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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August 1, 2011 at 12:32 am (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

I love to get out during the summer to see outdoor Shakespeare. I’ve been wishing and wanting for months to see the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s carnival-themed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company lets kids in for free, and I thought this might be the perfect play for my boys, who are 6 and 9 and not very good at sitting still. Many of the shows begin at 8 PM, which is too late for us, but I made it out tonight for their 6 PM show, the last of the season! I am so glad.

I meant to get there early for the pre-show carnival games and fun, but we got tied up in DC beltway traffic and only made it about 15 minutes before showtime. The kids still enjoyed some games and had a quick burger before the show began. There was face painting and a sprinkler set up for the kids (I am kind of immune to the heat here, but I think the temp was in the high 90s at the show’s start… it felt pleasant to me and all the seats were in the shade). We brought a blanket and could have sat right up front, but the boys wanted to sit on folding chairs. There are no bad seats.

Molly Moores as Titania & Jose Guzman as Oberon from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I saw Chesapeake Shakespeare do Much Ado About Nothing last year, and I described their incredible outdoor performing space at the ruins of an antebellum finishing school in Ellicott City, Maryland. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they transform the ruins into a circus, with a tightrope, some signs, and lights… the carnival theme is not taken too far.

The show begins with some magic tricks, but again it’s not taken too far. Oberon is dressed as the circus master and Titania is his assistant, but other than that, the carnival theme fades and we’re in familiar forest and fairyland.

Jamie Jager as Puck & Stacy Downs as Peaseblossom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

I love this play, and there were no weak parts in this production. The Athenians were hilarious, and I loved watching them running all around, progressively losing their clothes and getting more worn out, leaves in their hair, etc. Funny. It was hilarious watching their fighting and insults and fun to watch Puck and Oberon sitting up in the windows of the ruins “enjoying the sport.”

Puck is great fun in this production — a big guy with cool shades. He’s very funny.

I loved Bottom in this production, as well. My boys have seen bits and pieces of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on video, and the part they know best is where Puck turns Bottom into the ass-head that the love-juiced Titania falls for. This had my 6 year old bending over laughing.

They also loved the Mechanicals — especially Flute playing Thisby. Both of my boys were laughing like crazy whenever Flute was out. They got a big kick out of the chink in the wall (fingers held out), too. The little one kept saying, “This is Ridiculous!” And indeed, it was. This version of Pyramus and Thisby was thoroughly ridiculous… as it should be!

I’m so very glad that I got out to see this production. My 9 year old pronounced this “the best day ever!” on our way home (we also had a hike in the morning and went fishing and butterfly hunting, so there was a lot for a little boy to love today). But I was glad that their first experience watching a full-length live production of Shakespeare was such a success. Bottoms up!

David R Tabish as Bottom, Robby Rose as Snout from A Midsummer Night's Dream, photo by Teresa Castracane

If you live in the DC area, think about joining the Shakespeare Explorers Meetup Group. They get out to a lot more shows than I do. For example, they’re going to see Taffety Punk stage King John for free at the Folger Theatre tomorrow!

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Shakespeare That Sucketh Not!

July 25, 2011 at 12:05 am (As You Like It, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

I am lucky to live in the Washington DC area, where the Bard is alive and well onstage, especially in the summer. Tonight the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice wrapped up. In a few weeks, their Free for All version of Julius Caesar takes the stage. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has extended their carnival-themed outdoor version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and they are also doing The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged. Jamie who blogs at Maryland Shakespeare has posted about the Empty Chair Theatre’s version of Titus Andronicus which sounds pretty cool. And entering the realm of the very artsy, there are several Shakespeare-inspired shows at the Capital Fringe Festival:

Hamlet Reframed: While Hamlet is off monologuing, what about the rest of Elsinore? Rather than showing Hamlet’s inner thoughts and private actions, this cropping of Shakespeare’s text focuses on how the king and queen deal with a mad and murderous prince.

King Lear: Drunken biker gang leader, King Lear, rashly banishes his thankless youngest daughter, igniting a violent turf war. As Lear rages, his conniving older daughters vie for control of the gang. It does not go well.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Purple Haze? The Lost Rock Sonnets of William Shakespeare: They’ve been broken up for nearly 500 years, but William Shakespeare is getting the band back together and releasing the most ambitious concept album since Hamlet, proving that high culture once was pop culture, and shall be again!

The Shrewing of the Tamed: Are women as funny as men? This feminist adaptation of “Taming of the Shrew” explores the politics of power, performance, sex, and laughter by taking Shakespeare’s original text and turning it on its head.

