Picture This

April 10, 2010 at 2:29 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations) (, , , , )

Picture some Australian college kids looking for a psychology project that involves observing live subjects, add a little hypnosis and a lot of Shakespearean shenanigans and you have Picture This: A Midsummer Night’s Comedy. This is a micro-budget, brief (83 minute) flick that puts a very modern spin on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I got a kick out of it. This is not a big, glossy, glitzy Hollywood production, but more like a film school project—and I think it works well for what it is.

The fairy world here is inhabited by college kids (in other words, there is no fairy world and actually, no magic). Jack King (played by Luke Rex) is the Oberon character. He is failing out of his psych program and must make a perfect score on his next project. Jack’s buddy Puck Goodfellow (Jason Bradshaw) agrees to help him make the grade. The film opens with Puck hypnotizing a cat to make it bark like a dog. His hypnosis skills serve the purpose of the magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Jack and Puck come up with a plan to observe an engaged couple in their home via secret video cameras. Jack’s girlfriend Tania (Melissa Martin) plays the Titania part. She agrees to help Jack with the technological side of the project. The kids pretend to install a new cable TV system and once the cameras are in place, they observe the goings-on remotely from the rooftop of the house.

The Shakespearean love quadrangle is Nicole (Victoria Hall) in the Hermia role, Penny (Rachel Terry) in the Helena role, Tom (Drayton Morley) in the Lysander role, and George (James Studdert) in the Demetrius role. In addition, Nicole and Tom’s characters have elements of Hippolyta and Theseus. And Tom pulls triple duty by serving as the ass, Bottom!

The undergrads know they should just observe their subjects and not impact them, yet they can’t help themselves from using hypnosis to induce changes they want to see in the love quadrangle to “improve” their data. The whole thing comes together quite well in an Australian indie, micro-budget, seat-of-the-pants kind of way.

I’m not usually interested in the bonus stuff on a DVD, but in this case, I’m glad I watched it. There is a 10 minute film with screenplay writer/director/producer John Fisk’s advice on “How to Adapt a Shakespearean Play” that I enjoyed quite a lot. It explains his desire to adapt and modernize A Midsummer Night’s Dream by giving Oberon (Jack) and Helena (Penny) more appropriate consequences for what he considers their selfish actions. It explains quite well the motivation for deviating from a strictly Shakespearean storyline and I found this quite interesting.

There’s also a bonus piece on making a micro-budget feature film in Australia, production of this film, and a blooper set. They’re all brief and worth watching (at least on fast play). The bonus material is also available on the film’s website (where you can order the DVD, which is not currently on Netflix). Oh, and as I look at the website, I see that these folks have been up to more Shakespearean adaptation: Shake it Up: It’s Much Ado about Something! What fun!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Isn’t it Bliss?

April 7, 2010 at 11:46 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Isn’t it bliss? Not really. I feel a bit let down. That’s what happens when I build things up in my mind. I’d seen A Little Night Music with Elizabeth Taylor as Desiree back when it originally came out in 1978. I was a kid and I think I went with my mom and sister. I remember loving it. I’ve seen the play performed and enjoyed it.  I thought I would really like watching it this time around, knowing now that it is a musical remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, which I loved.

I was mistaken. Watching the two films so closely together was a huge mistake. The Bergman film is superior in just about every way. It’s funnier, more charming, more poignant. Comparing them side by side is painful.

And that’s unfortunate, because Stephen Sondheim’s score is beautiful and the play works well on the stage. For one, I really can’t stand Elizabeth Taylor in this film. Her simpering, squeaky voice is annoying and she doesn’t do the songs any favors. Even so, I still enjoyed “Send in the Clowns.” It’s an incredible song and it fits into the story perfectly. It’s really kind of breathtaking. (I just found a great version on YouTube with Judi Dench who plays Desiree in the London production. It’s such a heartbreaking moment in the play and the song is so incredible.)

I liked some of the performances in this film. Len Cariou is good as Frederick Egerman (he was nominated for a Tony for this role in the original Broadway production). He’s better in the romantic role than the unattractive Gunnar Björnstrand in the Bergman film. I also liked Diana Rigg’s performance as Charlotte (the wife of Desiree’s lover).

A Little Night Music is playing now on Broadway with Catherine Zeta-Jones as Desiree and Angela Lansbury as her mother. I would love to catch this and remind myself of what a wonderful play it is, but unfortunately, the review in the Washington Post was entitled, “‘Music’ in the key of blah” so I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up about this version, either. I need to get the bad taste out of my mouth, so I’m going to find the 1990 Lincoln Center version which got good reviews!

