Faction of Fools

January 17, 2013 at 12:14 am (Live Performances, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

foflogo_hi-resIt’s not every day that you can watch live Shakespeare performed in your backyard. So, when I saw the poster at the library announcing Faction of Fools playing A Commedia Romeo and Juliet at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn, I knew what I’d be doing last Friday night. The Arts Barn is not quite in my backyard, but it is pretty much walking distance from my house.

What fun! First let me describe A Faction of Fools. They perform Commedia dell’Arte — a Renaissance theatre style.  From their website:

Commedia dell’Arte, which translates as “professional theatre,” began in Italy in the early 16th Century and quickly spread throughout Europe, creating a lasting influence on Shakespeare, Molière, opera, vaudeville, contemporary musical theatre, television sit-coms, and improv comedy. The style of Commedia is characterized by its use of masks, improvisation, physical comedy, and recognizable character types—young lovers, wily servants, greedy old men, know-it-all professors, boasting heroes, and the like. The legacy of Commedia includes the first incorporated (i.e. professional) theatre company, the first European actresses, and many of the themes and storylines still enjoyed by audiences today.

In the director’s notes, it is pointed out that Shakespeare drew on Commedia in his work. “Shakespeare knew their style, their characters, and their conventions… he borrowed liberally from their material.”

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Paul Reisman, Toby Mulford, Eva Wilhelm and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Paul Reisman, Toby Mulford, Eva Wilhelm and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Romeo and Juliet is very much a comedy at the beginning. But comedy (in the traditional sense) ends in a wedding. In R&J the wedding comes too early, and in fact marks the play’s turn toward tragedy. The bodies start piling up as soon as the wedding is over.

The Faction of Fools’ Artistic Director, Matthew Wilson, points out:

Shakespeare’s audience would have recognized that this play is a comedy set on edge. The text is riddled with jokes and humorous excess; the characters are fantastical. Though we think of this play as ‘romantic’ or tragic,’ Shakespeare wanted his audiences to laugh. Then in the midst of laughter, the knife falls. Tragedy shows up when we least expect it, and the mournful tear is all the harsher because it has been matched with joy.

I thought this was fascinating to consider… that the audience would have been familiar with the plot formula and the standard characters and would be expecting the standard comedy structure with the play ending happily with a wedding. Instead, R&J twists that formula upside down and all hell breaks loose after the wedding. What a shock that must have been to Shakespeare’s audience! Really, what a shock, and how much more upsetting all the mishaps that lead to the awful ending.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Eva Wilhelm, and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Eva Wilhelm, and Drew Kopas. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

So, the point of this Faction of Fools production is to emphasize the comedy — the Commedia — that inspired Shakespeare to write this play. There are five players who switch parts by donning masks, wigs and aprons and pulling the aprons over their shoulders to look like capes. The comedy is physical, almost slapstick, and very fun. Even as bodies appear, the tone is light, players who must take on another role are replaced by large rag dolls and onward they go to the bitter end.

It’s a fun production and would be great for kids — it’s only an hour long and there’s a bit of sword play. The Arts Barn is a nice venue — just 99 seats, so you always feel close to the action on stage. The show continues through January 26, but if you can’t make it to Gaithersburg, I found a video of them doing the same show at the Kennedy Center last year. Enjoy!

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Drew Kopas and Toby Mulford. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

Production photo from A Commedia Romeo and Juliet. Presented at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, Jan 12 — Feb 4. Left to Right: Gwen Grastorf, Drew Kopas and Toby Mulford. Photo by ClintonBPhotography.

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Almost Heaven, Staunton, Virginia

September 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm (Live Performances, The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona) (, , , , , , )

I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Staunton, Virginia last month for a whole weekend of Shakespeare. Staunton is a lovely little town in the Shenandoah Valley, with mountains all around. It also happens to be the home of the American Shakespeare Center who performs there at the only replica in the world of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse.

Staunton has another replica building… this one from Stratford-upon-Avon. Indeed, there is a replica of Shakespeare’s wife’s childhood home, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, and it’s a Bed and Breakfast. And the innkeeper’s name is Juliette. And I stayed in Juliet’s Room (there’s also Romeo’s room and William’s Room).