What, Lamb! What, Ladybird: Think you know Juliet? Think again. Shakespeare’s brilliant heroine is too often sidelined by the masculine world she inhabits, but this one-woman show, performed by Charlene V. Smith, puts Juliet center stage.

Whew! All this Shakespeare everywhere I look, and I hadn’t been able to see any of it. Then, the Maryland Shakespeare Festival was supposed to come to my town, Gaithersburg for a couple free performances of As You Like It. I thought, yay me! I finally get to go to a show. But guess what? Washington tends to get a little warm in July (tourists drop like flies here!). And Friday and Saturday our heat index was up in the 120s, so they cancelled the shows. I guess they did not want to have to wrestle in the damp heat!

Luckily for me, I was able to go to the rescheduled show tonight. What fun! As You Like It is such a funny show, and Maryland Shakespeare Festival does a great job of bringing the lightheartedness to the forefront of this production. They start with their “Riotous Youth” group giving an animated pre-show show explaining the plot of the play to kids (and grown-ups) in attendance. It helps set the stage perfectly.

This group did As You Like It this past spring as a Bare Bard (raw, unrehearsed) production and they have tightened it up (and rehearsed a few times!) to create the freebie show that is traveling around Maryland parks this summer. I’ve seen one of their Bare Bard’s (The Merchant of Venice) and I went to their summer freebie last year, Romeo and Juliet. They are an energetic company, exploring the original staging practices of Shakespeare’s time, while also making the plays fun and accessible to modern audiences. We are lucky to have them here.

With a minimal set and simple costumes, the actors were all wonderful comedians, from the early action with the wrestling match, the banishments to the magical forest of Arden, the great lines that everyone knows (“All the world’s a stage…”) to the craziness around Rosalind (disguised as the boy Ganymede) and her subtle wooing of Orlando, while fighting off the advances of Phoebe, and orchestrating the final happy ending with the four weddings (and no funeral!). All quite fun and fast-paced, with Touchstone the clown adding to the levity.

The title for my post comes from the T-shirt of one of the stage crew tonight. Truly, Maryland Shakespeare Festival is Shakespeare that Sucketh Not! And the price is right for this show ($0). The summer tour winds up next weekend with shows in Frederick and Denton. Try to catch it!

Celia (Erin Branigan), farthest left, and Rosalind (Teresa Spencer) watch while Orlando (Ian Sullivan) is on Wrestler’s (John Kelso) back during their wrestling match. Photo: Bill Green for the Frederick News Post

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April 17, 2011 at 12:13 am (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Tempest) (, , , , , )

Thanks to Jamie at Maryland Shakespeare for the heads up about Montgomery College’s WILLPOWER festival this week. Our community college puts on an annual celebration that includes a number of lectures and workshops about the Bard and his work. This weekend, Willpower culminated in several performances of The Tempest at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center on the Rockville campus.

I am so glad I was able to attend this evening’s show. It was wonderfully magical and very well done. I really enjoyed the magical atmosphere — the beautiful set and creative lighting and staging.

The scene has shifted a bit eastward from Shakespeare’s big storm. We’re on an island in the Bay of Bengal, and Prospero is the rightful Duke of Madras, while Alonso is the King of Nepal. The set is a magical jungle of huge banyan trees and vines.

I really enjoyed the Indian theme. Ariel is transformed into sort of a Greek chorus/dance ensemble played by five actors who step up perfectly in height, with each about 3″ taller than the next. The play begins with the actors stacked so that they resemble a Hindu god with multiple arms. They do a Bollywood-style line dance during Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding.  I enjoyed this rendition of Ariel throughout the play.

Prospero with Ariel at the Montgomery College production of the Tempest. Photo by Peter Zakutanski and R. Scott Hengen

The costumes are beautiful, the student actors do a great job. This is well worth the 10 bucks it sets you back and I was a bit disappointed that the theater wasn’t anywhere near filled on a Saturday night. There is still one more performance of the show on Sunday, April 17 at 2 PM. If you’re in the DC area, I highly recommend that you make your way round the beltway tomorrow and experience this brave new world in Rockville. 

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A Luminous Winter’s Tale

December 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Winter's Tale) (, , )

I had a Saturday afternoon free and noticed that The Winter’s Tale was being performed nearby, so I jumped at the chance to see another Shakespeare play. I had never heard of Lumina Studio Theatre, but was impressed with their work. The enormous cast (over 50 people!) in this play was almost entirely children. And they have two separate casts performing this show over two weekends! That’s a lot of kids interested in playing Shakespeare! From its mission statement:

Lumina Studio Theatre’s mission is to provide unique opportunities for young and adult actors of all levels of experience to perform Shakespeare, other plays of the classical repertory theatre, and modern plays that focus on the beauty of language.

