their transactions and falls into forbidden love with the fair Juliet. The Capulet's domination of bootlegging infuriates the Irish and sets up the tension leading to murderous fights between the two groups akin to the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929.
Women have just gained the right to vote, but there is still much to fight for in this patriarchal and dangerous society. Juliet will test the waters of exploring women's new found freedom by dating a boy from the wrong side of town. She journeys from a young woman forced to have a constant guard (her nurse) to a cultured flapper who visits speakeasies, has male sleepovers, and is allowed to decide her own fate.
With an all female cast, this show will create opportunities for women to play both female and male roles in a divided society. Women will play the men as men allowing females to explore the violent nature of gangsters adjacent to women playing females trying to find the strength to fight for their right to rise up in society.
About the Shakespeare's Sister Company
Formed in 2008, the Shakespeare's Sister Company is a not-for-profit theater organization which supports women in the arts. Our commitment is to produce great new plays and established theatrical works by female authors. Our mission is to address global change through the theater, including women empowerment workshops and literacy for youth.
PlayShakespeare is about to begin publishing a five-part series covering filmed versions of the Bard's works. Writer Matthew Henerson has written a magisterial account of major Shakespearean films, resulting in a "top five" recommendation list. Each installment will cover a review of one film and Henerson's reasons for including it in the list. Images and, where possible, video clips will accompany the stories. Look out for a new installment every week, and leave your comments on the message boards.
I'd like to draw attention to what I expect must be a first for PlayShakespeare (I haven't checked all the archive reviews, so I may be wrong): two reviews of the same show. In December, I reviewed the Donmar Warehouse's production of King Lear (you can read the review here) in London. After a highly successful run, Lear was broadcast live and then went on tour throughout the UK. Recently, Lear (featuring Derek Jacobi in the title role) made its way across the pond, where New York reviewer Roseanne Wells saw it. (You can read her review here.)
Sometimes productions can be divisive, but I think it's pretty clear that this Lear is fantastic. Both Roseanne and I rated it very well and highlighted Jacobi's performance as the work of a true artist. Michael Grandage's direction also received high marks.
If you're interested on two different takes of the same production, check out the Lear reviews.
I have recently posted Michael Meigs's review of Measure for Measure, performed by the touring company of the American Shakespeare Center (based in Staunton, VA). Michael is the PlayShakespeare Austin, TX correspondent, and saw the show last week when it came to UT-Austin. His perceptive review contextualizes MM as one of Shakespeare's 'problem plays' and points out the text's many seemingly contradictory currents. In the review, Michael indicates his appreciation of the actors for their solid performances, but takes issue with the direction, feeling that it oversimplifies a complex text. The production's overly-humorous emphasis glosses over important themes.
It is a commonplace to say that every age, every generation, has its preferred Shakespearean plays. The 19th century was apparently enthralled by King John, but the history play is now rarely performed (the only review on PlayShakespeare is here). Other plays, however, are being 'rediscovered' as occasion demands--Troilus and Cressida with the beginning of the Iraq war and Timon of Athens with the start of the financial crisis. Even traditional standards of the repertoire have seen a darkening in tone, as witnessed by the Midsummer Night's Dream from director James Rutherford. Shakespeare's canon is large enough, and his writing insightful enough, to remain topical, it would seem, 'for all time'.
What Michael's review uncovers, however, is a production that resists (whether through deliberate choice or good-natured obliviousness is unclear) the 'problem' of this 'problem play'. His review brings up the question, 'Must we respond to the "problem plays" as "problems"'? Is an interpretation that ignores the more serious elements of the text a legitimate interpretation? In this day and age, can productions of MM (or T&C, WT, Tempest etc.) get away with a purely lighthearted tone?
Questions, questions, questions...
So begins my four-day, five-play and one interview tour of England's Shakespearean scene. I am currently sitting in the cafe/bar area of the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. I left London by train in the afternoon, and after an unremarkable journey, arrived in Bristol an hour and a half later. It was a ten-minute (and clearly signposted, thankfully) walk to the Youth Hostel, followed by a longer, more languid trek to the Tobacco Factory, outside the city center.
The Tobacco Factory is one of those re-claimed, re-constituted spaces, now trendy and housing a flourishing arts scene along with a sizable bar/cafe. Speaking of which, the spicy (curried) carrot soup + a portion of homemade bread has just arrived. Tasty. The cafe/bar is large and open, with a small raised stage area on its far left side. A series of red beanbags line the stage, in addition to painted warnings: 'No kids on the stage'. How are they supposed to resist? [Having just set down my laptop to collect my tea from the bar, I catch the woman sitting next to me reading what I've written so far. Sorry, lady, no points for subtlety.]