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage B&B in Staunton VA

The inn was a lovely place to stay for a wonderful weekend of Shakespeare…. and a wonderful weekend of Shakespeare, it was!

The American Shakespeare Center is a fantastic place. I first visited a few years ago when I saw them perform All’s Well That Ends Well at Blackfriars. I saw their touring group perform A Winter’s Tale last spring. This time, I made the pilgrimage to the Shenandoah Valley to see two wonderful performances at Blackfriars: The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I also took a behind-the-scenes tour of the playhouse. Let me start with the tour.

We learned the history of the original Blackfriars’ Playhouse in London and then we got to check out all parts of this lovely Elizabethan-style playhouse, up, down, backstage, onstage and everywhere in between (be sure to watch the slideshow at the end of this post!). We saw the dressing and rehearsal rooms, the costumes and props (the decapitated man is a prop for their current show, Cymbeline). The tour was wonderful and I highly recommend making time for it if you are in Staunton.

And then there are the shows. They are a lot of fun with great live music before the show, a cash bar on the stage, and lots of energy. There are seats on the stage and audience members are also invited to sit in Juliet’s balcony up above the stage. I can’t imagine it’s a great view of the show from above, but during the behind-the-scenes tour, it was pointed out that “being seen” was a big part of attending the theater in Elizabethan times, so sitting in the box above the stage ensured that you were “seen” by the crowd.

The American Shakespeare Center uses Elizabethan staging practices… so the lights are left on and the players often make eye contact with audience members, drawing them into the action, at least verbally. Sets and props are minimal, costumes are lovely, men are sometimes cast in women’s parts (and vice versa), and the action moves along at a fast pace.

The intermission features more music… the songs often are selected to go along with the show. For example, the Merchant of Venice featured an acoustic version of the Beatles’ song Money (That’s What I Want)… which was pretty funny. And then at intermission there was a spirited take on Soul Man and a faster and faster round of actors and audience members doing the Jewish wedding dance.

Tracie Thomason as Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Photo by Michael Bailey.

The plays were lovely. They were both staightforward renditions. It reminds me very much of the performances I’ve seen on video from Shakespeare’s Globe. I wonder if the ASC intends to ever share their performances on video. It would be a treat. They are beautifully-done by talented actors in beautiful costumes.

The Blackfriars experience is intimate and fun. Because the playhouse is small and the house lights are on, the audience is part of the performance. That’s especially true of the brave souls that sit on the stage. For example, during the Merchant of Venice, Portia and Narissa played with all the men on stage when making derisive comments about Portia’s suitors. The guy sitting in front of me was also pointed to as “the German sponge” (he and his wife were still making jokes about that at the intermission!). It is quite hilarious and adds to the fun atmosphere.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona was fast and furious and of course, it features a dog (available for adoption after each show). As always, the music was fun… I remember at intermission hearing My Boyfriend’s Back. Pretty funny! Anyway, the play was fun, Proteus is a jerk, Julia is heartbroken, Proteus is an even bigger jerk, and then the play’s strange ending was kind of white-washed in this production, making it not-quite-so-unbelievable that Proteus is suddenly turning over a new leaf.

Tracie Thomason as Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo by Michael Bailey.

Two Gents and Merchant continue through November at Blackfriars. Also showing now are King John, Cymbeline, and The Lion in Winter. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a weekend of Shakespeare, if you can. ASC puts on plays 52 weeks a year. I think you cannot go wrong at Blackfriars.

Staunton has plenty to offer, as well. I kept busy all weekend, taking a history and architecture tour of downtown, a haunted ghost walking tour (boo!), and seeing the sites from the free trolley around town. I visited the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and presidential library, a wine tasting at Barren Ridge Vinyards with views of the Blue Ridge… oh and I enjoyed my quiet time at the quaint and cozy Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with its delicious breakfasts, friendly innkeeper, lovely garden and resident cats King Lear and Portia.

Wonderful.

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Charm in Charm City

June 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm (Asides, Live Performances) (, , , , , , , , )

I am so excited about Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, one of my favorite local performing groups. They are committed to producing “Shakespeare that’s not stuffy,” and they do a wonderful job performing unstuffy Shakespeare all summer at their beautiful outdoor space in Ellicott City, Maryland. Kids get free admission to their shows, which are family-friendly and fun (well… I wouldn’t take the kids to the roaming Titus Andronicus show in the haunted ruins a couple years ago, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream was perfect!)

