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.

Bookmark and Share

Advertisements

Permalink Leave a Comment

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

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

Bookmark and Share

Permalink Leave a Comment

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!

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

Bookmark and Share

Permalink 11 Comments