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Smiling on Bergman’s White Night

April 6, 2010 at 10:59 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I think I might have enjoyed Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy a little more if I’d watched it after seeing Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night. This was the inspiration for Allen’s film, and Bergman was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was easier to see the progression once I’d watched Bergman’s film.

Smiles of a Summer Night is delightful. It begins a bit slowly, but it builds and the second half is wonderful. Really, I think if I had the time to watch it again I’d get a lot more out of it. It’s a really nice film with some very funny moments. In my opinion, it’s much better than the Woody Allen film.

It takes place in Sweden in the early 1900s. The taciturn Fredrik (Gunnar Björnstrand) is married to the extremely young and lovely Anne (Ulla Jacobsson). Complications abound in every direction. Fredrik and Anne have been married for two years, but have not yet had sex. Desiree (Eva Dahlbeck), a former mistress of Fredrik’s, comes to town, and seeing her again fans the old flames for both of them.

However, Desiree is having an affair with the jealous Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle). Malcolm’s wife Charlotte (Margit Carlqvist) is, in turn, very jealous of Desiree and wants her husband to herself. Meanwhile Fredrik’s angst-filled son Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam) is sowing a few wild oats with the lusty maid Petra (Harriet Andersson) while peering at his step-mom Anne with puppy dog eyes. Oh what a tangled web!

Desiree decides she wants to marry Fredrik (who may or may not be the father of her child) and she hatches a plan for her elderly mother to invite everyone for an overnight party at her country house. There is a pivotal dinner scene where Desiree seats everyone according to her plan. A little magic enters into the movie here, as Desiree’s mother tells a legend about the magical properties of the wine they are drinking. Each person seems to have something specific on their mind as they drink down the wine.

Well, if you got through all that, believe me, it’s not that complicated to keep track of while you’re watching. And it’s all pretty funny. There are some great scenes, like one where Count Malcolm makes Fredrik go home in his borrowed nightshirt. I think the funniest scene involves the trick bed that moves back and forth between rooms. It comes in pretty handy, let me tell you! And adding another comic element is the maid Petra who spends a lusty night under the midnight sun with Frid (Åke Fridell).

I liked that this film revolves around the female characters—they are much more likable than the male characters, and they move the plot forward. I also thought they were drop-dead gorgeous and the evening gowns they wear (even in black and white) are incredible.

This film is not directly Shakespearean, but it’s not hard to see how it was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the changing partners, the fickleness, the magic night. This is a very watchable film. It’s available on Netflix (streaming and DVD) in Swedish with English subtitles.

I finished reading through the text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream a couple days ago. I want to read it a second time before I begin commenting on it. I also have several more film versions in my queue to watch. If you have any film recommendations, be sure to let me know.

Also, note that I added some photos to my Tom Hanks post, courtesy of the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Woody Allen’s Version

April 4, 2010 at 8:41 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Film Adaptations) (, , , , )

Woody Allen seems to be one of those people you either love or you don’t. That’s how most people I know react to him. I’m sort of in the middle. I don’t dislike Woody Allen films. Actually, I really want to like them. But I often find them wearing on my patience. The endless dithering, the inane dialogue… I see the point he’s making, but I find I’m usually looking forward to the end of the movie.

That’s the case with A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. It’s only 90 minutes long, so you’d think my fight or flight reflex wouldn’t have kicked in, but it did. Really, after about 45 minutes I’d had enough of this movie. It wasn’t bad, it was just wearing.

There are three couples. It’s the early 1900s. The action takes place at Adrian (Mary Steenburgen) and Andrew’s (played by Allen) home in the country. Adrian’s cousin Leopold (Jose Ferrer) is marrying the much younger Ariel (Mia Farrow). They come to stay with Adrian and Andrew for the night before their wedding. Inexplicably, Andrew also invites his old friend Maxwell (Tony Roberts) who brings “anygirl”… really, any girl would do, so he asks a nurse, Dulcy (played by Julie Hagerty), who he barely knows.

It’s quickly apparent that none of the men are satisfied with their mates. Adrian and Andrew don’t have sex anymore. Leopold is uneasy with giving up his long and satisfying bachelorhood. Maxwell, who seems to sleep with just about anyone, is completely uninterested in the sweet, yet lusty Dulcy the whole weekend.

