Live Action

September 17, 2015 at 9:35 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona) (, , , , , , , , )

I started this post two whole years ago, but was sidetracked. Here it is with a few updates!

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CSC-logo-300I love the local Shakespeare groups in the DC area. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is especially fun and vibrant. During the summer, they perform family-friendly productions at the haunted ruins of a Southern Belle finishing school. In the fall, they used to take folks inside those ruins for movable productions in the dark (they did Dracula like that a couple years ago!). Now that they’ve settled into their beautiful Baltimore home, it looks like they plan to stay there for the fall show (though it’s still bloody: Titus Andronicus!).

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs during the summer at the haunted ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performs during the summer at the haunted ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Two summers ago, I took my kids to see The Taming of the Shrew at the haunted ruins. Light rain was barely noticed and the actors were just happy to complete a performance (so many thunder storms in Maryland that year… and the ruins are on top of a hill). The outdoor venue is really fun for families, with blankets and picnicking encouraged and no need for kids to sit perfectly still and at attention. There are a few hundred folding chairs available, as well as space to spread out. The stage area is built on several levels in front of the ruins and the actors use window openings and the sides of the ruins for entrances and exits. There’s a lot of activity. This production of the Shrew was pure fun. The comedy was slapstick and silly, with hilarious situations and clownish antics. Great fun for kids.

Back in 2013, CSC was also still playing in community spots. I saw The Two Gentlemen of Verona in “The Other Barn” which was a surprisingly pleasant and intimate community performance space located in a shopping center in Columbia, Maryland. It’s a hike for me to Columbia, but it was well worth it. CSC is a a community-minded organization and makes a great effort to be accessible to its audience.

The performance I attended was preceded by a talk with director Patrick Kilpatrick who spoke a bit about the setting he chose for this production… it takes place in 1991, a year Kilpatrick described as pivotal to American culture… the year “everything changed.” His inspiration (if that’s what you would call it) was a combination of the William Kennedy Smith rape case and the Menendez brothers’ trial. “Proteus and Valentine are the Menendez brothers. They are William Kennedy Smith. Two kids from wealthy and powerful families who think they can have whatever they want, because for their entire lives that has been a fact.” It was an interesting way to look at the play and in fact worked really well, with the boys in their button down oxford shirts and smoking seegars.

And it was a great deal of fun watching the play at The Other Barn… the actors were within a couple feet of me. The Duke’s eight-year-old son was sitting near me on a bench watching his dad and hanging out with him between scenes… I loved the casual atmosphere. The CSC players also entertained us with some fun music before the show and during intermission. Love these performances.

Street musicians playing for me during a downpour in Staunton.

Street musicians playing for me during a downpour in Staunton.

This past summer I visited my favorite spot, Staunton, Virginia, once again. I stayed in a fantastic airbnb place and really enjoyed the town. I took in two performances at the American Shakespeare Center: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Antony and Cleopatra. I even won a door prize… a poster signed by the cast! The shows were excellent, as always. They continue through November along with The Winter’s Tale and Henry VI, Part I (called Shakespeare’s Joan of Arc).

Sarah Fallon as Cleopatra and James Keegan as Antony in ANTONY & CLEOPATRA. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

America Shakespeare Center presents Sarah Fallon as Cleopatra and James Keegan as Antony in ANTONY & CLEOPATRA. Photo by Lindsey Walters. See this video for the actress talking about her role.

I saw ASC do The Winter’s Tale a few years ago in McLean, Virginia. ASC is bringing their Dangerous Dreams Tour to the Alden Theatre in McLean again in 2016. They’ll perform Julius Caesar, The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Life of King Henry V January 22-23. They have a package deal for all three shows at the Alden along with a “Brush up your Shakespeare” talk on January 21. Prices: $88 general public/$62 students and seniors/$50 McLean Community Center district residents… what a bargain, especially if you live in McLean! The DC-area Shakespeare Explorers Meetup group is participating in all the Alden events… maybe I’ll make it out to one!

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Shakespeare Uncovered

February 2, 2013 at 10:31 am (As You Like It, Film Adaptations, Hamlet, Macbeth, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

shakespeare_uncovered_basic_page_main_image_528x297CI wanted to post a detailed review of the exciting new PBS series, Shakespeare Uncovered. Unfortunately, the shows air late on Friday nights and I keep falling asleep while I’m watching them, so I am not able to give you a useful summary. But I will tell you to watch them! The videos are on the PBS website, so watch them at your leisure… I plan to!