Tonight's performance is Richard II -- a play I feel in love with the first time I read it in an introductory Shakespeare class in college. I am eager to see it performed, and early buzz on the Twitterverse has complimentary things to say. As I walked down the long Bristol streets to the Tobacco Factory, I felt the anticipation one feels for a satisfying event: there's something deeply settling about witnessing what you know to be a strong play performed by (what will hopefully be) a strong cast.
Tomorrow is a train ride back to London, a short Tube journey to an east London train station, followed by a train ride to Norwich.
Review of Richard II forthcoming!
If the on-line newspapers are to be believed (or many of my friends' g-chat status updates), the US east coast is drenched in snow. Here in London, gray skies and rain make for a dismal February. But the weather has not prevented some counter-seasonal productions. In the last week, PlayShakespeare has posted two reviews of A Midsummer Night's Dream, one staged in California, and another in New York City.
Friday sees me on another train, headed to Bury St Edmunds to see a production of Much Ado. Saturday is a drive to Guildford for the Guildford Shakespeare Company's Hamlet, staged in an old church. I'm told the first fifteen minutes are going to be frightening -- looking forward to a production that makes the ghost a fearful presence. Possibly early next week (before leaving for Bristol) expect an interview with the GSC and the show's director Caroline Devlin.
On my trip, I'll be blogging about my experience (when I'm not typing up reviews). If you have questions or issues you'd like me to address, send me an e-mail, or tweet -- @beijingcoma.
Up-coming on PlayShakespeare will be more book reviews, including Contested Will and 1599.
Hello PlayShakespeare community!
My name is Christopher Adams, and I am the new editor for PlayShakespeare. I am excited about the opportunity to work with PlayShakespeare as it enters the new year and looks forward to expanding its scope, both in the US and elsewhere.
In 2011, PlayShakespeare hopes to add reviewers in several cities throughout the US, Canada, and the UK, helping to generate a greater number of reviews and creating a deeper understanding of Shakespearean performance. In the more distant future, the site seeks to become, truly, the place of record for global Shakespearean performance, first focusing on the English-speaking world and then branching into areas further afield. So be on the look-out for reviewer postings in your city.
Additionally, the site is looking to have its finger on the pulse of Shakespearean/Shakespeare-related events by offering book, film, and exhibition reviews.
Already in January our reviewers are scheduled to cover shows in California (Hamlet Has No Legs), New York (Cymbeline, Midsummer Night's Dream), and London. Ron Severdia has already offered his take on the Julie Taymor-directed Tempest (starring Helen Mirren) and Mary Maher's book Actors Talk About Shakespeare.
My schedule is set to become quite busy, covering the RSC's winter London season (with Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and King Lear left to see). At the end of the month, I'll be attending Comedy of Errors by Sell A Door productions at the Greenwich Playhouse, followed by Richard II, Richard III, and another Comedy of Errors in February (the last two by the all-male company Propeller--they will be featured in an up-coming interview). Indeed, I'm toying with the idea of going on a two-week Shakespeare binge in the latter half of February, since so many productions are set to open.
The winter is only just the beginning--a warm-up to the full-on extravaganza that is spring/summer Shakespeare. And, at least in the UK, it's looking like it will be a spectacular season. Kevin Spacey (who needs no introduction) is set to star in Richard III at the Old Vic, Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) in Hamlet at the Young Vic, and David Tennant and Katherine Tate (Doctor Who) are scheduled for Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado at the Wyndham. The RSC has announced the plays for its up-coming season, making use of its new (and impressive) performance facility in Stratford. The Globe has chosen to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible with its 'The Word is God' season, featuring, among other plays, Hamlet, Doctor Faustus, and a modern play entitled The God of Soho.
All in all, it looks to be a busy season.
My old friend Robert Sicular has been visiting here from California this week, with his friend Tim Orr, seeing the shows and their friends from the Tahoe Shakespeare years. It's been good to hear their input on our performances and to have a jolt of fresh energy in our party scene, now running out of steam a little in the July heat and the routine of nightly performances.
