Friday, August 26, 2016

The Tempest (Independent Shakespeare Company's 2016 Production) Theatre Review

It is always such a treat to see The Independent Shakespeare Company perform in Griffith Park. This season they’re doing Richard III and The Tempest, and last night I was able to catch a performance of The Tempest. The set for this production is fairly simple, with two entryways upstage, for the focus here is on the actors – their performances, and of course Shakespeare’s dialogue.

Approximately thirty minutes before the start of the show, oceans sounds begin playing through the speakers at the sides of the stage. This was actually quite soothing, and it helped me focus on something other than the two silly girls next to me who used the word “like” more than all other words combined. (I’m considering purchasing a little hotel desk bell and hitting it every time someone like that says “like,” just for a bit of fun.) Then at 7:10 p.m., a member of the company came out in a yellow raincoat, yellow rain hat and rubber boots to make some brief announcements. And then the play was off and running.

There is some modern dress used in this production, particularly in the opening scene on the boat, in which the boat crew is wearing that yellow rain gear. The boat’s captain (or Master, as identified in the text) enters in a somewhat modern captain’s outfit, while deliberately cheesy music plays on the speaker, making us think of The Love Boat. There is also the use of a megaphone (later, Ariel will use it when saying “Thou liest” to Caliban). Sebastian, Antonio, Gonzalo and the rest, however, are in period costumes, all of bright red fabrics. The cast does an excellent job with this scene, their movements really making me feel I was on a tossing vessel.

In the second scene, Prospero (Thom Rivera) enters first from upstage, with Miranda (Erika Soto) entering behind him once he has moved downstage. Both are barefoot. Prospero’s magic garment is a sleeveless robe whose pattern and colors bring to mind the ocean. This production does some interesting things with this scene. First, several spirits dressed in black are introduced, and they bring out a chair for Miranda to sit upon, even lifting her at one point, as if she were floating upon the sea. Also, when Prospero says, “thy false uncle,” he sees his brother, who steps onto the stage from within the audience. So it is Prospero that becomes distracted, not Miranda, and so though his next line “Dost thou attend me” is still directed at Miranda, it is a way of shaking off his own distraction. This is such a great touch. And then when he mentions Gonzalo, Gonzalo appears upstage. Gonzalo then hands him a book on Prospero’s line about his books. Miranda’s “Would I might/But ever see that man” then has another significance, as she can’t see him there onstage. By the way, Erika Soto is absolutely adorable as Miranda, possessing the right youthful energy and outlook.

As is usually done, Ariel is here played by a woman (Kalean Ung), though dressed in trousers, a vest and old flight goggles and hat, giving the character a somewhat gender-free vibe. In the text, Ariel is clearly male, but here the more fluid gender makes the relationship between Prospero and Ariel more interesting. Ariel also has wings. I love the excitement and pride Ariel has when the describing the work she has done for Prospero. Then Ariel is able to change tones greatly and give a strong reading of “Is there more toil?

Caliban (Sean Pritchett) enters from within the caves far off to the side of the audience. (The Independent Shakespeare Company has its stage by the site of the old zoo in Griffith Park, and this is the first time I can recall the cast making use of those caves. It is a really wonderful touch.) Caliban’s eyes are of two different colors; he wears a sort of neck brace (showing that Prospero has perhaps taken some care of him) and one shoe (which you might imagine was once Prospero’s). Miranda’s words to him do quiet and still Caliban, at least for a moment, which is nice, showing that Caliban in some way does like her, has perhaps allowed himself to be tamed by her (though has mixed feelings about this).

When Ariel sings for Ferdinand (Evan Lewis Smith), she is backed by a band of spirits playing accordion and percussion. During this, Prospero and Miranda stand upstage left, with Miranda facing away from the action and the audience, clearly under Prospero’s spell, while Prospero watches all. When Prospero wakes Miranda to look onto Ferdinand, Ferdinand walks slowly out into the audience before turning to see Miranda. After Prospero disarms Ferdinand, he hands the sword to Ariel, which shows just how much he trusts that spirit.