Each of the six episodes features a different Shakespearean actor delving into the “story behind the story” of various plays. In the first episode, Ethan Hawke takes you on his journey to prepare himself for playing Macbeth. He talks about the dark side of this man… is the evil in this play supernatural or is it within Macbeth? He goes into the theatrical history of the play, the witches, the unfiltered evil of Lady Macbeth, and the drama of the dagger speech. And much more. When I have a chance to re-watch, I will post more about it.

In the next episode, Joely Richardson talks to her mother Vanessa Redgrave about the wonderful women characters in Shakespeare as she focuses on the comedies, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. I admit to major snoozing during this one, but no fault of the show itself, which I am eager to re-watch.

shakespeare-uncovered-8Last night, Jeremy Irons talked about Henry IV and V… made me really excited to watch and read these history plays down the road. I have gotten so bogged down with my project for this blog, but I still plan to read through and comment on all the plays some day, and this episode made me quite excited about the Henry plays.

And then the late one (the snoozer for me) last night was Derek Jacobi on Richard II… again making me look forward to this history play. He talks much about the modernity of the play, how it speaks to the behavior of despots throughout history. Jacobi also brings up the authorship question and his Oxfordian beliefs.

Next week comes The Tempest with Trevor Nunn and Hamlet with David Tennant. Don’t miss this series… it is really special.

I was also excited to see my favorite local Shakespeare group, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, do a series of entertaining 60-second Shakespeare videos that show between the episodes of Shakespeare Uncovered on Maryland Public Television. I hope they get wider distribution, as they’re really well done. Watch here, the short videos on Ghosts, Hamlet, and Shakespeare in America. CSC is also hosting a number of roundtable discussions in conjunction with Shakespeare Uncovered. There is one left about Hamlet next week, February 5 in Annapolis.

I’m so excited about this nicely-done series, and I look forward to enjoying it again and again in the future!

© All Content, Copyright 2013 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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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.

© All Content, Copyright 2013 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Signature Shakespeare

October 6, 2012 at 10:50 am (Asides, Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

A while back I read a piece by Washington Post Book Critic Ron Charles about a beautiful new series of Shakespeare’s plays in print: Signature Shakespeare by Sterling Publishing. These works are illustrated with lovely laser-cut illustrations by artist Kevin Stanton. This interview with Stanton on the Casual Optimist blog gives more info and pictures of these amazing books.

I see Barnes and Noble is selling a Nook version, which seems like an idiotic marketing idea for these particular books which are meant to be touched.

Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet are currently available. Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet will be released in the fall (you can pre-order now through B&N). More to come if sales are good. I hope they are! On his website, artist Stanton who is only 23, says: “I’m so proud of these, and feel really lucky to have gotten such a sweet job….I hope that you enjoy them – I know I do!”

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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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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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Shakespeare’s Women

June 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm (Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

Got an hour? Get Shakespeare’s Women & Claire Bloom (it’s available on Netflix). There’s nothing earth-shattering about it, but it’s enjoyable. Actress Claire Bloom, now in her 80s, played many (most?) of Shakespeare’s great female roles opposite leading men like Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton. The 1999 video is a mix of her commentary on the various female characters and reminiscing about playing them on stage and film.

Current recitals are intermixed with video from her performances back in the day. There are also a few clips from silent Shakespeare, including the only existing video of the famous Sarah Bernhardt in performance — playing Hamlet!

She packs quite a lot into just an hour. Some highlights include her discussion of playing Lady Anne in Richard III and how she is often asked if she found it difficult playing a character seduced by her husband’s murderer at the coffin… her response: “It’s easy if it’s Olivier!” She talks about how Juliet is no English virgin, but a very sexual 14-year-old Italian woman waiting with excitement to enjoy her wedding night. “It’s most wonderfully put by Shakespeare — who knew everything about everybody — and knew everything about a 14-year-old waiting for her wedding night!”

Bloom touches on Portia in the Merchant of Venice, Rosalind in As You Like It… she finds it amazing and intriguing that these roles were played by young male actors in Shakespeare’s day. Boys playing girls playing boys and even further convolutions. And beyond that, even the older female roles being played by boys — Bloom ponders what this was like to see.

Bloom played Ophelia in Stratford-upon-Avon at age 17, and then reprised the role at the Old Vic at age 22 with Burton as Hamlet. Later, she played Gertrude and was surprised to find the older woman a much more interesting role.

She talks about Imogen in Cymbeline, Volumnia in Coriolanus, Lady Constance in King John, and Katherine of Aragon in Henry VIII. Finally she describes Emilia’s speech to Ophelia about men… she finds Emilia ironic, accepting, funny, and thoroughly modern.