Anyhow, CSC recently purchased a historic bank building in downtown Baltimore (aka Charm City). As reported by John Barry on the DC Theatre Scene blog, they will convert the 1885 Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Building into a 250-seat theater slated to open for performances in fall 2014. According to CSC Artistic Director Ian Gallanar: “The configuration of the building itself has some of the same layout as the Globe Theatre. That’s what we’re riffing off of. We’re trying to recreate a modern Globe. Three levels, an intimacy that I think is very important.”

The location puts CSC right in the midst of the tourist mecca that is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and they hope to take advantage of that great location, bringing people from around the region in to see shows while they’re visiting Inner Harbor. And, Gallanar says, they are planning an international theater festival for Baltimore. All quite exciting developments for the Baltimore theater scene!

In the meantime, this summer CSC is performing under the stars at the ruins of the antebellum Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City. It’s a lovely venue and a very nice place to spend an evening. Romeo and Juliet is in repertory with Pride and Prejudice through the end of July. Fun! And I’m pretty sure my boys will love the swordplay in R&J.

Today is Flag Day in the U.S. and it got me thinking about Baltimore’s part in the flag’s history. Baltimore is currently celebrating (is that the right word?) the bicentennial of the War of 1812 with tall ships (a “Star-Spangled Sailabration”!) and fanfare. Cool stuff. It’s still a couple years before the bicentennial of the National Anthem (Francis Scott Key wrote it in 1814 after watching the British bomb the heck out of Baltimore harbor), but the inspiring Star Spangled Banner that Key saw still flying over Fort McHenry in the morning after the battle is on display at the Smithsonian in DC and you can also check out the nifty interactive version on their website.)

Step outside the Smithsonian, look next door at the White House and remind yourself that the British burned it down in 1814. And then walk a couple doors down to the National Archives and look at the Charters of Freedom (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights) and think again what Key must have felt — what was saved — that morning in Baltimore when he saw the flag flying and wrote the song.

I was just downtown earlier in the week with my library school class and took a tour of the fantastic public exhibitions at the National Archives and I got to look at those amazing documents again (along with the Magna Carta!). Wow. The perfect activity if you’re visiting Washington DC for the 4th of July!

So, my meanderings into history and archives have a purpose here. I’m taking a class in public outreach and exhibitions for libraries and there are so many awesome examples around here, I just had to share. It’s all about making holdings accessible and interesting to people.

This is also, I’m sure, a motivation for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s expansion into Baltimore. So, a tip o’ the hat to Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s new home in Baltimore and in the spirit of CSC’s video last holiday season: we can live in a world of light beer, fried chicken wings, Shakespeare AND Jimi Hendrix!

Yes, Jimi Hendrix. Because my brother, and maybe others like him, are more likely to read my Shakespeare blog if I work in a reference to Woodstock. So, here’s my tribute to the Star Spangled Banner on Flag Day… some pretty spectacular fireworks and explosions from the fingers of Jimi Hendrix. I doubt Francis Scott Key foresaw this!

© All Content, Copyright 2012 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Bedlam

June 13, 2012 at 1:36 pm (Asides, Live Performances, Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

Have a couple bucks to spare? Think about supporting Bedlam Ensemble’s production of Measure for Measure by contributing on Kickstarter. They need to reach their goal of $1,500 by July 8 in order to make the play a go.

According to their Facebook profile, Bedlam Ensemble was established in 2011 in New York City. They are “dedicated to staging modern and modern spins of classical theatre works with high artistic integrity.”

Bedlam aims to nourish an open artistic community where artists are free to experiment and challenge themselves within the entertainment industry. The ensemble has a commitment to strike a balance between emerging and veteran artists; between the works of new and established playwrights, and revisiting classic pieces of work with a modern twist. Our ensemble nourishes an open and artistic environment that keeps us engaged in our community and proactive in our pursuit of excellence.

Past productions, also partially funded by successful Kickstarter campaigns, include productions of Alice and The Delirium of Edgar Allen Poe. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, performances of Measure for Measure will begin July 25 at Access Theater in New York.