The second act begins with Alonso (Joseph Culliton) calling out Ferdinand’s name before Gonzalo (Lester Purry) begins his speech. William Elsman is funny as Sebastian when poking fun at Gonzalo. And Faqir Hassan is excellent as Antonio, when working to convince Sebastian to murder Alonso. Sebastian and Antonio put their swords away, so Gonzalo’s “Let’s draw our weapons” prompts them to take them out again, rather than the line being directed at himself and Alonso, another nice touch.

Trinculo (Lorenzo Gonzalez) enters from the audience. He is very much the clown in this production, even sporting a red nose. The majority of modern references in this production come from him and from Stephano. For example, Trinculo delivers “sing i’ th’ wind” to the tune of “Singing In The Rain.” On “Legg’d like a man,” Trinculo touches Caliban’s leg. His hand then drifts toward Caliban’s crotch on “and,” but Caliban’s slaps his hand away, leading Trinculo to finish the line, “his fins like arms.” So there are strong and humorous sexual suggestions aimed at Caliban from Trinculo. Stephano (David Melville) wears a red bowler and carries a walking stick. His nose is red too, but from drink. It’s interesting because of the costume choice to clothe that entire party in red, for it makes Trinculo and Stephano even more red, thus even more a part of the group, though they are separated from the rest for most of the play. When Caliban sings his farewell to his old master, he is backed by the spirits in black on percussion.

Some of the silliness with Trinculo falls a little flat, such as the play on him holding up three fingers and then four when saying “there’s but five upon this isle.” But most of what Trinculo and Stephano do is quite funny and effective. I love that at the end of Act III Scene ii, Stephano follows Ariel upstage right, while Caliban tries to lead him downstage left; this of course being when he says he’ll follow the monster, another wonderful touch. There are more modern references and jokes during the wardrobe rack bit.

This production includes the pageant scene, with Iris, Ceres and Juno singing, each in a bright dress. Ariel also joins in their song. Juno hands Miranda her flowers, a sweet touch. Another fantastic moment is when Ariel delivers the “were I human” line to Prospero. It’s a great moment between the two characters, and we see the change in Prospero’s demeanor. I also really like the ceremony with which Ariel removes Prospero’s magic garment and replaces it with his red robe (to match the others, signifying his return to the normal state of relations). Ferdinand and Miranda are wheeled in on a chest while playing chess, rather than being revealed upstage. Ariel is given a proper exit in this production, and after being set free, runs happily straight out into the audience. The epilogue is included.

There is one intermission, coming at the end of the first scene of Act III. Leading into that intermission, Stephano enters from the audience, asking for wine, and joking with an audience member who had brought wine. Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban then go on stage to mention the concessions and so on. The intermission lasts approximately fifteen minutes. The show ends just before 10 p.m. This production of The Tempest was directed by Matthew Earnest, and runs this weekend and next weekend (actually, Wednesday through Sunday), with the last performance being on September 4th. The show is free, but donations are accepted and encouraged.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Shakespeare References in The Homecoming

Harold Pinter’s play The Homecoming doesn’t contain Shakespeare references, but the book mentions Shakespeare at the beginning: “The Homecoming was first presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre on 3 June 1965.” And then: “The play was presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Alexander H. Cohen at the Music Box Theatre, New York, on 5 January 1967.”

The Homecoming was first published in 1965. The Faber And Faber edition that I read was published in 1991.

Shakespeare References in Goldberg Street: Short Plays And Monologues

David Mamet’s Goldberg Street: Short Plays And Monologues contains a couple of Shakespeare references. The first comes in the first line of the introduction: “Tradition has it that Shakespeare finished King Lear and handed it to Richard Burbage saying: ‘You son-of-a-gun, I’ve finally written one you can’t perform’” (p. vii). The second comes in a piece titled “The Spanish Prisoner”: “a knight rides out and, you know him by his shield, or as the Bard says, ‘Reputation’” (p. 26). In Othello, Cassio laments: “Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!” Part of Iago’s response reads, “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving.”

There is another possible Shakespeare reference in the piece titled, “All Men Are Whores: An Inquiry.” Mamet writes, “We are the stuff that rocks are made of” (p. 196), which is possibly a play on Prospero’s line “We are such stuff/As dreams are made on” from The Tempest.

