Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Shakespeare References in The Stand-In

Deborah Moggach’s novel The Stand-In contains quite a few Shakespeare references. The book is told in the first person from the perspective of a female actor who works as a stand-in and becomes obsessed with a famous actor. So I suppose it’s not surprising that there would be at least a few Shakespeare references. Jules, the woman telling the story, is concerned about aging, and some of the Shakespeare references come from that. For example, the first mention of Shakespeare is this: “I should be playing Viola before it was too late” (p. 5). Viola, of course, is from Twelfth Night. And later Jules tells us: “Juliet had slipped from me forever. Now I was destined to shrivel, or to thicken, into character parts. Ahead lay a wasteland of aunts” (p. 68).

Often, the references are to Shakespeare characters that Jules wants to play. Jules tells her boyfriend, “I want to play Cleopatra, with Peter Brook directing me” (p. 21). Then she tells us: “Last night I had dreamed I was standing, naked, on a stage. I was playing Hermione in The Winter’s Tale and I had forgotten my lines” (p. 28). And later she tells us, “I noted, sourly, that an actress who had played my fellow supermarket cashier in an afternoon soap (parts for which we were both miscast) had joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and was rehearsing Imogen” (pages 67-68). And there are even Shakespeare characters that Jules dishonestly says she has played. “I played Cordelia to his Lear” (p. 85), she says of Paul Scofield. Later Jules tells us, “I popped a grape into my mouth and told him how I had worked for RSC, up at Stratford” (p. 218). When asked what roles she played, Jules responds: “Imogen. Hedda Gabler.”

There are some other Shakespeare references as well. At one point, Lila (the famous actor) tells Jules, “Get this – they wanted me to wear yellow pantyhose!” Jules replies, “Like Malvolio” (p. 36). Malvolio, of course, is tricked into wearing yellow stockings in a vain effort to please Olivia in Twelfth Night. Moggach also writes: “‘Don’t know yet. She’s on the wagon. Doctor’s orders.’ He lit his cigarette. ‘There’ll be trouble ahead, you mark my words.’ He looked up at the blue sky. ‘Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!’ He started coughing. ‘Drown’d the cocks!’” (p. 41). It is interesting to me that Moggach chose to keep apostrophe D in “drench’d” and “drown’d,” but changed “hurricanoes” to “hurricanes.” Jules also tells us, “Once you are famous all the world’s a stage, and you can never be alone” (p. 99), a reference to a famous speech from As You Like It. At one point she quotes from Julius Caesar. Moggach writes: “I knew I was heading in a dangerous direction, but I couldn’t stop myself. Some demon inside me pushed me on. O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason” (p. 223). The lines are from Antony’s famous speech.

Jules tells us her story from prison, and there is a moment when she talks about the magazines available to her there. “Yesterday, however, I chanced upon a copy of Newsweek. It described some Trevor Nunn production of Othello where Ian McKellen played Iago. The English names gave me a jolt, then a patriotic glow. I’d met McKellen once, years ago. In this production, apparently, he had realized that Iago’s strength lay in his indispensability. Newsweek said he gave an electrifying performance. Othello was as simple a soul as Lila. He had no idea how deeply he was in Iago’s power, simply because Iago had made himself indispensable – quiet, efficient, and watchfully anticipating Othello’s every need. When the play opens, Iago is as humble as a stand-in. But though he starts out as Othello’s servant, he ends up as his master. That’s because, like me, he has brains” (p. 162). Of course, it’s interesting that Jules equates herself with the villain of the play. Moments later, she tells us, “I hadn’t become an Iago yet – that would come later – but I was undeniably useful” (p. 163). Toward the end, she tells us: “I try to take two showers a day. The other inmates think there’s something wrong with me. They think I’m like Lady Macbeth. What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (p. 379). And then she tells us, “At night we have to put our hand against the glass as proof of our continuing existence. Good night, sweet ladies” (p.382). I’m guessing that’s a reference to Horatio’s line at the end of Hamlet.