Yesterday being everyone's day off, we got a party together to drive up into Rocky Mountain National Park, about 90 minutes' distance from Boulder, and do some high-altitude hiking. Sean (King Henry), Philip (Artistic Director), Robert, Tim and I all piled into Phil's Subaru-- a tight fit, most of us being six-footers-plus-- and drove through Estes Park and up the old dirt road to the visitor center near the summit. We then found a good trail from Milner Pass, a few miles down the western side of the park, back up to the visitor center, a nice hike of four-plus miles rising from about 10,760' to 11,800'. The cool weather was a real relief after two weeks of temperatures in the nineties in Boulder, and there were still big patches of snow on the ground. But the main pleasure was finally to get up to the high country after weeks of glimpsing the mountains so tantalizingly close, but never having free time enough to get up among them. A particular thrill was to climb up past the tree line and-- pretty abruptly-- find ourselves in the alpine tundra that covers all the mountaintops above eleven-five or so. It was well worth the discomforts of getting there, and an exhilarating experience to share with old and new friends.
The view of the tundra
Sean, Tim, Phil, Robert near the timberline
Rocky Mountain columbine
I've been meaning to write about Seth.
Seth Maisel is an actor in the company; he's in all three of the outdoor shows. He's one of the two or three best fighters in the company, small and compact (five-foot-five, 180) but fast and very agile. He catches your eye onstage, especially in action sequences, by his shock of sandy hair, his quickness, and his native flamboyance-- he has that watch-this quality that makes him stand out.
Seth as a Cardinal's Guard
As I watched Seth in rehearsals, especially for Three Musketeers-- where he appears in almost all the fights, seven in all-- it occurred to me that he's always fighting (often brilliantly) but seemingly never winning. This has to do with his casting. In Macbeth, he's playing messengers, murderers and kerns-- Gaelic GI's-- and the early battles are mostly a showcase for what ruthlessly efficient killing machines Macbeth and Banquo are, so anyone who gets in their way is likely not going to come off looking too good. Murderers-- not to denigrate their important function in Shakespeare plays, but well, they generally prefer the sneak-up-behind-and-stick-'em tactic to the fair-fight showdown (unless things go wrong, as they sometimes do), and messengers are usually unarmed and can be mauled and manhandled at will, as they often will be if their reports include prophecy-fulfilling mobile forests. (I remember hauling poor Kate Heasley, my Birnam Wood messenger, all over the stage, and I once dropped her more or less on her head. Accidentally. Really.)
Then in Love's Labours, Seth plays Moth, page to Don Armado. This of course is not a play one associates much with stage violence, but Moth does need to "present" baby Hercules in the Pageant of the Nine Worthies, so he gets to tussle with Cerberus ("that three-headed canis," a stuffed puppy-dog) and the (yes, stuffed) snake that tries to bite the young hero in his cradle. Even here, it must be sadly reported, the results for Seth are-- to put it charitably-- mixed.
But it's in Musketeers that his talents for coming off second best in a fight are really on display. And again, it's really not his fault. Seth is cast as Jussac, the captain of the Cardinal's Guard; and anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Dumas story knows that, just as Richelieu himself serves as a foil for D'Artagnan, the Cardinal's Guard are basically there to lose to the Musketeers. Whether it's a bar fight, a street brawl, an aborted abduction or a raid on a convent, there's Seth in the forefront, attacking valiantly, picking out the most challenging opponents, showing off his dazzling swordplay skills... and getting tripped up, disarmed, befuddled, knocked out or kicked in the family jewels one more time. If it were me, I'm sure I'd have developed a raging complex about it before the summer was half over. But Seth, he just keep comin' back for more.
So I asked Seth to break down the list of all his fights over the three shows so I could run a little statistical analysis. We put together a chart that classifies his combat by play, by what character he is, who he's fighting for and against, the outcome of the fight, and wounds or injuries, if there are any (and there usually are). The results, run through a sophisticated data-analysis program I have devised (mostly involving counting on fingers, and quite a few toes), revealed the following results:
Seth is involved in sixteen episodes of onstage violence.
Of these, ten are clear-cut losses. The outcomes for our hero include (a random selection):
* Being knocked down and hamstrung by the Thane of Glamis
* Thrown face-first to the deck by an angry King McB.
* Chased offstage by Malcolm
* Disarmed, hand cut by ill-advisedly catching an airborne rapier
* Knocked out by a baguette broken over his head
* Head slammed into wall
* Head slammed into table
* Head slammed on stairs
* Fallen on by two other guards (one of whom, Earl, is-- um, large), and then
* Stepped on by them as they run away
* Hip-checked (Duke of Buckingham) to the face
* Double-kicked in groin by Planchet and Athos
* Clotheslined by Athos
* Elbowed in face by Athos
* Slashed in butt by Athos (you really should learn to avoid this guy, Seth)
* (eventually) Run through by Athos...