Here’s their take on the play:

Years ago, Vienna was a place where the people were pure and the city was clean and beautiful.  Fast forward to today and you find a gritty, dark world filled with sex, drugs, and debauchery.  To bring it back to the glory that it once was, the Duke leaves a pure man, Angelo, in charge to right the sexual wrongs he has let slide for so long. Temptation prevails, however, when a smart, beautiful, and outspoken nun touches Angelo and he offers to save her brother’s life only if she will sleep with him. Measure for Measure is a play that explores sex and power and the interplay between the two.

I have no plans to visit Manhattan this summer, but I love supporting small theater projects and this sounds like an interesting production. Pledge just a dollar if that’s all you have! I think Kickstarter is such a cool way for groups like this to raise money. I hope their show gets off the ground, and I’m sure it will. If anyone goes to see it, let me know what you think of it!

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Almost Heaven, McLean, Virginia

April 7, 2012 at 7:35 pm (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Winter's Tale) (, , , , )

There are things about McLean that might not be heavenly… like congestion around Tysons Corner and the never-ending construction on the Beltway. But, today McLean was gorgeous. Spring is springing in full, flowers and bright green everywhere on a sparkly, clear day, and the American Shakespeare Center wrapped up its Almost Blasphemy Tour at the Alden Theatre in McLean.

It was a little nostalgic for me, as almost 25 years ago, when I first moved to the Washington DC area, I lived in the basement of a friend’s parents’ house in McLean and I cocktail waitressed at a lounge around the block from the Alden. McLean has changed a bit from those days and now the Alden is nestled into a lovely neighborhood of big, beautiful homes.

The America Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia, is amazing — performing with original staging practices in a replica of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse recreated in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I had the pleasure of seeing All’s Well That Ends Well performed at Blackfriars’ a couple years ago. It’s on my shortlist of places to return to, but Staunton is about 3 hours from my house, and the logistics have not worked out. McLean, depending on traffic (which didn’t exist today) is less than a half hour.

So, I was excited that the stars aligned and I had a free Saturday afternoon to join other members of the DC-area Shakespeare Explorers Meetup group and see the ASC perform The Winter’s Tale for a matinée at the Alden.

Eugene Douglas as Leontes in The Winter's Tale. Photo by Tommy Thompson.

Although the Alden is not the same experience as the incredible Blackfriars, it is a very nice and intimate venue. The ASC set the stage simply, with little in the way of set other than a curtained backdrop. Like in Staunton, they have a fun pre-show with the actors playing music and selling raffle tickets for swag (they do the same at intermission). The songs are acoustic and very enjoyable renditions of classic rock and pop songs. I heard some Joni Mitchell, Righteous Brothers, and even some Guns N’ Roses. Some (maybe all?) of the songs went with the storyline… “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Bring Back that Lovin’ Feeling” definitely apply to The Winter’s Tale!

The theater was (unfortunately) not filled, and the actors encouraged audience members to move closer to the stage and to fill the seats onstage. As at Blackfriars, seats for a few brave audience members are set right on the stage and these folks became active (sometimes very hilarious) members of the show. One particularly funny interaction was when a minstrel came out playing and set his hat out for tips. One audience member tossed a few coins in. The musician nudged the hat down to the next guy. Instead of putting money in the hat, he reached in and took out the change! More hilarity ensued. Very funny.

I’m not a stage-sitter. I like to sit back and watch, and it was a great show. Even though I ordered tickets yesterday, I had seats in the third row and a great view. The ASC touring actors are wonderful and the show was really enjoyable. The current tour ends tonight with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in McLean, but I will be sure to keep my eye out for next season. If you can’t make it out to Staunton, you should try to catch the ASC on tour next year, too!

Stephanie Holladay Earl as Hermione in The Winter's Tale. Photo by Tommy Thompson.

A teaser, because I am so excited: My next post involves my visit yesterday with the Shakespearean Holy Grail. Yes, I had a very close encounter with a First Folio at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Stay tuned!

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And There’s the Humor of It

March 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm (Asides, Hamlet, Live Performances, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew) (, , , , )

Phlegm, Image from Deutsche Kalendar, 1498. Courtesy Pierpont Morgan Library.