And some references are to Shakespeare himself. Moggach writes, “in whose digs he had stayed when he had toured the country, playing Shakespeare and Shaw in the days before the TV set, as he put it, had become a twinkle in anybody’s lounge” (p. 40). Then she has Lila tell Jules, “I used to see the map and I’d think, they’ll all talk like somebody in a Shakespeare play” (p. 46).

Interestingly, considering how many Shakespeare references there are in this novel, it seems the author doesn’t quite completely understand Shakespeare. She makes a reference to Romeo And Juliet that indicates she doesn’t understand the line she is referring to. Moggach writes: “I imagined myself the Juliet I had never played, and now never would. Wherefore art thou, Trevor?” (p. 29). The word “wherefore” means “why,” not “where.” Juliet isn’t asking for Romeo’s location; she is asking why he has to be a Montague. And if Moggach meant that Jules was asking why Trevor is Trevor, there wouldn’t be a comma after “thou.” Basically, either author Deborah Moggach or her character doesn’t understand Juliet’s speech (it seems it is Moggach that doesn’t). As you might guess, this momentarily pulled me right out of the story. However, the edition I read is an early edition, and perhaps that was corrected later.

The Stand-In was published in 1991.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Julius Caesar: A Staged Reading At City Hall

Yesterday the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles put on a special staged reading of Julius Caesar at City Hall. This marked the twentieth anniversary of a performance the group did on the steps of City Hall. This time, however, the performance was inside – in the Board Of Public Works meeting room – and the company made good use of the existing space and lights. As it was a staged reading, the actors held scripts (most of them seemed to be using the Signet Classics edition of the play) throughout the evening, but still gave relatively full performances. As for costumes, the men wore shirts and ties, and no props were used. The room has a large, U-shaped table in the front, and the company made use of it. The room itself has a high ceiling, so sound can get a bit lost up there; I chose to sit fairly close to the front, and had no trouble hearing.

There is a wide aisle between the two audience sections, and the company performed some of the action there, including the first scene. As I mentioned, there were no props, but when Lucius spoke the lines about the paper in Act II, he pretended to hand Brutus a paper, and then Jamison Jones as Brutus used his copy of the play as the prop, which actually worked well. Jamison Jones gave a really good performance. There was a moment when he scratched his head, then stopped when his wife spoke the line about scratching his head. It had the feel of almost being an unconscious move, which was great. I was surprised by how many wonderful little details the actors were able to give, considering they had to hold scripts the entire time, and taking into consideration they didn’t have much rehearsal time (in fact, they weren’t able to rehearse in the actual space until just a few hours before the performance).

The large table was used for the scene leading up to Julius Caesar’s death (Act III Scene i), with Julius Caesar taking the upstage center seat. He remained seated while the others stood. As there were no swords, his assassination was handled in an interesting manner. Each of the men slammed his hand against the table in quick succession, with Brutus doing it last. What is also interesting is that Julius Caesar remained in that chair for the rest of the play, a dominant presence even after his death, as all of that action stems as a result of that decision by the men. One thing that always strikes me about this play, in the scene where Brutus and Antony speak to the crowd, is how easily the multitudes are swayed by oration, and by whoever is currently speaking, and how little they actually think about what they hear. I love that moment when Antony must remind them (and prompt them), “You have forgot the will I told you of.” Joe Spano was wonderful as Antony, particularly in this scene, knowing just how to play the crowd. Because Julius Caesar remained present after his death, seated upstage, it was actually more of a jolt to the audience when he suddenly stood to approach Brutus as an apparition at the end of Act IV. It was almost as if he’d been watching all along, and chose this moment to make himself known. I should mention here that Armin Shimerman was excellent as Julius Caesar. I particularly enjoyed the scene when his wife tried to persuade him to remain at home.