Bloom, who continues to act (she was Queen Mary in The King’s Speech), ends the video by saying she looks forward to playing Shakespeare’s crones and any parts that are left for her, because “even the smallest are worth doing.”

I would say this was an hour well-spent!

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

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And It’s One, Two, Three… What Are We Fighting For?

June 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm (Coriolanus, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” by Country Joe McDonald

I’ll put it right out there to stem any confusion. I’m anti-war. I’ve had a little coincidental convergence of anti-war stuff going on this week. I’ve been reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop — a satire about the media creating news about a promising little war in Africa in the 1930s. Then, my dad, a WWII vet, mentioned watching a touching documentary on PBS on Memorial Day. This is Where We Take Our Stand is the story of Iraq Veterans Against the War. It was available on YouTube briefly this week and I was able to watch it. Amazing stories of patriotic young people who want to tell their truths about the wrongness of the Iraq war. Oh, and then this morning, I saw today is the 40th anniversary of the famous napalm girl photo. Sigh. And so my thoughts turn to Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock. Whoopee! We’re all gonna die. Really, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, where ever. What’s the point?

So, the Fates converged on my pessimistic mood by putting Ralph Fiennes’ film Coriolanus out on DVD this week and there I found it in my mailbox yesterday fresh from Netflix. Ahh. Well, here’s the thing. When the film came out earlier this year, I knew I’d see it eventually. Shakespeare didn’t shy away from tackling difficult topics, so I knew in the course of this blog project that I would have to eventually face the ugly stuff along with the fairies and ass-heads. War. Let’s put a face on it. Coriolanus.

So, I broke my basic movie-watching rules (I avoid blood and gore, violence, Mafia movies, and war movies, in general) and I watched Coriolanus. I’m glad I did.

I am not familiar with the play, have not read it, have not seen it staged, and honestly, I think I would not like it if I’d read it first without seeing this film. Thanks to HarperCollins for sending me a copy of Coriolanus: The Shooting Script… I got a lot of insight about the film and the play by reading the commentary from Fiennes and screenplay writer John Logan.

First, the film makes this play completely contemporary and accessible. The film was shot in Serbia, but it could be any modern city. From “The Shooting Script”:

It might be Mexico City. Or Chechnya. Or El Salvador. Or Detroit. Or Baghdad. Or London.

This Rome is a modern place. It is our world right now: immediately recognizable to us…. It is a volatile, dangerous world.

The story involves Coriolanus, a Roman, and his fight against the neighboring Volsces, headed by Aufidius (played by Gerard Butler). The film portrays them as modern guerrillas. Again, from “The Shooting Script”:

The Volsces are an insurgent force challenging the monolithic might of Rome: rebels that suggest to us Latin American revolutionaries or Hamas fighters or Chechnian separatists.

The war story is the backdrop in this film for Shakespeare’s amazing characters. I think of Mad Men, where none are likable, but their personalities and stories are irresistible in their awfulness. I feel like I understand the deep pride and inner pain that drive Fiennes’ Coriolanus, the killing machine, to such destruction of others, and finally himself.

Coriolanus is a tragic, bedeviled man, uncomfortable in his own damaged and flawed skin. Fiennes explains in “The Shooting Script”:

Coriolanus comes into the opening of the story and basically tells the people to go fuck themselves. I think we in the audience decide we don’t like this guy based on that simple fact. But then the audience experiences him as a soldier, an extremely brave, almost crazy kind of soldier. They come to see that he has a kind of integrity, which is manipulated and destroyed by the world around him, and by his own arrogance and pride. Coriolanus wants recognition and doesn’t want it at the same time. He is very riven. I think he’s happiest in the battlefield; that’s where he is at one with himself.

I have to say that reading that gave me a much deeper understanding of what Coriolanus was about… his motivations and his ambivalence. It’s very true.

This man, so brave and proud, so sure of himself and his decision to make Rome pay for their treatment of him… he’s really a mommy’s boy and a pleaser. As writer John Logan says in “The Shooting Script”:

What is Shakespeare’s genius in Coriolanus? To me it is this: in a play about so many things, and so deeply and murkily about them, the climax is a boy weeping into his mother’s arms. It’s dead simple. It’s not a political or military climax, it’s not a grand speech or battle; it’s not about the ostensible “issues” of the play. It’s a boy and his mom.

Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, and Harry Fenn in Coriolanus. Photo by Larry D. Horricks

I love watching Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of Volumnia, the mother who creates the ultimate soldier and then asks for his mercy. Her profound complexity — a mix of pride and ambition and fear and mother’s love — it’s amazing and frightening. Redgrave, though she doubted her ability to play the part, is perfect for it.