Goldberg Street: Short Plays And Monologues was published in 1985 by Grove Press.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Othello (Shakespeare By The Sea 2016 Production) Theatre Review

Every summer, the Shakespeare By The Sea company takes two Shakespeare plays on the road, performing them in various locations all over Los Angeles and Orange counties. This year, for the company’s nineteenth season, the two plays are Cymbeline and Othello, and last night the company brought Othello to Encino, performing it at Los Encinos State Historic Park. The stage used for the play is a different configuration than what they used for Cymbeline, which means they’re carrying pieces for two different sets in their truck. The actors help construct the set for each performance.

This production begins with the first line of Act I Scene iii, “There is no composition in these news/That gives them credit.” It then adds a brief (and silent) wedding scene between Othello and Desdemona before going back to Scene i. Othello (Phillip C. Curry) is significantly older than Desdemona (Melissa Booey) in this production. Like a few decades older. So there is the interesting (and unspoken) dynamic that she is perhaps seeking a new father figure, replacing her father, which could give her actual father, Brabantio, more cause to be disturbed and upset by this marriage. Of course, Chris Nelson, who plays Brabantio, seems too young for the role, so that possible direction for exploration into the relationship is partially lost.

Curry has a strong voice, full of pride, and you get the sense that it is that very characteristic, his pride, which leads to Othello’s being misguided by Iago. When Brabantio cries out, “My daughter,” and someone asks if she is dead, and he replies, “Ay, to me,” Othello, standing stage left, actually laughs. It’s an interesting touch, and it sets him apart even further. And when Iago goes to fetch Desdemona, Othello delivers his lengthy speech to the audience, only occasionally addressing the other characters on stage. In addressing us, he seems to further separate himself from those around him, as his pride makes him feel he doesn’t need their acceptance or understanding. He can be threatening too, with a violence bubbling just below the surface, as when he grabs Iago by the wrist on “Be sure of it!

It is Iago, however, who dominates the play. Patrick Vest is excellent as Iago. His costume is dominated by blacks and reds, which might be obvious for a villain, but which works. His relationship to, and manipulation of Roderigo is established early and clearly. Roderigo (Dorian Tayler) is a pitiable character, but you grow to have some sympathy for him, partly because of Tayler’s remarkable performance. The second time Iago tells Roderigo to put money in his purse, he actually takes Roderigo’s purse, and before the third time he tells him, he looks into the purse and is clearly disappointed by the little he sees inside. It’s a nice touch, and Vest does a great job with the speech at the end of the scene. Tayler is really good in the scene where he determines to get his jewels back from Desdemona.

In Act II Scene i, Cassio kisses Emilia on each cheek and then briefly on the lips, giving fuel to Iago’s own jealousy and suspicions. And interestingly, when Iago speaks of Cassio touching Desdemona’s hand, everyone else on stage slows their motions. It’s a strong effect, and what is interesting is that it puts us more in Iago’s state of mind, in a way aligning us with the villain, almost making us like him. The effect is used again when Iago speaks to Roderigo. The two take center stage while the others move to the sides of the stage and slow their motions. Later, Iago’s stabbing of Roderigo is done in slow motion.

Bryson Allman does a good job as Cassio, even playing him drunk fairly well (something that is not all that easy). Othello turns his back on Cassio on “But never more be officer of mine.” Melissa Booey is also quite good as Desdemona. She is particularly great as she speaks to Othello on Cassio’s behalf. And there are a few nice (and needed) moments of warmth between Othello and Desdemona in that scene. Also impressive is Olivia Schlueter-Corey as Emilia. The moment where she picks up the handkerchief is wonderful. Seeing it fall, she automatically picks it up to give it back to Desdemona as she follows her and Othello out, but then stops, while facing upstage. Even though she is facing away from us, we can read her thoughts through her body language, even before she turns to us to deliver her speech. It’s a really good moment. And then she is playful with Iago regarding the handkerchief, which is nice. Because otherwise it can be easy for an audience to turn on her. There are always moments when we can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t say something about the handkerchief earlier. Schlueter-Corey really shines in the scene with Desdemona at the end of the fourth act. She pauses before “But I do think it is their husbands’ faults,” which is great. And her delivery of “or say they strike us” is pointed, which again is excellent. This speech is the moment when her character really opens up, and we’re able to see the real Emilia.