Interestingly, after Cassius died, he took one of the seats at the table too, effectively joining Caesar once again, though the seat farthest from him (downstage left). When Brutus spoke the line, “O, Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet,” he faced upstage toward Julius Caesar, which was nice. Then when Brutus died, he too took a chair at the table, downstage right, opposite Cassius. During Octavius’ final speech, Julius Caesar stood up, remaining upstage center, providing an effective stage image.

This staged reading was directed by Louis Fantasia, and starred Christopher Anderson, Joel Asher, Sheldon Donenberg, Faline England, Mira Furlan, Joe Hulser, Jamison Jones, Matt Lagan, Michael Miller, Michael Naishtut, Noah Naishtut, Don DeForest Paul, Chris Rivera, Alex Rotaru, Armin Shimerman, Joe Spano, Blaine Steele and Michael Zelniker. A reception (with Caesar salad) followed the performance.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in How Not To Kill Yourself

How Not To Kill Yourself: A Survival Guide For Imaginative Pessimists, by Set Sytes, contains one Shakespeare reference. Sytes begins the chapter titled “Immortality” with a line from Antony And Cleopatra: “I have immortal longings in me” (p. 106). This is spoken by Cleopatra in the fifth act of the play, just before she kills herself: “Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have/Immortal longings in me. Now no more/The juice of Egypt’s grape shall moist this lip.”

How Not To Kill Yourself: A Survival Guide For Imaginative Pessimists was published on March 13, 2018.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Shakespeare References in The Fan

Bob Randall’s novel The Fan, told entirely through letters written by the characters, contains several Shakespeare references. The novel is about a demented fan who carries out a love affair with a star in his mind, an affair that turns deadly. The first reference is in a letter from the actor, Sally Ross, to her ex-husband, Jake: “This letter comes to you from the crankiest old lady the world has seen since Mrs. Macbeth” (p. 24). The second is a reference to The Tempest, though it is not as obvious. I might think I was reading into it a bit, were it not for the fact that there are other references in the book. Anyway, this one comes in a letter from the fan to Sally: “This is, of course premature, but dreams are the ‘stuff’ of which we mortals are made and so I dream on” (p. 101). The line from The Tempest is “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on.” However, the line might be a more direct reference to these lines from David Chalmers Nimmo: “Of dream-like stuff, of dream-like stuff/We mortals all are made.” In another letter to Sally, the fan signs it by writing “All the love that the sonnets of Shakespeare contain, Douglas” (p. 154). This book also contains a reference to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The fan, in another letter to Sally, writes, “The course of true love, the poets have said, does not run smooth” (p. 175). That is a reference to Lysander’s famous line, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The final reference is to Romeo And Juliet, and also comes in a letter from the fan to Sally: “It is the same love that befell Romeo and Juliet. Like them, we shall live on in the hearts and minds of men for all time” (p. 239).

The Fan was published in 1977.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in Darker Than Amber

John MacDonald’s Darker Than Amber, a volume in his Travis McGee detective series, contains an interesting reference to Macbeth, a reference that is used several times in one chapter (chapter nine). The book is written in the first person from the perspective of Travis McGee, who in this chapter is pretending to be drunk in order to obtain some information, putting himself out there as bait. MacDonald writes: “When he had put the drink down, he hovered. I stared straight ahead until he began to turn away, and then said, ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’” (p. 97). “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” is of course a line from Macbeth’s famous speech (one of my favorite speeches in all of Shakespeare’s plays). MacDonald has McGee continue: “‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Words of one of the poets, Albert. I made a great deal of money this month. A vulgar quantity’” (p. 98). He uses the phrase a few more times. “‘My associates are eaten by envy. My dear wife will smile upon me. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, Albert. In one of those tomorrows, I shall pry loose another plum from the tree of life. But will it be meaningful?’” (p. 98). I particularly like the line’s use in that paragraph, as it plays a bit more with the speech’s meaning. After all, the speech begins when Macbeth learns that his wife has died. So McGee saying “My dear wife will smile upon me” has a bit of humor to it. The speech ends with the line “Signifying nothing,” and so McGee’s question about whether it will be meaningful is also a playful nod. And perhaps McGee wouldn’t have added those playful touches if the server, Albert, had caught the Macbeth reference when he first uttered the line “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.” He plays again with the word “meaning” a moment later: “‘That is what happens to evenings. They all blur, merge, become meaningless. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Albert, I know you have understanding” (p. 98). Then, a little later, the tone of the conversation changes, and Albert delivers a speech to McGee, ending it with “You following me?” McGee responds, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” (p. 101). Then, McGee says he hopes they can pursue these matters later. MacDonald writes: “With an egg-sucking grin Albert said, ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, sir?’” (p. 101).