And then there are complications. Andrew once dated Ariel and seeing her again fans some flames for him. Maxwell is hit by the proverbial lightning bolt and falls in love at first sight with Ariel. Leopold looks to sweet Dulcy to cheer him up on his last night of freedom.

The adage “Marriage is the death of hope” is repeated several times, and no one seems to hold the institution in much esteem. Because this is the night before the wedding, there’s still hope! So, enter the “comedy,” which I don’t find that funny. There are many planned and unplanned trysts, men climbing out windows and down trellises, Andrew flying around in a goofy bicycle/helicopter, etc. It’s wearing on the nerves.

I didn’t hate this movie. It’s beautifully filmed. Some of the imagery in the woods is really lovely and Mia Farrow is straight out of a Botticelli painting with her flowing hair and flower garland. The acting is good, the characters are fairly interesting.

Allen adds a mystical component. Andrew is an inventor and one of his inventions is a clunky “spirit box” that somehow creates shadowy images of the past and/or future. Sort of through the spirit box we learn the reason behind Adrian and Andrew’s marital problems. And the movie ends with one of the characters going off to flit around like a firefly/fairy in the spirit world.

Alrighty. Is it Shakespearean? Not so much. Some of the themes are there, I guess. The changeable nature of love, the presence of unseen, supernatural forces. This movie was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of a Summer Night. That movie also inspired A Little Night Music. And all were ultimately inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I will be watching all of them and reporting back—hopefully they will be funnier than Woody Allen’s version.

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Tom Hanks, Shakespearean Actor

April 2, 2010 at 10:27 pm (Asides) (, , , , , , )

Spring break in Cleveland got me thinking about my mom who passed away a few years ago. I owe my love for Shakespeare and the arts in general to her! So here’s a manual for how to create an arts lover without really trying. Well, maybe not a How To manual, but it worked for me! 

I mentioned in my About Me that my mom took me to plays often. I’m sure she had no “plan” other than to go herself and I was a handy and willing companion. The effect of frequent theater-going for me was that it became a habit. I am not a picky theater-goer. I tend toward cheap and convenient community theater over big blockbuster shows. But when time and money have been available, I’ve subscribed to theater series and attended regularly throughout my adult life.

I don’t have a lot of specific memories of the shows my mom took me to. It was long ago, and I was a pre-teen/teen… not the best age for paying a lot of attention. But I know I loved going and it left a big impression.

The Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival performed professional productions at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium, located at Lakewood High School, a couple miles from our home on the West Side of Cleveland. Vincent Dowling came from the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to be GLSF’s Artistic Director in 1976. I think his arrival in town spurred my mom to attend theater (I’m thinking she didn’t get out a lot while she was raising 6 kids). I would have been 10 or 11 years old, just old enough to be able to sit through a play.

Great Lakes Theater Festival

Dowling stayed at GLSF from 1976 through 1984, and I left Cleveland before the 1985 season started, so my theater attendance with my mom coincided with Dowling’s leadership of GLSF. The GLSF moved from Lakewood to Downtown Cleveland’s newly-renovated Ohio Theatre in the early 1980s. We were very excited about the renovated Playhouse Square and attended shows and ballets at all the beautiful theaters there.

I think my mom subscribed to all of the GLSF productions most seasons. Unfortunately, she’s not around to ask anymore, but I’m pretty sure we went to about everything GLSF put on from 1976-1984.

A big thanks to Todd Krispinsky, Marketing and Public Relations Director for Cleveland’s Great Lakes Theater Festival (formerly Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival) who pulled the following info out of the archives about GLSF’s productions back in the 70s and 80s. I put the Shakespeare productions in bold.