Emilia is with Desdemona at the beginning of Act V Scene ii, while Desdemona sleeps, a nice touch. She then of course exits before Othello enters to deliver his famous “It is the cause” speech. Othello uses Desdemona’s pillow to suffocate her. Interestingly, when he says he took by the throat the circumcised dog, he grabs Iago by the throat. But of course the blade is for himself.

There are quite a few cuts in the play. Othello’s herald is cut, as are the musicians and clown from the beginning of Act III. The Clown is also cut from the beginning of Act III Scene iv. And there are various other cuts. The company makes good use of the space, often entering and exiting through the audience. Two microphones at the front of the stage pick up the actors’ voices, for those toward the back of the audience. And at times music plays over the speakers during a scene. Ocean sound effects are played over the speakers during the scene in which they talk about the sea battle at the beginning of Act II.

Othello was directed by Stephanie Coltrin. The production includes one twenty-minute intermission, coming at the end of Act III Scene iii. There are still a few more chances to catch this show, with performances scheduled for Seal Beach, Manhattan Beach, Laguna Niguel and San Pedro. Visit the Shakespeare By The Sea website for details.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Shakespeare References in Quotable Hollywood

George Sullivan’s book of quotations related to the film business, Quotable Hollywood: The Lowdown From America’s Film Capital, contains a couple of Shakespeare references. The first is a chapter title, “What’s In A Name?” (p. 37), which of course is a reference to Juliet’s line in Romeo And Juliet. Juliet says: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other word would smell as sweet.” The second reference comes in a quoted line from Walter Matthau, speaking about Barbra Streisand: “I’d love to work with her again, in something appropriate. Perhaps Macbeth” (p. 78).

Quotable Hollywood: The Lowdown From America’s Film Capital was published in 2001.

Cymbeline (Shakespeare By The Sea 2016 Production) Theatre Review

Summer, for me, means Shakespeare in the park, and I am always excited to see what the Shakespeare By The Sea theatre company will do. This season the company is putting on Cymbeline and Othello. Shakespeare By The Sea is based in San Pedro, where they do a large number of their performances. But if you don’t live in that area, and you don’t want to drive to San Pedro, don’t worry, for Shakespeare By The Sea comes to you. Or at least some place near you. The company came fairly close to me last night, with a performance of Cymbeline in Garfield Park in South Pasadena. I was particularly excited about this production because Cymbeline isn’t produced all that often.

Before the performance, recorded music plays over speakers, while company members go through the crowd, selling raffle tickets to help pay for the summer season. Because, though the performances are free to attend, they are certainly not free to put on. They also have T-shirts, sweatshirts and concessions for sale. Promptly at 7 p.m., announcements are made regarding the production, the company and what folks can do to spread the word, and the play begins right afterward.

Interestingly, this production begins with the entire company on stage, and rather than the two Gentlemen of the text, the first scene has one, who speaks directly to the audience, functioning almost like a chorus. And as the abduction of Cymbeline’s two sons is mentioned, the actors playing the sons exit upstage. It’s a way to get an audience who might be unfamiliar with the play quickly up to speed with the relationships, and with who is who. And from there the production moves to the rest of the scene with the Queen, Imogen and Posthumus.

The stage has one main playing level, and then several other levels around it, and the company makes great use of the space, creating some wonderful stage images. For example, in this scene at one point Imogen and Posthumus are down center facing each other, while the Queen re-enters above center. It’s brief, but this image says a lot. Imogen and Posthumus are closer to the audience, and it is with them that the audience will relate. The Queen is above them, in a position of power, and also looks down upon them, illustrating how she manipulates and affects their situation.