Darker Than Amber was published in 1966.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Henry V (A Noise Within’s 2018 Production) Theatre Review

Production photo by Craig Schwartz
The Life Of Henry The Fifth, almost always shortened to Henry V, is a play that some see as a celebration of nationalistic pride while others see in it a condemnation of war. Of course, there are elements of both, as Shakespeare never seemed to see things in such simplistic terms. But in these strange times of a divided nation, when nationalism is once again raising its dangerous voice, which elements would be stressed in a production of the play? Would the St. Crispin’s Day speech be as rousing as in times past? Would there be little winks and nods at certain lines, letting a modern sensibility comment on the action?

The talented company at A Noise Within mostly lets Shakespeare’s play speak for itself in the new production of Henry V, which opened last night in Pasadena. It is presented in more modern dress, and stresses the role of the Chorus, emphasizing, as the Chorus does in the text, that the action presented is a simulation, falling short of the reality of war. The set works well in this regard, with a large set piece of five levels upstage creating the sense of seating at an arena. As it is a thrust stage, this effectively makes the audience part of that arena too, as it completes the circle of seats around the stage. This is a really interesting effect, as it makes us feel more a part of the action while simultaneously stressing the artificiality of the action. The Chorus, by the way, is played by multiple actors throughout the performance. So instead of an outsider, a narrator, commenting on the play, it is as if the actors themselves are adding to their performances by giving us more information. This presents some wonderful opportunities for metatheatre, as when Erika Soto, who plays Katharine, speaks as the Chorus of the offer of Katharine to Henry: “the king doth offer him/Katharine his daughter, and with her, to dowry,/Some petty and unprofitable dukedoms.” It’s a delightful and humorous moment.

When the play opens, the actors enter the stage from several different locations (including some surprising ones), carrying modern lanterns and dressed entirely in dark clothes, like they’re taking part in a secret military action. Several then perform the Chorus’ opening speech, and the dark, simple clothing really works with the Chorus’ line “For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings.” Apart from the audience’s thoughts and the play’s lines, only a crown indicates which character is a king. And yet, throughout this production, there is absolutely no confusion about who is who, never an uncertainty about who is speaking.

When Henry V (Rafael Goldstein) asks “May I with right and conscience make this claim,” he rises and walks forward, and we see he is ready to go to war, hoping for an affirmative answer to his question, even before the insulting message from the Dauphin. As for the “treasure,” in this production it is in what looks like a gym bag labeled “KING HENRY V,” rather than in a tun, as indicated in the text. However, a gym bag is all too fitting for the tennis balls contained inside, so it isn’t as surprising or insulting as it is when they are inside a cask or coffer. This is one of the few moments when the modern style causes something of a loss.