In “The Shooting Script,” Fiennes also explains his choice of Jessica Chastain for the innocent, sweet, and nearly silent wife Virgilia (what a breakout year for Chastain… with her performances in Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help). It’s a quiet part, but she serves as witness to the chaos in Coriolanus’ mind.

In the end, I got a lot out of this difficult film, enriched by The Shooting Script. I had never heard of The Shooting Script series, and will definitely keep it in mind when I want to learn more about a film.

I think I’ve had enough war for the week. Now I’ll return to my regularly-scheduled programming.

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Slings and Arrows

May 24, 2012 at 3:11 pm (Film Adaptations, Hamlet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Oh my, oh my, what fun I’ve had the last couple weeks watching the first season of the 2003 Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows. The show is set in fictional New Burbage where a venerated Shakespeare festival (a la Stratford, Ontario) is undergoing major changes in personnel, funding, and focus. I will be honest, I didn’t expect much from this series, but oh my, it is excellent… modern and funny, wonderful characters, great acting, and of course, the central theme is the actors’ efforts to put Shakespeare on the stage.

The show begins with the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the accidental death of the festival’s artistic director Oliver (played by Stephen Oimette). Former actor Geoffrey (Paul Gross) is pulled in to replace Oliver, and finds himself haunted by Oliver’s ghost. Sounds corny, but it works! Many complications ensue, as Geoffrey must produce Hamlet, a play that marked the end of his acting career when he suffered a nervous breakdown in the middle of a performance. The back story unfolds slowly over a number of episodes, with the help of Oliver’s ghost. We learn that Geoffrey was in love with leading lady Ellen (played by Paul Gross’s real life wife Martha Burns) and heartbroken when he learned that Ellen had slept with Oliver, who is gay.

The comic foil to the actors’ drama is the hilarious, almost slapstick idiocy of the marketing office, fronted by clueless general manager Richard (Mark McKinney) but really controlled by the corporate schemer Holly (Jennifer Irwin). Holly sends elderly board member May into a coma when she brings into her hospital room a scale model of the proposed “Shakespeareville” theme park, complete with glitzy theater for performances of two musicals per day!

There is also a great side story involving the young Kate (Rachel McAdams), who ends up playing a mighty fine Ophelia, and her Hamlet, the American movie star Jack (Luke Kirby), who lacks the courage to face his slings and arrows until the very last moment, when he pulls off a great performance. As Anna the stage manager says at the end, “F— me blue, we’re done.” (Umm, yeah, this series is not recommended for children.)

What I liked best, not surprisingly, was watching actors discuss Shakespeare’s words and meaning and how to bring it to life on the modern stage. I’m sure all modern Shakespeare companies face these realities… marketing, financing productions, the difficulty finding audiences, artistic differences, personality conflicts. It is fun to watch it all play out. When Geoffrey takes over as director of Hamlet, he says, “One encouraging thing that I can say is I just happen to believe this play is the single greatest achievement in Western art. We’ve got that much going for us.” Bravo!

I’m looking forward to watching season two unfold around Macbeth and season three with King Lear. I don’t think I’ve seen another TV series rated 5 stars on Amazon, but this one is. It’s also on Netflix. Watch it!

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

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Good Press

April 29, 2012 at 12:03 am (Asides, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , )

I’ve seen a lot of good press lately for Shakespeare in the Washington Post. Yes, he is still generating lots of coverage! Today, I saw a review of a new production, a very nice travel piece, and… even a Shakespeare-related op-ed!

The new production is the Folger’s Taming of the Shrew, which I saw in rehearsal last month (I plan to blog about my awesome visit to the Folger… coming soon!). The play looks like such fun and I’m glad it’s attracting attention even before it opens.

The travel piece is about the Blackfriars Theatre at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia. I just posted a couple weeks ago about seeing their traveling version of The Winter’s Tale, and I posted back a couple years ago about my trip to the wonderful Blackfriars in Staunton. If you’re anywhere near Virginia at any time and you like Shakespeare a teeny bit, GO THERE! Go to Staunton and see a play at the Blackfriars. Just Do It.

But I have to say, the piece I enjoyed most was Post blogger Alexandra Petri’s op-ed Shakespeare, A Man for All Seasons, which originally appeared on her blog ComPost as a birthday wish to the Bard. It’s a fun discussion of Shakespeare’s relevance in today’s uber-connected world. I love this line: “These are not plays we read and see together as a generation or a country. They’re works we enjoy as a species. Shakespeare offers a roadmap to the human. And he does it in verse.” Yes, he does.

Great job, Washington Post!

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