The setting for the telling of the tale is an abandoned theater during the blitz in London during WWII. There are air raid sirens at the start and then the people taking cover in the theater are entertained with the story.

It was a fun performance, lots of energy and excitement, beautiful costumes, very nice music, and lots of cute kids doing a great job. There were a couple little glitches. One boy fainted onstage and amazingly the other actors didn’t miss a beat, the speakers kept delivering lines, and the couple of adults on-stage carried him off quietly. I thought it was part of the play! It was only at intermission that I heard people in the audience asking if he was alright (he was).

It was fun. I may have been one of the few people in the audience not related to one of the actors, but the 150-seat theater was full for this show. Lumina Studio Theatre performs at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland outside Washington, DC. If you are in the area, you might try to catch a performance. The show continues through December 12.

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Bare Bard

October 10, 2010 at 7:04 pm (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Merchant of Venice) (, , , , , )

I just saw The Merchant of Venice in rare form — bare naked. No, the actors were clothed. Here’s a description from the Maryland Shakespeare Festival website:

As always in Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s signature Bare Bard experiments, The Merchant of Venice is an exercise in impromptu Shakespeare. The cast of actors will arrive in Frederick on Friday evening with their lines already memorized, and by Saturday evening, they will perform the full production before an audience—with stunning emotional realism, audience interaction, live music, choreographed dances, and unbeatable storytelling.

Let me explain: the actors met on Friday evening, had dinner, talked about the play, worked through some things on Saturday and then with no rehearsals, performed it for the first time on Saturday evening, in front of a live audience. They performed it once more on Sunday afternoon. And then the actors stayed for a bit afterward to discuss the play and answer questions. And now it’s done. History.


Seriously, this was a pretty incredible experience. It is experimental theater, more in tune with the ways of Elizabethan theater, where plays were produced fast and furiously with little rehearsal and not much in the way of props or staging. Did I say props? Ummm, the only props I can remember in the entire production were the scales and knife that Shylock carried into the courtroom preparing to take his pound of flesh from Antonio. Oh, and the three boxes that Portia’s suitors must choose from to win her hand. Bare Bard, indeed!

Did I mention Shylock? It was very interesting to see this so soon after watching the Playing Shakespeare episode devoted entirely to this character. Shylock was incredible here — played by British actor Stephen Lorne Williams, a Broadway veteran (and currently playing at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia which I posted about a few months ago). I found his Shylock filled with psychological angst from bearing a lifetime of racism.

In the discussion after the play, people talked about anti-Semitism in the play, whether this reflected on Shakespeare himself, the times, or whether we cannot know. I have not re-read the play yet, but my feeling from this production was that Shylock’s pretty much psychotic insistence on having his pound of flesh rather than twice the payment he was due, was due to a lifetime of maltreatment and disrespect. He thought he had a moment of power after a lifetime of powerlessness. Even that backfired on him. Amazing.

And then, of course, the play is a comedy, and the players made the most of many of the comic elements. I especially enjoyed the silliness regarding the errant rings at the end. And there was a great moment where Lorenzo sang to Jessica one of the Beatles’ love songs (I think it was “And I Love Her”). Very funny.

Was it perfect? No, I mean how could it be when there have been no rehearsals. There were some requests for lines, but they were rare, considering. And I didn’t count them as flubs… there were really none. Shylock was definitely the high point of this production, but a lesser character caught my attention, too: Shylock’s servant, Launcelot Gobbo. His internal back and forth between conscience and the fiend… it was both funny and extremely insightful — the perfect role of the jester. I loved it.

If you find yourself near Frederick, Maryland, I recommend that you check out the Maryland Shakespeare Festival. I posted about these folks during the summer outdoor freebie Shakespeare season. They are playing several Bare Bard experiments this season and it is an amazing way to experience Shakespeare. As well as raw and bare, it is also up close and personal: they play in the parish hall at an Episcopal Church. There is not even a stage. The actors were literally a couple feet away from me. Amazing!

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Playing Shakespeare

October 4, 2010 at 2:41 pm (Asides, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Merchant of Venice) (, , , , , , , , )

I’ve had to take a little hiatus from my Shakespeare project, but I intend to return to my discussion of Love’s Labour’s Lost when I can. In the meantime, I have recently been enjoying a 1984 British TV series called Playing Shakespeare featuring founding director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, John Barton, and an array of RSC actors including Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley, and Judi Dench. 