Sometimes in this production, actors who are not part of a particular scene will remain on stage, seated on the set piece upstage. For example, Jeremy Rabb, who plays Bardolph, is seated during the Chorus’ speech that begins the second act. At the end of that speech, the Chorus tosses him the hat which allows him to then become Bardolph and begin the scene. That scene is wonderful, by the way. I particularly enjoy the varying deliveries of Nym’s “that is the humor of it.” Bardolph, Nym, Pistol and Mistress Quickly represent Henry V’s youth and past, and they are, in some ways, the common heart of the piece. Later, when those characters enter solemnly after the death of Falstaff, Henry V remains on stage, standing at the top level far upstage. This creates a meaningful stage picture, as he is essentially above them, looking down at them. Is that how he feels, that he is above them now? Or is that how they feel about him, that he is beyond them, no longer one of them? Henry V takes off his crown at the end of the scene, as if in honor of Falstaff’s memory, a touching moment.

The Chorus’ speech that starts the second act is actually split in this production, with the lines about the three conspirators coming after the scene with Bardolph and Nym and the others, and so right before the scene where Henry confronts them. Interestingly, the actors playing the conspirators identify themselves by shouting out their names as the Chorus mentions them. In that scene, Henry V wears sunglasses – the crown and sunglasses together creating a strange image. (By the way, the King of France walks with the use of a cane, and wears reading glasses at one point, in contrast to youthful Henry’s sunglasses.) This is an excellent scene, tense and intriguing and well-acted. Rafael Goldstein does a wonderful job as Henry V through the play, but this scene in particular is one of his best. Kasey Mahaffy turns in another of evening’s best performances as the Dauphin. (Actually, he turns in two excellent performances, the other as Nym.) I love his twisted joy as he insults Henry V. I also love Stephen Weingartner’s performance as Williams, the soldier who exchanges gloves with the disguised Henry. And, what will come as no surprise to Shakespeare fans in Los Angeles, Erika Soto is wonderful as Katharine and Boy. I’ve seen her play Juliet, Cordelia, Miranda, and several other key roles in Shakespeare’s works, and she is always a pleasure to watch. She never fails to bring something special, fresh and surprising to the parts she plays.

Even though the Chorus has warned us that the battles might not be presented completely, the fight scenes in this production are handled really well. The first one is sudden and intense, and makes great use of that large set piece upstage, leading to the famous “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” line. The main battle scene is likewise intense and strong. And, if you were wondering, the St. Crispin’s Day speech is still quite powerful and moving, and Rafael Goldstein does an excellent job with it.

This production, in general, moves rather swiftly. There are, of course, some major cuts. Gone is most of Fluellen’s role, as well as Gower and Captain Jamy. Alice is completely cut, and so the scene where Katharine is learning English is mostly missing. What we get is the briefest of moments of Katharine alone, reciting the English words for a few body parts. So the humor of the scene is gone. In this production, it is Nym rather than Bardolph who is hanged, while Henry watches. Perhaps the strangest cut is the dialogue between Fluellen and Gower about the slaughter of the boys, particularly as Henry’s response to it – “I was not angry since I came to France/Until this instant” – is left in. Because what leads to that line is gone, the audience’s reaction to the line is different. Still, most of the cut material is not missed, particularly as the production has an excellent momentum and pace. This production also has a certain beauty in its style and execution.

There is one fifteen-minute intermission, coming almost directly after Nym’s death. This production of Henry V is directed by Julia Rodriquez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott, and runs in repertory with A Raisin In The Sun through early April at A Noise Within, located at 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, California. There is free parking at the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Parking Structure.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part The Seventh by Ian Doescher (2017) Book Review

I became a huge fan of Star Wars in 1977, when I was five years old and saw the first film in the theater. I started collecting the toys and everything else I could get my hands on. I stopped being a fan a couple of years ago when I saw The Force Awakens. What a useless, pointless pile of garbage. Disney is all about money and marketing; Disney cares nothing about story, originality or character development. As a result, Disney destroyed Star Wars. I haven’t even bothered to see The Last Jedi. Who cares? It’s done. I was curious, however, to see if Ian Doescher would continue his series of Star Wars Shakespeare books. And I am glad to see that he has, for his take on The Force Awakens, titled William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, is so much better than the film.