Why am I sick? Why is he greedy? Why is she a shrew? In Shakespeare’s time, these questions would have been answered using the four humors. I realize that means very little to most people today. In Shakespeare’s world, people were thought to be ruled by four bodily fluids (called “humors”) — blood, phlegm, black bile (also called melancholy), and yellow bile (also called choler). Each of these fluids was believed to have inherent qualities that when in balance brought good health. When the humors were out of balance, illness and behavioral/personality problems resulted.

Medicine focused on bringing the humors into balance. Each humor was associated with moisture and heat. So, to bring them back into balance, the physician might add the opposite quality or take away whatever was in overabundance. For example, heat would help someone suffering from too much phlegm or melancholy (“cold” humors). Bloodletting would help a person with a fever, who must have an overabundance of blood (a “hot” humor).

Based on a picture from the book "The Seventy Great Inventions of the Ancient World" by Brian M. Fagan

How do I know all this? I live in a cool place (phlegmatic?!). The Folger Shakespeare Library is, of course, a very cool place for Shakespeare lovers. But there is a whole lot more coolness in the Washington DC area. There is the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Why is this a very cool place for Shakespeare lovers? They currently have an exhibition called And There’s the Humor of It: Shakespeare and the Four Humors.

The exhibition is lovely, with books from the National Library of Medicine’s collection tracing humorism back to its roots in antiquity… Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen. Humorism, especially as expanded upon by Galen, was a comprehensive system and was used to explain… just about everything. From the exhibition’s website:

William Shakespeare (1564–1616) created characters that are among the richest and most humanly recognizable in all of literature. Yet Shakespeare understood human personality in the terms available to his age—that of the now-discarded theory of the four bodily humors—blood, bile, melancholy, and phlegm. These four humors were thought to define peoples‘ physical and mental health, and determined their personalities, as well.

The language of the four humors pervades Shakespeare‘s plays, and their influence is felt above all in a belief that emotional states are physically determined. Carried by the bloodstream, the four humors bred the core passions of anger, grief, hope, and fear—the emotions conveyed so powerfully in Shakespeare‘s comedies and tragedies.

Today, neuroscientists recognize a connection between Shakespeare‘s age and our own in the common understanding that the emotions are based in biochemistry and that drugs can be used to alleviate mental suffering.

Bonny Kate, the Shrew (e.g., full of choler), W. Joseph Edwards, Angry face of Katharine Minola, 1847. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

I attended a lecture  called “Shrew Taming and Other Tales of the Four Humors” at NLM by Gail Kern Paster, the former director of the Folger and co-curator of the current NLM exhibition. According to Paster, Shakespeare’s audience would have understood life through the lens of the four humors, and there would have been no way for them to separate the psychological from the physical qualities attributed to the humors. So, she said to read Shakespeare “humorally,” that is, with the humors in mind, brings a much deeper understanding of his work.

Paster calls the humors “a code largely opaque and unknown to us” since they have no place in modern medicine and are largely forgotten now. But she says they were pervasive in Shakespeare’s time, and taking the effort to look for the language of the humors (i.e. references to heat, cold, moisture, and dryness) helps decipher meaning in Shakespeare and adds depth to understanding his works.

Paster focused her talk on the humors associated with three Shakespearean characters: Shylock, Ophelia, and Katherine Minola (bonny Kate, aka the Shrew). These characters were selected for the NLM exhibition because they displayed evidence of the “darker emotions” associated with melancholy and choler (much more interesting than boring phlegm which corresponded to a lack of activity).

Melancholy, Henry Peacham, “Melancolia,” Minerva Britanna, 1612. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.

The humors were thought to literally make you who you were. Because humorism was so all-encompassing, Shakespeare couldn’t help but to write with the assumption that his audience understood the context, implications and references to these things that simply go right over our heads today. However, we can watch for triggers that indicate Shakespeare is speaking humorally… often when he is describing emotions in physical terms.

The Greek physician/philosopher Galen expanded on the humoral system and added a whole host of other things to consider including the environment, place of birth, gender, age, etc. Paster noted that “The power of Galenism is it is so multifactorial… pick your factors and you have an explanation.” So, for example, the taming of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew involves manipulating a number of Galenic elements like diet and activity level to deal with Katherine Minola’s overabundance of choler.