I studied English literature in college, so even though I knew intellectually that Shakespeare did not intend his plays to be read as literature, it’s how I naturally approach his work. Watching the plays is a profoundly different experience for me than reading them. I like both ways of enjoying a play, but have always felt I understand more when I read/analyze/mull them over as literature. The experience of watching a play is so fleeting. You have to be so completely present in the moment and it is more of a challenge for me personally to feel like I “get it.”

So, it is with great interest that I approach this TV series where a great Shakespearean director discusses the challenges and nuances of bringing Shakespeare’s text to life for modern audiences. The actors discuss their viewpoints on various issues and then demonstrate scenes using rehearsal props. It is amazing. It is such a different viewpoint and I am really mesmerized by it.

I have only watched three of the 9 episodes so far. The first episode examines the need to marry the Elizabethan acting tradition to the modern acting tradition, acknowledging everything in between. The second episode focuses on Shakespeare’s use of blank verse as a means of helping the actors learn their lines and present them correctly. This was an amazing episode to me, as I had never thought about this purpose for the verse, but the actors were all in agreement that the verse helps them immensely when they go with it and let the rhythms lead the way.

The third episode on language and character focuses on different ways of portraying Shylock and it blew me away even more than the other episodes I’ve seen. Here, actors Patrick Stewart and David Suchet, who both portrayed Shylock in RSC productions under John Barton’s direction, demonstrate their takes on various scenes from The Merchant of Venice. They are so completely different, yet Barton points out that both work with the text and that every actor brings his or her own personality and proclivities to each role. Amazing to watch.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. John Barton is absolutely amazing to listen to. He obviously has lived and breathed these plays for many years. The remaining episodes include Set Speeches and Soliloquy, Irony and Ambiguity, Passion and Coolness, Rehearsing the Text, Exploring a Character, and Poetry and Hidden Poetry. The series is available on Netflix and I highly recommend it!

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Not Your Grandma’s Shakespeare!

July 13, 2010 at 3:17 pm (Live Performances, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I must be butta, cuz I’m on a roll. I attended yet another live performance of Shakespeare last weekend! Gaithersburg was the Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s first stop on a tour performing Romeo and Juliet at outdoor venues around the state this month. What fun!

The MSF artistic director, Becky Kemper, trained at Mary Baldwin College and the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia (home of the Blackfriars playhouse recreation I visited last month), so it’s not surprising that this troupe uses original staging practices (audience interaction, fast pace, minimalist sets, actors playing more than one character, live music, etc). From their website:

Company Aesthetic – The Festival Atmosphere & Original Practices

This is not your grandma’s Shakespeare!  Maryland Shakespeare Festival believes in playing like they did in Shakespeare’s day, and is one of seven Original Practice Laboratories in the world.  With extensive research and training by the core company, MSF works to bring Shakespeare back to life as the playwright intended for his plays, players and playhouses.  We play with (and light) the audience, including them in the story.  We include interludes (instead of intermission) filled with live contemporary music.  We create an atmosphere of play and imagination, of poetry and visceral storytelling.  The jokes are funny, the sad parts touching.  We believe Shakespeare was never meant to be a dose of cultural medicine, but a vibrant, fun, and communal event that makes a difference in our lives.  It is a central piece of our mission to bring Shakespeare out of the dark and stuffy theater and into the park where everyone, no matter their cultural or economic background, can enjoy.  For more information on what it means to perform Shakespeare using Original Practices, click here.

The show is so much fun! I arrived a couple minutes before showtime, while the cast was providing a fun and spirited preview of the play’s action. The weather was picture perfect (in stark contrast to the humid heat at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performance I attended on the 4th of July) and there was a nice crowd assembled for the freebie show at Gaithersburg City Hall.

These are professional actors, and the show is well done, even with less-than-perfect circumstances. Gaithersburg is a railroad town with the stage located maybe 30 feet from an active track and right on a busy street. There was a train with whistle blaring early in the show, but the players just stopped action briefly to let it pass. No problem! There was a guy talking on his cell phone and a heckler (maybe with Tourette’s) through the first half of the show, but the actors didn’t seem to notice. The show must go on! And it did, much to my enjoyment. I sat right up front at the edge of the grass… a great view.

The players are well cast. Juliet is believably young and naive; Romeo is her dreamy young lover. They’re a good match. Tybalt (played by a woman) is his usual annoying self. I really love Mercutio in this version. He is fiery and excitable. Perfect! He did the whole Queen Mab speech, and I was surprised at how exceedingly long it felt in performance. It’s so odd!

Like at the performance I went to in Staunton, Virginia, the players provide musical entertainment during the intermissions. They played “Sweet Caroline” (changing the lyrics to “Sweet Rosaline”) during the first intermission and during the second break I really enjoyed their acoustic version of “All Along the Watchtower”  (marred only by the guy behind me who apparently thought it was call and response and then added his very shrill and weird wildcat howls). Anyhow.