But wait. We're being unfair to Seth here. He has his moments of glory too-- those brief, shining moments when he rises above the cruel fate of his casting and he triumphs-- if only temporarily. He gets to slash Athos-- once, not fatally. He does very well, on balance, in his contests with the plushies. (You should see him go to work on that snake.) He actually knocks out Old Siward with a shield-bash. And he does a very nice job on the Macduff baby (after its mother has nearly scratched his eyes out) with a battleaxe. Yes, I think we can say that, on balance, he wins that one. Maybe not the most stellar of victories, but-- when you're a kern... well, you take 'em where you can get 'em.
Here's to you, Seth. The season would be a lot less fun without you.
Well, we now have five shows up and running. Musketeers opened Saturday night, miraculously with only minor hitches. Director, cast and our redoubtable stage managers Amy and Shannon somehow pulled it all together and we got it on stage in all its raggedy splendor. I'll write more about the show next week; in the meantime, here's a link to four pages of great photographs, a mix of rehearsal and full-dress shots, from our company member Zach Andrews:
Henry played three times in the week just past, including a double shot Sunday-- matinee and evening, with a talk-back after the afternoon show-- and many of us, tired as we were, welcomed the opportunity to perform the show back-to-back. It's difficult to generate momentum and "flow" in your performance when several days elapse between shows, though it gets easier as you get more performances under your belt. By the Sunday night show, I was feeling loose and relaxed, more confident in the first scenes of Act I and with a freedom to try some new things-- different emphases, new colors, some fresher line readings-- in the big downfall scene of III, 2. A couple of reviews of Henry came out during the week; they're good, and fair to the show I think, though the Denver Post critic seems to be in some confusion over the play's date of composition-- it was probably written around 1613, ten years too late to curry any significant favor with Elizabeth (who had died, as he correctly notes, in 1603). Here are links to that piece and to the Boulder Daily Camera review as well:
(this one has a fairly good picture of your hard-working correspondent)
(and this one even spells my name right.)
It's Saturday morning, and The Three Musketeers opens tonight. In defiance of all probability and logic, it has come together over the past couple of days with amazing swiftness. Our tech time was severely cut into by the delays in finishing the set; the lighting designer, as of last night, was still improvising cues on the fly; the sixty-five or so costumes are still getting their finishing touches, and the music is being integrated at the very last possible minute, but last night we performed for a thousand preview patrons and actually delivered a nearly polished and rather exciting show. It's still a bit wild and wooly; many of the acting scenes are underrehearsed, so much of the rehearsal time having gone to the fights; the fighters are banged up in a myriad of minor ways (although the only semi-serious injury is to Athos, with a puncture wound to his hand), and we're all having to keep our wits about us at all times; but by golly, it feels like we have a show. It's the perfectly normal and quotidian miracle that is live theatre, in action again-- we all know that somehow it's all going to work out, but we have a superstitious fear that if we count on it, this is the one time that the magic won't happen. So we worry, and fret, and wring our hands at the impossibility of putting together something so big and so complex in the woefully inadequate time we have; and yet our faith is rewarded, our doubts rebuked, our complaints forgotten in the whirl of performance. I'm reminded of an exchange that occurs two or three times in Stoppard's screenplay for Shakespeare in Love (I may be paraphrasing): "It will be all right." "How??" "No one knows. It's a mystery."
There's something I haven't explained till now, concerning how much the Festival has changed in the years since I was here last (and most radically in the past couple of seasons, since Phil Sneed took over and expanded the season to five plays). In the early years of the CSF, we produced a three-play season; all three productions rehearsed simultaneously, nearly the whole company was in all three shows, and we opened them on three successive nights in July and ran them in a strict rotation for three or four weeks. This was not all that hard to do, as there were very nearly no sets at all. We performed on the grass of the Mary Rippon stage; there was temporary forestage built to bring the action closer to the audience (though it was made permanent, and built of the local sandstone, I think for the 1967 season), and in some seasons a curving staircase up to one of the towers, which Edgar Reynolds dubbed "the Treppen" (German word for "stairs"). There were two permanent stone benches stage left and right, and for a backdrop the walkway in front of the museum building behind the stage, and the doors of the museum itself. This was in perfect consonance with the values of Shakespeare production preached by Jim Sandoe and Jack Crouch, which was rooted in the bare-stage simplicity of the Elizabethan playhouse, where scenery was likely at a minimum and scene succeeded scene with no more than a piece or two of furniture being moved on and off stage.