Bloodletting, 1860. Photo from the Burns Archive.

Paster’s talk was fascinating and introduced me to a whole layer of “stuff” in Shakespeare that I had never before heard of. I have to say, I will certainly be on the lookout for humoral references from now on, even if I understand them imperfectly. The thing that amazed me most is that this system was used for about two thousand years, and it is only in the last 150 years or so that it has been almost completely erased. Bloodletting continued well into the 1800s. Think about how much things have changed!

If you live in the DC area, you may want to take a trip to Bethesda to view the exhibition at the NLM. It will be on display at the History of Medicine through August 17, 2012. While you’re there, be sure to take in the very nice (and much bigger) exhibit on Native American medicine (you really need a couple hours to do it justice). The Shakespeare exhibition includes a traveling exhibit that will be touring the country. If you can’t see it in person (and even if you can, actually), check out the excellent website they have put together. For teachers, there are extremely well-done lesson plans for middle and high school, as well as a college-level teaching module. Maybe you will get as interested in humorism as I have!

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Marketing Shakespeare

December 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm (Asides, Live Performances) (, , , )

Enjoy this hilarious video, courtesy Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.

Happy New Year! And be sure to donate to your local Shakespeare company, so we can live in a world of light beer, fried chicken wings AND Shakespeare!

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It’s Too Darn Hot

November 4, 2011 at 11:53 pm (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Taming of the Shrew) (, , , , , , )

The Fall colors really popped out today and I played hooky from all the work I shoulda coulda woulda been doing. So, instead, I went to see Anonymous, which I will blog about soon. And, in a Shakespearean double whammy for the day, I took in a really fun performance of Kiss Me, Kate done by Rockville Musical Theatre.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a show on Broadway, but I was getting those good pre-show vibes while I was listening to the musicians warm up. I just kept feeling transported to New York and was all excited waiting for the show to start (of course, the tix were a lot cheaper in Rockville than Times Square!).

The show is fantastic! I can’t remember if I’ve seen Kiss Me, Kate before. If I did, it was decades ago. The story is so cute, set in post-WWII Baltimore and involving the relationship between the actors Lilli and Frederick as they play the roles of Kate and Petruchio in a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew.

It’s great fun how the 1940s storyline mirrors and weaves in and out of the play within the play (and they stage quite a lot of The Taming of the Shrew!).  The actors do a wonderful job, the leads have beautiful voices, and the dance numbers are well-done (I especially enjoyed Too Darn Hot).

The Cole Porter tunes are familiar and fun and the musicians are excellent. I was surprised to see one of my kids’ pediatricians as the musical director… that’s what I love about community theater! And while I was impressed with this production all around (singing, dancing, music, acting, costumes, sets), what I like best of all on the Rockville Musical Theatre’s website is their “Oh S#%t Awards” for the biggest goofs during each production. I got a good laugh out of that (but did not notice anything tonight that would earn the award)!

Anyway, great fun and I highly recommend it to anyone in the DC area. Kiss Me, Kate continues this weekend and next at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville. Tickets are $20 and I was pleased to see a good crowd there tonight! Head on out, folks. It’s Wunderbar!

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Forces of Nature

August 27, 2011 at 8:25 am (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Taming of the Shrew) (, , , , , )

A storm’s a-brewin’ here in the DC area as we await Hurricane Irene. It’s been a weird week here, what with the big earthquake and all.

These forces of nature formed the backdrop of a lovely evening of theater last night in Olney, Maryland. The National Players presented a free outdoor Summer Shakespeare show, The Taming of the Shrew, at the Olney Theatre Center.

Director Clay Hopper set the stage by first checking the hurricane app on his iPhone… “It’s not here yet!” he announced as he looked up at the lovely evening sky. Then he noted that we were in the safest theater around in case of another earthquake (outside, backed by some woods and serenaded by cicadas). With that, the show began, and what fun!

They jumped right in with a rowdy wild West theme that worked well for me. Very stylized acting/fighting and lots of funny sound effects brought out the farce of the play. Bianca was literally all white from head (very blond hair) to toe (dressed in sparkly white). No-nonsense Kate, in leggings and corset, played the part well — athletically taking on Petruchio and even cartwheeling away from him… a force of nature, indeed!