1976 Production Director
Shakespeare, William The Tempest  Dowling, Vincent 
Kilty, Jerome Dear Liar (Featuring Vincent) Dowling, Vincent
O’Neill, Eugene Ah, Wilderness! Dillon, John
Shaw, George Bernard The Devil’s Disciple Dowling, Vincent
Shakespeare, William Romeo and Juliet  Glover, William 
Shakespeare, William Hamlet (Tom Hanks as Reynaldo)  Dowling, Vincent 
Manners, J. Hartley Peg O’My Heart Dowling, Vincent
Smith, Frederick In a Fine Frenzy Simon, R Hendricks
Williams, Tennessee The Glass Menagerie Dowling, Vincent
Wilde, Oscar The Importance of Being Oscar (featuring Vincent) Simon, R Hendricks
Shakespeare, William The Taming of the Shrew (Tom Hanks as Grumio)  Sullivan, Daniel 
Gay, John Polly (Tom Hanks as Hacker) Dowling, Vincent
Shakespeare, William Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tom Hanks as Proteus)  Sullivan, Daniel 
Barrie, James What Every Woman Knows Simon, Roger H
O’Keefe, John The Wild Oats (Tom Hanks as Muz) Sullivan, Daniel
Harris, Christopher The Nine Days Wonder of Will Kemp David, John
Shakespeare, William King John (Tom Hanks as Robert Faulconbridge,son)  Dowling, Vincent 
Shakespeare, William Twelfth Night (Tom Hanks as Fabian)  Sullivan, Daniel 
O’Casey, Sean Juno and the PayCock (Tom Hanks as Jerry Devine) Dowling, Vincent
Tarkington, Booth Clarence Thomas, Eberle
Dowling, Vincent Do Me a Favorite (Tom Hanks as Harold) Dowling, Vincent
Coward, Noel Blithe Spirit Reich, John
Shakespeare, William Othello Dowling, Vincent
Shakespeare, William Henry IV, Part I  Mackechnie, Donald 
Thomas, Brandon Charlie’s Aunt Dowling, Vincent
Brown, James My Lady Luck Egan, Michael
O’Neill, Eugene Hughie (double bill with The Boor) Stern, Edward
Chekhov, Anton The Boor (double bill with Hughie) Stern, Edward
Shakespeare, William Comedy of Errors  Ellenstein, Robert 
Shakespeare, William Titus Andronicus Dowling, Vincent
Wilder, Thorton The Matchmaker Silver, Dorothy
  Streetsongs Maltby, Richard (Jr)
Shakespeare, William King Lear  Dowling, Vincent 
Ibsen, Henrik A Doll’s House Stern, Edward
Shakespeare, William Much Ado About Nothing  Dowling, Vincent 
Brown, James My Lady Luck (also performed at White House) Silver, Dorothy
 1982 *Moved to Ohio Theatre   
Shakespeare, William As You Like It  Gruenewald, Thomas 
Synge, John Millington The Playboy of the Western World Dowling, Vincent
  Piaf: La Vie L’Amour! Dowling, Vincent
Dickens, Charles The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Lanchester+Stern
Thomas, Dylan A Child’s Christmas in Wales Williams, Clifford
Shakespeare, William The Merry Wives of Windsor  Williams, Clifford 
Shaw, George Bernard Blanco! Dowling, Vincent
Beckett, Samuel Waiting for Godot Morrissey, Eamon
Shakespeare, William Henry V  Boyd, Gregory 
Fugard, Athol The Island* O’Connor, Jim
Shaw, George Bernard The Dark Lady of the Sonnets* Love, John
Shakespeare, William W.S. Boys, Barry
Dickens, Charles The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Dowling, Vincent
Thomas, Dylan A Child’s Christmas in Wales Williams, Clifford
Shakespeare, William The Taming of the Shrew Arrick, Larry
Goldsmith, Oliver She Stoops to Conquer Trainer, David
Wilder, Thorton Our Town Albers, Kenneth
Wilder, Thorton Alcestis and Apollo Bihr, Jeff + V.D.
Wodehouse, P.G. Jeeves Takes Charge Lynne, Gilian
Manners, J. Hartley Peg O’My Heart Bruce, John + V.D.
Shakespeare, William A Midsummer Night’s Dream Dowling, Vincent


Great Lakes Theater Festival

So, how to create an arts lover without really trying? Take a kid out to theater on a regular basis. If you go to a show once every couple months, it’s really not that often, but look how it adds up over time! We saw a lot of shows!

And now the title of this post… did you notice the notes about Tom Hanks acting in the plays? Vincent Dowling discovered Tom Hanks and gave him his acting start at these plays that my mom and I went to. Here’s what it says in Tom Hanks’ Wikipedia article:

It was during his years studying theater that Hanks met Vincent Dowling, head of the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. At Dowling’s suggestion, Hanks became an intern at the Festival, which stretched into a three-year experience that covered everything from lighting to set design to stage management. Such a commitment required that Hanks drop out of college, but with that under his belt, a future in acting was in the cards. Hanks won the Cleveland Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his performance as Proteus in Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of the few times he played a villain.

I think I probably saw all the plays Tom Hanks performed in for GLSF. We also enjoyed Colm Meaney early in his career. He was married to Vincent Dowling’s daughter Bairbre, and they sometimes performed together.

So, take your kids out to the theater. It is habit-forming, and who knows… you might create a lifelong theater lover!

Great Lakes Theater Festival

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