There’s free Shakespeare in parks everywhere you look this summer. Get out and enjoy some! And if you’re in Maryland, try to catch the MSF’s Romeo and Juliet at a park near you!

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Shakespeare In-The-Ruins

July 5, 2010 at 12:37 am (Live Performances, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

The ghosts of Southern belles are dancing in my imagination right now. I saw Much Ado About Nothing performed in the ruins of an antebellum finishing school today. It was the coolest thing! Well, it wasn’t cool. It was nearly 100 degrees and muggy when the play started. But it was really cool!


The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs outdoors, in the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, Maryland (not far from Baltimore). I found this information about the ruins:

Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Patapsco River Valley in Historic Ellicott City, the Patapsco Female Institute was founded in 1837 and operated for more than 50 years as an elegant finishing school for young women. The stabilized ruins of the Greek Revival structure are open for tours, and serve as a beautiful setting for special events including Victorian teas and a summer open air theatre.

So, there were hoop skirts here. Young Southern belles during the Civil War. I bet they had dances like Scarlett O’Hara went to in Gone with the Wind. 

Anyway, what a cool place to see a play! Huge trees surround the ruins. For the 4th of July, they started the play at 5 PM so we would have plenty of time to get out to see fireworks afterward. The actors also read the entire Declaration of Independence before the performance. That was kind of amazing to hear! 

The seating is very casual and family friendly (kids get free admission to all performances). Some sat on blankets, others brought camp chairs. CSC provides 200 folding chairs, so I took one of those. We all moved around quite a lot to get out of the sun for the first 45 minutes or so. Once the shade from the trees kicked in, everything was much more pleasant. It would be really lovely in the evening. 

The CSC provides pre-performance entertainment (jugglers, activities), but I arrived at showtime, so missed out on that. You could make quite a day of the outing. Because it was a family-oriented performance, one of the actors began by taking the kids (and any interested grown-ups) aside to explain the plot of the play (with photos) so they’d be able to follow along better. I thought that was really nice. 

They did a great job with Much Ado About Nothing. The stage is a series of platforms and ramps built into the L-shaped side of the ruins. So, the actors perform there as well as using the many doors and windows of the ruins. It gives them a lot of flexibility and they use the space well. 

Lesley Malin as Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

This production is set during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The acting is terrific! I enjoyed everyone. Beatrice has a lot of spunk and presence. You could see her cracking her gum in a Rosie the Riveter job. And she has that Big Band era chic… she looks great with her hair nets and stylish outfits. 

Katie Molinaro as Hero, Steven Hoochuk in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

One thing I noticed in this production that was not evident in video versions or from reading the text — Margaret during and after Hero’s jilting at the altar. Wow. So, it’s Margaret at the window with Borachio (they staged the window scene quietly here). Then the next day, Claudio humiliates Hero at the altar and accuses her of being a whore. So, all the while, Ms. Margaret, Hero’s trusted servant… is doing what? Why wouldn’t she set things straight at the wedding (blushingly waving, ummm, ahemm, excuse me, can I say something?). I don’t remember seeing her at all during the post-jilting in the film versions. 

Well, here, I watched her on the stage. It was interesting. Everyone else ran to Hero’s aid when she fainted. Margaret stood aside, by herself, nervously playing with a bouquet and quietly contemplating her navel. I kept looking at her. Why wouldn’t she speak up? But then it worked for me. Here she is, a servant. The jilting is huge: Big Drama involving the daughter of the governor and all these important people. I could see then… it would be very difficult for Margaret to own up to the truth here (although I still think she could have done it later, in private). But here, the big scene, how strange it would be for a servant to pipe up with the news that Claudio and Don Pedro were mistaken and that it was she having sex with Borachio at her mistress’s window while he called her Hero. How would she explain that here? So then, I understood Margaret a bit more. 

Only one thing bothered me during the whole show. You may have noticed that I love Balthasar’s song, as I’ve started many of my posts about Much Ado by quoting it. So, I was looking forward to hearing it performed. Guess what? Balthasar sang it in Spanish in this production! Oh, darn. 

It was really fun to watch this play, it’s so entertaining… really a pleasant outing. If you’re in the area, I recommend catching a show here at the ruins. Hamlet is running in repertory this summer with Much Ado. It’s a lovely venue. 

And I got home in plenty of time to see fireworks. Happy 4th of July! 

James Jager as Claudio, Michael Sullivan as Benedick, Theo Hadjimichael as Don Pedro in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Photo by Teresa Castracane

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