The staging was great fun and judging from all the laughter, a big hit with the audience. The National Players are in their 63rd year and presenting their 22nd free Summer Shakespeare production. The show is supposed to continue tonight in Olney, but I have a feeling that Hopper’s hurricane app may sing a different tune than last night. My trees are already a-blowin’ here in Gaithersburg.

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Cutting Shakespeare

August 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm (Asides, Live Performances) (, , , , , )

The Washington Post ran an article yesterday that I found fascinating: Editing Shakespeare? You need guts to make the kindest cuts of all. The subtitle is: Subtle art of reshaping makes Bard’s plays more audience-friendly.

In a Bard-happy town like Washington, the subtle art of cutting Shakespeare is on near-constant display. The craft requires nerve, stage savvy and scholarship. And time.

“Dozens and dozens of hours,” says Muse, a former STC associate artistic director who now runs the Studio Theatre. The job can involve rearranging scenes, prioritizing story lines, combining multiple minor figures into a single character, changing line assignments and wrangling with the magnificent but sometimes elusive language.

I love seeing the plays, but as my blog project here of “reading Shakespeare” implies, I like reading them and mulling them over even more. Still, it’s fascinating for me to think about the intricacies of staging these plays for modern audiences.

I really enjoyed seeing the British TV series Playing Shakespeare and watching the Royal Shakespeare Company director John Barton and the wonderful actors discussing and playing with the texts as they made them come alive. The complexities and nuances of performance amaze me.

So, it is fascinating for me to consider how much must be cut. I had not really thought about it before, but here it is, bluntly (from the Post article):

For Cam Magee, a dramaturge who has cut 24 of the 37 plays, a running time of 2 1 / 2 hours has been a typical goal at the Washington Shakespeare Company.

“You’re losing an hour to an hour and a half of material,” says Magee, whose cuts also have been seen at the Folger Theatre.

Wow. That’s a huge chunk that they have to cut. I just had never considered that reality. I guess I realized they did it, but hadn’t thought about how much they really have to cut to keep the performances a reasonable length.

And not just the length, but the impenetrability of a lot of the wordplay/puns/references. I know this from reading the plays. Some of it, you just must yada, yada through, as I was tempted back when I discussed Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. From the Post article, again:

Then there are punch lines that slayed ’em 400 years ago but can be impenetrable now. “It can take half an hour to figure out one joke,” Muse says. Kahn mentions a long comic exchange in “All’s Well That Ends Well” between the Countess of Rousillon and the clown Lavatch that frequently sounds alien to modern ears. The gags are bogged down by topical references and ancient words. “If you can’t follow at all why something’s funny, then I’m going to cut it,” Posner says, “because I’m not interested in the theory of why it’s funny.”

Right? This makes total sense from a practical standpoint and I love how bluntly it’s stated. “I’m not interested in the theory of why it’s funny.”

The article goes on about cutting for storytelling clarity and adaptations that make them work and fresh for audiences. I realize these are all issues for modern productions.

I keep thinking, though, about, “I’m not interested in the theory of why it’s funny.” Because I really do get that. And yet, I find myself thinking about wanting to yada, yada through Mercutio and being ready to give up on Love’s Labour’s Lost as soon as I began. Yikes, it was difficult.

Yet I found that sticking with it, and giving it more time was worthwhile for me in both cases. I really enjoyed the puns, and found the seeming impenetrability dissipate with some work.

Work. I guess that’s why I’m reading them and not just seeing them in performance. It is not reasonable (maybe not really possible) to ask an audience to work at understanding what’s happening or being said. I get that, too. The play in performance is a fleeting thing. It brings clarity to the words, in some cases (the facial expressions, staging choices that can clarify meaning), but in other cases, the words can simply get in the way of the flow on the stage. From the Post:

And all, in their various ways, pledge ultimate fidelity to the Bard. They refer to folios and quartos, and sometimes have half a dozen published editions open during rehearsals to consult.

Yet they have to cut. They have to cut a lot. I get that. So, I will keep reading the plays (and going to see them and watching the videos). But I find reading them brings a different depth of enjoyment.

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