By the way, the cast is quite good. Particularly impressive is Stacy Snyder as Imogen. When Cymbeline banishes Posthumus and tells Imogen she would have made the throne a seat for baseness, she replies, “No; I rather added a lustre to it.” Stacy’s delivery of that line is excellent, and with that line you see she is really trying to convince the king of the truth of it, rather than responding to anger with anger. And later when speaking to Pisanio of Posthumus, she has a delicious, youthful excitement. And in the scene with Iachimo, she gives each line of “What ho, Pisanio!” a different feeling, a different meaning. The first, she is nervous; the second is spoken with more anger; and then in another scene when she speaks that line, the concern is more for Pisanio than for herself. Newcomer Christopher Dietrick (this is his first season with the company) turns in a really good performance as Posthumus. He is particularly excellent in the scene when he awaits word about the results of the wager.

Andria Kozica does a wonderful job as the Queen. I especially like the nice moments she finds to show that even she is disappointed with Cloten (Bryson Allman). I also appreciate that she doesn’t overdo or oversell those moments. There is, of course, some silly business between the two. For example, when Cloten says, “I have not seen these two days,” he holds up three fingers, and the Queen pushes one finger down. By the way, I love the exchange then between Cloten and Pisanio, and the delightful and sudden changes in attitude that Cloten displays (as on “Let’s see ‘t”).

This production includes some comic swordplay between Cloten and Posthumus, showing us Cloten drawing on Posthumus and thus eliminating Pisanio’s lines describing the event. Cloten also bites his thumb at Posthumus, a nice reference to another of Shakespeare’s plays. That is combined with the second scene, and Cloten’s reading of “Would there had been some hurt done” is really funny. Also done really well is the scene where Posthumus makes the wager with Iachimo (Dorian Tayler). When Iachimo says, “Your ring may be stolen too,” he returns the ring to Posthumus, doing a little sleight-of-hand, which is a nice touch and a great indication of the possible future danger regarding this character. There is also lots of comic business in the sword fight between Cloten and Guiderius (Iyan Evans, in his first season with the company). There are some good moments between Imogen and Pisanio. When Pisanio says he’ll send Posthumus some sign of Imogen’s death, he cuts his own hand with his dagger and wets a cloth with his own blood. And on “And fit you to your manhood,” he gives Imogen a dagger.

There is a bit of re-ordering of scenes, with Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus being introduced much earlier than in the text. Act III Scene iii is moved to Act I, just before Scene vi. And after the scene with Imogen and Iachimo at the end of the first act, this production goes straight to Act II Scene ii, in which Iachimo comes out of the trunk. Oddly, Imogen sleeps on top of the trunk, and Iachimo slides out from a trap door in the front. It’s a little unclear whether the trunk is functioning both as Imogen’s regular bed and as the trunk, or if Imogen decides to sleep on Iachimo’s trunk rather than her bed. It’s one of the production’s only awkward moments. The beginning of Act II Scene iii is cut (the bit with the musicians). Act V Scene iv is cut.

This production is directed by Cylan Brown, and is done in period costume. There is one intermission, coming at the end of Act III Scene ii. By the way, during the intermission a girl filmed audience members reciting lines from Shakespeare. Apparently, these will be put together in some fashion on the web site. A young boy near me read some of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech, but he needs to take a cold reading class, for he never looked up from the page. If you missed the performance in South Pasadena, you still have a few more chances to catch the show. Cymbeline will be performed in Aliso Viejo, Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Irvine and Rancho Palos Verdes, before wrapping up back in San Pedro. Check the Shakespeare By The Sea web site for details. And bring a sweatshirt - it gets cool at night.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Shakespeare Reference in Celebrity Crimes: The Dark Side Of The Limelight

Xavier Waterkeyn’s Celebrity Crimes: The Dark Side Of The Limelight is a poorly written book, which clearly no one bothered to proofread. The number of errors in the book is incredible. You have the word “an” when “and” was meant, and “and” when “an” is needed. And check out this sentence: “She went back to school while her parents fought out a custody battle over her and her younger brother Paul during a nasty custody battle that their father finally won” (p. 228). Yikes! But this book also contains a Shakespeare reference. Regarding the attack on Theresa Saldana, Waterkeyn writes: “Fenn looked out from his second-floor balcony and looked down on a group of people circled around a man and woman struggling on the ground in the middle of the street. ‘I saw everyone kind of watching it like it was a, you know, Shakespearean play or something’” (p. 105).

Celebrity Crimes: The Dark Side Of The Limelight was published in 2007.