As with the previous volumes in this series, the story is divided into five acts, with the dialogue done in iambic pentameter. The opening crawl is presented as a Shakespearean sonnet. BB8, unlike R2-D2, does not speak in English, but in droid sounds, though still in iambic pentameter. BB8 is the best of the new characters in the saga, with the others falling quite flat. When watching the film, I found Kylo Ren to be the lamest villain in the history of cinema. He’s just a whiny little bitch. Give him a spanking and send him to bed without supper. But he is a much more enjoyable character in this telling. For example, check out this speech: “Impotence beyond imagining!/O, fie, that I this madness must endure –/A fico for thine errant, bumbling face!/The great First Order bested is by droids,/Who ally ‘gainst us with our own stormtroopers?/Is this the folly-fallen end to which/The galaxy doth run with lout-like haste?/Ay, out upon it! Tilly-vally! Tush!” (pages 50-51). I might have truly enjoyed the movie had he spoken like that. The rathtars were among the many stupid things in the film, but in the book they are delightful, as they sing their lines. Oh, if only they could reshoot the film using this book as the script.

Of course, there are plenty of references to specific speeches from Shakespeare’s work. At one point Rey asks, “What fight through yonder window breaks?” (p. 55), obviously a reference to Romeo’s line in Romeo And Juliet. And Maz does a version of Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, oddly speaking of herself in the third person: “O, then I see keen Maz hath been with you./She is the vision giver, and she comes/In shape no bigger than an agate stone/On the forefinger of a Jedi Knight” (p. 88). And Han Solo says, “We would be less than kin, still less be kind” (p. 79), a play on Hamlet’s line “A little more than kin and less than kind.” Han Solo also does a version of Henry The Fifth’s famous St. Crispin’s Day speech: “This day is call’d the feast of Odan-Urr./They that outlive this day, and come safe home,/Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is nam’d,/And rouse them at the name of Odan-Urr./They that shall live this day, and see old age,/Will yearly on the vigil feast their neighbors/And say, ‘Tomorrow’s the centenary.’/Then will they strip their sleeves and show their scars/And say, ‘These wounds I had on Odan’s day’” (p. 118). Certainly it is a longer speech than Han ever uttered in any of the films. He concludes the speech, “We few, we happy few, we band of comrades;/For they today who shed their blood with me/Shall be my comrades; be they ne’er so vile,/This day shall gentle their condition, yea./So be ye not afeard, my friends, be strong –/’Twill be our finest victory to date,/This grand Starkiller shall be our kill yet!” (p. 119).

There are some playful non-Shakespeare references in this book as well. For example, early on, Finn says, “Lo, I have walk’d five hundred miles at least,/And I would walk five hundred more, forsooth!” (p. 41). That is obviously a reference to The Proclaimers song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).”

I don’t think that Ian Doescher disliked The Force Awakens nearly as much I did, but he does offer a scene that pokes fun at the movie’s complete lack of originality. The scene finds two Stormtroopers, one much older than the other, talking about events from the original Star Wars film, and how things have changed greatly since then. Trooper 2, as evidence of how things are so different now, mentions Darth Vader: “When I began my job,/I did report unto a dreadful man/All garb’d in black, his face hid ‘neath a mask,/With vicious moods and lightsaber of red” (p. 122). Trooper 1 then asks, “Hath Kylo Ren been all this time alive?” Trooper 2 mentions the Death Star, describing it: “A vast, forbidding base form’d in a sphere,/Which some mistook for some celestial body./It hous’d more soldiers than most armies boast./Its purpose was to crush a planet whole” (p. 123). That leads Trooper 1 to ask, “Starkiller Base existed even then?” Many more similarities between A New Hope and The Force Awakens are pointed out in this scene, which is presented with a wonderful sense of humor. As you might guess, it is my favorite scene of the book.

William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part The Seventh was written by Ian Doescher, and published in 2017 by Quirk Books.