Modern "conceptual" Shakespeare production is far more ambitious in scope, and the theatre has extended its reach to reflect the change. Directors and designers want to transform the entire space to provide a visual correlative to their ideas about the world of the play; and greatly increased production budgets and a much larger staff allow us to have three individual sets, almost totally different from one another. I've previously posted pictures from the two other outdoor shows; now here is the just-completed (all but a few details being finished up today) set for Musketeers:
A comparison of the three pictures will reveal how little overlap there is between one show's set and another. Even the diamond-shaped thrust that is a basic element in both Macbeth and Musketeers is eschewed completely for Love's Labours. Clearly, the amount of platforming in the former two shows requires that the construction be solid and reliable; actors have to be confident that the upper levels on which they're running around, emoting and killing one another are safe and secure. Much of the framing is actually done in steel. So we need a substantial shift crew (eight or ten strong, I think) that can change over from one set to another, even if they have to work all through the night, following a performance, to do it-- I know they fully expect to see the sun rise on Sunday morning, which is their first changeover out of Musketeers and into LLL. We owe our personal safety, as well as the credibility of the illusion we're creating, to them-- the proverbial unsung heroes.
My next posting will deal with the next three performances of Henry after opening-- we do both a matinee and evening tomorrow-- but in the meantime, here's a link to the review in yesterday's Denver Post. Not a bad review, though the critic is clearly fuzzy about the play's date-- it was written about 1612, nine years or so after the accession of James I and therefore a little late to hope to curry favor with Queen Bess...
Well, tonight's the night. We felt good as a company about last night's preview; the house was full and the response was all that could be asked for. I felt a little shaky in the first act-- I dropped four or five lines in my first scene with Cardinal Campeius-- but the big scenes went well for the most part and I feel ready to strut my stuff for friends and critics. It's hard to know how the show can be expected to do critically-- and I'm far from the most objective observer. I'll write another posting in a couple of days, after the excitement has died down.
I'm indebted to my friend Zachary Andrews (who plays a calm, impressive Archbishop Cranmer) for these photos taken at final dress. A wider selection can be seen at http://shinyscale.jalbum.net/CSF.
We do our one and only preview of Henry tonight, prior to Saturday night's opening. One often feels the need for more previews, especially for a comedy where audience response is a big part of the rhythm of the show-- ACT and Berkeley Rep typically have a full week of previews before the opening. But it feels as though we'll be fine. The rehearsal process has taken five and a half weeks, though the scheduling has been irregular, and I think everyone feels pretty confident of what they're doing, considering we've only been working on the set for about four days. The costumes, of course, have added a new dimension (as well as an additional challenge-- I'm having to learn to clear my three-foot train so I don't walk back over it), and the show feels ready for an audience.
The set is quite simple and unadorned, its starkness relieved only by a few furniture pieces (thrones, benches, one large screen for Katherine's apartments) and two or three "flown" pieces (lowered from the flies, that is) that add some color-- I open the show with a Prologue excerpted from Wolsey's final scene, while being ceremoniously robed by two monks behind a scrim, painted with the royal arms, which becomes transparent when we are lit behind it. I'm told the image is very effective. The costumes are the single element in the production which approaches high concept, and I'm not sure how effective they will be. The designer was impressed by some unfinished portraits he saw by Hans Holbein (in effect the Tudors' house artist) in which the head and shoulders were fully detailed but the bottom of the canvas remained unpainted. He has transferred this to a look in which all the costumes are made of off-white fabrics (pretty uniform in color, although with a wonderful range of fabric textures) and then hand-painted and appliqued so that every figure on stage is neutral from mid-chest tp the floor, with all the color and detail (fur collars, chaplets, chains of office) concentrated above the sternum. The idea is to direct the viewer's focus onto the faces, consistent with the director's emphasis on character interplay over spectacle; I worry only that all those near-white tones may be a little overwhelming and actually achieve the opposite effect. We'll see. Here are some of the sketches to give an idea of the effect:
My other concern is with the pace of the show, especially in the second half. The play reminds me of Julius Caesar in that after two of the three main characters-- Wolsey and Katherine-- pass from the scene, the most dramatic actions of the play have run their course, leaving to Act V the plotting of the King's Council to dislodge Archbishop Cranmer, and the birth of the baby Elizabeth (with the attending encomiums and golden-hindsight prophecies of her future greatness. At the moment, it seems to me that the last few scenes are a little lacking in dramatic drive, and even in the earlier acts, I could wish that scene followed scene with more energy and pace-- the action tends to stop, the stage darkens and music (well-chosen, evocative music-- I will say that) plays while furniture is moved and the scene prepared for the next group of characters. I fear that we lose some momentum and energy that way-- I've always been of the opinion (fostered, as so many of my tastes in Shakespeare are, by my early work under Jim Sandoe) that one scene should follow another with as little break as possible, with the initial line of the new scene following the final line of the previous one on word cue, if possible. The effect of our current style in Henry I would call stately rather than dynamic.